Dr. Ed Updegraff holds a reverence for the game of golf that’s almost equal to the reverence the rest of us hold for him.
One of the best amateur players in the country at a younger age, the retired Tucson urologist is now one of the best – if not the very best – 85-year-old golfers on the planet.
Last week, Dr. Ed shot a 74 at 49ers Country Club. He modestly defers an estimate, and probably has no idea how many times he has shot his age.
“All the time,” he says if you really press the subject.
The Arizona Amateur, held last week at Tucson Country Club, is among his favorite events -not so much because he won it four times but because it’s a showcase of the best the state has to offer.
Dr. Ed is Mr. Golf in this city and this state.
He has played forever, seen it all, knew Bobby Jones, is himself an amateur golf icon and continues to play so marvelously well because “I am able to maintain a high level of enjoyment.”
He credits that to “the wonderful group I play with regularly and those I play with in seniors events.”
A healthy attitude in any activity, he said, is good for you. That includes golf.
“When you’re young, it’s that competitive desire that pushes you to be good,” he said. “Now, it’s the tremendous level of enjoyment I get from playing with my friends.”
Updegraff won the USGA Senior Amateur in 1981 and was runner-up in 1982 when the event was played at Tucson Country club.
He won the Arizona Amateur in 1952, 1955, 1961 and 1969.
He won the 1993 Arizona Senior Amateur at Canoa Hills in Green Valley.
Born March 1, 1922, in Boone, Iowa, Updegraff received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Iowa. He then earned a medical degree from the Colorado School of Medicine.
He retired 20 years ago from his practice here.
Dr. Ed met the great Bobby Jones at the National Amateur at the James River Country Club in Virginia many years ago. They met again when Jones was in Tucson for the National Junior Championship at El Rio in the 1950s.
They spent time together when Updegraff played at the Masters Tournament at Augusta, Ga., in the 1960s.
“My last year at the Masters, 1969 or ’70, he was bedfast at this cabin there at the Masters,” Updegraff said. “We visited. He was very weak at the time.”
Jones died of a degenerative neurological disorder.
“Oh, he was the best,” Updegraff said. “With present day equipment, he’d compare well with today’s golfers, I am sure. But you know, it’s an apples-and-oranges sort of thing.
“Glenn Cunningham, for example, was the dominant distance runner of the 1930s, but he couldn’t carry the towels for today’s runners. Bob was dominant against his peers, but the game has evolved tremendously.”
So, in a foursome of Jones, Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods, which of the group would Dr. Ed put his money on?
Without hesitation, he said: “Tiger.”
“It would be touch and go, however,” he said. “And you could put Byron Nelson, Arnold Palmer and Billy Casper in there.
“I played with Nicklaus 20 years ago, and we were wondering if anyone would ever come along to challenge him and his records. Before Jack it was the same with Palmer, and before Palmer it was the same with Nelson and Hogan.
“Each decade the best rise to the top as other men’s talents diminish.”
And what remains is a man’s love for the game.
“Oh, yes,” Updegraff said.
Golf is perhaps the most honorable of all sports, for one reason: because it puts a player in position to penalize himself or herself for things opponents may not have noticed.
Dr. Ed would like to see the sport purify itself even more by pressing on with drug testing.
“I think it’s good idea,” he said. “I believe the ladies (tour) are going to do it and I think the men should, too. It’s a simple matter. I see where Gary Player thinks one or two players are using (performance enhancing) drugs, and I believe we should test in order to find out.”
If Dr. Ed could make one rule that would improve his beloved sport, what would that be?
“Speed it up,” he said. “One thing I noticed out here last week at the Arizona Amateur was players going from one side of the fairway to the other, studying things, taking time . . . and I truly believe we should have and enforce a continuous putting rule instead of marking the ball all the time.
“Golf is too expensive, and it’s too hard to play, for it to be dragged into a 5 1/2-hour ordeal.”
That his big concern, at age 85, is speeding up the game says a lot about Ed Updegraff, one of the great golf heroes in Tucson history.
Retired columnist Corky Simpson writes every Saturday for the Citizen.