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updated: 8/27/2014 9:06 AM

Golf has ageless wonder in Rockford

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  • Lowell Parrish, 82, talks to other players before teeing off on the second hole at Elliot Golf Course in Rockford,

      Lowell Parrish, 82, talks to other players before teeing off on the second hole at Elliot Golf Course in Rockford,
    AP Photo/Rockford Register Star, Brent Lewis

 
By MATT TROWBRIDGE
Rockford Register Star

ROCKFORD -- Lowell Parrish peaked at age 68, when he shot his age for the first time and was a scratch golfer.

"I'm a slow learner," he joked.

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Or maybe he peaked at age 80, when he played a personal-best 230 times with his Rockford Park District golf pass.

Parrish, 82, has won the Rockford Senior Classic, for golfers 60 and older, four times, but has never won a non-senior tourney. Still, among fellow golfers he is one of the most famous in town.

Some of it is for his ageless talents -- he shot 76 in the opening round of this year's Rockford Men's Classic. And some of it is because he has for decades been one of the most common faces seen on local courses, just showing up at the first tee to join whichever group is teeing off.

"He plays all the courses. He doesn't have a favorite; they are all his favorites," said Dave Claeyssens, the former longtime co-manager of golf services for the Rockford Park District. "He will join any group, and no matter what the quality of the players is, he always has a good time. And he always shoots his age. He's just a gentleman."

"I meet different people," Parrish said, "just about every time I go out."

Parrish, born in Arkansas the second youngest of 14 kids, followed most of his older brothers and sisters to Rockford in July of 1950 looking for work.

"We were among the thousands from Arkansas who took over Rockford without firing a shot," he said.

He took up golf in 1956 after some co-workers at Sundstrand invited him to Ingersoll.

"That was all it took. I've been hooked ever since."

Parrish, who has lost 30 yards off his drives in the last four years but still consistently hits the ball 220 or 240 yards, tried to take a lesson only once. That was before he played in the 1980 Rockford Pro-Am. But he looked so good warming up with a 5-iron, the pro asked him: "What's the matter? Can't you putt?"

Parrish didn't start golfing a lot until the youngest of his four kids graduated from high school in the early 1980s. He more than made up for lost time, averaging between 175 and 190 rounds a year on his golf pass, many of them 9-hole rounds. But he walks almost every time. The year he played 230 rounds, he walked 226 of them.

"If I have a lousy round, at least I get exercise out of it," he said.

Even at 82, Parrish shows no signs of slowing down, even though one of his fingers no longer bends enough to grip a club properly.

"The only problem I have is with my hands," he said. "I have a joint problem, but if I can just stay loose, it works pretty good. I have no complaints when it comes down to it -- although golfers always have complaints."

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