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At age 100, Earl Mallinger still going strong on the golf course

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Earl Mallinger poses with his golf clubs at the Drayton Golf Course on Monday, On Tuesday, Mallinger will celebrate his 101st birthday. Photo/Eric Hylden, Grand Forks Herald2 / 2

DRAYTON, N.D. -- His golf clubs were in the trunk of his car Monday. That's where they remained as Earl Mallinger was spectator rather than player, riding the course on a cart at the weekly round of the North Valley Seniors League.

Age has slowed Mallinger. It hasn't stopped the retired Oslo, Minn., farmer, who was a day shy of his 101st birthday Monday.

He's a year-round golfer, spending his winters in Weslaco, Texas.

"Until this year, I've played two, three days a week up here,'' Mallinger said. "I've cut back some. My knees have bothered me some. My balance isn't what it used to be. And it's so doggone hot.

"In Texas, I was playing nine holes, six days a week. I walked them until this last winter. Now I can't walk very far. Time is catching up''

Still, Mallinger is used to competing in the seniors league where he estimates he's eight years older than the next-youngest golfer. As recently as late June, Mallinger finished fourth in his age division in an 18-hole tournament in Grafton.

Golf became a hobby after retirement. Prior to that, Mallinger never played any competitive sports. Work took up too much time.

"I started playing when I was 75 years old,'' he said. "I was too busy working to play before that. I was in the potato business; I grew 500 acres for many years. That keeps you busy.

"My younger brother (Ralph) was a doctor in California. He knew I was going to retire soon. He told me I needed to take up something to exercise instead of sitting around in a rocking chair. He'd golfed all his life. So I took up golf.''

Mallinger still uses some of the first golf clubs he owned. He bought them at a flea market.

Mallinger said he could always hit the ball straight. When he started, it was 200 yards off the tee. Now it's more like 140 yards. "If the wind is with me, I can still hit it 150,'' he said.

His game has adapted. His chipping and putting have come a long way since the early days. He even beat his age once, shooting a round of 94 when he was 95 years old.

Mallinger estimates he's played around 10 rounds this summer. His average is probably between a 105 and a 110, he said. Regardless of his score, he's never been one to toss his clubs in frustration.

"I've thought about doing it a few times, but I never did,'' he said. "Golf teaches you patience. And I've always been pretty long on patience.''

And putting away those golf clubs for good? It's not in Mallinger's plans. He values the exercise and the fellowship too much.

"As long as I can keep moving, I plan to play,'' he said. "I'm a good advertisement for someone who wants to take up golf late. I don't know if I'd have gotten to 101 if I hadn't been golfing.''