Golf technology takes mystique away from 59 score

 

Golf’s magic number has lost its mystique.

Once a rarity, the score of 59 has become more commonplace. Meanwhile, 59 “watches” have become routine in professional golf.

The once-unattainable score was just posted on consecutive days — on the PGA Tour by Justin Thomas Thursday in Hawaii and by Champions Tour member Woody Austin Friday at the Diamond Resorts Invitational at the Tranquillo Golf Club at Four Seasons.

Austin followed his opening 59 with a 5-under 66 Saturday.

Based on the Modified Stableford scoring format being used, he still enters Sunday’s final round leading the 31 pros — 27 Champions Tour pros and four LPGA stars — with 73 points. Former NBA star Ray Allen’s 50 points lead a tight pack of athletes and celebrities.

“I knew today was going to be more normal than yesterday,” Austin said Saturday.

Yet, Austin said absurdly low rounds have become the norm, with the record now 58, set last year by Jim Furyk. Kevin Kisner missed an 8-foot birdie putt Saturday in Hawaii to shoot 60.

Seeing players go so low, so often disheartens Austin.

“It’s sad,” the 53-year-old said. “I think the game has gotten out of hand, but that’s just one from an old guy. I’d like to see the game go back to where … even par means something.”

A even-par round now borders on a bad day many weeks because of advances in club and ball technology, player training and coaching, and changes to golf courses, including less rough and pristine putting surfaces.

“We get some places where the greens are perfect,” said six-time PGA Tour winner Steve Pate. “Way back when, besides being a lot slower, you had guys where spikes — you had spike marks over the place.”

Austin overpowered Tranquillo’s short, 6,626-yard layout, reaching par-5s in two shots, driving one par-4 and hitting short irons into many others to set up make-able putts. He needed just 22 Friday.

“If you start seeing the lines and you’re hitting it good and you’re staring at a bunch of 10 and 12 footers, you can just start rolling them in one after another,” Mark Calcavecchia said.

The 13-time winner on Tour knows the feeling well. Calcavecchia, 56, used to be the ultimate birdie machine. He shot 60 during his 2001 Phoenix Open win and drained a Tour record nine straight birdies at the 2009 Canadian Open.

The man known as Calc knew only one gear. At times, the 27-time runner-up paid the price. He also was ahead of his time.

“The game’s changed; it’s pure offense now,” Joey Sindelar said. “We used to be two days of sprint and two days of chess match. It’s a different mentality.”

When Al Geiberger became the first professional to shoot 59, it was unfathomable — and would not be duplicated until 1991, by Chip Beck.

During the 1977 Danny Thomas Memphis Classic, Geiberger played a par-72 course measuring more than 7,200 yards, used persimmon woods and wound golf ball, navigated fairways lined by thick rough and putted on grainy, Bermuda greens.

“The greatest 59 ever still will be Al Geiberger’s,” Calcavecchia said. “It obviously is still a great score.”

A 59 is just not what it used to be.

Every aspect of a player’s game still has to be spot-on. Deeper, more talented fields and pristine golf courses made toothless by technology have increased the odds it will happen again and again.

It could on Sunday.

“Every tournament that is not a beastly golf course, there’s going to be someone who shoots 30 on one nine and there’s going to be a 59 watch,” Olin Browne said.

Once the watch begins, though, the great equalizer in golf still usually wins out.

“I’ve had a couple of opportunities to do it,” Kenny Perry said. 

“Then you get to thinking about it and it gets really hard.”

egthompson@orlandosentinel.com

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