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Golf's Magic Number

Only four professional golfers are members of the most exclusive club in the game: a 59 in official competition
Jeff Williams
From the Print Edition:
Hugh Grant, November/December 2009

(continued from page 2)

"I said Al, that's all right, it's all yours," says Beck.

Now playing occasionally on the Champions Tour, Beck knows that his 59 carried him a long way even after his game went south. "That's the nicest thing that happened in my career," says Beck. "It's what people remember about me. It took on a life of its own."

David Duval talks wistfully about his 59, no doubt because it came during an era when he was the No. 1 player in the world. Like Beck, he has suffered a horrible withering of his game, but unlike Beck he had a lot farther to fall. He was, after all, a winner of the 2001 British Open and a multiple winner on the PGA Tour during the '90s and for a while the No. 1 player in the world. "I don't know if it means that much to me now, but it was a very important part of my career," says Duval, having recently finished a surprising second in the U.S. Open at Bethpage Black where he had held a share of the lead the last round after a birdie at the 16th hole.

Duval's 59 came in the final round of the 1999 Bob Hope Chrysler Classic being played on the Palmer Private Course at PGA West. Two weeks before he had won the Mercedes Championship at Kapalua by nine shots. He was at the top of his game, the dominator in dark, wraparound sunglasses. Tiger Woods, though his potential was burning brightly, had yet to take over the golf world.

Now Duval was fighting for the lead in the Bob Hope and shot 31 on the front side to stay in touch with his chief competitor, Steve Pate, who was going neck and neck with him. After six birdies on the back nine, he still trailed by a shot. Then he came to the par-5 18th. He smoked a drive there, then was faced with a shot to a hard and fast green. He hit a 5-iron, playing it to land short and run up to the back shelf. As if on orders, it rolled up to six feet. It was a putt for a win, and a putt for history.

"It was really important to give myself a chance to shoot that 59, because how many chances are you going to have to break 60," says Duval. "At Pebble Beach once I was eight under after seven holes then only made two birdies on the last 11 to shoot 62. I missed a ton of good chances. I could have easily shot 58." This six-footer was a knee knocker. "There might have been more pressure on that putt than if it had been a 25-footer," says Duval. He ran it right in, pumped his fist and walked away with a tournament victory and his slice of history. "It does seem to have diminished over the course of my career," said Duval. "I don't remember being introduced anywhere after that as Mr. 59. I don't believe I'm looked at as a player who shot 59, really. I think I'm looked at as a player who was formerly No. 1 in the world."

There was no disputing Annika Sorenstam's place at the top of the women's game at the turn of the century. She was the most dominant women's player of all time, winning 72 times on the LPGA Tour, including 10 women's majors. She had already won 24 of those events when she came to the Standard Register Ping tournament at the Moon Valley Country Club in March of 2001. She started her second round on the back nine and she ran off eight straight birdies before a par on the 18th for a 28. "I got very nervous after that eighth birdie, but after I made the turn I felt good again," says Sorenstam, who retired after the 2008 season and is expecting her first child. "Then I got four more birdies and my mind started to wander, but I got it back."

Sorenstam had been open about her dreams of shooting a 54. "It came to my mind [on the first nine]," says Sorenstam. "My thought about 54 and I had that dream a long time. People would laugh or giggle when I would say that. This [round] was on its way."

She couldn't quite keep up that pace, but made five birdies on the back nine and came to the 18th already at 13 under par. "When you play in a major, it's a very different feeling," says Sorenstam. "It's more survival. This was more like I'm attacking the pin, I'm attacking the course. There had been 60s and 61s, so shooting that score wouldn't have made a difference."

On the 18th, her caddie cautioned her to play to the middle of the green, a shot that would likely sew up the 59. Sorenstam wanted another birdie, wanted that 58 and was willing to risk bogey for that momentous birdie. "I said no, let's fire straight at it," says Sorenstam.

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Comments   2 comment(s)

tim mohan — Royal Oak, MI, USA,  —  September 21, 2013 4:36pm ET

I know this is about the PGA and LPGA, but not including than legendary Canadian golfer, Moe Norman, who shot 59 not once but 3 times in tournament play is a travesty. He is considered the greatest ball striker in the history of golf. He also sunk 17 hole in ones and set 30 course records.

David Savona September 22, 2013 4:27pm ET

Your comment jogged my memory. We covered Mo Norman quite some time ago, and his story is quite eye-opening. Here is the link:

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