Young at Heart

A golf lover from Okolona is eager to be out of quarantine and back on the links.

Written by Leslie Criss | Illustrated by Abbey Edmonson

Pat Sistrunk has found joy in many things throughout her life but none has been as constant as the game of golf.

The Vicksburg native has three adult children (she lost a son to leukemia when he was in high school); she bought and restored McRaven, one of Vicksburg’s historic antebellum homes; she speaks four foreign languages — French, Spanish, Russian and German — and while in COVID quarantine, she’s learning Italian; she piloted a plane; earned her Ph.D.; and until the pandemic put a halt to it, Sistrunk played golf every single day, weather permitting.

In October, she turned 96.

“You know, I contribute some of my longevity to golf,” Sistrunk said. “And I miss it terribly.”

She has a putting rug inside her Okolona home and a place outside to practice chip and pitch shots, so she’ll be ready to resume her game when it’s safe.

Golf has been a part of Sistrunk’s life since she was 11, thanks to her childhood best friend, Patricia “Ticky” Peterson.

“Ticky was an only child and her parents loved golf,” Sistrunk said. “They would golf every Sunday, and Ticky would have to go along and walk the course while her parents played. She hated it. One day, she came to me and said she was going to learn to play golf and asked if I would learn too.”

Sistrunk received a set of clubs that Christmas, and the rest truly is history.

While attending college at Barnard College in New York City, Sistrunk took golf as her physical education.

“In the winter, we couldn’t get to the golf course,” she said. “They put up a net between two big buildings and we’d hit balls and run. The balls would go into the net, hit the wall and come flying back toward us.”

While raising her children after a divorce, Sistrunk taught school in Vicksburg. At the urging of a friend, she signed up for an adult education course taught in Vicksburg by a professor from Mississippi State University. His name was Walter Sistrunk and he later became Sistrunk’s husband.

“He was a pilot in World War II,” she said. “We bought a plane together before we ever married. He taught me how to fly.”

Sistrunk had two requirements of a second husband, and Walter met both. Her dog had to like him, and he had to like golf, which he later learned.

“I always beat him,” she said with a chuckle. “But he didn’t seem to mind.”

After the two married, Sistrunk spent two years as director of instruction on the Tupelo campus of Itawamba Community College. She later transferred to the Fulton campus where she taught French and Spanish for 17 years until she retired. With her husband at MSU, the two chose to live in Okolona. Walter Sistrunk died in 2004.

On her 90th birthday, the Okolona Country Club, where Sistrunk has been the Women’s Champion for the past 15 to 20 years or so, gifted her with signs at the start of each hole reading “Miss Pat’s Tee Box.”

Until the pandemic, Sistrunk was a daily fixture at the nine-hole course, where she owns her own golf cart. She hasn’t kept count of tournament bests, but she’s picked up myriad medals through the years for things like best putt, among others. She’s played in Senior Olympics tournaments. She admits she’s a good short game golfer but has never been a great distance driver. She speaks philosophically about the game.

“Golf will teach you a lot about yourself and about other people,” she said. “Sure, it can be frustrating when you think you ought to be hitting better. But it’s a roll of the dice, some days you’ve got it and some days you don’t. You just do better the next time.”

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