OpinionAugust 2, 2010

Low, Low Scores Leave Sinking Feeling

The panic finally started to break out when the bizarre happened yet again, one time too many for simple coincidence. The people in the small town realized some weird change had happened. The air was different, the landscape was different, life itself was different. The smell of something funny, something fishy, had become overpowering.

Stuart Appleby shot a 59 Sunday to win the 2010 Greenbrier Classic in White Sulphur Springs, W. Va. Everybody was worried.

"You see that?" the postman asked the nervous crowd at the soda shoppe as he made his rounds. "Shot 59, but needed the putt on 18 for the birdie to win the tournament. That's how low the scores were."

"I was watching on Saturday," someone in the crowd said. "J.B. Holmes shot 60. I thought that was something."

Three months ago, no more than that, life was fine, familiar. The rules of golf in the small town were the same as they always had been. Par was still par, a good thing. A birdie was still a very good thing. An eagle mostly was a rumor, an incredible event when it actually occurred, a cause for a brass band celebration.

Then the scores started to arrive.

On May 2, Ryo Ishikawa shot a 58 to win The Crowns tournament on the Japanese tour...

On May 14, way down in the agate results, a college golfer from St. John's shot a 58 to break the course record at New Haven CC in Connecticut...

On May 25, a 34-year-old Calgary pro shot an 11-under-par 25 on the back nine at Carnmoney CC during the first round of the RBC Insurance Alberta Open.

Requisite amazement was expressed at all of these numbers. Eleven under for nine holes? What would they think of next? A 58? Who could shoot 58? Half a wink might have been given due to the courses because no one ever had played in Japan or at Carnmoney or even New Haven, but give credit where credit is due.

Then on July 8, Paul Goydos fired a 59 on the first day of the John Deere Classic in Silvis, Ill. This was only the fourth time in history anyone had broken 60 on the PGA Tour, the first time since David Duval did it at the Bob Hope Classic in 1999. The crazy part was that Goydos only had a one-shot lead over Steve Stricker, who shot 60 to start the tournament. Only 20 other golfers ever had done that.

Amazement turned into suspicions.

The conservatives in the town immediately saw the beginnings of a trend here, something to do with the national debt, the sagging economy, part of a general loosening of standards in the country. The liberals thought that perhaps lower scoring was attached to global warming, the greenhouse effect. The oil spill in the Gulf was mentioned.

Kids thought the lower scores were cool, sort of a new media version of golf, downloadable, an iPhone golf app of sorts, much more suitable for Facebook and Twitter. The old folks thought it was awful, a travesty. The adults in the middle didn't know what to think. Some ministers mentioned the possible start of the Apocalypse.

Then on July 21, a pro named Trevor Murphy shot a 56 in the pro-am at the Nationwide Children's Hospital Invitational on the Gray Course at Ohio State. Then on July 28, a 17-YEAR-OLD KID named Bobby Wyatt shot 57 in the Alabama State Boys Championship at the CC of Mobile. Then Holmes. Then Appleby.

Panic.

"What do we do?" someone in the nervous crowd at the soda shoppe asked on Monday morning. "Do we find a bunker somewhere, try to ride this out? Do we get in our cars and try to run away? Where do we run? These low scores seem to be everywhere."

"There's nothing we can do," the postman said. "We just wait and see what happens next. Maybe the governor will break out the National Guard if all this continues."

Life had become a bad science fiction movie. Pod people, space ships, vampires, what comes next? Unease held hands with terror. Any golf score was possible. Nobody even had mentioned the fact that five no-hitters, two of them perfect games, have been thrown in the major leagues this year.