Sherman Kelly squints as he stares down No. 10 at Lake of the Woods Golf Course. It’s close to 95 degrees outside, and the sun is making it hard to see anything. A flag rustles 150 yards away, moving gently with the wind.
Kelly takes his time before swinging his club, but when he does the ball flies high and true. The ball rolls to a stop on the fringe of the green, about 20 feet from the pin. Two putts later, the ball falls into the cup for par, and Kelly smiles.
“How about that?” Kelly says. “That’s probably the best you will see me do.”
Funny. He said the same thing after the last two holes, too.
Kelly plans on bringing the same skill to the Missouri State Senior Games. The tournament begins at 9 a.m. today at Lake of the Woods.
Kelly, 86, will participate in the 85-89 age group. He is the oldest Columbia resident to participate in the games this year.
Kelly won last year as the only member in his age group. The win qualified him for this year’s National Senior Games, but Kelly is modest about his achievement.
“I’m not that good a golfer,” Kelly said. “I’m just old. I didn’t know there wasn’t anyone else in my division when I was playing, so I still tried to play my best.”
Kelly said he prefers to play with others, but he doesn’t approach golf as competing with the other golfers.
“Normally, the thing you’re playing against is the course and trying to get your best score,” Kelly said. “You’re always trying to do a little better, or at least not any worse.”
Kelly is no stranger to golf. Walk into his living room, and the first thing you will see is a set of clubs laying on the floor, and some golf balls across the room.
He took up golfing when he was 40 as a way to get outdoors and exercise, and the sport has taken him across the country.
Kelly traveled to Pittsburgh, Pa., for the 2005 Summer National Senior Games that ended Saturday. He said it was slightly different playing with golfers his age.
“I finished in the middle of the pack, maybe the top third, which is where I should be,” Kelly said. “Normally, when I play golf, I’m the oldest guy there. This was one place where I was playing with people my age, and some were even a little bit older. These were my peers. Half of them were better, and half of them were worse.”
Kelly typically plays golf at the Country Club of Missouri three or four days a week. His usual partners, a group of friends informally known as the Wild Bunch, help make the games a little more interesting.
“I think we’re known as the Wild Bunch because of our betting,” Kelly said, “but they are only dollar bets. It’s a dollar on the front nine, a dollar on the back nine, and a dollar for overall.
“It’s a group of about 15 people, and all you have to do is show up and you’ve got somebody to play with. We take anybody that wants to play. I’ve been playing with them for about 20 years.”
For Kelly, playing golf isn’t always about achievements. More than anything else, he simply enjoys the opportunity to play.
“I can’t ever remember leaving the golf course and not being able to look back and say that was a good day,” Kelly said. “As they say, the worst day of golf is better than the best day at the office.”
Kelly almost played his last golf a little more than 10 years ago. A broken pelvic bone left him paralyzed from the waist down.
“When I was about 75, there was a storm, and I was putting a chain up so I could pull up a tree that had fallen and get it growing again, and I fell out of the tree,” Kelly said.
His doctors expected him to recover, but ordered him to stay away from the golf course. Naturally, Kelly didn’t listen.
“The doctors thought I wouldn’t play again, but I did. I was back right away, in about three of four months.
“I guess I don’t listen very well sometimes. I’m used to telling other people what to do, not having people tell me what to do. You can play golf on crutches if you want to. Not very well of course, but you could if you wanted to.”
Kelly did not let his injury or his age slow him down then, and he sees no reason to let them slow him down now.
“One of my friends who is 20 years younger than me was mentioning to me that when he got to be my age, he was hopeful that he would have a group to play with,” Kelly said. “I said if no one else would, I would play with him. He thought that was pretty funny, because I would be 106. “I want to play for the rest of my life, if I can,” Kelly said. “I guess you could say I look forward to playing tomorrow.”