Hilton Head Island golfer shoots his age for 1,000th time

mmccombs@islandpacket.comSeptember 25, 2013 

Leo Luken watches his bunker blast on No. 18 of the Robert Trent Jones Golf Course in Palmetto Dunes on Saturday. The 95-year-old was attempting to shoot lower than his age for the 1,000th time. He missed on Saturday, but did reach the mark on Tuesday.

JAY KARR — Jay Karr Buy Photo

Leo Luken thinks maybe he was putting too much pressure on himself.

"Don't hit it too hard, don't hit it in the water, don't three-putt," said the he 95-year-old Palmetto Dunes resident. "You think about all of those things you could do."

For the most part, Luken didn't do those things on Tuesday at the George Fazio Course. What he did do was shoot 93, two strokes lower than his age. It was the 1,000th time Luken had shot his age or better, a milestone he'd been anticipating for some time.

"I made my first hole-in-one when I was 71, when I shot my age for the first time," Luken said. "Little did I realize that 24 years later I would be playing for 1,000."

It was the fourth try for 1,000 for Luken after reaching 999 more than a week ago. He came up short by a single stroke on Saturday. He had been on a roll before the mini slump.

"Well, that's a funny thing," Luken said. "I think I had a streak of eight of nine in a row. Then, all of a sudden, one day I hit four balls in the water."

Luken plays as a part of a group every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, alternating between the Fazio and the Robert Trent Jones Course. He said the group selects a captain for the month, and he is responsible for selecting the foursomes that play together.

On this day, Luken teed it up with Bill Linkner and Chuck Price. But they almost didn't get to see him reach the milestone.

A 9 on the par-4 No. 8 almost derailed the effort.

"I hit it right off the tee, through some trees," Luken said. "Trying to get out, I hit a tree twice. It was nearly a disaster, but I made it."

Luken, who said he's always played the regular courses and never counted scores from senior tees, has been remarkably consistent over the past several years. He shot his age for the 800th time in November 2010. And he reached 900 in March 2012.

"Sometimes I'll hit it all week, sometimes just once a week," Luken said. "Normally I get by with just a double bogey at worst. Most of the time, it's a par or bogey."

Now that he's reached 1,000, Luken plans on taking it a little easier and likely will play some shorter tees.

"I think I'll play those for fun," he said. "They're a little bit easier."

Luken, who lives with his daughter and son-in-law, said he has some health concerns. His wife Mickey suffers from Alzheimer's and doesn't get around very well. He admits that 1,000 was really his goal, and there might not be any more milestones in his future.

"At 95, I have some aches and pains," Luken said. "It's getting more difficult to get around the course, especially on the backside. It's getting to be a long walk.

"To tell the truth, I don't know how much longer I can keep doing this."

Shooting your age

  • Longtime Moorhead (Minn.) State baseball and golf coach T. Edison Smith holds the record for most shooting his age or better 3,359 times, according to GolfDigest. He died Dec. 15, 2011 at the age of 95. He surpassed the record of Frank Bailey of Abilene, Texas, who did it 2,623 times from age 71 until his death at age 98.

  • Bob Kurtz of Cullman, Ala. shot his age 7 times in one day Aug. 1, 2012 to set a world record.

  • The youngest golfer to shoot his age was 1944 PGA Championship winner Bob Hamilton. He shot his age of 59 in 1975 at the Hamilton Golf Club in Evansville, Ind.

  • The youngest golfer to shoot his age on a major professional tours was Walter Morgan. In 2002, at age 61, Morgan shot a 60 in the Champions Tour's AT&T Canada Senior Open Championship.

  • The youngest golfer to shoot his age on the PGA Tour was Sam Snead, who shot a 67 at the Quad Cities Open in 1979, when he was 67. The next day he shot 66.

  • The oldest golfer to shoot his age was 103-year-old Arthur Thompson of Victoria, British Columbia in 1972 at the Uplands Golf Club in Victoria.

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