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First time on the course and golfer hits a hole-in-one

Unni Haskell, 62, said she didn’t know a hole-in-one “was that big of a deal. I thought all golfers do this.”

EDMUND D. FOUNTAIN | Times

Unni Haskell, 62, said she didn’t know a hole-in-one “was that big of a deal. I thought all golfers do this.”

If you are a golfer who has played for any length of time, this story may make you want to quit the game. Or throw your morning coffee in disgust.

Unni Haskell, a 62-year-old native of Norway who moved to St. Petersburg last year from Stamford, Conn., took two months of golf lessons and decided she was ready to hit the course.

She stuck her tee in the ground, teed up a Top Flite range ball and took aim on the 100-yard first hole at Cypress Links, a nine-hole, par-3 course in St. Petersburg. Haskell swung as hard as she could with her purple Wilson ProStaff 12 degree driver. The shot went about 75 yards, avoided the bunker on the left, bounced onto the green and rolled in the hole.

First hole of her life. First swing on a course. Hole-in-one.

"I didn't know it was that big of a deal,'' she said. "I thought all golfers do this.''

Ugh.

It is not unprecedented. A golfer in England did it in October 2008 on a 140-yard hole. And in 2006, a junior golfer from Rockford, Ill., aced the first hole she played. Still, the odds of an amateur acing any par-3 hole are roughly 12,500 to one.

A late bloomer

Haskell has always been active. She has played tennis most of her life, but tried golf when she relocated with her husband, John. Mangrove Bay Golf Course, an 18-hole, par-72 facility, is down the street from her Venetian Isles home. She had a lesson with PGA teaching professional Rick Sopka and enjoyed it enough to sign up for eight half-hour sessions.

They took place mostly on the driving range. Sopka worked with her on iron shots, and every now and then they would tee up a driver.

Sopka had a different lesson planned for Haskell when she showed up on Feb. 25. She, however, talked Sopka into driving a golf cart to Cypress Links — the two city-owned courses are next to each other.

"We were going to do a putting lesson that day,'' Sopka said. "She said, no, she wanted to play. She didn't even hit a range ball. No warmup at all.''

Downhill from here

There is sand on the left of the first hole at Cypress Links, but the green is large. Haskell was hitting from the middle tee box, with the hole straight ahead in the center of the green.

"(Sopka) said you should find something to line the shot up,'' she said. "I saw a little leaf over there and I asked Rick if that was a good thing to line up with. He thought it looked good. Then I swung the club and Rick said it looked really good. He said it might go in the hole. Then he goes nuts. I couldn't believe it. I had to get Rick to take me up to the hole to prove it.''

The group on the second tee applauded. The golfers waiting behind Sopka and Haskell started shouting. The youngsters taking lessons on the putting green whooped it up.

"It's so crazy, it's one of those crazy things,'' Haskell said.

Sopka, a PGA member since 1998, has seen a lot as a teaching pro, but he has never seen this and probably never will again.

"She stood there and I could tell she was thinking about her grip and posture and everything,'' he said. "Then she makes her swing and hits it about 75 yards in the air. It kind of trundled up to the green and I'm like, 'Go in! Go in!' And then I go crazy, screaming and yelling. I give her a big hug. She didn't believe me.

"Then I said, 'Unni, here's the problem. There's nowhere to go from here but down.' ''

What's next?

Haskell followed her ace with 4 on the second hole and 6 on the third hole. She played six of the par-3 holes with Sopka by her side.

"I haven't played since, but I want to,'' Haskell said.

She received her hole-in-one certificate on Wednesday and plans to display it prominently in the house. And when people ask her about it, she can launch into the story about how it was her first swing ever on a golf course.

"I still can't believe it,'' she said.

Rodney Page can be reached at [email protected], [email protected] or (727) 893-8810.

First time on the course and golfer hits a hole-in-one 03/12/09 [Last modified: Thursday, March 12, 2009 7:02am]
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