Magic number for golf is now 59

Aug 20 2010 - 4:05pm

GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Fifty-nine has long been the gold-standard score on the PGA Tour, with just three 59s carded since Jimmy Carter was president.

Until this year, that is.

Paul Goydos and Stuart Appleby each notched 59s this summer. Carl Pettersson, Steve Stricker and J.B. Holmes have shot 60s, and Pettersson burned the lip of the cup on a 30-foot birdie putt at the 18th hole during the RBC Canadian Open.

What in the name of Al Geiberger is going on here? Why so many, going so low?

More so, could another 59 -- or dare we say it, the first 58 in Tour history -- come this week in the Wyndham Championship at Sedgefield Country Club, on a cozy par-70 course?

Former Wake Forest All-American Webb Simpson, for one, believes it could happen.

"Who knows?" he said Wednesday. "The greens are receptive. The course is in great shape. So ..."

So anything may be possible. In truth, Sedgefield's Bermuda greens are more than receptive. They're also pretty slow, as a brutally hot summer has made keeping grass on the greens a struggle and resulted in more watering and less frequent mowing.

"Bent grass, in this kind of weather, you really are fighting a losing battle," former Masters champion Trevor Immelman said.

For years, the PGA Tour pros fought a losing battle trying to break the 60 barrier. But Geiberger finally broke through on June 10, 1977, firing a 59 in the Danny Thomas Memphis Classic. He did it at Colonial Country Club, on a course that stretched 7,200 yards.

Geiberger was known as "Mr. 59" until 1991, when Chip Beck posted a 59 in the Las Vegas Invitational. David Duval then carded a final-round 59 in winning the 1999 Bob Hope Chrysler Classic at PGA West in LaQuinta, Calif.

Until this year, that was it -- three 59s in the books. Now it seems as if someone is threatening to break 60 every other week.

"It's just kind of a perfect storm sometimes," said Ryan Moore, the Wyndham's defending champion. "You get the right courses and right conditions and right wind, and if that's the case, these guys out here are amazing golfers and there are going to be great golf scores."

Goydos, a journeyman pro, notched his 59 in the John Deere Classic last month (Stricker had his 60 the same day). Appleby, a tour veteran from Australia, then used a final-round 59 to charge to victory in the Greenbrier Classic three weeks later.

In May, Ryo Ishikawa, the 18-year-old Japanese sensation, put up a 58 on the Japan Tour. Recently, teenager Bobby Wyatt had a 57 in the Alabama Junior Boys Championship in Mobile, on a 6,600-yard course, lipping out a birdie putt at the 18th.

Trevor Murphy, a former North Carolina-Charlotte golfer, shot a 56 last month in a Nationwide Tour pro-am at Ohio State's Gray Course in Columbus, Ohio -- albeit on a 5,800-yard, par-70 course. The score is unofficial, coming in a pro-am, but 56 is 56.

Where's the floor? Are scores in the 50s becoming the new norm on the PGA Tour?

"Guys are working so hard on and off the course trying to improve their games," Immelman said. "I guess time will tell, you know, if that trend continues.

"It definitely has been out of the norm, but it's exciting stuff and probably great for our sport. It gets us in the news more and more and makes people take notice."

Annika Sorenstam had a 59 on the LPGA Tour in 2001 and there have been three on the Nationwide Tour. The one major U.S. tour without a 59 is the Champions Tour, for golfers 50 and older.

But that could change, said Tom Pernice Jr., who competes on the PGA and Champions tours and won the SAS Championship last September in his Champions Tour debut.

David Frost, he noted, had an 11-under 61 -- with a 29 on the front- nine -- in winning the 3M Championship early this month at TPC Twin Cities in Blaine, Minn.

"If there are soft greens and no wind, there will be more opportunities," Pernice said. "It's like the four-minute mile. Once it got off the number 4 and into the 3s, more and more were doing it."

 

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