By Martin Blake, Golf Australia.
We’ll have to forgive Tom Sample for “slowing down a little”.
After all, he’s a twice-a-week club golfer at the ripe age of 100, and there are barely a handful of them around.
As a living, breathing testimony to the notion of golf as the ‘game for life’, he takes some beating.
Tom drives his Honda Accord Euro from his home in Kingsford down to the club at Bonnie Doon in south-eastern Sydney on Wednesday and Saturday mornings to play off his 36 handicap, and still hits it decently.
“I’m not playing so well at the moment but anyway, golf’s a game where you run hot and you run cold,” he told Golf Australia this week. “I think it’s because of the fact when you’re old, you don’t keep the concentration going. Some days you concentrate more than other days.”
A three-time C grade champion in his 45 years at ‘The Doon’, he sometimes drops down to D Grade nowadays, where they slice his handicap to 27. Not that he’s complaining. On the contrary, he thinks that golf has kept him humming along.
“I always say to people who say ‘how do you attribute playing for so long’, that I think it’s the fact that it’s a healthy game,” he said. “You get out in the fresh air. It’s too fresh sometimes in the winter! But it’s good to be out there, just walking.
“I ride in the cart now by the way. I’ve got a dicky knee and I’m past the time when they can operate and fix it up. I should’ve had it 10 years ago. Anyway, I struggle around, I get in and out of the cart which is good exercise for me in any case.
“It’s just a great sport for people when they pass 65 or 70, you can still go out and play. I think that’s important instead of sitting around watching TV.”
Tom broke his age as recently as last year at Mona Vale, playing with his son. At Bonnie Doon he’s universally known as ‘Tommy’, and generally plays with the same group.
One of them, Ross Jones, follows Tom’s ball for him. Another, Tom Duley, has played in the same group for 22 years. “That’s a good sign that we get on well together,” said Tom. “I think it’s important you play with people that you like.”
He still hits his drives around 165 metres, and generally straight. “I’m not a long hitter by the way. I started to play when I was 45 or something and prior to that I was a tennis player.
Generally speaking I was a pretty good tennis player but I’m just a mug golfer!”
He’s not kidding about his tennis prowess. Growing up in Newcastle he went undefeated one season and once took a set off the Australian Davis Cup player Jack Dart. “I gave up tennis when my partner starting calling me ‘Dad’,” he said. “I didn’t like giving it up but I thought it was time. All I can say is I think my competitive days of tennis came over to some of the games I play in golf.”
Tom turned 100 last November, an occasion celebrated at the club. As it happened he shares his birthday with Qantas, and the airline put him on a round-Sydney flight that soared over the harbour bridge.
“The flight attendants looked after my son and I, and as the trip was finishing up they came over the microphone and sang ‘Happy birthday Tom’. That was the highlight as far as we were concerned.”
Just this year, Tom Sample thought about giving golf away. His knee is a problem, but ultimately, he kept his longtime habit. It meant too much to him.
“It’s good to be still going around,” he said. “I must tell you, so many fellows say ‘how are you Tom?’ I wouldn’t have a clue who they are by the way, but I make out that I know them. It’s good to be noted by the other players in the club. They say: ‘How’d you go today, Tom?’ I say: ‘Hopeless!’
So Tommy teed it up again. Thus he added another chapter to a wonderful golf story.