Centenarian learned to play golf barefoot

By Joe Napsha
Published on

GREENSBURG, Pa. -- Steve Ersick was just out of high school when a friend challenged him to his first round of golf.

It was during the Great Depression, and his family couldn't afford spiked shoes. So he played barefoot.

He won that shoeless match at the Mt. Odin Park Golf Course in Greensburg -- a track where 23 years later he scored a hole-in-one. In September, he was back at the course, this time trying to shoot his age.

Ersick turned 100 this spring.

"I'm doing OK with my game today. If not, I would throw the club in the woods," joked Ersick of Youngwood, who's still sharp, witty and fit. "It's not if you win or lose, it's how you play the game."

Ersick played the game to a score of 54 for nine holes when his friends treated him to a round at the course for his birthday.

Ersick once had dreams of turning pro.

He worked his handicap down to 4 and won tournaments sponsored by Robertshaw Controls Co. in Youngwood, where he worked.

But life changed his plans.

He met his wife, Virginia, at Robertshaw, and the couple married in 1947 and had two children.

Their life together didn't stop Ersick from playing golf -- he just made it a family affair, teaching the game to his wife, son Mark and daughter Renee. The family often spent Sunday afternoons playing a round at Robertshaw Acres Golf Club on Albrights Lake Road in Hempfield.

"I've really lived. I've enjoyed every bit of my life," Ersick said.

Ersick has fond memories of a young Arnold Palmer from Latrobe playing golf at Mt. Odin. He remembers Palmer's father, whom he met at a Robertshaw golf league banquet.

"I liked his dad, Deacon," Ersick said.

A photo displayed on the dining room table of Ersick's home shows Palmer congratulating him on his 100th birthday during a recent visit to Palmer's Latrobe Country Club in Unity.

Ersick's house is filled with golf memories -- trophies from his victories in the Robertshaw tournaments, a plaque that holds the ball from his hole-in-one in 1958.

Two putters propped against his television near an indoor practice hole make it clear that he's not letting his advanced years stop his golfing fun.

He attributes his longevity to staying fit and not smoking or drinking.

"I think it's because he is in constant motion," said his son, 65, of Lee, N.H. "He's always kept himself trim."

His active life at 100 might be pegged to his genes. His mother lived to 92 and his "baby" sister, Ann Drylic of Jeannette, is 98.

Ersick was born May 20, 1915, to parents who had five children when they emigrated from Hungary to Cambria County. He was the first of five to be born in America.

He graduated from Greensburg High School, where he was a track star and pole vaulter, and took a job as a research lab assistant at Robertshaw. When the United States entered World War II, Ersick tried numerous times to join the Army but was rejected. Robertshaw made timers and fuses for bombs -- work considered vital to the nation's defense -- so its workers weren't drafted.

"I wanted to go because all of my buddies were going," he said. "It was hard not to go. I felt kind of sad."

So he stayed home, doting on his wife -- she died at 88 in 2009 -- and raising a family. He played a round of golf whenever he could.

During his 100th birthday party, Ersick played a few tunes on his accordion and sang a popular song from his youth, "I Don't Know Why (I Just Do)."

And as a testament to his still-sharp wit, his son said, he cracked jokes.

"I'd rather be 21 right now and going to someone else's birthday party," Ersick quipped.

This article was written by Joe Napsha from Tribune-Review, Greensburg, Pa. and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.