A significant milestone in any golfer’s career is the ability to shoot one’s age, the rare combination of getting older and staying athletically capable.
"Teddy Tempo" is just such a golfer.
Teddy Lukew of Jericho, a retired court reporter, is 81 years ago and holds a 7 handicap, playing almost exclusively the courses at Bethpage, where he is a member of the Nassau Players Club. With that handicap, it means he is usually breaking 80, a Holy Grail sort of number for any recreational player.
"He’s got a beautiful swing," Nassau Players Club president Mike Pomerico said. "He doesn’t care what tees you play. If you want to play the blue tees, the white tees, he never says a word about it, even though he can’t hit the ball as far as everybody else can."
But Lukew has an accurate short game and deft putting stroke, attributes essential for scoring.
"On the par-4s, he’ll get on in three but we know he’s going to one-putt for his par even though he’s 90 yards away," Pomerico said. "But he’ll stick it close and one-putt and gets his par."
Lukew, who grew up on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, was attracted to the game in a somewhat unusual manner.
"I grew up playing stickball in the streets," the modest Lukew said. "On Seventh Street near McSorley's Old Ale House. Our stickball bats we made from broomsticks. I used to swing at bottle caps on the street and maybe that’s where I got interested in swinging a club."
Lukew took one lesson from local pro legend Jim Albus at the La Tourette Golf Course on Staten Island. Albus was the longtime pro at Piping Rock and was a successful Senior PGA Tour player.
Lukew was playing with a set of beginner clubs and Albus suggested he get better gear and ordered him a set.
"He just said you got to swing more upright and play more," Lukew said. "That was my lesson with Jim Albus."
He’s essentially self taught. "I bought Jack Nicklaus’ book ‘Golf My Way,’ " he said.
When he was younger he shot a pair of 69s on the Red Course at Bethpage and has shot a 72 on the Black Course. Last year at age 80 he made the championship match of the Nassau Players Club B Flight, for players with handicaps of about 5.5 to 8.5. Though he lost in the final, he won four matches and walked the Black Course.
The Nassau Players arranged a special 75th birthday party for Lukew at the Bethpage clubhouse, though it took a little doing to find out how old he was.
"He’s been in the club 20-plus years," Pomerico said. "And he would never tell us his age. Never. ‘Don’t worry about it, don’t worry about it, don’t worry about it,’ he would say."
Let’s just say Pomerico, a former Village of Freeport Police Department detective, did some sleuthing and determined that Lukew would be turning 75 the following month.
"So we surprised him with a birthday cake at Bethpage," Pomerico said. "We had like 40 guys there. He was so overwhelmed and taken back. He was upset that we knew. He thought we called his wife and she told us."
Lukew remembers vividly the writing on the cake: "It said Happy Birthday, Ted, We Know!"
He’s always kept his age to himself.
"It was a big secret with me because once people know your age everything becomes age-related," said Lukew, a lithe 6-4 and 180. "And I sort of push back on that. Whenever someone would say, ‘Ted, how old are you?’ I’d say, ‘Old enough to know better.’ "