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 seventy meters—about seventy-seven 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 fifty-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: