Golf's '59 Club' revisits the magic

Al Geiberger, 76, is the founding member of golf's '59 club,' the original "Mr. 59," who on June 10, 1977 made history during the second round of the Danny Thomas Memphis Classic at Colonial Country Club.
Al Geiberger, 76, is the founding member of golf's '59 club,' the original "Mr. 59," who on June 10, 1977 made history during the second round of the Danny Thomas Memphis Classic at Colonial Country Club. ( Associated Press )

Monday, June 30, 2014

ORLANDO, Fla. – The reservation was for a table of five under the name of golf’s ‘59 Club.’

For the first time, five of the seven members of one of golf’s most exclusive clubs met under one roof. Al Geiberger, Chip Beck, Annika Sorenstam, Paul Goydos and Stuart Appleby convened at Eddie V’s Prime Seafood for Golf Channel’s filming of an episode of its series “Legendary Conversation.” (Club members David Duval and Jim Furyk were unable to attend.)

“This is a tough seat to get,” host Rich Lerner said. “You don’t book this reservation on”

Shooting that elusive mark has become golf’s sub-4-minute mile. It is rare air.

Indeed, more men (12) have walked on the moon. There have been 11 triple crown winners in horse racing, and 23 perfect games in baseball, but just six 59s on the PGA Tour, one on the LPGA and none on the European Tour.

Geiberger, 76, is the founding member, the original "Mr. 59," who on June 10, 1977 made history during the second round of the Danny Thomas Memphis Classic at Colonial Country Club.

“I had a feeling of invincibility, like I was never going to miss another shot,” Geiberger said. “But it’s a long way from 60 to 59 and a really long way to 58. . . . You start to run out of holes.”

His score has stirred the fascination of golfers ever since.

“There’s some magic barrier in your mind,” said Sorenstam, Ms. 59, and the only woman to accomplish the feat. “It felt so easy that day. I don’t remember being between clubs. I never thought about my second putt.”

In the second round of the 2001 Standard Register Ping at Moon Valley Country Club in Phoenix, Sorenstam made a lengthy birdie putt at No. 17, her eighth hole after starting on the back nine, to open with eight straight birdies.

“That’s when I knew it was going to be a special day,” Sorenstam said.

She looked at all the circles on her card, and dreams of 59 circled her head. “On nine, I told my caddie, ‘I’m so nervous now. I just need to make a par,’ ” Sorenstam said.

Make a par? Goydos expressed shock. “Have you ever wished to get off the birdie train?” he asked.

She made her par but immediately began another birdie binge. A surge of energy at No. 1 propelled her to three consecutive birdies. “I kept telling myself the ball doesn’t know what the score is,” she said.

Was she in the zone? “Absolutely,” Sorenstam said. Playing alongside her sister, Charlotta, and Meg Mallon, Sorenstam missed one fairway by 2 feet and hit every green in regulation. At the last, she factored for the adrenaline, took a club less, and aimed for the flag. Her eagle putt for 58 grazed the lip and left her a short comebacker for 59.

“If I miss this putt, it’s a great round,” Sorenstam said. “If I make it, it’s history.”

Beck became the second male to shoot 59, in the third round of the 1991 Las Vegas Invitational at Sunrise Golf Club. The course was not only new to the tournament rotation but only 10 months old, and Beck had never seen it before.

“I had no idea where I was going,” Beck said. “I just followed (my caddie’s) cues.”

He had played in the Ryder Cup two weeks earlier and didn’t make anything on the greens. But on this day, Beck snaked in a 60-footer for birdie at the first.

“When I made that putt, the hole just opened up,” he said.

Beck, 57, recalled that when he reached the turn, the marshal said to him, “Hey, Chip, you’re two better than anyone else. Go shoot 59.”

No pressure. That’s why he considers the birdie at 10 the hardest one. Then there was added incentive of big stakes in Vegas. At the time, Hilton Hotels sponsored a promotion offering a $1 million annuity to anyone who shot 59 that season. Beck set aside $500,000 for two college scholarships and so far there have been 44 recipients through the Western Golf Association’s Evans Scholars program.

“That, by far, is the greatest thing in my life,” Beck said.

Goydos secured his place in golf history during the first round of the 2010 John Deere Classic at TPC Deere Run.

“I didn’t try to get there. It just happened,” Goydos said. “It wasn’t in my top-80 most nervous moments.”

Goydos often has been asked if he could have shot 58. “No, I could’ve shot 66. I got every break,” he said. That day, he holed 187 feet of putts and made two more from the fringe.

Shortly thereafter, Appleby followed suit in the final round of the 2010 Greenbrier Classic. Appleby toured Old White's first nine in 6-under 28, did the math and realized the holy grail of 58 was in sight.

“That was easy. Let’s do the back nine,” Appleby said. “I failed miserably. Did 59!”

But breaking new ground wasn’t his singular focus. He also was charging from seven strokes back to overtake 54-hole leader Jeff Overton for the title. Appleby said he feels he left two shots out there. When he lipped out a putt on the back nine, Appleby thought, “Maybe I’m done. I told myself, ‘Hang on, I don’t need four more.’ ”

The mental hurdles that have derailed many 59 bids in their tracks didn’t stop Appleby. He birdied the final three holes. On 18, “calmness and quietness” enveloped him. “I looked away,” he said of the winning 10-foot putt at the last. “I knew it was in.”

Yet none of them ever recaptured the magic of their finest day. Geiberger remembered that one year later when he started with six straight birdies at the 1978 Pleasant Valley Classic, but it quickly unraveled.

“You can’t put yourself in the zone,” Geiberger said.

“There’s a recipe for it, but you can’t follow it,” Appleby said.

The episode will premiere on Golf Channel at 9 p.m. June 30. Lerner capped the conversation by suggesting that they gather again in a few years, and wondered whether by then there might be a few more seats at the table. Or could there be an even more exclusive club? Perhaps a Mr. or Ms. 58?

“You might be all alone,” Geiberger said to Lerner. “Table for one.” readers: We value your input and welcome your comments, but please be respectful in this forum.