Anatomy of an ace
Dive deep into the stats behind golf's most illusive shot
July 10, 2017
By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
Signature shots: Jonathan Byrd wins the 2010 Shriners with playoff ace
Just about every week when Jonathan Byrd plays in a PGA TOUR event he gets asked the same question by at least one of the fans. Or, maybe more.
“You’re the guy who made that hole-in-one, right?”
Even now, nearly seven years later, the improbable ace that Byrd made to win a playoff at the 2010 Shriners Hospitals for Children Open still resonates. Even if it was so dark he couldn’t see the ball scoot into the hole.
“What a great reminder,” Byrd says. “I’ve done a lot of stupid things in my life so it’s nice to be remembered for something good.”
No one else on the PGA TOUR has ever won a sudden death playoff with a hole-in-one. The 6-iron and ball he used for the 204-yard shot are in the World Golf Hall of Fame along with the cap he wore and the pin flag.
“What a feeling to make a hole-in-one to win a golf tournament,” Byrd says. “It was a shock to my system, pretty much.”
Martin Laird and Cameron Percy, the two men Byrd beat that late October day at TPC Summerlin undoubtedly felt the same. Both still had to hit after the cheers died down, and both put their balls on the fourth and final playoff hole in the water.
“You’re never prepared for a hole-in-one,” Laird said at the time.
When it happens, though, unless you’re the odd men out in a playoff like Laird and Percy, making a hole-in-one is cause for busting out your best dance moves and high-fiving everyone in sight.
Since 1971, there has been a total of 1,297 holes-in-one made on the PGA TOUR. The most in one year? That would be 44 in 1994. We’ve already had 20 on TOUR this season, most recently by rookie Grayson Murray at the Travelers Championship.
Hal Sutton and Robert Allenby made aces look easy during their heyday, collecting a phenomenal 10 apiece on TOUR. But there are some players -- like two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson and Bill Haas, who won the 2011 FedExCup – who are still looking for their first in the big leagues.
To be fair, Haas made one ace in a pro-am after turning pro and he had three as an amateur. But he’s teed off on 4,493 par 3s since joining the TOUR in 2006 and has yet to make a hole-in-one.
“You would think in 4,000-plus attempts, I’d have made one” he said, smiling and shaking his head. “If you gave me 4,000 balls on the range to a green, I would think I would make one of those.
“I’m hoping this conversation spurs it on, and it happens sooner rather than later.”
Aces made by year on the PGA TOUR since 1983
YEAR TOTAL YEAR TOTAL YEAR TOTAL YEAR TOTAL 1983 21 1993 25 2003 32 2013 30 1984 22 1994 44 2004 33 2014 17 1985 32 1995 35 2005 30 2015 41 1986 21 1996 39 2006 24 2016 31 1987 28 1997 32 2007 29 2017 20 1988 17 1998 32 2008 26 1989 31 1999 30 2009 36 1990 32 2000 31 2010 38 1991 29 2001 27 2011 23 1992 31 2002 39 2012 37
Jason Bohn doesn’t have a hole-in-one on TOUR, either, after making 4,429 attempts. But he has made four in his life – and one of those was particularly memorable.
Bohn was 19 years old at the time, a red-shirt freshman at Alabama who had just made the traveling squad for his first tournament.
But after an evening of Halloween revelry – “by the end of the night I had become just about every superhero, including Captain Tuscaloosa,” Bohn recalls – he was not at his best. The fundraiser, though, offered a $1 million prize for the first ace so he grudgingly gave it a try.
“My roommate had actually talked me up off the living room floor to get out there,” Bohn says. “I was not in any mood.”
Bohn hit it to 3 feet, 8 inches in the semifinals, which made him one of the 12 from the 115 hopefuls to advance to the finals. This time, instead of hitting from the range, everyone teed off on a real par 3.
Bohn’s first ace is immortalized on YouTube – “I used to make my family watch it every year on November 1,” he says. Too bad you don’t get to see the whole celebration where he threw his club in the air and fell down about halfway as he ran toward the green.
The festivities later that evening involved ribs and adult beverages, as well as IOUs and fake IDs. The group’s secret was found out when SportsCenter showed the video with a caption that started: “19-year-old makes ace …”
Jason Bohn's $1 million ace
“I thought I’m going to win a million dollars and go to jail in the same day,” Bohn recalls. “The owner came up to me, put his arm around me and said, you don’t say anything, I don’t say anything and I’m paying your cab fare home.”
According to USGA rules at the time, Bohn couldn’t accept the prize money – dispensed in $50,000 annuity payments for 20 years -- and remain an amateur. So, he turned pro but stayed in school to complete his degree, working at Tuscaloosa Country Club and holding demo days for King Cobra equipment in his spare time.
“So the best part about this whole thing, to be honest, no doubt without that, without me hitting that hole‑in‑one, I would have never had the opportunity to play professional golf,” says Bohn, whose earnings assured that he didn’t have to get sponsorships to fund his march up the ranks.
“But the second-best part about it was my mom always told me that nothing good could ever come after a long night of drinking. And I can remember telling her that she was wrong.”
Interestingly, two of Bohn’s other aces, also came with cash prizes -- $10,000 in an event in Calgary on what is now known as the MacKenzie Tour-PGA TOUR Canada and $1,500 at a mini-tour event in Myrtle Beach. He made his fourth at a Monday pro-am in Palm Springs, Calif.
“Every other par 3 had a prize on it except that one, so I guess I wore out my prizes,” the good-natured pro says.
And maybe his luck. But if Bohn never makes an ace on TOUR, he’s okay with it.
“I think that first one took it all away, and I’m fine with it,” Bohn said. “Because that’s what got me out here.”
