WOODSTOCK – John Pianowski sat down, poured his Corona Extra into a glass with crushed ice, laid his River Forest Golf Club cap on the table, revealing a splended full head of hair, and made one request.
“Can you use my last scorecard?” Pianowski said.
Pianowski was dissatisfied with the 58 he shot in the Crystal Woods Golf Club’s Senior League Monday morning, although there was a legitimate reason for him not playing at his normal level. Pianowski tumbled while teeing up his ball on No. 2 and his left elbow pushed on his ribs as he rolled to the ground.
“I don’t know if I broke a rib, it felt like I did,” said Pianowski, who shot 47 last week. “I couldn’t swing. It wasn’t until the last hole that I had a decent swing.”
When Pianowski bends over to tee the ball he uses his driver like a cane, but the club had slipped, sending him to the turf. Hector Palacios, Pianowski’s playing partner in the league, shot better than his teammate of three years for the first time.
“That’s because he wasn’t on his game, he was hurting,” said Palacios, 65, who lives in Woodstock. “He wasn’t the same, old John that was playing. I can’t take that as a victory.”
Pianowski is a treat.
How many men play in a Senior League with a teammate 35 years younger?
Pianowski, 100, lives in Lake in the Hills, plays golf at Pinecrest Golf Club and RedTail Golf Club in the area, still drives himself, enjoys a martini each night and trades on the stock market.
“I know a lot of older guys, but none of them have a Smart Phone,” Palacios says.
Pianowski does. He pulls up a picture of himself several years ago at a Blackhawks game as one of the military veterans honored. He is standing on the rug over the ice next to Jim Cornelison singing the national anthem.
Pianowski was signed by the White Sox as a pitcher out of Morton High School in Cicero. He and Orville Grove were two of the best in the city and were signed by the Sox on the same day. As fate would have it, Pianowski hurt his arm and didn’t make it to the major leagues; Grove set a Sox record by getting wins in his first nine decisions in 1945.
Pianowski grew up in Chicago and played just about any sport that was available, except golf. That came later.
He played football and basketball, he wrestled, boxed and bowled. After he served in the Army Air Forces, he began working and a boss encouraged him to play golf.
“I didn’t want to play golf. Golf was a sissies’ game at that time,” Pianowski said. “My boss wanted me to play golf.”
Pianowski was quickly hooked.
He married his childhood sweetheart, Loretta, in 1942, and they had a son, Jim, who lives close to John in Boulder Ridge Lakes in Lake in the Hills. Loretta died in 1970 after a bout with cancer.
Pianowski struggled after losing Loretta. He says he considered suicide, but decided “I better get moving.” So he dated for a while and eventually remarried. Rosemarie, his second wife, passed in 2011, but Pianowski cherishes the relationships with his two stepsons.
Pianowski eventually retired when he was 74, which gave him more time to spend on his golf game.
Naturally, Pianowski has physical limitations, but his mind and sense of humor are as keen as ever.
“I walk like a drunken sailor,” he said. “I walk like a very drunken sailor.”
But even on Monday, with his ribs aching after the spill, his ball-striking ability was evident. His saving grace for the round was the final hole, when he bogeyed a par-4 with some solid shots.
“He’s extremely sharp for his age,” Crystal Woods co-owner John Craig said. “He has a good sense of humor. He’s a neat guy. He’s one of the better players in this league. They allow guys to go to the red tees when they’re 75. He still hits from the silver tees. It’s amazing.”
Pianowski has shot his age more times then he can count. He said he did that quite often when he was in his 70s.
He battled back problems since he was 31, but found out quite a while ago that the arthritis treatment Celebrex gave him relief for that.
“My left eye is really bad, but this (right) eye is still good,” Pianowski said. “I have congestive heart failure, I have a pacemaker and they had to put an extra wire in it to pump more blood. I have prostate problems, I have arthritis, but otherwise I’m fine. I can’t hear worth a damn minus the hearing aid.”
Before going down his list of ailments, Pianowski gratefully points to his head.
“I’m fortunate,” he says, “this is still here.”
Palacios drives the cart and helps out Pianowski during their rounds. He took up golf after retiring at age 57, so he enjoys any advice Pianowski can offer.
“it’s been a lot of fun,” Palacios said. “All the stories I hear from him. I like listening to stories. This guy’s been playing all his life and you can tell. Today wasn’t a good day because he fell, but normally he’s on the fairway all the time. It’s fun watching him play.”
Pianowski can recite every place he was stationed in the Army. He even remembers his Army serial number: 36316477.
He can regale people with stories of tournaments played decades ago, like the Gold Cup in Las Vegas, where they played a four-man scramble and he won back-to-back days with different teammates.
Pianowski was the A man, then there were B, C and D designated players to try to level the teams. On the second day, their D man had a 33-handicap.
“Who has a handicap over 24?” Pianowski said. “But I still bet $10 across the board on our team. The D guy went out the night before and got drunk and couldn’t show, so they gave our C man two shots and he was good. I’ve had good fortune.”
Pianowski is proud of his self-suffiency. He sits up on his bed each morning and does some twists to get moving. He walks, with a walker, for short distances each day when he picks up his mail. And he checks his stocks on his phone or computer.
“I never think old,” he said, when asked about his secret to longevity. “Maybe that’s it. (Golf) is a game I love. I still remember how to hit a golf ball.”
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