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Coming Up Aces

The hole in one is golf's version of the promised land, but only the lucky will ever feel the joy of holing out a tee shot
Jeff Williams
From the Print Edition:
Michael Jordan, July/August 2005

(continued from page 1)

"You know the one about Harmon and Hogan....?" says Curtis Strange.

"The one that always got me was Harmon and Hogan....," says Charles Coody.

"That story about Hogan and Harmon was a beauty," says Dave Stockton.

The story varies slightly from player to player, but here is the gist. Hogan and Harmon were playing the terribly tough little 12th hole at Augusta National. The 12th has been a pro's bugaboo since the Masters began there in 1934. Its shallow green sits on a ledge above Rae's Creek. Shots short go into the creek; shots long go into rough, pine straws and even a few azaleas. The wind swirls there at the bottom of Amen Corner. It's a hole that every player wants to make par on and get out of there. Hogan, one of the great ball strikers of all time, impressively put his tee shot 12 feet from the hole. Harmon then holed out his shot for an ace to a few cheers from the small gallery that attended the Masters in the pre—Arnold Palmer era. As the pair walked to the green, Hogan said nothing. After Harmon extracted his ball, Hogan said nothing. He was too intent on lining up his putt. He stroked it in the cup for a birdie. On the 13th tee, Hogan approached Harmon for what the latter presumed would be congratulations for his ace.

"You know," said Hogan. "I think that's only the second time I've birdied that hole." Enough said.

While the Masters crowds of the post-Palmer era have likewise been enthusiastic about a player's momentous shot, they also realize it for what it is, just one shot. "In 1972, the year after I won the Masters, I aced the sixth hole at Augusta," says Coody. "When I did that, I was high up on the leaderboard, the defending champion, and had just made a great shot, so I got a whole big gallery following me down the seventh hole. I hit my approach in the front bunker there. They had just put new sand in the bunkers and it was pretty fluffy. I took three shots to get out and two putts for a triple-bogey seven. By the time I teed off on eight, I had no gallery. That's what I remember about my hole in one."

While the game of golf was being played in the early fifteenth century, the first recorded hole in one is attributed to Young Tom Morris, son of the legendary pro at the St. Andrews Golf Links. With about as much fanfare as a bank statement, a newspaper report recorded Morris's ace on the eighth hole of the Prestwick Golf Club during the 1868 British Open. From there, skip ahead by more than 100 years to the U.S. Open, to a day heaven-blessed for aces.

The sixth hole at the Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, New York, turned into a funnel on June 15, 1989, during the first round of the U.S. Open. The pin was set at the front right of the green, with a slope behind it and to the left. It was playing at about 160 yards. Doug Weaver, Jerry Pate, Nick Price and Mark Wiebe aced the hole between 8:35 and 10 a.m. "The balls were just feeding into the hole," says Pate. "Hale Irwin hit one before me that almost went in. It was the kind of pin placement that allowed the ball to come from several different lines and still get to the hole. When you looked at it, you knew there was a chance you could make it with just a decent shot. I don't know why they put it there, but there were a lot of happy players, and it gave the fans a heckuva thrill." In 1995, Italian golfer Costantino Rocca made an ace on the same hole with the cup in the same position during the Ryder Cup matches won by Rocca and the European team.

For Mancil Davis, standing on any given par-3 tee is like standing on the sixth at Oak Hill. He thinks he can make it. He can visualize the flight of the ball and its bounce and roll on the green. He can see it dropping into the cup. "There's a different feeling I get on a par-3 tee with, say, a 6-iron in my hand as opposed to standing in the fairway of a par 4 with the same club," says Davis. "Golf Digest hooked me up with electronic monitoring equipment years ago to look at my brain waves and see what was happening when I was on a par-3 tee. An expert determined that my brain waves were like that of a player looking at a 50-foot putt rather than someone about to hit an iron shot. The player with the 50-foot putt had some expectation that he might make it. That's the way I felt about hitting my tee shots. I have 50 official holes in one, but I have several others that have come in my outings or in very casual play. I don't know why I am that way, but I'm sure glad that I am."

Champions Tour pro Dave Stockton has 26 aces in his career, not all of them in professional tournaments. He remembers the first one vividly, as much for what happened afterward as how the ball went in the hole. "I was a teenager and it was Hole in One Day in Southern California, which is a charitable deal. It was at the Lake Arrowhead Country Club. The guy before me almost holes his shot, then I hit a 7-iron and the ball rolls into the cup. There's a guy up at the green who's there to verify shots, and he actually fell off his stool. But you know, afterward my father, who had never had a hole in one, didn't even say, 'Nice shot.' "

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