Early every Monday morning, Ed Palkot and two others in his Eisenhower Park foursome needle their compatriot Bob McGill, who soon will turn 89. They get on him about being too darned young for their group.
But what the heck. They figure McGill is grown up enough to keep up with Palkot, who will be 101 next month, and the friends with whom he has been playing for the past 10 years in the Salisbury Senior Golf Club: Joe Leto, 95, and Lou Hollweg, 93.
All of them occasionally win prizes in Salisbury's nine-hole division and they are celebrities among the park's staffers, who swear that Palkot could pass for 70. He loves hearing that, just like he loves everything else about having reached triple digits.
"I grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, when the steel mills were pouring out that smog, you know? And we were drinking water from the Ohio River that was polluted with chemicals. I built up so much resistance that here I am," Palkot said before 9 a.m. Monday, having drained a four-foot putt on his final hole and pulled away from the green in his golf cart.
The Garden City resident remembers playing "goofy golf " with a tree limb as a young camper, but didn't pursue the game seriously until he retired at 65 from his job as director of human resources for Marine Midland Bank. He has no plans to stop. His only concession to age is the suction cup on the handle of his putter, which he uses to take the ball out of the hole.
A fellow 90-plus golfer used to play with them, but dropped out. "There was another man who wanted to join the foursome. He was 86 and Ed said we can't have him because he's not 90. But when Robert came along, Ed forgave him for his youth. He said he could play. That's a true story," said Leto, who also lives in Garden City and began playing golf soon after he got out of the Army in 1945.
"I was a contractor and I built the Garden City Country Club. I joined the club," Leto said, adding that he still gets calls from clients and goes into Manhattan to serve as advisor on projects, bowls on Tuesdays and does exercise classes three days a week. He preaches the need to stay active. "Don't find an excuse to be idle," he said.
Hollweg, from East Meadow, became a golfer 31 years ago after he retired as a machinist and die maker. "I've made a lot of nice friends," he said. He also has made a lot of good putts. Like the rest of the group, he still shoots around 50 for nine holes.
McGill of Uniondale takes the razzing in stride. "I'm the only one in the group who can hear," the former AT&T employee said. When Palkot responded in mock astonishment when a reporter asked if they all drive themselves to the course ("How else are we going to get here? What a silly question"), McGill said, "We drive with a rosary in our hands."
Palkot still hits his drives down the middle. He is proud to have received a plaque for being the oldest golfer in the club. It's not everybody who can recall waving to a truck carrying soldiers off to World War I or experiencing Prohibition (his father ran a speakeasy).
Not that he is lost in the good old days. He said the best time is now. "It's a lot better than we had it when we had to crank the car," he said. "As a kid, I remember guys coming in with their arms in a sling and they said, 'The car kicked back.' "
On his 100th birthday last August, Palkot appeared on Fox News Channel, sitting beside his son Greg, Fox's Emmy-winning senior foreign correspondent. Another great part of that day was the fact he received a free round of golf for having hit the century mark.
Leto said, "Now every Monday, a different one of us says he's 100."