Joe Posnanski recently wrote about Alex Rodriguez’s impending arrival to baseball’s 600 Home Run Club. I love one particular line, summing up how there is zero buzz about reaching the once insanely difficult milestone that Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Ken Griffey Jr. and Sammy Sosa have all passed. (I already forgot about Griffey and Sosa.)
It is like someone struggling to climb to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro, reaching the peak and finding that people had already built a McDonald’s, a Home Depot and a Best Buy up there.
I feel the same way about what used to be golf’s magic number: 59. I’m not suggesting Paul Goydos and Stuart Appleby are juicing, but 59 doesn’t have the same reverence anymore.
Appleby just shot a 59 to win the Greenbrier Classic! I should have goosebumps just typing that. But it felt like I was watching a 64 on any other weekend. It was a great closing round to steal a tournament from a whiny Jeff Overton (that was an embarrassing hissy fit on No. 17), but it didn’t feel like history. It seems wrong to say that, but I know what I felt. I can’t inject importance into the event after the fact. Something was missing.
If you listed all the golfing highlights of the year, and I was just reading bullet points and had to rank them with no other knowledge, Appleby’s 59 would probably trail only Phil Mickelson’s win at the Masters. A 59 on Sunday to win a tournament by one! That’s incredible. Enjoy the highlights below:
But even when Appleby talked about his round afterward, I didn’t get the impression that it was one of those magical days that has only happened to four other players in PGA Tour history. Maybe he was preoccupied because the tournament was still hanging in the balance with Overton out on the course. How many guys hit the range after shooting a 59? But the interview sounded like he was talking about any other low 60s round. (And maybe he was. As James Sherrill points out on Twitter, the scoring average Sunday was 67.2. So a 59 is just eight strokes under the field average.) Even after Appleby won, the round sounds like nothing out of the ordinary. (Well, except for making birdies on the last three holes to get that 59.)
“I was quite comfortable,” Appleby said. “It’s not a nerve-racking thing to be involved in. I had a lot of opportunities and I made them. It was great to do that to win the tournament.”
When Goydos shot 59, he at least shared in the surprise and elaborated on his round in the context of the game’s history.
“Golf is hard,” Goydos said. “It’s just a really, really low number. I think there’s a little bit of a barrier.”
That barrier has been as soft as a prevent defense lately. J.B. Holmes missed a 10-footer for eagle on Saturday that would have secured a 59, and the USA Today’s Jerry Potter speculated about a 57 in his story.
Had he converted all the opportunities for subpar scores he had in the round he would have gotten a PGA Tour record. He made 11 birdies, but took a bogey on the third hole, missed a birdie putt from three feet on the 11th and an eagle putt on the 17th. He could have shot 57.
But this isn’t just Holmes overpowering a course and hitting 9-irons into par 5s. That same day, D.A. Points — who has never finished better than third in a PGA Tour event — shot 61 despite a bogey on the par-5 17th. And Carl Pettersson and Steve Stricker both shot 60s in the last month. Not your typical mashers.
The golf world has been peppered by scores in the 50s lately, with Goydos’ 59, 17-year-old Bobby Wyatt shooting a 57 and Nationwide Tour player Trevor Murphy firing a 56 in a pro-am. And then there’s Ryo Ishikawa’s 58 on the Japan Tour.
I understand that the elements play a big role in deciding scores, but there are plenty of PGA Tour stops with soft conditions, and there hadn’t been a 59 in 11 years before the last month. There still hasn’t been a 59 on the European Tour.
The AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am is played in soft conditions every year — and it often uses lift, clean and place — but we aren’t seeing any 59s there, even though none of the three courses in its rotation reach 7,000 yards.
I still don’t understand why all these scores in the 50s are coming in now. Shooting 22-under to win a tournament is not outrageous or uncommon. It’s the 59 that’s so rare.
But at the same time, when CBS was replaying Appleby’s putt for 59, and saying that the highlight would be shown for years, I couldn’t help but think that it has a short shelf life. The way things are going, a 58 — or lower — seems inevitable. I don’t know why, I just know it’s happening.
And it can happen to anyone.
[AP Photo/Kyle Green]