As part of our series, "36 Reasons to Love Golf Now," we sent an intrepid reader to see a major winner, in hopes of finally carding an ace. It’s tracking, it’s tracking…
The golf gods certainly possess a wicked sense of humor. Ask Tony Sleime. They blessed the 36-yearold with talent (he plays to a 6-handicap) and once granted him the glory of a double-eagle (a 5-iron from 200 yards). But they’ve deprived him of what he most covets: a hole-in-one. Just one time.
While he’s rattled countless flagsticks over his 25 years in the game, indignities have shadowed Sleime like storm clouds. A golf buddy has made nine holes-in-one. He once lost a Nassau when a lesser player jarred his tee shot on the 16th. And there was the time he flew his ball into the cup from 140 yards (at last!) only to watch it carom out and spin back into a lake (triple-bogey). “Why do the golf gods hate me?” he asked, tongue only slightly in cheek.
With the deities against him, it was time for mortals to intervene. Golf Magazine flew Sleime from his home in Charlotte, N.C., to the TPC Twin Cities near Minneapolis, site of the Champions Tour’s 3M Championship. Our mission: Get him his hallowed “1.” We gave him full run of a par-3 (TPC’s fourth hole), a large bucket of his favorite balls and, as a bonus, a playing lesson from Hal Sutton.
The 14-time Tour winner knows aces. Since 1971, he’s carded more holes-in-one in competition (10) than any player on the PGA Tour. “The truth,” Sutton told Sleime, “is that I was surprised every time I made one.” He shared another secret. “The trick to making an ace is to hit a million balls and hope one goes in.”
A million? We only had time to hit 500, max, before Sleime ran out of gas on this sticky July morning. Still, his chances were better than Sutton suggested. Statistics show that on a given par 3, the average amateur has a 1-in-12,000 chance of making an ace. The odds were long, but Sleime had a friendly pin placement (center cut) and a major-winner at his side.
Sutton had his charge take a few swings. The 1983 PGA Champion noticed that Sleime’s shoulders were aimed too far right, which forced him to compensate in the downswing. “If you’re not swinging your arms down your shoulder line, you’re asking your hands to do too much,” Sutton said. “How can you hope to make one if you’re not lined up where you want the ball to go?”
With a corrected setup, Sleime took aim from the 138-yard tees. He was at first uncomfortable with his swing changes and smothered several shots into the water, but Sutton’s tips soon took hold. A lazy 9-iron draw settled 10 feet from the flagstick. Another cozied up to half that distance.
Then, a few dozen swings in, Sleime launched a pin-seeker. “That felt good!” he said holding his finish. Sutton watched the ball flight. His words hung in the air, the phrase he made famous in 2000 when he vanquished Tiger Woods at the Players Championship: “Be the right club today!”
It was the right club. The ball hopped once, rolled, curled toward the cup, crawling closer, closer, to one inch… Then it stopped.
“Not bad,” Sutton said.
Encouraged by his near ace, Sleime proceeded to bang balls like the human half-brother of Iron Byron. Over the next three hours, a tight white cluster formed around the cup. But none rolled in. His hands hurt, and his shoulders ached. His time was up.
Sutton patted his man on the back. “You might not make one today, but you’ve got a better chance tomorrow.”
“I feel optimistic,” Sleime said, unaware that the gods had one more slight to send his way.
The next day, in the 3M Championship pro-am, an amateur named Paul Steece holed his 7-iron for an ace—on the very same hole.
“Of course,” Sleime said with a sigh. “The story of my life."
(Related Article: SI Golf staffers share their hole-in-one stories)