Sunday, August 19, 2018

Golfer Joe Sepic, 100, still going strong on the greens (w/video)

PINELLAS PARK — Joe Sepic turns 100 years old on Tuesday. As luck would have it, it's one of his golfing days.

He plays in a Tuesday morning nine-hole league at Cypress Links Golf Course in St. Petersburg. As he does every week, Sepic will load the golf clubs into his blue Buick LeSabre and drive from his home in the Mainlands of Tamarac into north St. Petersburg.

"Don't remember ever missing a week," Sepic said. "Had an ankle problem a while ago but I just started using a cart. Kept playing."

It takes a lot more than a bum ankle to keep Sepic off a golf course. He also plays in an 18-hole Friday morning league at his home course in Mainlands. Last Friday, his golf group threw him an early birthday party. After his round, during which he shot a 104 on the par 67 course, Sepic was serenaded with Happy Birthday before devouring a huge slice of a homemade cake made to look like a putting green.

Jim Damaske | Times

Joe Sepic waits to tee off on the first hole at Mainlands Golf Club. Sepic, who made a hole-in-one at 98 years old, is turning 100 on Aug. 8. He is still playing golf and played with his regular group Friday morning at Mainlands Golf Club.

Chuck Miller, 70, is president of the Friday league. He gave a short speech and noted that he asked Sepic what the key was to still being active at his age. Sepic told him that he never drank alcohol, never smoked and ate a banana once a day.

"But when he misses a putt, he cusses," Miller said. "That's something he needs to work on."

"I'll start in the morning," Sepic quipped.

Tyson Duane, Mainlands' general manager, then announced that Sepic had eternal greens fees at Mainlands.

"You don't ever have to pay for golf here ever again," Duane said.

"I've never heard anything better than that in my whole life," Sepic said. "I hope to be around for another 100 years."

During the post-round ceremony, Sepic took time between bites to shake hands and take pictures with other members of the league. As always, he was dressed in long pants, a flannel long-sleeve shirt and a Bermuda hat. No matter that it's noon. In August. In Florida.

As the crowd disperses, Sepic rises and heads to his car for a short ride home. There's mail to check and bananas to eat. And there is another party to get ready for on Tuesday, where he will be joined by his son and daughter. A different group of playing partners will sing Happy Birthday and give him another cake, which is just fine with him.

"I like any kind of cake," Sepic said.

Jim Damaske | Times

Joe Sepic prepares to blow out the candle on his birthday cake at Mainlands Golf Club Friday morning.

A lifelong golfer

Sepic was born on Aug. 8, 1917, near Pittsburgh, Pa. Woodrow Wilson was president, the U.S. Open wasn't held because of World War I and there was no such thing as The Masters golf tournament. He started playing golf when he was 12 and attended Carnegie Tech (now Carnegie Mellon) in Pittsburgh, where he was cut from the golf team. He tried to enroll in the Army but they wouldn't take him due to a heart murmur.

At his best, Sepic said he was a six handicap. Now he has a 26 handicap for 18 holes. After retiring as a mechanical engineer when he was 62, Sepic made his way to Florida specifically because the weather was conducive to year-round golf. He played as much as he could when he first retired but is now down to two rounds per week.

Jim Damaske | Times

Joe Sepic carries his own clubs to his golf cart at Mainlands Golf Club before playing a round off golf.

"He can still play, I'll tell you that," said Barry Matthews, 71, who has played frequently with Sepic at Mainlands. "Hits it straight down the fairway every time."

Sepic made news two years ago when he got a hole-in-one on the second hole at Cypress Links at the age of 98. He aced the same hole when he was 94. He said his goal is to become the oldest person to ever make a hole-in-one. That record is 103.

During his round on Friday at Mainlands, Sepic said he was a little off. As a testament to how hard golf is, he hit a shot on the 15th hole that skidded only a few yards down the fairway from a wet lie. He stood in place and took a few practice swings, as if to discover a flaw in his swing after 88 years.

Jim Damaske | Times

Joe Sepic hits a fairway shot at Mainlands Golf Club.

"Always room for improvement," he said.

Normally, he shoots his age or lower for 18 holes. And no matter how poorly he plays, he still tees it up from the white tees instead of the closer red tees.

"If Joe would ever go to the reds he'd be making a lot more pars and birdies," Miller said. "Once you hit 80, you can play from the reds. But he won't do it."

And he won't use any gadgets to take his ball out of the hole. He bends down to pick it up every time.

When his round is over, Sepic drives his golf cart to the pro shop. He unbuckles the bag from the cart, slings it over his shoulder and walks to his car.

The clubs go in his trunk for another day.

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