505 holes

+3,200 swings

+95 miles

+12 hours

= 1 TIRED GUY...a new world record

April 20, 2002|By Kevin Cowherd | Kevin Cowherd,SUN COLUMNIST

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. - Who knows how these things start? With a single thought, obviously, a thought that nags you and nags you until you couldn't drive it away with a pitchfork.

If you're Chris Cain, the 27-year-old head pro at the Penn State University golf courses, you wake up one morning thinking this: What's the record for the most golf played in 12 hours, 476 holes? I'm gonna get that baby. I'm gonna play 500. And we'll raise some money for charity and the school in the process.

The rest of the world, it must be said, does not exactly greet this with a chorus of hosannas.

Instead, the rest of the world says: Cainer, you're nuts.

So you train for seven months - running, stretching, yoga, beating range balls until your hands feel like you've been out slapping cobblestones. You tune up with 200-hole and 300-hole marathons. You put yourself on the kind of low-fat, low-sugar diet that would make a Hindu holy man look like a glutton by comparison.

Then on a fine April day in Happy Valley, you turn into a living Nike commercial. You go out and just do it.

Let history record that late on an unseasonably warm but breezy Wednesday afternoon, Chris Cain sank a 10-foot putt on PSU's White Course to complete his 477th hole of the day and secure his place in the Guinness Book of World Records.

When the ball rattled into the cup, he flashed a triumphant smile at the cheering crowd and fired his cap in the air and screamed: "Yeah!" He hugged his mom and dad, Toni and Don Cain, as TV cameras rolled and digital cameras whirred and old ladies in canary-yellow polo shirts and green pants blinked back tears.

Then he jumped back in his cart and went on to play 28 more holes, until he had not just broken the previous record, but shattered it with a new total of 505.

When it was all over at 7 that evening, after more hugs and kisses and a few interviews with the media, the color drained from Cain's face and the world began to dim. Dizzy and wiped out, he lay on the cool sod next to the 12th green until an ambulance came and took him to the hospital, where he was treated for heat exhaustion and released.

But whatever you do, don't let the image of Cain being lifted onto a stretcher be what you take from his story. Because this record was a remarkable accomplishment. It was as fine an example as you could ever hope to see of high-level athleticism mixed with that hoariest of all sports cliches, the triumph of the human spirit.

85 seconds a hole

For 12 hours, Cain willed himself through all these barriers of physical pain - through blisters on his hands the size of quarters, nausea, stomach cramps and tendonitis in one knee that had him gulping ibuprofen tablets like they were Tic Tacs.

He willed himself through great patches of mental fatigue, as well.

"What he did was incredible," said Cain's buddy, Trent Gray, a fellow pro who chauffeured Cain's souped-up cart around the specially laid-out five-hole, 6,001-yard course. (Average time on each hole: a hair over 85 seconds.)

Five hundred and five holes - think about that for a moment. That's 28 rounds of golf shoe-horned into half a day. Some golfers go to Myrtle Beach, play five rounds in three days, and have to soak in a hot tub for a week. According to unofficial estimates, Cain took over 1,200 full swings and at least another 2,000 pitches, chips and putts; it`s a wonder his arms didn't simply drop off at some point.

But to the dozens of family members, friends, Penn State students and spectators who checked in on him throughout the day, the real wonder was how well he hit the ball over the entire 12 hours.

Cain is a pro, of course - he's supposed to play well. He holds the course record with a 63. But this wasn't just another leisurely round with some fat boys, small talk and cigars. This was golf's version of the ultra-marathon.

Despite his increasing fatigue, Cain kept hitting booming, 260-yard drives down the middle of the fairway with 3- and 4-woods and soaring approach shots to the flag on hole after hole.

"The amazing thing was, even toward the end, his shots were still solid," said Doug Wert, general manager of the Penn State courses. No one who watched Cain's gritty performance appreciated it more than Wert, who was the inspiration for it.

Nine years ago, when he was 24 and fit as a greyhound, Wert played 440 holes in 12 hours to capture the Guinness record and raise money for epilepsy research. (He himself has epilepsy.) He went through all the pain and blisters and inhaled 22 cans of Gatorade trying to stay hydrated beneath a broiling South Florida sun.

So when Cain finished his 505 holes and collapsed into the arms of his parents, Wert was blown away by this thought: Oh, my gosh, he played 65 more holes than I did!

"I'm really proud of him," Wert said softly. " ... He put his heart and soul into it."

Not seeking glory

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