Don S., a member of my brother's golf club and, therefore, an honorary-member-once-removed of the Sunday Morning Group, sent me several photographs of a hole-in-one made recently by my brother, John. I asked John about it, and he said, "It was my second lifetime hole-in-one and my second on that hole. The first time -- about 15 years ago -- I hit an 8-iron. This time, it was a 5-iron." Here it is from a different angle:
I guess that mere photography doesn't do it justice, but the pictures brought to mind a memorable shot of my own: a gorgeous 7-iron, drawing slightly, that hit the flagstick on the fly on the third hole at my own club roughly 20 years ago. From the tee, my friends and I could see that the ball had wedged itself between the stick and the front of the cup. I didn’t hoot or jump up and down. I walked to the green at my normal pace, wearing an expression of placid nonchalance which said, “This is how I play golf.”
When we reached the green, we realized that my ball wasn't actually in the hole but was merely perched on its front edge. There was a deep ball-shaped dent in the turf just above the back of the cup, and the dent, the flagstick and the ball were aligned perfectly -- a physical impossibility, you would think. Had the ball dematerialized briefly after bouncing off the rim, then passed, undeflected, through the stick? I had to write 2 on the scorecard, but I’ve always thought of it as a 1. The next day, I played again and used my thumb to press my dent, which was still visible, more deeply into the rim. “My ball did that,” I said to the people I was playing with. “It should have been a hole-in-one.”
Golf, a famously unfair game, never seems more unfair than when it narrowly withholds the only laurel that non-golfers are impressed by. Unlucky bounces off trees or sprinkler heads don’t bother me; I accept them as the rub of the green. But that almost-ace still rankles. A couple of years later, I made an official hole-in-one -- in a tournament, no less -- and got my name added to a plaque in the golf shop. But when I see the plaque I can’t help thinking, “I ought to be on there twice.”
Almost as bad as just missing a hole-in-one is making one and not receiving credit for it. On a trip to Ireland in 2001, five friends and I played a round at the Portmarnock Pitch and Putt Club, a micro-scale links course not far from the full-size Portmarnock Golf Club.
In Irish pitch and putt, the maximum hole length is 70 meters—about 77 yards. One of my friends, looking over the compact layout from behind the first tee, asked the club’s captain how often players made holes-in-one, and he said, “Not as often as you’d think.” Ten minutes later, though, we heard a shout on the far side of the course: an ace. Ten minutes after that, I made one myself, on a 50-meter hole. “I guess I owe everybody a beer,” I said expansively. One of my friends gave me a look. “It wasn’t even sixty yards,” he said.
In Florida once, I almost had my second, third, or fourth hole-in-one, depending on how you count them. I hit what may be the best-looking 6-iron I’ve ever hit, into a strong wind off the ocean, and my ball landed softly and rolled toward the hole at the speed of a confident putt. It stopped six inches away. “Unlucky,” one of my friends said. “That was almost a great shot.”
If the ball had gone in, we’d have celebrated; if it had ended up two feet farther from the hole, outside of almost-a-hole-in-one range, my friends would have toasted my brilliant shot-making, since even hitting the green in that wind was an accomplishment. As it was, though, none of us could think of anything except the thing that hadn’t happened.
Of course, I can’t actually claim responsibility for any of my shots, good or bad, lucky or unlucky. Like most golfers, I don’t so much aim at the flag as try to bracket the green with my margin of error. Even my single uncontested ace deserves as asterisk: “Player had no idea what he was doing.” Still, there’s something about a hole-in-one. Did I mention that my name is on the plaque?
Late Update: At a mixed event at my club the last weekend in September, I won a hat for hitting my tee shot on the seventh hole to an inch -- another near miss: