BY ALEX PODLOGAR
When M.O. Owens Jr. picked up the game of golf, he used two clubs – a 7 iron and a putter.
“On that course, a 7-iron was all you needed,” he says now.
It was a short, dusty 9-hole course near Greenville, S.C., opened right around the time Owens picked up that fateful 7 iron. But at the time, that course had something in common with Donald Ross’s famed Pinehurst No. 2.
“Sand greens,” Owens recalls. “Just a little 9-hole sand-green course.”
That was in 1932.
On Thursday, over 80 years later, No. 2 had something else in common with that long-forgotten track.
M.O. Owens Jr., now nearly two months after his 100th birthday, had played both.
“It was delightful. I can now say I’ve played No. 2. That’s great.” – M.O. Owens
Owens shuffles off the back of the 18th green, moments after sliding his 30-footer from the front of the green just past the right lip of the cup. He makes the 2-foot comebacker to close out the round.
“Amazing,” says Adam Ludlum, Owens’s caddie. “Just amazing.”
His last day at 99, Owens shot his age. Well, he shot an even 100, but at that point, a little rounding up is OK.
“Three-to-four weeks before that, I shot 92,” Owens says, a brief glint in his eye, before he pauses a second, “but that was way back.”
It isn’t Owens’s first trip to Pinehurst – he played No. 8 not long after it opened in late 1990s – and the Gastonia pastor was in the gallery for the 1999 and 2005 U.S. Opens. But this, his first time playing No. 2, is different.
M.O. Owens points out a picture lining the hallowed hall of Pinehurst’s Resort Clubhouse on Oct. 31.
“At the Open, you can really only see one hole at a time. I saw all 18 today.”
Owens, who founded Parkwood Baptist Church 50 years ago, didn’t shoot his age on No. 2. He says he didn’t play well on this day, and he wasn’t pressed to provide a score.
The score didn’t matter anyway.
“It was delightful,” Owens says, his voice rising. “I can now say I’ve played No. 2. That’s great.”
All it took was 81 years.
In those eight decades of golf, M.O. Owens Jr. has never broken 80.
Oh, he’s been close. He’s gotten to 80 before. And over the years, golfing regularly with members of his congregation and other friends, he’s hit that magic number and signed a few low-80s cards.
“I’ve been around there a number of times across the years,” Owens says.
That number is out of reach these days. Of course Owens knows that. And he’s going to have days when the course is too much for him. Seven months from hosting back-to-back U.S. Opens in 2014, No. 2 is one of those courses, and it wears Owens down.
“I didn’t play very well,” says Owens, waiting a beat again as a tone soaked with equal parts resignation and truth surfaces, “but when you get to my age, you don’t expect to.”
Yet Owens keeps coming out. Keeps swinging the club. He plays like we all do. Warm up on the range. Roll a few on the practice green. Head to the tee.
And at times, there is frustration. Golf is hard. We all know that. But at 100 and on a U.S. Open-ready course?
That’s tough. Real tough.
But, you play to 100, you learn a few things about the game along the way.
“Sure, you get frustrated sometimes, but I learned a long time ago that it’s not worth getting upset about things,” Owens says. “There’s always another day…”
That pause again. You hang on what’s coming next. You know something is coming, and it’s gonna be good.
Apparently, among the other things you can learn over a century, is perfect timing.
“There’s always another day…