Captain Mark Kelly was invested in one "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" episode years ago. The final question was a doozy, but Kelly, watching on TV, wasn’t stumped.
What was the golf club Alan Shepard used on the moon in 1971?
"Easy," thought Kelly, a retired astronaut, "a 6-iron."
Perhaps that 6-iron was destined to pop up again in Kelly's life -- as it will on Thursday.
Kelly, 51, is paired with Jimmy Walker in Thursday’s Pro-Am prior to the Deutsche Bank Championship. Afterward, Kelly will be able to get his paws on a replica of the most famous golf club in the world, the one Shepard hit two balls with on the moon on Feb. 6, 1971. It will be on display courtesy of the World Golf Hall of Fame.
According to Robert Alvarez, the USGA Museum Collections Archivist, Shepard donated the original club to the USGA Museum in 1974, where it’s been ever since. The World Golf Hall of Fame and the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum have the only two replicas.
How much Kelly gets to handle the club is unknown. He might be allowed to take a couple of practice swings with it, but he likely won’t be able to hit a golf ball.
“If they don’t mind,” he said, “then yeah, I would like to hit it.”
Sure, it would be great to see the original club that Shepard snuck onto Apollo 14, but that’s not feasible. Green Jacket Auctions valued it at well over $1 million. No chance that’s going anywhere.
“It’s certainly the most valuable golf club ever,” Kelly said.
Before he retired, Kelly spent more than 50 days in space during his NASA career and is one of four individuals to visit the International Space Station on four separate occasions. His brother, Scott Kelly, is also an astronaut and currently at the space station, making them the only siblings to ever travel in space. Mark Kelly became a nationally known name when his wife, former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, was shot in an assassination attempt in January 2011.
Nowadays, Kelly plays more golf than he did when he was an astronaut. He gets in about three or four rounds a month, and his last five scorecards range from 86 to 94. His low is a 78 (it came in 1992). He says he's not nervous, though.
“I’ve done nothing like this,” he said. “I have never hit a golf ball with anyone watching other than the people in the foursome standing around, so this will be a new experience for me.”
He’ll have the perfect playing partner in Walker, who’s an astroimager in his free time. One of Kelly's friends found out that Walker was a space fan and sent some emails to the PGA. That led to Kelly's Thursday tee-time at TPC Boston, a date with Walker and a meeting with a 6-iron.
Now if only they let him hit a ball with it.
“They are probably more likely to let me hit it than (Walker),” Kelly said. “He’s more likely to break it with that club-head speed … that won’t be the case for me.”