How Low Can They Go?

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Suddenly The Emphasis Is More On 'Senior' Than It Is On 'Editor'
by Bryan Outram

Remember when the number 59 wasn’t quite so commonplace in golf?

Every sport has a number that seems to stand alone as the pinnacle in defining an athlete’s performance within that discipline. A number that, when spoken in reference to the sport, doesn’t even require an explanation.

In Canada, where hockey is ‘King’ in the sports world, numbers such as 215 and 92 are instantly linked with another famous number,  - ‘99’ – Wayne Gretzky, of course, and the surreal point and goal totals he amassed in individual seasons that will likely stand for….well, probably this editor’s lifetime anyway.

Basketball saw the legendary Wilt Chamberlain pour in 100 points in one game in 1962 against the New York Knicks. Chamberlain is also said to have been responsible for the number 20,000, which involved scoring of another kind, but we won’t get into that here.

In baseball, a sport obsessed with numbers, some of its most revered marks are ones that have actually been eclipsed in recent times but stood for so long they are still etched in fan’s minds. Such as 714 or 61. Two numbers that many believe will stand forever are 56 and 2,632 – thank you Joe DiMaggio and Cal Ripken Jr.

For years golf’s ‘magical number’ was 59. It served as at least the Ark of the Covenant if not indeed the Holy Grail. Actually shooting the number in a professional golf tournament would automatically qualify the deed-doer for a reverence normally held for personal deities, Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy – all of whom are doing quite well, thank you very much.

It wasn’t until a hot and humid day in June of 1977 that California’s Al Geiberger became the first to record the elusive score on the PGA Tour. In 102-degree temperatures during the second round of the Danny Thomas Memphis Classic in Tennessee he played a bogey-free round that included 11 birdies and one eagle. In fact the 7,200-yard Colonial Country Club course was one of the longest and toughest of its day.

He became known as ‘Mr. 59’ carrying a similar aura that the previously mentioned icons as well as other major sports heroes do for their seemingly otherworldly feats.

Some 14 years later Chip Beck became the second PGA Tour member to put up a 59 in the Las Vegas Invitational. It was only 8 years after that in 1999 when David Duval carded his 59 in the final round of the Bob Hope Classic.

The first and only woman to achieve the mark on the LPGA Tour was none other than Hall-of-Famer Annika Sorenstam in 2001. Ironically, Sorenstam is now the daughter-in-law of Jerry McGee who was a playing partner of Geiberger during his historic round.

Ho Hum....Just Another '59' On The PGA Tour. Come On Stuart...Couldn't You Have Made At Least ONE More Putt?
Then along comes the year 2010 and during the same month of July two more golfers on the PGA Tour managed to reach the suddenly slightly less than magic number 59 as both Paul Goydos and Stuart Appleby performed the feat.

Not only that, but on the same day Goydos shot his 59 Steve Stricker carded a 60. A couple of weeks later Carl Pettersson shot 60 in the third round of the RBC Canadian Open and came within a hair’s breadth on the 18th from yet another 59.

How low can they go? Bobby Wyatt, a 17-year old junior golfer shot a stunning 57 in the Alabama State Junior Championship in July. He put together 12 birdies and one eagle on the par-71, 6,628-yard course at the Country Club of Mobile.

Suddenly, what was once thought of as magical has become nearly as routine as, say – a no hitter in the Major Leagues. But what it really means is that, yes, the depth of quality in golf has gone beyond Tiger,  Phil, and…. and a bunch of other guys.

So what is it? The equipment? The golf ball? Fitness trailers? Coaching? Protein supplements? All of the above?

Swedish golf coach Pia Nilsson created the ‘Golf54’ program, which is, essentially, a philosophical approach to get the best out of every player and states that, ‘every shot must have a purpose.’ 

Make no mistake that the ‘54’ refers to the target score for the perfect round of golf. Obviously it’s completely unrealistic, if not physically impossible, to expect anyone to get a hole-in-one on every hole so the number ‘18’ doesn’t come into play here.

No, the perfect round of golf is said to be when every green is reached in regulation and the putt is made. Basically your aim is to make a birdie on every hole. Therefore on a par 72 golf course one would shoot 18-under par. Of course if you’re playing a par 71 or a par 70 now you’re looking at a 53 or 52.

At the Reno-Tahoe Open this year, once again in the month of July, Graham DeLaet from Weyburn, Saskatchewan matched the course record at Montreaux Golf & Country Club with a 10-under 62. The round featured 10 birdies — including a stretch of five in a row — and no bogeys.

The old adage that ‘records where made to be broken’ certainly holds true in most instances. So, why not shoot even lower than ‘59’? Then the big question becomes, just how low can they go?

Well, unless the USGA or the R&A get in the way, somebody in professional golf is going to shoot 54. Count on it.

About the writer:
Bryan Outram has been the editor of Inside Golf for 10 years. He can be reached at

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By Bryan Outram

Bryan Outram has been editor-in-chief for Inside Golf for the past eight years.

More articles by Bryan Outram