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Legally blind golfer, 92, shoots a hole-in-one, ducks attention

By RODNEY PAGE, Times Staff Writer
Published January 31, 2008


Leo E. Fiyalko speaks after receiving recognition for his ace at Clearwater's Cove Cay last Thursday. Fiyalko, 92 and legally blind, said, "All I was interested in was getting on the green."
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[Atoyia Deans | Times]
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[Atoyia Deans | Times]
Leo E. Fiyalko, 92, is kissed by his sister, Naida Santo, 90, after a recognition ceremony for his Jan. 10 feat at Cove Cay in Clearwater last Thursday.

Leo Fiyalko would just as soon get on with life.

So he made a hole-in-one on the 110-yard, par-3 fifth hole at Cove Cay Country Club in Clearwater.

So what if it was the 92-year-old's first hole-in-one in more than 60 years of playing golf?

Big deal.

And who cares if he is legally blind, with a condition called macular degeneration?

Fiyalko doesn't understand what all the fuss is about.

"It was my first hole-in-one, and I never saw it," Fiyalko said. "I was just trying to put the ball on the green."

That's about all he'll say on the subject. But that didn't stop his friends in the Twilighters Club golf group from presenting him with a plaque on Jan. 24 commemorating the feat. There is a picture on the plaque of the fifth hole and a line that reads: "Leo Fiyalko, hole-in-one, five iron, 110 yards."

The feat came on Jan. 10 when Fiyalko and his group teed it up for their weekly nine-hole best-ball outing. The group of 20 to 40 golfers, who range in age from 70 to 90-plus, have gathered every Thursday afternoon during the winter for at least 20 years.

Fiyalko, who has been playing golf since he moved to St. Petersburg from Warren, Ohio, in the 1950s, was playing with Larry Kellaris, Dorothy Mrkvica and Jean Gehring. In his prime, Fiyalko played to a seven handicap, but now he needs help lining up his shots and finding his golf balls.

He hits from the gold tees, which are just behind the women's tees. While most on the fifth hole have to hit over water, Fiyalko's shot from the gold tees skirts the water on the right.

The fifth hole at Cove Cay was the group's first hole in the shotgun start.

"Dorothy actually shot before Leo and her ball went into the water," Gehring said. "We were all over by the water trying to find the ball and I looked up and Leo was about to hit. I said, 'Hey, somebody has to watch Leo.' So I went up there and saw him hit and it was a pretty good shot. I could tell it went on the green, so when we got up there I didn't see it. I looked in the hole and there it was."

Gehring said Fiyalko reacted with a simple, "How 'bout that," and continued with his round. When he got to the clubhouse after the round, his friends had to prod him to tell his wife, Pat, about the feat.

"When he got back to the clubhouse we told him to tell Pat what he did," said Sue Rogan, who has run the Twilighters for the last seven years. "He said no, he didn't want to. So Pat says, 'I suppose you made a hole-in-one.' He said, 'Yes, I did.'

"I've been doing this for seven years and it's the first one for the Twilighters I can remember."

Fiyalko's macular degeneration started about 10 years ago and has gradually gotten worse. He now has no vision in his left eye and can use only his peripheral vision in his right eye. Macular degeneration happens mainly to those 65 and older and is a deterioration of the eye muscles.

"Dad has to sit sideways to see the television," daughter Sandra Taylor said. "I don't know how he does it on the golf course. But he still gets out there and plays."

Taylor was there last week for the surprise ceremony, along with her brother, Wayne, and Fiyalko's 90-year-old sister, Naida Santo. Fiyalko had just finished playing another nine holes with the Twilighters in a raw, drizzling rain.

As Rogan announced that she was presenting a plaque to Fiyalko, he buried his face in his hands and shook his head.

"Oh boy," he said.

Rodney Page can be reached at page@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8123.

What are the odds ...

Tour player making an ace? 3,000 to 1

***

Low-handicapper making an ace? 5,000 to 1

***

Average player making an ace? 12,000 to 1

Sources: Golf Digest/About.com

[Last modified January 30, 2008, 22:12:07]


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