Twenty years ago today Chip Beck became just the second player to post a 59 on the PGA TOUR. And he says the historic event likely wouldn't have happened had he not just returned from the rigors of the Ryder Cup.
Beck had spent a week battling the Europeans at Kiawah Island, where the greens were firm and fast -- with putts sometimes breaking 20 feet in two and three different directions. After a successful, pressure-filled week representing the United States, he was drained by the time he reached Las Vegas.
At the same time, though, he felt relieved from the first moment his spikes hit the greens at Sunrise Golf Club.
"That first hole I had a 60-footer and it never left the center of the hole," Beck recalled. This, the ever-positive North Carolinian reckoned, could be a fun day.
That third round -- Sunrise was one of three courses used that week for the Las Vegas Invitational -- continued to be an enjoyable one for Beck. He tooled around the course in 13 under, using five pars and a PGA TOUR-record 13 birdies, to shoot his 59 and earn his place in the history book.
"I made the turn and the marshal said, 'Keep it going, Chip, and you'll have a chance to shoot 59,'" Beck recalled. "Well, when you starting thinking about it, it gets more challenging."
Conditions beyond a player's control also can make things more difficult. The greens begin to dry out and get crustier. The number of spike marks increase as a round continues and can sometimes almost leave a putt to chance rather than skill.
On that fateful day, though, Beck played a great round of golf. He was focused and his game had never been better.
Beck, who finished his round on the front nine, birdied the final three holes to nail down his place in history. He two-putted for a birdie on his 16th hole, made an 8-footer for birdie on his 17th and left himself with a 4-footer for birdie on his 18th.
On the final hole Beck remembers seeing two jagged spike marks in his line, about 2 inches apart. He played his putt inside one mark and watched the putt drop into the hole, curling in at the last dramatic moment to match the record.
"It was a great event in my life," Beck said.
Beck, who is playing in San Antonio this week at the AT&T Championship on the Champions Tour, said the memory of the 59 often kept him going when times got rough. "Even when I played my worst golf, I'd say I know I can do it right," he said.
Beck, a four-time winner on TOUR, returned to competitive golf in 2007 when he turned 50 and began playing the Champions Tour full-time in 2008. He's done well in 2011 with a pair of third-place finishes and nearly $600,000 in earnings.
There are now five players in the TOUR's Fifty-Nine Fraternity: charter member Al Geiberger, Beck, David Duval, Paul Goydos and Stuart Appleby. Goydos and Appleby both accomplished the feat in 2010. Duval and Appleby each shot their 59ss in the final round on the way to victory.
"I'm really surprised that someone hasn't shot a 58," said Beck, who went on to tie for third in Las Vegas that week. "The greens are so good out there today. They've made the courses longer and more difficult and that's probably why we haven't seen more."
Beck now celebrates his magic number by using the occasion as a fundraiser for the Western Golf Association. Beck helped establish the Chip Beck Scholars in 1992 with the $1 million bonus paid by Hilton Hotels after he shot the 59. Forty students have earned the scholarships, which are based on academics, extracurricular activities, caddying and interest in golf.
|The 59 Club|
"It's been a great experience for me," Beck said.