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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 2)

In the 1980s, Stockton notched one of his more unlikely holes in one, a badly hit shot on the par-3 15th hole at Cypress Point. He was playing in a corporate outing, a lucrative specialty of Stockton's over the years. It was a fun day, but he didn't like hitting poor shots no matter what the circumstance. As the shot flew toward the right side of the green, with the pin on the left, Stockton grunted a bit in frustration. But as if to prove that old golf adage that you shouldn't start whining until the ball stops rolling, Stockton's ball spun left, down the slope, rolled 40 feet and went into the hole. The next hole at Cypress Point is the famously picturesque 16th, 224 yards over the Pacific Ocean. Stockton's 3-wood was right on line, but stopped 10 feet short of the cup. "Now how would have that been, to have back-to-back holes in one on the 15th and 16th holes at Cypress Point," says Stockton. "I guess it shows how much luck is involved in these things. I hit one shot lousy and it goes in, and I hit one shot really good and it doesn't."

There are no complete, official records of holes in one. What exists is sort of an agreed-upon history. The Californian Manley's 59 aces are considered the most ever. Davis's 50 aces are deemed the most by a professional. The late Art Wall is believed to have the most of any PGA Tour player, 46, when he added up all his aces in competition and other play. Mike Hilyer's 10 aces on par-4 holes just has to be that record. And the longest ace ever is generally attributed to Michael Crean on the 517-yard par-5 ninth hole of the Green Valley Ranch Golf Club in Colorado in 2002, though there were no witnesses to the feat and therefore may always be in doubt. But according to the Rocky Mountain News, the ball was found in the cup. Nobody in Crean's foursome actually saw the ball go into the hole (it was too far away). Also, nobody else on the course witnessed the ball going in. While some believe it was a neighborhood kid playing a joke on Crean by picking up his ball and placing it in the hole, another theory is that his shot hit a series of stone yardage markers that sit flush to the ground. With the help of these stone markers (which are 200, 150 and 100 yards from the green) and a 30 mph tailwind, it just might have happened for real. Still, nobody saw it happen.

The loudest ace ever had to be Tiger Woods's on the 16th hole of the TPC at Starpass, during the 1997 Phoenix Open. He did it in front of about 10,000 beer-fueled fans on a hole designed to accommodate a huge gallery. The roar was so deafening that Woods's ears were ringing. The most significant ace in a major championship belongs to David Toms, who holed a 5-wood from 243 yards on the 15th hole of the Atlanta Athletic Club in the third round of the 2001 PGA Championship, and went on to win the title the next day. The most media-friendly was Arnold Palmer's second consecutive ace on the third hole of the TPC at Avenel in 1986. The first ace, only the gallery saw. When he showed up on the tee the next day, there was a camera crew. He told them they were a day late. Then he holed his second straight 5-iron shot, and the crew had its 6 o'clock highlight.

Hal Sutton, the former U.S. Ryder Cup captain, is the PGA Tour's active leader in holes in one with 10. "You know, we practice all the time to get our shots on target, to make ourselves better," says Sutton. "But it still comes as a shock to me when a ball goes in the hole. There's this feeling of euphoria, that everything you've worked for you've achieved in one shot. Now, it's just one shot, but it's also an eagle, so you can make up some serious ground with it, too."

The ace Sutton remembers most occurred at Arnold Palmer's Bay Hill tournament in 1985. And he remembers it for what he didn't accomplish. "They were giving away a $1 million bonus for making a hole in one on the 17th hole on Sunday," says Sutton. "I made mine on Thursday."

The most lucrative ace belongs to Lee Trevino, who holed one for a million bucks in a made-for-television par-3 shootout at Treetops Resort in Michigan in 2001. Trevino also made a hole in one in the 1987 Skins Game competition. He remembers playing in the Philippines and watching a player hit a shot on a par 3 that appeared to be going into a greenside bunker. The player got so mad that he snapped the club in two over his knee. The ball caromed off the back lip of the bunker and rolled straight into the hole, with the player standing on the tee holding both parts of the broken club.

There are no specific rules of golf that pertain to a certified hole in one; it's treated like any other golf shot. The United States Golf Association has issued some guidelines for it, as they pertain to competitive situations.

A shot is considered a hole in one: (a) If made during a round of at least nine holes, except that a hole in one made during a match should be acceptable even if the match ends before the stipulated round is over.

(b) If a player plays only one ball. In a practice round of golf, a hole in one should not be acceptable if a player is playing more than one ball.

(c) If attested by someone acceptable to the tournament committee.

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