Golf's ultimate achievement

JOSEPH ROMANOS
Last updated 10:18 05/11/2012

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The Wellingtonian

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I remember sitting in the sports department of Wellington's Evening Post in June 1977 when sports editor Bob Fox, a golf fanatic, raced across the room brandishing a sheet of telex paper and announced excitedly: “Geiberger has just broken 60!”

Apparently veteran American pro Al Geiberger had shot a round of 59 during the Memphis Classic. He went out in 29 and came back in 30. Considering the Colonial Country Club course was par 72, it was indeed a momentous sports achievement.

These days, breaking 60 in a pro golf tournament doesn't seem quite so astonishing.

Late last month two Americans, Bo van Pelt and Nick Watney, flirted with magic 59s while playing in the CIMB Classic in Kuala Lumpur. Each needed a birdie on the 18th, but van Pelt fired a double bogey and Watney a bogey.

Last weekend Nashville's Brandt Snedeker went even closer during the big pro event in China. His birdie attempt on the 18th shaved the cup and he finished with 60.

Another American, Jay Haas, got into the act on the Champions tour the other day. Playing in the Charles Schwab Cup, he birdied his final hole to record 60.

After Geiberger broke through, more Americans eventually joined the fun.

Chip Beck shot 59 at the Las Vegas International in 1991 and David Duval repeated the effort at the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic in 1999. Their 59s were recorded on par 72 courses.

Paul Goydos shot 59 on a par 71 course during the John Deere Classic in 2010 and that year Australian Stuart Appleby fired 59 on a par 70 course during the Greenbrier Classic.

Even more fantastic have been 58s by two Japanese stars. Ryo Ishikawa managed it during the Crowns tournament in Japan in 2010 and Shigeki Maruyama did so during a US Open qualifying event in 2000.

The only woman to have broken 60 in a pro event was, not surprisingly, Swedish wonder Annika Sorenstam, who went 28/31 for 59 during the 2001 Standard Register event in Phoenix on a par 72 course.

No-one has scored better than 63 in a Major, where the pin placement is much tougher and wayward shots are punished more heavily.

But to judge by the splurge of low scores in recent years, it is getting easier to break 60 elsewhere.

Advances in club and ball technology have enabled the best golfers to treat par 5s as eagle opportunities and birdie musts.

Often, especially during the first three rounds of regular tour events, the pin placement is less challenging.

In Malaysia, when van Pelt and Watney were on fire, the course was soft, so players could pick up and clean their balls from the fairway.

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Even so, a 59 is still a fantastic effort, more remarkable even than a hole in one.

Jack Nicklaus had 19 holes in one in pro golf and never shot lower than 61. Tiger Woods has had 18, and 61 is his lowest mark, too.

Breaking 60 is a career-defining achievement.

Geiberger became known on the pro tour as “Mr 59”.

Beck was so overcome when he shot his 59 that he was never the same golfer again and eventually left the PGA tour to sell insurance.

- The Wellingtonian

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