A 98-year-old decorated World War II veteran got a big surprise from Greg Norman: a new set of Cobra clubs and a tee time at Augusta National.
Steve Melnikoff is one of the oldest living veterans of the allied attack on Normandy in World War II. On his first day of combat, Melnikoff, then 24, landed with his regiment on Omaha Beach on June 7, 1944 — the morning after D-Day. His infantry unit relieved the tired men on the beachhead and fought their way deeper into France. On June 17, Melnikoff was shot in the throat by a German machine gun and sent to England, where he recovered from his wounds. He later returned to his unit, continued fighting through Europe and finished out the war. Melnikoff’s division was among the first to reach Berlin, and he was in the German capital on V-E Day. He received two Purple Hearts and three Bronze Stars, among other honors, for his service.
Norman first met Melnikoff through a veterans affairs program and was captivated by his story.
“Meeting Steve is really what it’s all about,” Norman said. “He exudes the happiness of life. Knowing what he’s gone through compared to what we’ve gone through, it’s like chalk and cheese.”
In a video shoot at GOLF.com’s offices last week, Norman told Melnikoff that he plans to take him for a round at Augusta National next spring. (See the video above for Melnikoff’s reaction.)
Melnikoff, who turns 99 later this month and lives in Cockeysville, Md., picked up golf after the war, while working in management at a steel company. Today he tees it up three times a week and enjoys playing for what he jokingly calls “high stakes” — about five bucks a round.
His carries a 32 handicap and occasionally shoots his age. He’s played golf around the world as part of a program organized by the Greatest Generations Foundation, a charity based in Denver.
The secret to playing golf at 99? Melnikoff said to conserve energy he only takes one practice swing for every shot. A few other factors also help.
“I’m sure I have good genes,” he said. “My mother didn’t cook fancy food. It was always more vegetables and less meat. And I have a positive attitude in life.”