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Still rolling at 87 years old and taking on all comers

The Baltimore Sun

Daddy Logan's not scared. He wants you to know that. He'll take on anyone and everyone. Your time, his dime.

On the first tee box, his drive skips ahead just far enough for a first down. "I don't have enough time on this here Earth to be wasting my energy on shots like that," he says, teeing up a mulligan.

His second first shot stays straight, about 150 yards down the first fairway, and Logan seems pleased. "You know what they say - bad start, good finish," he says, propping his body back into the golf cart and zipping off as if he were late for an appointment.

I don't know if you've met Logan before - you'd remember, if you had - but you might have seen him driving around town. He's hard to miss. He paid nearly $1,000 to have his old van, a 1989 Chevrolet, painted. On the spare tire on the back, it reads: "Daddy Logan Golf - 3 years from 90. Has been chosen by God to be the oldest golf player in the world. Would you like to play me 18 holes of golf?" His phone number and Web address - DaddyLogan.com - are listed, too.

The back story is explained in white paint on the van's passenger-side window: "I started playing golf when I was 73 years old. I got the idea from The Oprah Winfrey Show when Tiger Woods appeared on there. Oprah asked Tiger if he was going to attend college. Tiger said you don't have to go to school to play golf. So I said to myself this is for me."

And so here I am at Forest Park Golf Course, speeding down the first fairway in a golf cart with an 87-year-old man who's lived through the Great Depression, World War II and the civil rights movement - but it's a glib comment I had made in the clubhouse that seems to have drawn his ire. "Make sure you come back out," I teased when Logan visited the men's room just before our round. "Don't run off on me. No chickening out now."

"I don't want you running off," he said a bit later, sinking a 5-foot putt to tie the first hole. "I'm not scared of nothing."

The back story

Jacob Logan - called Daddy by everyone - took up the sport when he retired in 1993, and unlike a lot of leisurely duffers, he says it's not the relaxation or the interaction that has him on the course nearly every day of the week. It's the competition. "I'm trying to be the oldest and greatest golfer in the world," he says.

Logan is wearing black slacks, a checkered shirt and a black Kangol cap. On the second tee box, he laughs when I ask why he didn't take up the sport until so late in life. They didn't let a young black man swing a club, but they let him carry them. Logan was a caddie when he was younger, he says - 50 cents for nine holes, $1 for 18. Back then, "we didn't even know that we wanted to play," he says.

Logan spent his younger days working in the homes of white people in the North, right up until World War II. He moved to Baltimore in his early 20s to help build ships. That's about the time he met a pretty young woman named Estelle and decided to stick around the area. He started a bread business that kept him so busy that the idea of swinging a golf club didn't cross his mind until decades passed and he found himself sitting there watching The Oprah Winfrey Show, trying to figure out how he was going to spend his retirement.

He went out the next day and taught himself to golf. The past 14 years, he's treated golf as a second career - hitting the course early in the morning and returning home after dark. He didn't take lessons, doesn't waste time at the range and refuses to get caught up in gizmos and gadgets. There are just six clubs in his bag - three woods, a 6-iron, a wedge and a putter - and he can't figure out why anyone would need any more.

No gimmes

"Hell, no, I'm not giving you that," he shouts, as I walk up to my ball, just a foot from the hole. "You putt that ball. Ain't no such thing as a gimme. In fact, I ain't gonna give you the time of day."

His age is a point of pride, and though he can still poke the ball 175 yards, he doesn't mind letting others muscle their way to high scores. "Golf is a hell of a game. It's not for a strong back and a weak mind," he says. "Not a lot of things are. You got to use your brain, you hear?"

On the third hole, Logan picks up a stroke, but as I prod to figure out his game, he hoards his "secrets." "I can't tell you the whole book. We playing. Competing," he says. "You just starting out in life. I'm on my way out."

Daddy Logan is humming a song as he approaches a chip on the fourth hole. He never takes practice swings - at 87, he says he can't afford to waste the strokes. Addressing the ball, still humming, his body slowly tilts back and then pushes forward, like a pendulum in a grandfather clock. The ball stops rolling just 3 feet from the hole, and as Logan walks back to the cart, he starts singing the words.

