John Wayne made a movie called “The Shootist.” In it, he shot bad guys. It was his final film.
Ken Gentry has made a name for himself on the golf course. He’s the “Age Shooter.” He shoots good scores. His final round is not in sight.
The 85-year-old Medford golfer recently crafted a 74 at Stone Ridge. It was one of his better rounds, to be sure, but it also prompted perusal of his U.S. Golf Association handicap index card.
The card shows the 20 most-recent posted scores, and the 10 best are used to determine a player’s handicap index.
It’s a numerical measure of how good you are or, at least, of the potential you have.
Gentry is pretty good.
On his current handicap card, every score is at or below his age.
Mull that for a moment.
Age shooting is more rare than a hole-in-one, which every player — regardless of ability — on a regulation golf course has a chance to accomplish, typically, four times a round.
To shoot your age, you have to be reasonably healthy, definitely talented and in a certain age range, roughly, say, 70 to 95. Even that spectrum is probably too broad for the majority of age shooters.
The average of all 20 scores on Gentry’s card is 81.1. He plays on senior days at Stone Ridge and Centennial, and also in the men’s club at Stewart Meadows, where he’s the club president.
“I’ve kind of been doing that for about the last three or four years,” Gentry, whose handicap index is 9.2, says of routinely shooting his age.
A couple times last year, his card was similarly flawless — until an 86 snap-hooked its way onto the ledger.
“I had kind of a bad day,” says Gentry, who plays the courses at about 5,800 yards. It was the only score above his age “until I played enough times to get rid of it.”
His recent 74 was achieved in Gentry’s normal manner: hit the fairway, find the green, make some putts. He had two or three long putts, but nothing extraordinary.
“I’ve been pretty lucky,” he says. “I’m still driving the ball OK, but not near as far. I’m still down the middle pretty good and still making a putt once in a while, and that’s what it’s all about.”
Gentry doesn’t leave putting to chance. He still uses ol’ Lumpy, a putter he won in a tournament at defunct Cedar Links in 1975.
“A friend named it Lumpy because it looks pretty beat up,” says Gentry. “It has a wood top that I’ve had to glue back on about six or seven times. But it still putts good.”
Gentry — who has six holes-in-one, including one this year — took up golf at age 35 at his doctor’s behest. Gentry was running one dry-cleaning plant and managing three others around the responsibilities of raising a family.
He recalls the doctor saying the stress of 12- to 14-hour work days “‘is what’s killing you guys in your 30s. You better take up golf, change your job or get a divorce.’
“I chose golf.”
He first shot his age on the day before his 70th birthday at Stewart Meadows. He had been so close to doing it, he played every day the week before, only to be foiled by a late bogey here or there.
He broke through with a 68 on a Friday.
Now, it’s old hat.
“If I shoot over my age, I’ve really had a bad day,” he says. “That’s kind of the way I look at it.”
Gentry figures he’s shot his age “at least 500 times” in the past 15 years. That’s based on 100 rounds annually, or three times a week sans the coldest periods.
“I wish I would have kept track,” he says, “but you don’t think about it that much when you’re doing it.”
As mind-boggling as that figure is, it’s shy of the accepted record.
Thomas Edison Smith, of Moorhead, Minnesota, shot his age 3,359 times, according to his December 2011 obituary, .
The most Gentry has gone under his age was 12 shots several years ago at Stone Ridge. The recognized mark for the most shots under one’s age is 21, by Ed Ervasti, of London, Ontario. In 2007, at age 93, he shot 72 at Sunningdale Golf & Country Club (Old Course) in London, Ontario.
Gentry may not match those standards, but he’s comfortable with his station.
The secret to playing so well for so long?
“I don’t know,” he says. “My legs have stayed good, and I’m still able to get around pretty good. I can still see the greens once in a while from where I am. I’ve just stayed pretty healthy. That’s kind of the secret to everything, staying healthy.”
Have a local golf story idea? Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 541-776-4479 or firstname.lastname@example.org