LARGO — Anybody who has played golf long enough either has a hole-in-one story or knows somebody who has a hole-in-one story.
There's the beginner who hits a 110-yard ground ball with a driver, bounces it off a sand trap rake and into the hole (not sure that really happened). Or there is the 93-year-old legally blind golfer who aces a hole on his first shot of the day (that really did happen).
Either way, none of those players has ever been with me or anybody I've played with. In about 30 years of playing golf, there are no hole-in-one stories. No perfectly arching 8-iron that slam dunks into the bottom of the jar. No skulled 3-iron that runs through the fairway and into the hole. There was a near miss at Feather Sound about 25 years ago, but I had to root for that one to come up short because a) I was alone and nobody would've believed me, and b) I sneaked on the course so I'm not sure if an official hole-in-one can come while trespassing.
I know the odds of hitting a golf ball into a 2-inch hole from about 125 yards are not good. But c'mon, I get e-mails every week from people who get aces. I figure it's time to tilt the odds.
I'm going to get a couple of other golfers, and we're going to stand at a par 3 for two hours or until a ball goes in the hole. I'm going to have a hole-in-one story, even if it means blistered hands.
The set up
Don Brannon, manager at Largo Golf Course, provides a hole and a couple of players for Project Ace in the Hole. We set up on the 90-yard, par-3 11th hole. Ninety yards! Big wup! In the fiscal year from October 2007 to September 2008, there were 11 aces on the 11th hole. Time for a 12th.
Joining in the experiment is Jeff Carreira, a 25-year-old teaching pro with the National Golf School in Orlando who also conducts junior clinics in the summer at Largo Golf Course. Carreira's father, Armand, rounds out the threesome.
We are not hackers. Jeff is a scratch golfer, and Armand and I hover between a 15 and 18 handicap.
The pin is in the middle front of a sloping, left-to-right green. The wind is swirling, but mostly it's in our face. The shot requires a sand wedge or a pitching wedge.
This shouldn't take long.
"Let me get this over with,'' Jeff said before he teed up the first shot.
Shot after shot
His first shot rests 5 feet from the hole. Not a bad start. We rotate shots, grabbing balls from a large bucket provided by Brannon. Shots land in the back of the green, short of the green and in the greenside bunker. Few land at our actual target.
"Everything is rolling from the left to the right,'' Jeff points out. "What we should try is a punch shot that lands to the left of the flag and breaks down.''
Our strategy of hitting high wedge shots is temporarily abandoned due to gusty wind and lack of success. Time to hit low line drives that might roll in. My first shot produces a face full of dirt, but it is heading toward the hole. It lands to the left and rolls 2 feet short. After about 20 punch shots, it's time to clear the green. Nearly 50 balls litter the fairway and green; the closest ball is about 2 feet away. Time for Round 2.
Did that … ?
Instead of hitting one shot each, we change up and hit four or five in a turn. Maybe we can get into a groove and knock one in. Armand hits a few high, but they land just to the right or left and skirt away.
Jeff sticks with the punch shot. It's easy to tell once a shot leaves the club if it has a chance, and surprisingly few of our shots have had much of a chance. But one of Jeff's punch shots is tracking right for the stick. It lands softly and begins breaking to the hole. It looks as if it lips the cup before finishing 3 feet past.
I let out a gasp and ask him if the shot hit the hole. "Sure,'' he said. "Let's say it hit the hole.''
When we clear the green for a second time, Jeff's shot is closest to the pin. More than 100 shots and no hole-in-one. We are over an hour into the project, and it seems this may not be our day. But it only takes one shot, so we dig back into the bucket of balls and keep going.
We tee up shots, we hit shots off the turf. We punch 9-irons and blast sand wedges. Jeff even tries a few trick shots. He places a ball on top of another and tries to hit the lower ball on the green while catching the second ball (didn't work). He also bounces a ball off the club face and tries to hit it baseball style (struck out). Then, Armand nails a sand wedge that curls to about 15 inches from the cup. It's a gimme during a regular round, but it's 15 inches too short for our purposes.
In all, more than 200 shots are scattered over the 11th hole. None actually lands in the hole. The feeling is we could stand there all day and not get an ace. So keep the e-mails coming about how you hit a 5-iron 170 yards over water onto a postage stamp green and it rolled right into the hole. There is only one word for you people: Lucky.
Tell us your hole-in-one story. If it's interesting enough, we'll run it on our golf page. Just e-mail to [email protected]m.