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Namanny drew smiles with swing and humor

If you saw the grip, you might be compelled to tell Gene Namanny to get a grip.

It, and the swing that followed, distinguished the avid golfer almost as much as his outgoing, welcoming personality.

They are among the things family and friends remember about Namanny, who passed away Tuesday from a heart attack while playing at Centennial Golf Club. The 62-year-old was the first men's club president for the course, which opened last May.

Namanny, a former construction worker, butcher, landscaper and property manager who lived in Ashland, was ever-present at area golf courses, often playing in a regular foursome with Bill Seymour, Willie Reed and Bill Doss. They formed a formidable group at Stone Ridge Golf Course, dubbed the "Hot Shots" because of their "Tabasco"-emblazoned golf shirts.

"When Centennial opened," said Linda, his wife of nearly 13 years, "he was so excited because it was close. He got so involved and just loved the people there. That just became his golf course and he became totally dedicated to it. He was so proud to be one of the founding members and be such an important part of it."

Family always came first in Namanny's life. He and Linda had eight children together and 12 grandchildren.

"That was his love," said Linda, "but golf was right below us."

Seymour first met Namanny at Oak Knoll Golf Course in Ashland in the early '90s. The former considers himself something of a "latent instructor," which explains why he was taken aback when he got a load of Namanny.

"His whole golf swing was as screwed up as Hogan's goat," Seymour said with a chuckle. "He had a cross-handed grip, and his typical shot started out 40 yards left and usually ended up in the middle of the fairway. He was the biggest slicer I'd ever seen in my life. He was so strong. He was built like a bull."

If you didn't know Namanny and happened to be his opponent, said Seymour, "with that grip, that swing and that slice, after a couple of holes, you'd say, 'I've got this one in the bag.'"

But Namanny's technique belied his ability. His handicap index was 6.3, and of the six scores posted this year, four were in the 70s and the other two were 80 and 81.

Gary Hooper played golf with Namanny for 30 years and agreed he sliced the ball. But Hooper said his playing partner also went through stages when he'd draw it, then slice it again, then hit it straight.

But when Namanny got to a green, no one could read it better.

"He's probably the best putter I've ever been around," said Hooper, who for 16 years co-organized a tournament with Namanny for two dozen players. "He could read a green that had breaks nobody else could see. When we played in a scramble, he'd be the one to read greens for us."

Seymour was in Namanny's foursome with Reed and Vance Hickin on Senior Tuesday. Hooper was scheduled to play but decided against it when it snowed in Ashland that morning.

"I have mixed feelings," said Hooper. "Sometimes I wish I had been there, and other times I'm glad I wasn't. He was a great guy. He knew more people than I ever will. He was well-liked by everybody."

Namanny's group was on the fifth hole, an uphill par 4 that doglegs to the left. He hit his tee shot into a fairway bunker, then hit his second shot into another nearby sand trap. His third shot landed in the center of the green but ran off the back side.

"Everything was going great," said Seymour. "We were joking and having fun, and there was no indication he was feeling poorly or anything."

Namanny then hit his next shot to about 3 feet. As he walked to the green, Reed noticed something was wrong and twice called out to see if Namanny was OK. Namanny then collapsed.

Seymour and the others rushed over and turned him. Seymour felt for a pulse, then administered CPR. Soon after, Dave Knox from a trailing group arrived and alternated in giving CPR until paramedics arrived, but revival efforts were futile.

Namanny had dodged death eight years prior, said Linda, after a garage door spring broke, hitting him in the head and knocking him from a ladder. He required brain surgery, and 68 screws and rods were needed to put him back together.

"Eight years ago he got another lease on life," said Linda, "so we had him for eight more years."

He was "a very strong person" and abhorred hospitals, she said, so for him to pass as quickly as he did and, she said, "on his beloved golf course" was a blessing.

Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 776-4479, or e-mail ttrower@mailtribune.com