"Since the day I met him, Sid's been searching for the perfect swing. Some day he might find it."
It's Sunday, so Sid Beckwith is resting. On the other six days of the week, he drives his golf cart down the hill from the condo he shares with Helen Baillies that backs to the 15th hole at Green Valley Country Club and is at the golf shop in about three minutes.
"We tee off at 7:45 every day except Wednesday," he says, relaxing over lunch. "Wednesday, guys from outside the club come and play with us, and we don't start until 8:45."
None of this is remarkable for someone who belongs to a semiprivate club in central Florida except for a couple of things: Beckwith will turn 97 in July. More often than not, he shoots his age or better playing from the white tees—from which the course measures 6,088 yards.
Then there's this: Last Oct. 24, Sid shot 94. It was the 1,000th time he had officially shot his age or better.
Early in February, he aced the par-3 13th at Green Valley. It was his 17th hole-in-one, the fourth one he's had on that hole. He shot 86 that day. "Yeah, but I had the hole-in-one," he says. "I go out every day and try to get better. That's what makes the game fun."
He had shot 96 the day before, marking the 1,045th time (and counting) he had matched or beaten his age. "I'm not playing very well," he says. "It might be time to change my swing again."
According to Bob DeStefano, hired by Beckwith in 1962 as the pro at Gardiner's Bay Country Club on Shelter Island—a tiny enclave on eastern Long Island—the only thing Sid has done more often than shoot his age is change his golf swing. "Since the day I met him, Sid's been searching for the perfect swing," DeStefano says. "Some day he might find it."
Beckwith learned the game as a teenager growing up on Shelter Island. The pro at the local public golf course gave him a wood mashie. By the time Sid was in high school, he was on the golf team.
"My senior year, I was the only guy on the team," he says. "Most of the time, I played with the principal."
Beckwith was drafted when World War II started and was going to be shipped to Guadalcanal. But he contracted spinal meningitis during a stopover in San Francisco and was so sick he was given last rites. He recovered, but rather than going into combat, he was sent to Hawaii as a staff sergeant in Ordnance.
"I read all the casualty reports from Guadalcanal," he says. "Chances are pretty good getting spinal meningitis saved my life."
After the war ended, he joined Gardiner's Bay and can't remember if he paid $60 or $80 to become a member. His lowest handicap was 5, and he was a perennial semifinalist in the club championship but never won, though he was the medalist once. After he retired in 1978 and began spending winters in Florida, he did become club champion at Green Valley—twice.
In fact, it was during a club-championship round in 1990, soon after he had turned 72, that he shot his age for the first time. "Had a birdie putt for 70," he says. "Missed it and shot 71." Every afternoon, after he plays, Sid gets on an elliptical for about 20 minutes. No days off from exercise.
Fourteen years ago, he lost his wife, Geraldine, to Alzheimer's. Baillies, a neighbor, came over frequently to help. After Geraldine passed away, Sid and Helen began playing golf together. Sid smiles: "Younger woman. I was born July 19, 1918; she was born Sept. 6, 1918." Helen has also shot her age or better a number of times but doesn't keep an official tally.
When he isn't playing golf, Sid often watches Golf Channel or reads the instructional section of any magazine he can find. "Sometimes I'll try a swing for two or three holes, give it up for another swing and then go to a third one, all in one round," he says. "One of these days, I'm sure I'll find the right one."
Don't bet against him.