Almost nine years ago, I wrote a small post about my small hole-in one.
In that post, I mentioned the birdie I had made on the Road Hole at St Andrews and said I would talk about that sometime later.
I guess nine years is sometime later, so here goes.
In 1968, I was between my sophomore and junior years in college. Spending a summer abroad was becoming the thing to do. My college roommate suggested the winter before that we do that. I made the pitch to my parents, and they said yes.
Now getting to Europe back then was a Big Deal, especially if you lived on the West Coast. You had to get to New York, then catch a flight over, and it wasn’t cheap. But we made it cheap.
I took a cheap flight to New York, and from there, flew on Icelandic Airlines to Luxembourg, with a stop in Iceland. The airplane was a four-engine prop that didn’t go very fast and made lots of noise.
From Luxembourg I took a train the next day to Paris, where I met up with my roommate, and we were off and running. After a few days in Paris, we headed to Jolly Old.
We stayed in London, did the town, in the middle of the Swinging Sixties, Soho, and the like. After a few days we hitchhiked to Edinburgh (which has four syllables, not three), which is really close to the town of St Andrews (Note that St has no period after it. This is correct.)
After a few days of seeing this town, we hitchhiked to St Andrews so I could play the famous course. Or tried to hitchhike. We had no luck getting a ride all the way, and had to catch a bus to complete the trip.
So there I was, at the home of golf, with an indulgent roommate.
Things were different in 1968. There was no lottery for tee times. In the middle of June, I walked up to the starter’s shack, paid my green fees, rented a half set of clubs, bought some balls and tees, and went off.
The starter said, “The first tee is over there, and when the group on it tees off, you’re next.”
It was that simple.
I have to say I didn’t know much about the course except that it was famous. It had never been on TV for a British Open because TV didn’t cover the British Open back then. All I knew was that it was famous and I had read about it when I was growing up making golf part of my life.
I hit a decent drive on the first tee, well placed for a shot into the green. I thought the best shot from where I was would be to take out a 7-iron and hit a shot short of the green that would run on. You know, still getting warmed up.
I hit the shot I wanted to, but when the ball got close to the green it disappeared. I didn’t think much of that, probably it ran down a hill into a hollow spot.
The closer I got to the green, though, the more of a bad feeling I had about the choice I had made. There was this dark line going across the fairway that kept getting wider and wider.
I got close enough to see that it was a ditch, and when I got up to it, I was introduced to the Swilcan Burn, with my ball in it. Fortunately the ditch was not that deep and I was able to get my ball back out.
I have vague memories of the holes after that. The greens were light years faster than anything I had ever played on. The double greens were (are) huge, and I hit the ball into the gorse a few times and didn’t try to play out of it.
At one point, I think it was on the sixth tee, all I could see in front of me was weeds. I had no idea where to hit the ball. Some guy coming inward saw that I was completely confused, came over to the tee, and said, “See the church steeple way over there? Aim for that and you’ll be alright.” The steeple was about a mile away, across the River Eden.
Coming in, I was getting the hang of things and having lots of fun, though you would think otherwise by looking at my scores. I might be having selective memory, but I do not remember once being in a bunker the whole time.
At last we came to the Road Hole. I knew about that. Hit your drive over the railroad sheds, hit on and get par. I was really geared up for this one shot, over the sheds.
Only the sheds weren’t there anymore. They had been torn down the year before when a hotel was built on that spot. The romance was gone, but the shot was still there, though. The hotel had built a screen that forced you to hit the same shot if you wanted to take the short line to the green.
Now I hadn’t been hitting my driver well all day, so I took out the 3-wood to make my play. I didn’t care what happened, I hadn’t made this pilgrimage to chicken out of the most famous shot in golf.
I have no idea how it happened, but I hit a brilliant shot, not even close to what I had been doing earlier, and the ball sailed over the screen with room to spare, straight as a string. I had hit the shot I had been waiting to face, nailed it, and the rest would be an afterthought, or so I felt.
I found the ball in the fairway, looking right at the green. I took out a 3-iron and took aim at a piece of the green sticking out into the fairway. There was this bunker a bit to the left that looked like you wouldn’t want to hit into. Little did I know I was looking at the Road Hole bunker, the most feared bunker in golf. In the picture of me standing on the 17th green, look how close it is to the pin.
But as you know, the Lord takes care of fools and small children. Trying a shot that makes professionals perspire just thinking about it, my second good swing in a row put the ball on the green with room to spare.
Getting to the green, my ball was about 20 feet away, and there wasn’t much to the putt. Getting it close for a par looked easy, so that’s the shot I hit. Except I didn’t get my par. The ball went in and I had birdied the most famous and arguably the hardest par 4 in the world.
Wowie! Just, wowie! I made some noise, not knowing the eighteenth tee was really close by and there were guys teeing off. Apologies from me and kudos from them.
I finished the round and couldn’t have been happier. What started off as a lifetime memory ended up as a lifetime achievement. I am one under par for life on the 17th. Not many golfers can say that. I think this is better than a hole-in-one.
Years later, in 1990, I was watching the British Open, on TV, being played at St Andrews. Nick Faldo was on the way to winning his second title. As he played the 17th on Saturday, I thought to myself, “He would give his eyeteeth to have my score on this hole right now.”
As would they all in the Opens I have watched come through my birdie hole.