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Furyk the 59 Man

He joins Geiberger in a select group of sub-60 golfers

Posted Sep 17, 2013 by Dermot Gilleece

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A prized possession of mine happens to be a rather special business-card which has become all the more cherished in the light of Jim Furyk’s second-round exploits in the BMW Championship. At first glance the card looked fairly ordinary until Al Geiberger instructed me to open it.  That was when it revealed itself as a miniature, folded scorecard from the Danny Thomas Memphis Classic of 1977, carrying the magical total of 59.

Though Geiberger captured the PGA Championship at Firestone in 1966, he is best remembered for what happened 11 years later.  And during our meeting a while ago, he left me in no doubt but that his breakthrough achievement of June 10th 1977 was the highlight of his tournament career.  The card, incidentally, was signed by Dave Stockton, who has since become one of the leading putting gurus in the US.

Some have argued that Geiberger’s achievement was diminished by being played under winter rules of lift, clean and place. Any advantage from these concessions, however, has to be set against a course with an overall length of 7,249 yards, when clubheads were persimmon and rubber-core balls were still king.

As it happens, there are some fascinating parallels between that ground-breaking effort and that of Furyk, who became the sixth player to achieve this remarkable distinction in a PGA Tour event.  Both he and Geiberger started on the 10th; both had an eagle on their card and both finished with a birdie on the ninth.  To Geiberger’s credit, however, it must be acknowledged that he had neither a five nor a bogey on his card whereas Furyk had two fives, one of them a par at the long eighth and the other a three-putt bogey on the par-four fifth. To his eternal credit, however, Furyk had the courage to go for his place in history, by hitting a gap-wedge of 103 yards to three feet from the pin at the ninth, his finishing hole.  He then sank the putt for a glorious finish to the best tournament round of his career.

Furyk’s most productive stretch was a run of birdie, birdie, birdie, par, birdie, eagle, from the 10th.  On the other hand, Geiberger’s purple patch was the seven holes from the short 15th to the short third, inclusive, which he covered in birdie, birdie, birdie, birdie, eagle, birdie, birdie - eight under par. This remains a PGA Tour record, 36 years on. “The temperature was 102 with high humidity and I was miserable out there,” he told me. “I was in survival mode, not nervous-to-shoot-a-low-number mode.”

Though a 59 has yet to be done on the European Tour, five players have now matched Geiberger’s distinction on the other side of the pond - Chip Beck (Las Vegas Invitational 1991), David Duval (Bob Hope Classic 1999), Paul Goydos (John Deere Classic 2010), Stuart Appleby (Greenbrier Classic 2010) and Furyk on Friday the 13th, of all days.  And all of them have had the effect of enhancing the original achievement.  

“They simply bring more attention to what I did,” said Geiberger with a smile.  “Now they compare them with each other and if you look at the card I gave you, the course was almost 7,300 back in 1977. When I birdied the sixth, my 15th, the crowd started chanting ’59, 59.’  I was in the zone, invincible, believing I could never play bad golf again. Then I birdied the seventh and ninth [as Furyk did] and it was over. I had done something unique, which still causes people to say ‘Hey Mr 59’ when I’m in the local grocery store.”

Setting milestones appears to run in the Geiberger family. In 2004, Al’s son, Brent, won the Chrysler Classic of Greensboro, 28 years after his father had captured the title, making them the first father/son winners of the same event on the PGA Tour.

Then there was the confusion which seemed to stem from his 59 being on the Colonial Course in Memphis. Geiberger’s solution?  He won the Colonial Tournament at the more famous, Fort Worth venue of that name in 1979, beating January and Gene Littler by a stroke. Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of an admirably productive career is that he managed to create an indelible niche for himself on the tournament scene, at a time when such celebrated rivals as Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino and Johnny Miller were strutting their stuff.  

He, Furyk and the other sub-60 men, certainly lend a fascinating dimension to the old notion that, from a playing perspective, competitive golf is all about the numbers on the scorecard. “Mr 59 is my name tag,” Geiberger concluded with another smile. “And I’ve had a lot of fun with it.”  Indeed his business-card says it all.

- Dermot Gilleece

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