"Life can be sweet," he sings, "on the sunny side of the street."

He picks up a stroke, and then on the seventh hole, I hit two trees and lose 3 strokes. At the turn, Logan has a 5-stroke advantage. "When people see me in the newspaper, they're gonna think, 'That old man's doping!' Well, let them come and check me! I never done nothing," he says.

People stop us on the course because everybody knows Logan. He's the resident trash-talker who can never find a challenger. He's posted fliers at nearly every public course around Baltimore. He's offered a $1,500 reward to anyone older than 65 who can beat him - "Or a $3,000 savings bond, if they prefer that" - but there have been no takers. "Too scared," Logan reasons.

So he's dropped the age requirement and painted his van, inviting anyone to come meet him on the course. He'll pay for their round and for their lunch.

As our round continues, I'm losing balls and strokes at about the same pace. Meanwhile, Logan rarely veers the cart off the fairway.

"Don't you ever get in trouble?" I ask.

"Man, I'm not supposed to be getting in trouble," he says. "I'm 87 years old! I already know - golf, life, it don't matter - I already know trouble is easy to get into but hard to get out of."

'You got to be there'

Last month, Estelle, Logan's wife of 63 years, died. They were close. She liked traveling and wearing nice jewelry, and she let Logan play as much golf as he wanted. Estelle would've turned 84 today.

On the morning of her funeral, Logan was here at Forest Park. He'd advertised the date on his van for a couple of months, offering free golf and lunch. He couldn't drive all over town inviting people to golf and then not show up.

"You got to be there. This is what I was taught - don't let nothing come out of your mouth that you don't mean, and don't promise nothing you can' t do."

He showed up at 7:30 a.m. for an 8:30 tee time. He waited until 8:45, but no challengers showed up, so he went home and buried his wife.

"Are you afraid of dying?"

I asked Logan because from my seat in the golf cart, nearly 60 years his junior, life's final chapter seems daunting, and fear - Who's scared of whom? - was a common thread over the course of our round.

Logan's three children are fully grown, his soul mate just died and though I don't doubt he sincerely wants to be on the course every morning, a part of him also needs to be on the course every morning.

"Afraid? It's in the Good Book, ain't it?" Logan says matter-of-factly. "You know you're going to die. I know I'm going to die. Can't stop it. But let me tell you something, everything before that, that's what you control. You worry about that part, not the dying."

The irony isn't lost on me that I control very little on the course right now. I'm giving away strokes and muttering after every swing. Logan, meanwhile, remains calm, alternately ribbing me - "Who's running from who? I'm keeping my eye on you. Don't you go nowhere." - and singing about how sweet life is on his side of the street.

Scared of nothing

By the 16th hole, I've reached the part of the round where I stop counting strokes. Logan hasn't. "I got two more on you!" he squeals.

Approaching the final green, we drive past a foursome on a nearby tee box.

"Mr. Logan, did you get him?" one of the golfers asks.

"What the hell do you think?" Logan barks back.

Everyone starts laughing. Except for me. I was getting creamed by a man more than a half-century older than me.

On the 18th green, we shake hands and start walking toward the parking lot. Even with some prodding, he still won't divulge his "secrets." But try as he might, Logan can't talk about golfing at 87 without touching on living at 87.

"They all keep trying, but nobody can figure me out," he says. "Look, I'll tell you this much: You've got to do something no one's ever done. ... That's why I tell people: I'll take my six clubs to any state, to any country and I'll play you 18 holes of golf. You ever heard of someone doing that? No, you sure haven't."

For the first time all afternoon, Daddy Logan allows the silence to hang in the air as we finish walking to his van.

"I got to get going," he finally says.

"Where you heading?"

"Carroll Park," he says. "Gonna try to squeeze in another nine holes. Those boys are waiting on me. If I don't show, they'll think I'm scared. I keep telling people I'm not scared, but you got to keep reminding them."

rick.maese@baltsun.com

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