Swashbuckling Dirtadian Slowed A Bit By Surgeries

Bryan Lee

Tucson Citizen
July 31 2008

Nobody said growing old gracefully would be so hard, but Armen
Dirtadian refuses to let right shoulder surgery keep him from
performing on the golf course and the stage.

"He shot (1-over-par) 37 on the front side of TCC (Tucson Country
Club) last week from the back tees," says PGA Champions Tour player
and good friend Ronnie Black.

The 55-year-old Dirtadian, a 10-time winner of the Pima County Amateur
and one of Tucson’s top actors, has been reduced to sword fighting
with his left arm as his Robin Hood character.

"Physical therapy . . . twice a week . . . it puts me through the
wringer," Dirtadian said. "I’ve never gone through anything like
this. I’ve always physically been doing something. Now, all of a
sudden I get up some mornings and I can’t move."

But Dirtadian plans to take no time off under the bright lights.

"I’ll be doing theater from August through March," including the
Gaslight Theatre in January, he firmly says.

He hopes his golf game might just be there in full swing before this
year’s rye is seeded, although he had to miss this year’s Arizona
Amateur in Scottsdale.

Dirtadian, also a four-time winner of the City Amateur, underwent
right shoulder replacement in February. Last December he had spinal
fusion discectomy a few months after he made the cut for match play
in the 2007 Arizona Amateur.

He tried to play in February and was overcome with pain. The shoulder
replacement came after he realized it was "totally gone from arthritis,
no cartilage left."

To save time and a long, painful wait, he had the February surgery done
by outpatient procedure with just a local anesthetic shot in the neck.

"They cut a ball of humerus (arm bone) off and put a notch in the
humerus," he said, "then a titanium shaft down (along the upper arm)
and they put a cobalt steel ball cutting through the muscle (in the
socket) and stitched me up.

"I was in at 9:30 and out at noon."

He can’t play pain free, yet he’s optimistic that with hard work,
maybe by January he can be as good as new.

Meanwhile, he can hit it fairly straight from the front tees. Never
a long hitter – "I’m not a fast-twitch guy – his game has always been
precision and "smart shots" onto the green.

He is one of two Tucsonans to break 60 for 18 holes. His 59 at the
old Randolph South Golf Course was the city record until the late
Willie Kane shot a 58 on the same course in 1991.

Black’s recent Champions Tour success gives him hope. He hits balls
with Black when the pro is home, driving the cart around, talking and
"just watching him."

"And he has been a big help with my own short game," Dirtadian
said. "He hits shots I never have even thought of hitting."

For all of Dirtadian’s handsome, 6-foot-3 presence, his savoir-faire
and power as an actor and singer and his golf aplomb, he has always
been just a local boy trying to make good.

He had dreams of playing on the pro golf tour but got a lesson in
humility in the late 1970s at a tour of champions national amateur
tournament. He had beaten Tucson’s Dr. Ed Updegraff in the Arizona
Stroke Play, coming from behind with a pair of birdies.

"I was 17th of 63 guys at that tournament, these guys were so good,"
he recalled. I thought, ‘I don’t know . .’ If you can’t be dominant
in your own backyard, I mean winning everything, going pro isn’t
the thing."

Born Nov. 11, 1952, Armen – his first name comes from Armistice Day
and his Armenian ancestry – was the eldest of three in a tight-knit
family with a demanding father; a musical heritage – jazz and classical
were OK, rock ‘n’ roll was banned; and, of course, golf. His father,
Henry, made him a cut-down driver as a tyke and he caddied for him
and chased butterflies.

He played four years at Palo Verde High School and walked on at
the University of Arizona but quickly earned a scholarship. Among
his teammates were current Champions Tour members Don Pooley and Dan
Pohl. A speech major, he sang solo in his church, played the piano and
early during his 27-year career as a Tucson Unified School District
teacher began acting at Salpointe Catholic’s Poor Man’s Theater
in 1977.

His started with the role of Tevye in "Fiddler on the Roof," still his
favorite. He has been a noted leading man, performing as Pharaoh in
"Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat," Charlie Anderson in
"Shenandoah," "Zerro" in a "Zorro" spoof, Count Dracula, a Tombstone
marshal, Sinbad the Sailor, the Prince in "The Unsinkable Molly Brown"
and the phantom in "Phantom of the Opera." He had lead roles in
"Les Miserables," "Showboat" and "The Sheik."

For 18 straight years, he was Peter in the passion play "Simon
Peter." In his early 20s, he joined late local jazz musician Mickey
Greco to record a CD.

He taught theater and coached at Catalina High and spent the last
eight years of his tenure before retiring by working with young
thespians at Secrist Middle School.

His busy athletic schedule may have contributed to his shoulder

He pitched as a youth and had a mean slider (luckily, his father
forbade a curveball or his golf days might be over). He played
racquetball, and spent time at the golf range as much as he could.

"I worked pretty hard at the game," he says. "I think sometimes
hardest is not the way to go. I had to learn the hard way."

His health problems have been emotional for Dirtadian and wife, Nancy,
to deal with, but he doesn’t want people feeling sorry for him.

"Things were going my way too fast. Nature caught up," he said. "But
there have been so many people who have been here for me I didn’t
even know were my friends. This situation has been almost like a gift.

"My life has been a great life. These injuries make you appreciate
it more. Lots of times you take things for granted. I’m playing the
game I love, I’m with the people I love. . . . It’s great to be alive."

From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress


Emil Lazarian

“I should like to see any power of the world destroy this race, this small tribe of unimportant people, whose wars have all been fought and lost, whose structures have crumbled, literature is unread, music is unheard, and prayers are no more answered. Go ahead, destroy Armenia . See if you can do it. Send them into the desert without bread or water. Burn their homes and churches. Then see if they will not laugh, sing and pray again. For when two of them meet anywhere in the world, see if they will not create a New Armenia.” - WS