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August 26, 2009

 

Cortland man set for new golf phase

GolfBob Ellis/staff photographer
Tom Hartnett takes a one-handed swing while practicing at Willowbrook Golf Course for an upcoming tournament in West Palm Beach, Fla.

By TANEY BEAUMONT
Staff Writer

Tom Hartnett is going national with his golfing talent, and in the process doing something that many people never do — pursuing a passion, with a passion.
The co-owner, with his wife Cindy, of Frank and Mary’s Diner and country legislator from the city’s Fourth Ward has been playing golf for some 40 of his 50 years despite being born with a shortened left arm. Having honed his game in that time playing only with his right arm, Hartnett will compete in the Unassisted Division in 2009 North American One-Armed Golfer Association Championship Aug. 31-Sept. 3 at the PGA National Resort & Spa in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. It will be his first time at the national event, which is open to those who register with the organization.
“John Wanish told me I should play in a tournament like this, probably back when I was around 19,” Hartnett said, Wanish among the top golfers locally. “There really wasn’t anything. Then I joined the NAOAGA. It’s like another stage of my life, to get the opportunity to do something I’ve always wanted to do. This exactly what I wanted, and I’m excited about it.”
Thinking back to his start in golf, Hartnett said that it happened because all his friends were doing it. “I played a lot of sports when I was in school (including as a middle linebacker and guard for the Cortland High football team prior to graduating in 1975).”
Obviously, then, his situation never held him back. “There was just one time,” he said with a smile, obviously relishing the memory, “maybe when I was around eight, that somebody told me I couldn’t do something. Since then, I haven’t let anyone tell me what I can or can’t do.”
And one thing Hartnett can do his play golf. He does so, with his wife, almost every afternoon. He competes in various leagues when the weather is nice (”and sometimes when it’s not,” he laughed) at Willowbrook Golf Club, where he’s been a member “off and on for 40 years.”
“I worked there for five years in the early 80’s, and they’ve been family to me,” Hartnett said of the Timmerman clan that owns the Willowbrook course. “Dick, Connie, Tammy and Mike have all been great. They’re giving me shirts and hats to wear in the national event — they’re pretty much sponsoring me — and my wife and son (Joshua) are behind me 100 percent.”
Hartnett couldn’t say how many rounds of golf he plays, but noted that he averages between 80 and 82 overall. He also has a hole-in-one to his credit, having aced the second hole at Willowbrook in 2005. “I drive the ball pretty well, consistent and straight, and my chipping and putting are my strongest points,” he said. “But my second shots kill me.”
Hartnett is leaving for Florida and the tournament on Sunday. After the first two rounds, the top eight players compete in the Championship Flight over the final two days. “I’ve looked at the scores, and I’m right in the mix,” he said. “I really think I’ve got a shot.”
The NAOAGA takes on a team from Europe in the Humana Fightmaster Cup in a format similar to the Ryder Cup, having won the inaugural event in Louisville last September. The next Fightmaster Cup will be contested in 2010 in Wales, with the US team selected from a pool of the top eight Unassisted Division players in the NAOAGA Championship from this year and next.
“I’d like to be able to qualify for that one day,” Hartnett said. “But I’ve done a lot; we went to Australia last year and I saw the Pope three times, including having a Mass with him. And there’s the county legislature. I told my wife that if I died tomorrow I’d be OK.”