59 the kind of score that is best imagined Low round: Al Geiberger's total, twice recently equaled, remains the measuring rod of proficiency.

June 11, 1998|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

The anniversary went unnoticed Wednesday. Maybe in four years, when the highlight of Al Geiberger's career becomes a quarter-century old, there will be stories about the 59 he shot at Colonial Country Club in Memphis, Tenn. And maybe not.

By then, making a big deal about a 59 might be a thing of the past as well.

There have been two in the past month on the Nike Tour, and only a three-putt bogey from 25 feet on the final hole of the second round of last week's Miami Valley Open prevented Doug Dunakey from getting golf's official scoring record.

"I got to thinking about 58 and my place in history," said Dunakey, a 35-year-old journeyman in his first season on the Nike Tour.

Dunakey didn't get it. After making a number of birdie putts of more than 20 feet, after chipping in twice for birdie, after going 12-under through the first 14 holes and 13-under through 17, Dunakey missed a two-footer for par.

He said a few days later that he actually dreamed about the putt many more times.

"And I never made it," he said.

Someday it will happen. Someday what Dunakey and fellow Nike Tour rookie Notah Begay III did this year, and what Chip Beck did in 1991 and Geiberger did in 1977 on the PGA Tour, will get pushed aside.

And maybe one of Pia Nilsson's proteges will do it.

Nilsson has spent the past decade teaching her top players in Sweden that breaking 60 is not only possible, but should happen with more regularity. To that end, Nilsson and Kjell Enhanger have started a program for the country's rising players called "Project 54."

Its goal is simple: If a player has birdied every hole on a certain course they've played, why not do it in the same round?

"In golf, it's easy to have mental blocks," Nilsson said recently. "We try to eliminate those mental blocks and make them think they can do anything. I think it's possible to make birdie on every hole, but whether it happens in my lifetime, I don't know. The potential is there."

Nilsson, who will be the non-playing captain of this year's European team against the United States in the Solheim Cup in (( September, said "Project 54" has helped the development of a number of Swedish players, in particular Annika Sorenstam, Helen Alfredsson and Liselotte Neumann on the LPGA Tour.

"If your goal is to shoot 54," Sorenstam said earlier this year, "then 64 becomes a lot easier."

Geiberger, now a member of the Senior Tour and still referred to as "Mr. 59," said that he believes that the record he shares with Chip Beck on the PGA Tour will someday be broken.

That it has held up for 21 years despite the improvement in the courses, equipment and the players themselves shows how difficult it is to do. It is also difficult to play the rest of the tournament considering that, of the four to shoot 59, only Geiberger won that week.

"I remember what Jim Colbert said after I broke the record," said Geiberger. "He said, 'It's a long way from 61 to 59.' It's probably even a longer way from 59 to 58 unless you do something fluky, like hole out from the fairway on the last hole."

And how about 54?

"I think that's pushing the envelope just a bit," Geiberger said.

Others, including Sweden's Jesper Parnevik, are equally skeptical.

"Maybe someone will come out of the bush knowing nothing about what a good score is," said Parnevik, who said he once shot 27 for the first nine holes of a round while vacationing in the Dominican Republic.

Beck's 59 is considered by some to have an asterisk attached, considering that Sunrise Golf Club in Las Vegas was a last-minute replacement course for the 1991 Las Vegas Invitational.

It is considered, even by Beck, to be a much easier course than Colonial in Memphis.

"But no matter where you play," Geiberger said, "you still have to get the ball in the hole."

Beck, who will take a dubious streak of having missed 36 cuts on the PGA Tour into the Olympic Club next week after qualifying Tuesday for this year's U.S. Open, recalled coming into Las Vegas seven years ago still thinking about his performance in the previous week's Ryder Cup.

"All I had in the Ryder Cup were 30-footers, and I didn't make any," Beck said last week before missing the cut at the Kemper Open.

"On the first hole in Vegas, I made a 40-footer and I proceeded to make every putt after that."

Geiberger didn't really get going until the back nine. He played the front in 5-under, birdied the 10th and then chipped in for eagle on the par-5 11th. He made five more birdies for a tour-record seven straight holes under par.

"When I finally made a par, it felt like a bogey," Geiberger said.

All-time low scores

The 59 club: Doug Dunakey of the Nike Tour had 10 birdies, an eagle, and chipped in twice en route to his record-tying 59 on June 5.

PGA: 50 by Al Geilberger, second round of the 1977 Danny Thomas Memphis Classic; by Chip Beck, third round of the 1991 Las Vegas Invitational.

Senior: 60 by Isao Oaki, second round of the 1997 Emerald Coast Classic

LPGA: 62 by seven players, accomplished first by Mickey Wright in the first round of the 1964 Taill City Open.

Pub Date: 6/11/98

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