One and Done

October 15, 2007

I once worked with a man who had made 11 holes in one. Everybody who discovered this about him was incredibly impressed. Except his wife. Whenever he reported yet another hole in one, she was dismissive: “Well, you ought to — you play enough!”

While the average hacker has no realistic hope of breaking 70 (and maybe not 80 or 90), a hole in one is possible for almost anyone. All it takes is a little skill and a lot of luck. Just ask Jim Richwine. He’s an amateur who recently holed a five-iron shot at the 156-yard third hole at Bel-Air Country Club in Los Angeles. Twenty minutes later, he did it again with the same club at the 154-yard fifth hole. Two aces in a round, scant minutes apart.

That would be a special accomplishment even for a touring pro, for whom holes in one can feel like just another good shot rather than the thrill of a lifetime. But when an ace comes at a crucial point in a competition, it can be as thrilling for the stars as it is for the average duffer. Here is my list of the game’s top 10 memorable holes in one, plus a few others worth noting:

10. Tiger Woods, 1996 Greater Milwaukee Open
This ace, which came at the par-3 14th hole at Brown Deer Golf Course, was of no real consequence. But it was Tiger’s first tournament as a professional. The hype had preceded him, great things were expected and he delivered. The shot became the stuff of legend, so much so that when the Golf Channel spotlighted the Marquette golf team, the camera crew had a Marquette player try to duplicate the ace. He missed.

9. Lee Trevino, 1987 Skins Game
Nobody played to the cameras better than the Merry Mex. When he jarred his shot on the island green at the 17th hole at PGA West, his celebration included everything but an Irish jig. The shot won him five skins and $175,000, pretty good money at the time.

8. Paul Azinger, 1988 PGA Championship
It might have been the shot of the tournament when Azinger, player of the year in 1987, holed a 6-iron shot on the 202-yard fourth hole at Oak Tree Golf Club in Edmond, Okla., during the third round. He double-bogeyed the next hole, wiping out the ace, and on Sunday was outplayed by Jeff Sluman, who captured his only major title. It was a nice TV moment when the ecstatic Azinger hurled his visor into the air. Later, he explained that he’d wanted to hit 7-iron but his caddie talked him into using the 6-iron.

7. Chris DiMarco, 2005 Presidents Cup
In Saturday morning’s foursomes play (alternate shot), DiMarco holed out on the seventh hole, a 200-yard par 3, at the Robert Trent Jones Golf Club in Virginia. His shot landed on the green and bounced several times before rolling in. DiMarco also made the winning putt on the final hole on Sunday to clinch the Cup for the Americans.

6. Claude Harmon, 1947 Masters
Ask a dozen Tour pros, and they’ll all tell you the same story about the legendary Ben Hogan’s reaction to Harmon’s ace at Augusta National. It’s the most-told story of a hole in one in golf, and true or not, it’s part of the Hogan legend. At the famous 12th hole, Hogan hit a sweet tee shot to 12 feet. Harmon knocked his tee shot in. Hogan made birdie, and en route to the 13th tee walked over to Harmon, who was expecting congratulations. Instead, Hogan said: “I think that’s only the second time I’ve birdied that hole.” Another version has Hogan asking Harmon what he made on the hole.

5. Nick Faldo, 1993 Ryder Cup
It was a key match in the Sunday singles at The Belfry. Faldo, the star of the European team, against Azinger, winner of that year’s PGA Championship and arguably the best American player. In a tense and hard-fought match that ended in a tie, Faldo aced the 14th hole with a 6-iron. The Americans clinched the Cup before the match ended, but neither player let up. In 1995, Azinger worked for NBC on its Ryder Cup coverage. When the clip of Faldo’s ace was shown, Azinger joked, “Look at that. I had cancer and he still couldn’t beat me.”

4. Paul Casey, 2006 Ryder Cup
England’s Casey made a hole in one at the K Club’s 213-yard 14th hole in a Saturday afternoon foursome match. His shot ended the match, securing a 5-and-4 victory for him and David Howell over Stewart Cink and Zach Johnson. It was the fifth ace in Ryder Cup competition but the first to close out a match. “That will go down in history,” Casey said. Teammate Sergio Garcia added: “Only about two billion people saw that shot.”

3. Gene Sarazen, Royal Troon, 1973 British Open
At 71, the Squire made a ceremonial appearance in the Open. It was a true meeting of the legends when Sarazen came to the short-but-treacherous par-3 eighth hole, known as the Postage Stamp. Sarazen hit a 5-iron shot that found the cup. After the ball went in, he reportedly looked up at the clouds and said loudly, “Eat your heart out, Hagen!” That would be Walter Hagen, his old rival, who died in 1969. The next day, Sarazen holed a bunker shot for a birdie on the same hole. Ernie Els aced it in the 2004 Open.

2. David Toms, 2001 PGA Championship
Because of the exciting finish (Toms made the winning par putt after laying up on the 72nd hole, a par 4 guarded by water), this Saturday hole in one is often overlooked. He played a perfect 5-wood shot on the manly 243-yard 15th and watched it drop. The fact that Toms did it during a major championship victory and used a fairway wood instead of an iron makes it a stroke of genius.

1. Tiger Woods, 1997 Phoenix Open
This was the most memorable because it was Woods and because it happened at the TPC at Scottsdale’s 16th, the party hole known as golf’s loudest. About 20,000 fans were watching. I was interviewing Nick Price by the clubhouse when we heard the roar. “That sounds like a hole-in-one roar,” I may have said. Price countered: “That sounds like a Tiger roar.” Woods reacted with repeated vehement fist pumps, and fans showered the tee with beer cups, cans, anything they had on them. There has never been a more raucous hole in one. Or a more memorable one.

Honorable mentions:

• Rich Beem’s reaction at the 14th hole at Riviera during the Nissan Open was one of the highlights of 2007. He climbed onto the roof of the sports car he’d just won and gave it a hug. Nissan later turned it into a commercial. Beem’s act reprised a similar display by Peter Jacobsen, who aced the 14th hole 13 years earlier and also won a car. His was a convertible, and he rushed over and jumped into the front seat after expertly discarding his visor with a Toyota logo.

• At the TPC at Avenel in 1986, Arnold Palmer aced the third hole in front of a modest gallery. The next day, a camera crew showed up, causing Palmer to joke that they were a day late. Then Palmer duplicated the feat.