Come rain, snow or shine, Buscemi never skips a day

January 09, 1994|By John W. Stewart | John W. Stewart,Staff Writer

It seemed reasonable that Leo Buscemi would be out hitting golf balls in the yard behind his Tilghman Island home. Never mind the snow on the ground and the sub-freezing temperatures.

Practicing and/or playing golf is something this 83-year-old former Baltimore resident does 365 days a year.

"No, as a matter of fact, I haven't been out in a while; I'm just getting over pneumonia," Buscemi said from the Eastern Shore last week. "I have to wait for the weather to warm up just a little.

"In the meantime, I got myself a new putter. I've been practicing, and I'm making everything. I'm ready to go out, but I just can't push it.

"I told my doctor, 'When I get back to the golf course, I won't need you anymore,' and he agreed with me."

It's not as though Buscemi has had a lifelong love affair with the sport; he did not start playing until he was 75. Since then, it's as though a lifetime of pent-up interest and enthusiasm has been let loose.

"Actually, golf rejuvenated me. It's like I was saved," he says now. As it turned out, golf might truly have saved him. Basically what it did was give him something to do, an outlet for his energy, and, this resolve, coupled with his exercise program, were likely important factors in his recovery from cancer surgery.

In Buscemi's background are retirement from the United States Coast Guard with 27 years of service, and later retirement after working for the Public Health Service. He worked at Curtis Bay, in Norfolk and at the Public Health Hospital in Baltimore.

"We lived at 36th and The Alameda, near [Memorial Stadium], although after buying the Tilghman Island property in 1980, we spent weekends down here until we moved permanently in 1985," he said recently.

"About that time, we had a family reunion [he and his wife of 45 years have five children], and they were asking me what I was going to do next. And I didn't know.

"So, without me knowing about it, they got together and bought me everything for golf -- clubs, shoes, clothes, the whole works. Then they told me to get off my duff and do something.

"I was 75. I took some lessons, and the bug bit. I was losing sleep, because all I could think of was golf. I was out there playing five days a week, but not the weekends."

He got his wife interested in the game, too, but he calls her, "the No. 1 volunteer, and she's on the go all the time."

Several years ago, he developed cancer of the prostate, but it didn't hinder him that much. "I was going up to GBMC for medical treatment and to Pine Ridge for golf treatment," he says. Now when he's asked how he played, he can say, "I'm standing up. What more can I ask for?"

Buscemi's most memorable golf experience was a meeting with Tom Kite during an outing the PGA Tour star did in Reading, Pa., a couple of years ago.

"My son-in-law is a steel company vice president in Reading, and the company gets Kite to come in for a day. It was lined up for me to play with him, but at the last minute, some management people decided to play, and one of them took my place.

"Later in the day, before he left, Kite called my son-in-law's home and asked to speak with me. He told me the next time he came, he'd see that I got out with him. I have a picture of Kite, my son-in-law and myself. I say, 'Only golf could keep us looking so young.' "

A golfing brother, 81, is retired and lives on a golf course in Coral Springs, Fla. He was a good tennis player at home in Brooklyn, N.Y., but when he turned 40, he was advised to get into some other exercise, because at that time, tennis was considered too strenuous. So he got into golf. Leo? "No, I couldn't see chasing that crazy ball."

Now, with his golf, has come a firm belief in exercise.

"I'll get up in the morning and exercise for about a half-hour. I swing a weighted club and then jump on an exercise bike. At the golf course [usually Harbourtowne Resort & CC, about 10 miles up the road in St. Michael's], I'll walk nine holes every morning the weather lets me. And the people there have been wonderful to me.

"At home, when possible, I'll hit Wiffle balls and some regular pitch shots into a net for about three-quarters of an hour, twice a day. I don't feel right if I don't exercise. And I can't see getting bored, because I enjoy it too much."

Even with his carefree attitude, Buscemi says he has always had an ulcer, and at one point, surgery removed about 40 percent of his stomach. "I've got 40 percent disability, but you wouldn't know it. It didn't slow me down."

He paused, then added: "The way to enjoy golf is to retire. The drawback for the working man is time to practice, because time is of the essence. Golf is a great outlet for the retiree, too, because so many don't want to do anything. They're just waiting to die."

Not Leo Buscemi, he's too busy. "People think I'm a character," says the bespectacled octogenarian, his dark hair streaked with gray. "A happy outlook is the biggest thing."

Although still carrying a 36 handicap, hope springs eternal, and he is talking about breaking 100. Not for a moment has this minor impediment dampened his enthusiasm.

"The way I feel about a golf course, if I have an ailment, and can get out on the course -- that's my doctor. There are no problems out there." He laughed before adding, "Well, health-wise, anyway."

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