In 1985, Pittsburgh-area grocer Angelo Spagnolo earned the distinction from Golf Digest of being named America's Worst Avid Golfer after shooting a 257 on the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass, including carding a 66 on island-green 17th, in a competition with three other similarly high-handicappers. Spagnolo, 60, and now retired, turned the experience into a cottage industry of sorts, and wrote an autobiography about his golf career. He discussed the infamous round and its aftermath in a Q&A for Golf Digestix.
In your prime you had the equivalent of a 52-handicap and played 30 rounds a year. How much golf are you playing now?
When I hit 50, I started to have a lot of injuries, rotator cuff surgeries, carpel tunnel, a cervical fusion. Unfortunately, I think swinging a golf club 18,000 times or so caused them. If I get in a dozen rounds this year, I'll be fortunate.
Will you watch the Players this week or are the memories too painful?
I love to watch it. Although when I get to No. 17, I guess I don't feel bad when I see an occasional ball go in the water there. That hole really had it out for me to say the least.
On the 17th, you hit several shots in the water and eventually putted your way on to the green, even hitting on in the water that way. Did you ever think you might not finish the hole?
You know, I think I was in like a coma. I lost all contact with reality. I was looking across the water and it seemed like the English Channel to me. (The photo is Spagnolo trying to hit the green after taking one of his several drops). At one point my caddie mentioned putting, and I said, 'What are you crazy? I want to get on the way you're supposed to get on.' I finally gave in, but it was the most humiliating thing I've ever done.
Given your struggles playing the game, why did you stick with it?
My job was stressful. So when I went I went out to play golf, I just relished the time I was out on the golf course. And even though I was playing bad, because a lot of times I didn't have the time to work on my game or practice, just being out there with my friends in a golf league was exactly what I needed. There was nothing greater than that for me. And no matter how bad I was playing nobody was going to tell me not to golf any more because I loved it too much.
Ever have any instructors volunteer to help you out to get better?
After I became the Worst Avid Golfer, Golf Digest sent all four finalists to its golf school. I had a chance to work for a week with Peter Kostis, Dick Altman, Jack Lumpkin, all these luminaries in golf instruction. I'll never forget the first day I was there, Davis Love II asked me to hit a couple balls. I take a couple typical swings and he says to me, really nice and gentlemanly, he says "How committed to that grip are you?" And I was like, "Whatever you want to change. What I've been doing obviously isn't helping." Obviously I had developed such bad habits over the year it took a long time.
Did you mind the Worst Avid Golfer label?
After the whole thing happened, and I got worldwide attention, I had a chance to play in a lot of events and meet a lot of people I just wouldn't have met before. Being philosophical about it, it was like the game of golf rewarded me for sticking with it even though you could have argued you didn't belong on a golf course you were terrible. And through various charity events, I've been a part of raising about $1 million. That's pretty rewarding. I had a lady come up to me one day in my store, and her husband said, "You know I can't believe you're that bad. Nobody could be playing golf that bad." And his wife elbows him in the stomach and she says, "Don't you get it, he was given a bunch of lemons and made lemonade into it." I never forgot that. It was a good saying because that's really what we did.