Ask senior amateur golfer Dave King about fighting ankylosing spondylitis, a particularly acute form of arthritis, and he produces a quick answer.
“College scholarships,” he utters.
“I’m too busy to think about the arthritis,” he says. “I’ve got my college scholarships to take care of.”
Far beyond fairways and rough, King decided he would do something meaningful for youngsters. So he endowed a handful of college scholarships. Some of the recipients played golf, some didn’t.
“Just meeting these kids has been a treat,” says King, 78. “They are fabulous students. It was very moving for me to get involved in this project.”
King, a professional statistician who retired at 51, is often called a philanthropist.
King, a resident of Sterling, Va., awards six scholarships each year. Working alongside the Virginia State Golf Association, he donated $40,000 for the first two and kept going from there. “It’s my opportunity to give back a little bit,” he observes simply.
He persuaded the Maryland State Golf Association to adopt a similar scholarship plan. King, a professional statistician who retired at 51, is often called a philanthropist, although he has a ready explanation for his success in life and business. “I didn’t have family money or anything like that,” he summarizes. “I invested (in the stock market) from day one, and really I didn’t spend money on anything substantial except golf.”
Environmental engineer Joe Pavoni, an active senior amateur who lives in Prospect, Ky., is an ardent King admirer. “Not too many people know how dedicated he is to these students,” Pavoni says. “He is wonderfully generous. He sets aside money for the kids every year. I respect him as much for that as I do his skill on the golf course. He’s one of the good guys. I don’t know of anybody who doesn’t like Dave King.”
King is extremely active in senior amateur golf, helping to organize and run several senior tournaments each year. He is a longtime competitor and owns one distinction that few golfers can match. He has played in 17 USGA championships and has qualified for all 17 – meaning that he did not have any exemptions to any of them.
He reached the Sweet 16 in match play for the U.S. Amateur, U.S. Mid-Amateur and U.S. Senior Amateur.
This is even more impressive when considering King, in his mid 20s, was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis. This arthritic, genetic disease caused the top eight vertebrae in his back to completely fuse together. He cannot move his chin sideways more than about an inch. “I lost 20 to 30 yards on tee shots,” he admits.
Arthritis has been his enemy throughout his adult life, although his philosophy is to “stay active and keep playing golf.” King once played in 50 tournaments during a calendar year, although he has followed a somewhat reduced schedule in recent years (if two dozen tournaments is indeed reduced).
Adds Pavoni, “Golfwise he’s done it all. With his arthritic condition, I think a lot of people would have given up. He didn’t. He kept playing at a high level.”
King is known for long-distance golf trips in his car, frequently driving 2,500 miles from the East Coast to the southern California desert to play in various tournaments.
“It’s not a fear of flying or anything like that,” he explains. “I just like having my own car. Over the years, I have consistently driven 40,000 miles a year.”
He also is known for the legendary grooveless Top-Flite sand wedge he has used since he was a teenager. King has carried this 56-degree wedge for some 60 years. If he swings with the proper angle of attack, it produces more spin than most people can imagine.
“It was Dave Pelz who explained to me that spin is not a problem,” he says, “except when I get water or grass between the clubface and the ball. But people are always looking at the wedge and saying, ‘Oh my god, there aren’t any grooves.’ My secret is that I have confidence in the wedge. I don’t think you should ever change a club if you believe in what you can do with it.”
Frank Sinatra seldom played golf, but he and King share one stubborn and endearing trait – they did it their way.
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