West Caldwell, N.J. – Armen Dirtadian is performing this week at Mountain Ridge Country Club, less than 20 miles from Times Square, the hub of New York City’s theater district.
But if Dirtadian, 59, had made a couple of different choices decades ago, he now might be appearing in a Broadway musical instead of competing in his second USGA Senior Amateur Championship.
“Ever since I could remember I sang,” said Dirtadian, who grew up in Tucson, Ariz., where he still lives. “I could have tried to go to L.A. or, more likely, New York. I decided not to do it.
“I would have had to quit teaching. And probably quit playing golf.”
In addition to encouraging a passion for music, Dirtadian’s father, Henry, also introduced his son to golf. After developing in Tucson’s Rick Rarick Junior Golf Program, Dirtadian walked on to the golf team at the University of Arizona, later earning a scholarship.
After college, Dirtadian taught high school – first physical education then musical theater – while performing in Tucson-area productions and playing in as many local, regional and even national golf tournaments as possible. A member of the Pima County Sports Hall of Fame, Dirtadian won 10 Pima County Amateurs, four Tucson Amateurs and a state stroke play championship.
“For the past 20 years, I’ve performed 26 weeks, six nights a week,” said Dirtadian, who counts Tevye from “Fiddler on the Roof,” Captain Hook from “Peter Pan” and Julian Marsh in “42nd Street” among his favorite roles. “I was pretty lucky. I was a big fish in a small pond. Directors from New York would come into town and producers would insist I play the leading role. The directors liked my work, and when they got work elsewhere, they would hire me.”
Dirtadian retired from teaching nine years ago, but his acting and golf still keep him very busy. After the Senior Amateur, Dirtadian will begin rehearsals for a Christmas show at Tucson’s Gaslight Theatre, and will perform in another show after the holiday season.
While performing, Dirtadian frequently calls on qualities developed from competing in golf tournaments.
“Patience is a lesson that I continually have to learn,” said Dirtadian. “One of the worst things you can do while performing is get too excited. If you think too far ahead, you’re dead meat.”
Dirtadian tested his patience and resolve following a shoulder-replacement surgery that one doctor predicted would end his competitive golf career. Dirtadian worked hard to regain strength in his right shoulder and is thankful to be playing his 10th USGA championship at Mountain Ridge, where he shot 77–73 during stroke play to miss out on match play.
Although performing and golf are similar, there are differences. He receives a bigger sense of exhilaration while on stage than on the course, and there is a lot less predictability in competing in a golf tournament, which Dirtadian likens to another aspect of show business.
“Performing isn’t necessarily like tournament golf; auditioning is,” said Dirtadian. “Auditioning for strange people can get a lump in your throat pretty quickly, just like in golf.”
At 6-foot-3, Pat Tallent is taller than most of the players in the field at the USGA Senior Amateur and looks more like a basketball player than a golfer. So it’s not surprising to learn that Tallent was an All-American basketball player at George Washington University before being drafted by the Washington Bullets in the sixth round of the 1976 NBA draft.
After a short-lived NBA career, Tallent, now 59, stayed in the Washington, D.C., area went to work for Price Waterhouse, where a colleague was Charlie Zink, who is now co-COO of the PGA Tour. Zink encouraged Tallent, then a five handicap, to join Congressional Country Club in 1980.
“For a number of years I was working so I wasn’t very serious about it,” said Tallent, who shot 149 during qualifying at Mountain Ridge and is one of 11 players competing for nine match-play spots Monday morning. “I kept playing a little bit, club championships and such, and pretty soon I realized I could be pretty good at this game.”
Now director at World Resources Company and a resident of Vienna, Va., Tallent has achieved as much success on the course as he did on the court. He was the runner-up in the 2010 USGA Senior Amateur, is a two-time winner of the Maryland Amateur twice, and has won the Virginia Amateur, Middle Atlantic Amateur and the Middle Atlantic Senior Amateur.
The 2012 USGA Senior Amateur is Tallent’s 26th USGA championship. While the glory days of the other players from the 1976 NBA draft such as Robert Parish and Adrian Dantley are long past, Tallent is still in the competitive arena.
And he still applies his basketball experience to golf.
“Putting the ball is a lot like shooting foul shots because you’re standing there – there’s the basket, here you are – and there’s no excuse for why you wouldn’t make it,” he said. “The good thing about the individual play is that you don’t have a crutch. You’re out there on your own and everybody has to write their scores down at the end of the day.”
Mina and Gary Hardin, of Fort Worth, Texas, are senior amateur golf’s power couple.
The winner of the 2010 USGA Senior Women’s Amateur, Mina is also a two-time USGA championship finalist and has appeared in dozens of national championships, including six U.S. Women’s Opens.
The 2012 USGA Senior Amateur is Gary’s 11th USGA championship since his amateur status was reinstated in 1994.
“Golf is what we do,” said Gary, 64, who shot six-over 148 in stroke-play qualifying at Mountain Ridge Country Club to qualify for match play. “We spend six months out in the desert and six months in Texas and we play a lot of golf. We probably play five days a week.”
When they don’t have a tee time lined up, the Hardins enjoy hiking, mountain climbing and going to the movies.
Gary and Mina, 52, who have been married for 30 years, have a healthy competitive streak. At Mountain Ridge, Gary is gunning to surpass the performance of his wife, who advanced to the second round of the 2012 USGA Senior Women’s Amateur.
“She doesn’t like to get beat by anybody, so it doesn’t matter – husband, friend, anybody,” said Gary. “She’s very competitive and deep down, I am too.”
When not playing together, the Hardins are supportive of each other’s play.
“Mina’s waiting by the phone right now for the results,” said Gary after his round of his wife, who was tracking his scores on www.usga.org. “She’ll be sweating [because of] my 39 on the front nine.”
Hunki Yun is a senior staff writer for the USGA, while Kelly O'Shea is the USGA's summer online intern. Email them at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.