You have played three strenuous days of competitive golf. You are six strokes behind with just 12 to play on the final day for the club championship - and you are not feeling all that well.
“It didn’t look very good. I considered conceding the match, but a I sunk a 20-foot putt on the ninth hole and I decided the good lord is telling me to go on.”
And on Larry Paladino did go. By the 14th hole he had birdied three holes and when Bob Kopras bogeyed the 15th hole, Paladino parred and rode home to victory for the 16th time at Island Country Club.
Quite a fete for a man who turns 81 in August.
“I don’t know how I came through,” he admits. “I felt so bad I think I played the course more by memory, but things went pretty well. I came from within one inch of an Eagle on the par 5, 12th hole.”
Paladino succeeded on his pledge last year of having 1,000 scores below his age by his birthday. He totaled 1,025 by that date and now has 1,152, or more, depending on when he played after this story began on Wednesday.
“I started writing down my scores when a very good Island Club player, the late Art Lefelar, suggested I start,” Paladino said. “Art played into his (age) 90s and recorded more than 1,400 scores below his age”
Paladino won his first title in 1988, but Lefelar beat him the next three years, before Paladino started his own run.
Paladino counted his first score, a 61, on Aug. 17, 1993, at Red River Country Club, near the family home in Center Ridge, Arkansas at the age of 63. His best score ever, 59, was a course record at Red River Country Club. His best at the Island Club is 64.
He might have been a professional baseball player if not for a trainer who permanently popped his pitching shoulder out of place, but that’s another story.
He was 30 years old when a fellow worker was relocated and sold him his first set of clubs for $100. He didn’t hit a ball until five years later and then only at driving ranges, but that is where he got his auspicious start.
Golf pro Nick Tanno, who traveled with the more famous Bob Goalby, owned the range where Paladino hit balls. After a few months Tanno asked Paladino if he would like to play with friends to fill out a foursome. All were professionals.
He arrived a little late, which didn’t please Tanno, or Goalby. When they heard he had only hit balls at the driving range, they said something like, ‘Boy we’re in for something,’” Paladino recalled.
“Well, I took out my old driver and hit the ball 50 yards past all of them,” Paladino said. “I made my par and birdied the next hole. On the third hole I hit well past the hole, but made my putt, then birdied the next hole. By then I’m feeling pretty swell and decided I’d really show them how I played. I was all over the course, and finished with an 89, still my highest score.”
His biggest golf thrill was playing with his heroes, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus in 1974. “It was in Miami at a nine-hole event and I got to play with them at Miami Lakes,” he said. “I think they were surprised when I shot 36, Nicklaus had 35 and Palmer, 37.”
Paladino doesn’t know when his string will end at Island Country.
“More important is not the score,” which sounds different coming from a man who keeps track in a little book.
“I’m pretty calm when I play,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if I am shooting low, what matters is that I am playing consistent golf, and giving 110 percent of my attention to the game.”
Michael DeJordy, head professional at the Island Club, lauds Paladino’s play.
“Mr. Paladino has a very consistent game and is definitely a pressure player,” he said. “No matter what the score is, whether up or down, he plays his best and never gives up. He is a true champion.”
Following Paladino and Kopras for third place was Phil Thompson.
The Senior Club Champion was Alan Kurtz. In Net Flight 1, Jim Stifler was followed by Bob Bowe and Dick Ronzi. Net Flight 2 went to Jim Marandino, followed by Rene Champagne and Charles Catanzaro. Net Flight 3 winner was Aldo Marchetti, followed by Joe D’Elia and William Ellis.