A retired general proves that age is no excuse and golf really is a game for life

A retired general proves that age is no excuse and golf really is a game for life

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ARMY GOLFER: Ely began tracking every round during which he bettered his age in 1987.
Scott Wiseman

A lot of people get excited when a
top pro such as Arnold Palmer
or Gary Player shoots his age. I
used to get excited about shooting
my age, but not so much anymore. I guess
that’s because I’ve done it more than 2,000
times—2,005 to be exact.

At least that’s how many times
I’ve done it since 1987, when I
started keeping a record in a
book. I was 75 then and shooting
my age or better every day,
so I figured I might as well keep
track of it. The lowest I ever shot
below my age was 16 strokes.
That was eight years ago, when
I was 90. I shot a 74 on my home
course, Quail Ridge Country Club
in Boynton Beach, Fla.

Pulling off the feat was exhilarating
at first, but then I began to
expect to do it every time I played.
Now, whenever I play, people
around the clubhouse want to
know if the General—that’s what
everyone calls me because I was a
lieutenant general when I retired
from the Army in 1966—shot his
age again. Luckily, the answer is usually yes.

It’s a pretty good accomplishment since I
never swung a club until I went to West Point
in 1929. In my third year I was required to play
an intramural sport, so I tried golf. I loved it the
first time I had a club in my hand.

I didn’t get to play much after leaving West Point because I was serving on Midway and
in the Philippines during World War II. But
I was lucky enough to get some assignments
in Washington, D.C., afterward, so I started
playing a lot at the Army Navy Country Club
in Arlington, Va. I have the distinction of winning
the club championship there at four ranks:
colonel, brigadier general, major
general and lieutenant general.
My handicap has been as low as
a three, but it’s up to a 19 now.

I think golf is the best game
because it tests you physically
and mentally. You have to think
clearly and keep your emotions
under control. The game changes
every day and with every swing,
and you’re constantly trying to
analyze to get better.

I wish I could tell you there’s
some secret to what I’ve done,
but there really isn’t. I’ve always
been a very good putter. And I
guess I have good genes. I never
had health problems, even when
I was playing four times a week.
At 98, I don’t have a sore joint in
my body. My hips and shoulders
are good, although circulation problems have
slowed me down recently.

People don’t believe it when they hear I’ve shot
my age so many times. With them I share my
greatest bit of wisdom: It gets easier every year.


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