Commentary

Stuart Appleby's 59 yields victory

Originally Published: August 1, 2010
By Bob Harig | ESPN.com

Let's get this straight.

In the entire history of the PGA Tour, which dates to 1916, there had been a total of three official scores of 59, and none since 1999.

Now, in the span of 24 days, there have been two more -- as well as three scores of 60.

What in the name of titanium drivers and space-age golf balls is going on?

Australian Stuart Appleby on Sunday became the fifth player to shoot 59, making nine birdies and an eagle on the par-70 Old White course at the Greenbrier Resort to capture the first-year Greenbrier Classic by a stroke over Jeff Overton.

"I had a quiet voice in the back of my head saying you're going to make this, you're going to make this," Appleby said of the 11-footer he drained for birdie and 59 on the final green. "I felt like I was going to make that putt. It was just a beautiful round of golf from a feeling point of view."

With his 59, Appleby joins a list that includes Paul Goydos, who did it July 8 at the John Deere Classic, along with David Duval (1999 Bob Hope), Chip Beck (1991 Las Vegas Invitational) and the original Mr. 59, Al Geiberger (1977 Memphis Classic).

Golf's Holy Grail has been achieved so seldom mostly because the number has been such a mental hurdle.

Players start getting close, then panic. Or they try to preserve a good score rather than push to go lower.

You can understand why Bobby Jones couldn't produce such a score with hickory shafts and underperforming golf balls.

It is more difficult to fathom in recent times. While technology has made the game easier, scoring has not necessarily followed suit.

Rory McIlroy made it look simple when he shot 63 at the Old Course during the first round of the Open Championship two weeks ago, but that remains the lowest anyone has ever gone in 150 years of major championships.

[+] EnlargeStuart Appleby
AP Photo/Steve HelberStuart Appleby's 59 on Sunday that helped the Aussie win the Greenbrier Classic was the fifth score of 60 or better on the PGA Tour in the last four weeks.

Despite golf balls that fly astronomical distances, powered by players who are physically fit and using high-powered equipment, Goydos became the first player in 11 years to break 60 on the PGA Tour when he did it at the John Deere.

That same day, Steve Stricker -- who would go on to win the tournament -- shot 60. Since then, Carl Pettersson shot a third-round 60 at the Canadian Open (which he won) and J.B. Holmes did it Saturday at the Greenbrier.

Ross Fisher, who won the Irish Open on Sunday on the European Tour, flirted with 59 during the second round before settling for 61. No player has ever shot 59 on the European Tour.

Seemingly all weekend in West Virginia, 59 was under assault. Besides Holmes' 60, D.A. Points had the number in his sights until he bogeyed the par-5 17th, settling for 61.

Appleby, 39, who had struggled recently in his career and had not won since 2006, played with Points on Saturday and got a feel for what it was like. He also played with Stricker at the John Deere during his round of 60.

Maybe some of that good karma rubbed off.

"He putted unbelievable," said Jimmy Walker, who played with Appleby during the final round. "He made everything today. I mean, that's what you do. He hit some really great shots and made all his putts. There you go, 59."

Some will point to some easy scoring conditions. At the John Deere, rain had saturated the course and "lift, clean and place" rules were in play. (Geiberger's 59 was also shot with preferred lies, which allows players to clean mud off the ball and place it within a club length).

At the Greenbrier, the course was barely over 7,000 yards, a veritable pitch and putt by today's standards. The trend in golf has been to make courses longer, tougher, more demanding, not shorter and easier. Narrow fairways and rock-hard greens are the most common defense.

But the Old White was giving up a boatload of birdies, whether it was due to its short length or soft conditions due to necessary watering in the summer heat.

Still, professional golfers get plenty of cracks at easy conditions throughout the course of a year. The Greenbrier is not the only tournament that will see 22 under par as the winning total score.

And yet, Appleby became just the fifth player in PGA Tour history to shoot 59.

"Golf is hard," Goydos said when he shot 59. "It's just a really, really low number. I think there's a little bit of a barrier."

That barrier has been bested twice in less than a month. Perhaps players are more fearless, or maybe it's just a fluke.

But despite the recent scoring onslaught, it remains more surprising that scores in the 50s are so rare.

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com

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