Top 10 courses with the most aces on the PGA TOUR since 1983
COURSE NUMBER OF ACES PAR 3'S PLAYED TPC River Highlands 35 62,532 Riviera Country Club 34 56,752 Westchester Country Club 32 45,452 TPC Sawgrass 28 60,832 Glen Abbey Golf Club 25 41,436 Colonial Country Club 24 51,816 TPC Scottsdale 23 51,404 TPC Southwind 21 52,972 TPC Four Seasons Las Colinas 20 53,740 Harbour Town Golf Links 19 56,280 Muirfield Village GC 19 50,708
Greg Chalmers is at the other end of the spectrum, tied with Davis Love III and Charles Howell III with six aces, the most among active players on TOUR.
All told, the veteran Australian, who picked up his first PGA TOUR victory 53 weeks ago, has made 17 aces, a dozen of which have come in professional events around the world.
“Sometimes I write them down just to make sure I can remember all of them,” Chalmers says.
His first hole-in-one came when he was 13 and playing in the Shelley Beach Club championship in New South Wales, about two hours north of Sydney. His most recent was at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open earlier this season.
“To be honest, every hole‑in‑one I've ever had, I've been chronically shocked,” Chalmers says. “It comes as a surprise.”
Aside from the ace the 43-year-old made years ago at the Czech Open on the Challenge Tour, Chalmers has never won anything for his aces. His prize there? A case of Czechoslovakian champagne.
“And no offense to the Czech people but it tasted like muddy water,” Chalmers says.
Presidents Cup captain Steve Stricker has made three aces on TOUR and another nine or so while playing in pro-ams and practicing with friends. His first on TOUR was at the famous 16th hole at the Waste Management Phoenix Open and earned him a car.
“It was the same year that Tiger made his, that famous one, and I made mine the day before,” Stricker recalls. “But I was out of the tournament, and I teed off the back first so there wasn’t too many people there.”
Another of Stricker’s came at the Memorial Tournament in 2011, fueling the 10th of his 12 victories.
“So that was kind of a special one,” he says.
Stewart Cink has four aces on TOUR, including two at the eighth hole, 10 years apart, at Innisbrook Resort during what is now known at the Valspar Championship. The first to a back pin came courtesy of a 4-iron and the second to the front with a 6-iron.
“I don’t think it even occurred to me until later I thought that’s the second time I’ve aced this hole,” Cink says. “It’s not like I’ve got 20 aces on TOUR. I’ve got four, and now I’ve got two on the same hole.”
The former Georgia Tech standout’s other two holes-in-one were also made with 4-irons, as were his two albatrosses. One of the latter came on the sixth hole at TPC Sugarloaf, where he lives, during the now-defunct AT&T Classic.
“So it’s a 4-iron thing,” Cink grinned.
Par 3s with the most aces on the PGA TOUR since 1983
COURSE HOLE ACES PAR 3s PLAYED Westchester Country Club 6 19 11,363 Riviera Country Club 6 15 14,188 Augusta National GC 16 14 9,366 TPC Sawgrass 13 11 15,208 Riviera Country Club 16 11 14,188 Torrey Pines GC (South) 3 11 10,616 TPC River Highlands 16 10 15,633
A 4-iron “thing” is as good an explanation as any. Sure, these guys are good. But skill can only take you so far. The weather, the contour of the green, even a player’s equipment can impact the shot.
“I just think there is no rhyme or reason to me like someone like Bill Haas has had zero out here and I've had six, say, on the PGA TOUR,” Chalmers says. “There is no rhyme or reason to that.
“It is simply and purely luck, because the difference between the ball going in and two inches right or left of it is a puff of breeze or a groove on the club face, a dimple on the ball.”
Webb Simpson, who won the 2010 U.S. Open, agrees. The margin for error is miniscule.
“Here's why it's so hard,” says Simpson, who made his first ace at the age of 13 and has two on TOUR. “Every shot you've got to pick the right club. Hopefully you guessed on the wind correctly. And you've got to have the right balance.
“I mean, there's like 10 details that have to be perfect.”
Players know when to take chances and when to play it safe. Fire at the pin during a Tuesday practice round but aim 15 feet right when water to the left of the green comes perilously into play on the weekend.
Shorter par 3s where players have scoring clubs, generally wedges through 7-irons, in their hands offer more opportunities to be aggressive, as well.
“You can control the spin and flight a lot more,” Bohn explains.
Pin positions are another mitigating factor. Particularly when there is a tier behind the hole that allows a well-played shot two passes at the cup, going and coming back.
“That's the only ones that I think, well, you get a half decent chance here if you hit a decent shot,” Chalmers says.
The Aussie thinks the par 3s on PGA National as a group are some of the toughest on TOUR. “Truly, we’re thinking about survival there, we’re not thinking about how close we can hit it,” he says.
Conversely, the 16th at Augusta National can be generous when the pin is in its traditional back left position on Sunday. Balls feed down the slope toward the pin, exciting the crowd with each revolution.
There were three aces at the hole they call Redbud at the Masters in 2016 and Matt Kuchar aced it on Sunday this year. The 16th is the rare par 3 that under the right conditions might appear gettable to the seasoned pro.
“Opportunity for a 1? No, never. Never. No,” Stricker says, then pauses. “Well, you know, I take that back. You've seen it happen so many times at Augusta, I think, on 16, that you're like, okay, if you can get that ‑‑ but still everything has got to be just right.”
And even then, a lot is out of a player’s control.
“I think so much of it is there is a lot of skill to make the ball go in the right direction, but there's so much luck as to how the ball lands, reacts,” Bohn explains.
Sometimes, though, just sometimes, a player is rewarded.
“Just like you are hitting an 80-foot putt or a 60-foot putt,” Byrd says. “Those aren’t the ones you’d expect to make but every once in a while they go in.”
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