Tom Patri: Some people never take no for an answer

It seems like every year I have a really unique experience in golf as some individual comes along and defies the odds.

Last year, it was an 81-year-old lady from Summit, N.J. She was a wonderful human being with great ability for any age, let alone 81.

Well it happened again.

This past week out at Lely Resort, I met Howard Alexander, 76 years young — younger of mind than a lot of 30-year-olds I teach.

Howard "slings bags" in the outside operation at Lely Flamingo. I was waiting for a lesson to show up and we started talking sports. He hates my Yankees, loves his native Kentucky Wildcats, and, in general, is simply passionate about sports.

We started to talk golf. Well, Howard did; I was assigned a listening role. He told me he had played forever as a lefty and had gotten as low as a 9 handicap. He had flirted with par on occasion only to be turned back to a personal best 75 — pretty darn good for an old country boy from Kentucky.

But now for the good part.

Buckle up, this is a good one. In his late 50s, Howard underwent some major abdominal surgery. When he came out, he had lost some strength in his right side (remember, he is a lefty). He decided at 60 — pay attention, 60 — to try this game as a righty!

Howard got his handicap to 12, but better yet, lowered his personal single-round best to 73.

Holy smokes, Howard, you're my idol! Howard went on to tell me he had been a Marine (my dad was a jarhead, part of the Pacific invasion, and later a D.I. at Paris Island. Now you folks know why I'm the way I am).

We both laughed, told a few tells, and enjoyed our visit with each other.

Where else can you engage in a first-time conversation with a perfect stranger, laugh, tell battle tales, and, in a nutshell, share a smile? Golf is a wonderful bridge.

I guess the column this week has two points: 1. You can always improve — I truly believe that — both about golf and as a person; 2. You really meet some neat people through golf; something about this crazy game attracts some neat folks.

I wish everyone a Merry Christmas, a healthy New Year, and tons of birdies. By the way, Howard had a 39 last week at Lely. Go Cats!

Tom Patri is one of Golf Magazine's Top 100 Teachers in America. He can be reached at

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