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Don Malarkey, PGA's Oldest Member, Dies at 101
PGA Life Member Don Malarkey, of Signal Mountain, Tenn., who competed alongside golf legends from Hagen to Snead and later became a premier PGA Teaching Professional in the Tennessee PGA Section, died July 28, 2006, at Chattanooga Memorial Hospital, following complications from pneumonia.
Malarkey was the oldest member of the PGA of America at 101. He helped the association celebrate its 90th anniversary on April 10, 2006, in New York City. "This is the best moment of my life," said Malarkey, with a tear in his eye as he stepped off the podium, following his address of an audience of nearly 300 in the Hotel Martinique – the exact location of The PGA's founding. "I'm so happy to be among PGA members, so many wonderful people."
Malarkey was elected to PGA membership in August 1926, and was the 13th longest serving member in PGA of America history. His son, Mike Malarkey, a former University of Tennessee men's golf coach, along with his wife, Connie, accompanied both Don and his second wife, Maxine, to New York City. Mike coached the Volunteers from 1977-1998, and the 60-year-old is a PGA teaching professional at Deadhorse Lake Golf Course in Knoxville, Tenn.
"Dad truly had the time of his life in New York City," said Mike. "He was a throwback to the days when the club professional wore many hats; when the professional was less of a businessman and more of a figure of warmth to his members. Dad made many great friends through the years."
Mike said he has kept one special memory of his father's career. "When I was introduced to Bobby Jones in his office in Atlanta, I had just become the second-youngest Southern Amateur Champion," said Mike, who won the title at age 17. "Bobby Jones was the youngest Champion (at age 15) in the tournament. The meeting was arranged by a newspaper, and the reporter on-hand wanted to ask Bobby and me what it was like to be meeting the second-youngest champion. All Dad wanted to do was ask Bobby to talk about stories of Hagen and Sarazen."
Born in Vandergriff, Pa., a suburb of Pittsburgh, Don Malarkey was headed for a career in golf at an early age. In 1915, at age 10, he first picked up a golf club. It was one year before The PGA of America was born. Malarkey would go on to develop his game, as he turned professional at age 18. He would also become a close friend of the late World Golf Hall of Fame PGA Teaching Professional Harvey Penick.
Malarkey was profiled in 1998, by author G.Z. "Bome' Patten in A Lotta Malarkey – a book that features some golf feats that continue to be a marvel to his friends and acquaintances.
He shot his age 627 times, beginning with a 68 in 1974, while at the age of 69. In 1998, at age 93, he posted a 91 at his home course, Signal Mountain Golf and Country Club. He last played golf in September 2004, being able to go only a few holes with his son, before ongoing circulatory problems in his legs forced him to end his playing career. "How do I know it was 627 times?" said Malarkey, when pressed about his age-defying record. "Because I have scorecards from every round, and they were witnessed."
Malarkey competed in the 1939 and 1941 U.S. Opens, and was in the qualifying medal-play tournament of the 1927 and 1941 PGA Championships, but did not reach the match-play first round. Malarkey and Jack Burke Sr., were the only full-time PGA club professionals to reach the medal play portion of the 1927 PGA Championship.
"I feel pretty good, and I guess I can credit my mother for longevity," said Malarkey. "She lived to be 101. I have never smoked, drank very little and got plenty of exercise." Up to his suffering a freak accident in 1999, Malarkey was working steadily since arriving in 1956, as PGA head professional at Signal Mountain Golf and Country Club.
In 1999, Malarkey walked around a maintenance truck that had backed up just ahead of an unmarked manhole cover. Malarkey stepped into the hole, shattering his right heel and injuring himself up to his chest. "I survived that, but I never really recovered fully," said Malarkey. "I was disappointed that it set me back."
Malarkey's married his first wife, Vera, in 1936. She passed away in 2001.
An accomplished musician, Malarkey also logged more than 7,000 hours as a pilot. During World War II, he trained hundreds of Navy pilots. Following the war, he operated a flying service for 12 years.
Malarkey invented a training device – a golf club that adjusted automatically to a player's desired swing weight, but he failed to gain a patent for the instrument. He was a golf coach for the late Dick Metz, one of the top tour professionals of the 1930s and a member of the 1939 Ryder Cup Team.
Malarkey also revealed perhaps a more profound secret to longevity. "I've always loved to teach the game," he said. "I've had a great time in the game. I don't live in the past. I enjoy the past, and I think about it, but I don't live in it."