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Golf: Chrysler Championship

Hole-in-one a 'holy cow' shot

As in, "I can't believe it went in." Aces are rare, and mostly the product of luck. Most players never know the feeling.

By TOM JONES
Published October 29, 2004

PALM HARBOR - For most of us, it would go down as one of the great moments of our lives. That's how special it is.

We would recall the details like we did of our first kiss or our favorite Christmas morning. We would remember everything: where, when, how. That's how rare it is.

If Ben Franklin had done it, he probably would list it between "discovering electricity" and "signing the Declaration of Independence" on his list of lifetime achievements. That's how cool it is.

A hole-in-one.

Weekend golfers dream of it. Even scratch golfers fantasize about it. For most, it never happens. No matter how good you are, no matter how often you play, you might have a better chance of being hit by lightning while holding the winning lottery ticket during a solar eclipse than whacking a little white ball into a little hole some 200 yards away.

The pro at your local golf club could go out right now and hit 100 buckets of balls at the shortest par 3 on the course and still not sink one.

It takes a whole lot of skill and twice as much luck to deal an ace, and even then, a marriage of the two might only be enough to nudge the ball within a couple of feet. The hole-in-one needs a perfect combination: the right drive, the proper wind, a just-so bounce, a true roll, an exact speed.

When the guy down the street manages to luck into one, he buys a round for everyone at the 19th hole, calls the newspapers and brags about the special moment until he leaves this earth. It's that unforgettable, that incredible, that special.

And what does this maybe-once-in-a-lifetime moment mean to a professional?

"It's an eagle," Carl Pettersson said. "That's what it means. I don't think of it as a hole-in-one. I think of it as an eagle. That's how you look at it. You make an eagle and then move on to the next hole. It's just an eagle."

Jonathan Kaye made just an eagle on the 17th hole, measured at 222 yards, Thursday in the first round of the Chrysler Championship. But what a rare eagle it was. For just the 34th time on the PGA Tour this year, a golfer got to write "1" on his scorecard.

Thirty-four. For a moment, that seems like a lot. But do the math. Over the course of the year, there are about 81,000 tee shots on par 3s. In most years, about one of every 2,500 par-3 tee shots end up in the hole. And these are the best golfers on the planet.

So whether your name is Vijay, Tiger or Ordinary Joe, a hole-in-one is something remarkable. Actually, a double eagle is the rarest of all golf shots. There have been only three this year.

Ever since a Scot named Tom Morris shot what is believed to be the first recorded hole-in-one on Sept. 14, 1868, on the eighth hole at Prestwick in Scotland, the hole-in-one has become golf's version of climbing Mount Everest.

"You know, actually, I still think it's pretty cool," said Vaughn Taylor, who had a hole-in-one last week in the Funai Classic at Lake Buena Vista. "Even the pros, I think, still get a charge out of it. I did."

Taylor has made three in his life and remembers every one right down to the course, the club, the number and length of the hole, and the pin placement.

Kaye didn't do back flips after scoring his ace Thursday, but even this seasoned pro quickly rattled off how many he has had in his life.

"I've got 14," he said. "I think five or six in competition."

But Kaye also knows all the elements came together for his perfect concoction.

"It could have easily not gone in," he said. "I wouldn't have been disappointed either because I hit a good shot."

That's really all a golfer can do: hit a good shot. A hole-in-one is so rare that a golfer never even considers hoping for a hole-in-one or would have the audacity to complain if he didn't get one.

"I would say it's about 80 percent luck," said Pettersson, who picked up an ace at the Nissan Open this year. "Obviously, there is skill involved. If you hit it right and get it close, then you have to say that skill has something to do with it. But you're never thinking of a hole-in-one."

But once the ball is struck, a golfer knows immediately if he has a rare shot at the rare shot.

"All three I've made, I knew it was good as soon as I hit it," Taylor said. "When I hit it, I thought, "Oh, this is going to be close."'

But no one ever thinks, "It's going in."

"Of course not," Taylor said. "It's mostly luck. You take in account the pin placement, the wind and, really, you're just trying to get in close."

Sometimes the goal is even more modest than that.

"Sometimes," Pettersson said, "you just want to get it on the green. That's why I say it's mostly luck."

Some on the tour have been more lucky than others. Bob Tway has 23 in his life. Art Wall holds the record with 45. Some golfers go an entire career and never make one.

There's no rhyme or reason for it.

Take what happened on June 16, 1989, the Hayley's Comet of golf aces. In less than two hours, Doug Weaver, Mark Wiebe, Jerry Pate and Nick Price scored holes-in-one at the 159-yard sixth hole at Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, N.Y., during the U.S. Open.

The Boston Globe checked with a Harvard University mathematician, who figured the odds of four golfers making holes-in-one on the same hole on the same day in less than two hours were an absurd 1.89-quadrillion-to-1. A quadrillion, for those who don't have a Ph.D. at the end of their names, is one thousand times one trillion.

Go figure.

In the 104-year history of the U.S. Open, there have been 38 holes-in-one. Four came on one day. The first was 1907. The next was in 1922. There were none between 1937 and 1953. Then, boom, in the past 25 years, there have been 28. Players say it isn't because the modern player is better, he's just luckier.

Some aces are cooler than others. Jesper Parnevik liked his hole-in-one at the Bell South Classic in 2002, but said it wasn't as nice as the hole-in-one at a tournament in Japan in 1995. Why?

"Heineken was sponsoring the tournament and gave me free beer for a year," Parnevik said at the time. "(This one), I didn't even get a car."

By the way, Kaye didn't get a car Thursday. If he had picked up a hole-in-one on the 15th hole, he would have won a car. Instead, he picked up his ace just two holes later.

Imagine his dumb luck.

[Last modified October 28, 2004, 23:50:16]


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