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Characters | Ed Ervasti

98-Year-Old Hole Shot

By: Thomas Dunne

Appeared in the Fall 2012 issue of LINKS.

DURiNG THE WARM MONTHS, most days you’ll find Ed Ervasti at the London Hunt Club—on the golf course, the range, or comfortably ensconced in a leather club chair—holding court. Trim and fit at the tender age of 98, stories cascade from the native Minnesotan, who has spent much of his adult life in this city in southwestern Ontario. Now and then, fellow members shuffle over for a bit of banter. One representative exchange:

“How are ya, Ed?”

“I’m lucky to get up every morning.”

“Yeah,” Ervasti's friend turned to address a visitor. “And then he beats the hell out of everyone on the golf course.”

Ed Ervasti has defied Father Time perhaps more ably than any golfer in history. He doesn't just shoot his age—at this point, he shoots the ages of people born when he was already a teenager. And it’s not really much of an event: He does it every time out. It's estimated that Ervasti has bettered his age some 3,000 times, punctuated by some crazy stuff, like a 72 at the age of 93.

Raised near Detroit, Ervasti grew up caddying and playing his golf with hickory clubs. He began his vocational training as the only young man in a class with 65 girls (“I can type 100 words a minute to this day”), and over the course of a long career with Wolverine Tube, Inc. of Decatur, Ala., he rose from the secretarial pool to the company presidency. Along the way, he raised three sons with his wife, Jane, and also found time to win the Michigan State Amateur (1947) and appear in two U.S. Opens. In the final U.S. Open qualifier at Oakmont in 1953, he found himself paired with a fellow amateur by the name of Arnold Palmer. Ervasti failed to make the field, while Palmer, playing in his first Open, missed the cut. “I wasn’t that impressed with him at the time,” Ervasti recalls. “But he improved so much more than I did.”

Ervasti, however, kept his legendary short game sharp for decades to come, compiling a sterling senior resumé that includes a Canadian Senior Amateur and two North & South Senior Amateur victories, among scores of other titles. However, it quickly becomes apparent that the hardware means much less to him than the memories of the people he’s met along the way.

Ervasti was something of a Zelig-like figure in mid-century golf, rubbing shoulders with everyone who was anyone in the game. In conversation, one character sketch after another emerges, from titans like Byron Nelson (his favorite foursome of all-time involved Lord Byron, Harvie Ward, and Walker Cup player Jimmy Jackson at Oakland Hills in 1954) to colorful old-timers like Tommy Armour.

“He never talks about events that he’s won or shots that he’s hit,” says his son, John, a decorated plus-handicap player in his own right. “He talks about who he’s played with. He emphasizes the social aspect of the game.”

One story Ervasti relishes telling: During World War II, as an Air Force private, he was stationed at Camp Kearns in Salt Lake City, a basic-training facility that sent 10,000 troops per month to the Pacific Theater. An eight-man golf team formed, playing matches against BYU and other squads. One day, Ervasti was told he’d be playing golf the next day at Salt Lake City Country Club with a “Lieutenant Hogan.” That officer, of course, was none other than The Hawk himself. 

On the way to the course, Hogan asked if practice balls would be available and frowned when informed the group would head straight to the first tee. "Remember,” Ervasti says, “he was called the ‘Mechanical Man’ by the press. [In his warm-up] he needed to go all the way through the bag, then putt for 30 minutes. He hadn’t played in three months, either. He didn’t break 80 that day.” The verdict? “Not a very friendly man.” Ervasti, for his part, shot 72.

Of course, one doesn’t make it to 98 in such fine style without being asked (over and over again, in all likelihood) the secret to one’s longevity. Ervasti is quick to point out that he isn’t a Jack LaLanne-style fitness buff. His advice is simple: Walk, every day. (“And don't shuffle! Walk!”) Though he plays most of his golf with a cart now, he proudly noted, “I walked two-and-a-half miles this morning, between six and seven. I just can't sit around doing nothing.” And for so many of us whose work and family commitments often conspire to keep us off the course, he offered some heartening wisdom:

“Remember,” he said, “Every day you play golf, you add a day to your life."

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