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Shooting his age? Wisconsin golfer, 92, had 18 strokes to spare

It was just one of dozens of honor scores printed in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel last week:

"Grant Park, Dick Woerfel, 74."

But this was one extraordinary round of golf.

Woerfel, you see, is 92 years old. At that age, it's a bonus just to be ambulatory, much less be able to swing a golf club. Amazingly, Woerfel plays 18 holes three days a week - his group has a regular 7 a.m. tee time at Grant - and still competes occasionally in senior tournaments.

But 74? That's 18 strokes lower than his age, a phenomenal and perhaps unprecedented achievement. Sure, the Grant Park Golf Course is only 5,213 yards and par is 67. But a 74 at age 92?

For perspective, imagine Michael Jordan dunking at 85, Michael Johnson running the 400 at the 2052 Olympics or Roger Clemens checking out of a senior care facility to don Yankees pin stripes. Oh, wait, he's already done that.

Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson won't be shooting 74s when they're 92. You can take it to the bank.

"That's far and away the best score I've ever heard for a golfer that age," said Bill Linneman, director of rules and competitions for the Wisconsin State Golf Association. "Just ask any golfer: Is 74 a great score? Of course. It's awesome. Throw in the fact that he's 92 and it's off-the-charts good."

Shooting your age is among the rarest feats in golf. It doesn't even become possible until a golfer reaches his mid-60s and by then the skills needed to string together pars and birdies are in decline. It's always big news when a Champions Tour player manages to shoot his age.

Woerfel, the exception to the rule, regularly shoots in the low 80s and sometimes sneaks into the 70s.

"I just took it for granted that if you keep at it and you're healthy you can keep doing it," he said. "I don't really exercise a great deal. I just keep trying."

The longtime Cudahy resident got his start in golf by working as a caddie at the Peninsula State Park Golf Course . . . in the 1920s. He retired from his job as an industrial arts teacher at Cudahy High School . . . in 1979. He has been married to Leona, his high school sweetheart . . . for 68 years.

"She's 93," he said. "We're blessed with good health."

Woerfel coached the boys' golf team at Cudahy for 31 years. One of his former players, Harvey Sobocinski, picked up the paper last week, saw Woerfel's name in the honor scores and did a double-take.

"Dick Woerfel was my golf coach at Cudahy; I graduated in 1968 and he was in his 50s then," Sobocinski said. "He was a Ward Cleaver kind of guy, very gentlemanly, smoked a pipe. He reminded me of Byron Nelson.

"I hadn't seen his name in the paper for quite a while and I hoped he was still playing. It's amazing what he's been able to do."

Woerfel said he had been playing golf for about 80 years and has never had a lesson. His handicap once was as low as 6. A traditionalist, he has used the same set of Ben Hogan irons for many years.

"I don't go for all those high-tech clubs," he said, though he has traded his persimmon driver for metal.

He described himself as a "pretty good" putter-his 74 included two birdies-and he still hits his driver about 200 yards, though he has been fighting a fade lately.

"You just can't swing too hard," he said. "Let the club do the job."

His best round?

"I shot a 68 when I was 68, but I never got to 67," Woerfel said. "I've been in the 70s two or three times a season (in recent years). The last time I was in the paper, I eagled No. 11 at Grant."

Cliff Schrock, editor of the resource center at Golf Digest magazine, said Woerfel might have set the record for widest margin between score and age, though such records are difficult to verify. The magazine began tracking records and rarities in the late 1950s.

"My quick answer, without getting into this thoroughly, is that it looks like 18 strokes could be the record," said Schrock, who was able to find three instances in which golfers had beaten their ages by 16 strokes. "But I wouldn't want to be definitive about it."

Put it this way: If it's not the record, it can't be far off.

"Any course I play, I try to shoot my age," Woerfel said. "You always hope to have a good round. Sometimes it just doesn't work out like you expect it to, but I haven't shot (higher than) my age for a long time. That's a bad day."

The way he looks at it, shooting his age will get a little easier on Aug. 10.

That's the day he turns 93.

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