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St. Petersburg man's ace one in a million

Phil Collins, a 70-year-old independent insurance agent from St. Petersburg — not the 1980s pop star — was feeling pretty good when he prepared to tee off on the par-4, 278-yard 11th hole at the Tides Golf Club in Seminole on April 30.

Collins had just rehabilitated a back injury thanks to a device he saw on an infomercial and finally felt good enough to take a full swing.

Collins, playing with friends in a Wednesday league, hit his driver long and hard, hoping to get it close enough for an easy birdie.

The ball landed short of the hole, rolled up the elevated green and disappeared from the foursome's view.

When Collins' playing partners — Richard Gaffney, Bob Johnson and Bob Shedden — arrived at the green, they didn't see the ball. It was in the hole. A double eagle. A hole-in-one on a par 4. An albatross.

"On Wednesdays, we play points, so the only way to get our money back is to get birdies," Collins said. "We go for broke on Wednesdays.

"On that particular day, I just crushed it. I hit it right where I wanted, aimed toward the left sand trap with a little cut. It hit short of the green and it released. It rolled toward the flag and disappeared. One of my buddies walked up to the hole and started shouting. I've had nine hole-in-ones, but this is the first double eagle I've ever had."

The 11th hole is wide and straight. The only trouble is near the green, where water from Boca Ciega Bay borders on the right and left. Golfers who try to drive the hole need to make sure it is straight or it could end up wet.

Collins' drive landed and bounced straight on the dry, hard fairway. Tides head professional Darryl Spelich said he heard shouts across the course and wondered what happened.

"I had a lesson, and I heard a bunch of screaming," Spelich said. "At first I hoped nobody got hurt, but then I could tell it was screams of joy."

The last time somebody had an ace on a par 4 at the Tides, it happened on the second hole. That hole is a dogleg that measures about 275 yards. Once players found out about the feat, they kept trying to cut the first fairway, which sometimes caused balls to whiz over other players' heads.

"I had to put up a net to stop them from trying it," Spelich said. "The 11th hole is straight, so there's no problem there."

Collins' shot was certainly against all odds. According to GolfWorld, the odds of a double eagle are about 1 in 1-million.

Collins is a 7 handicap and has been a member at the Tides for two years. After his ace, he was 4 under through two holes. He ended the day by shooting 5-over 77.

"I think I three-putted the next three or four holes," Collins said. "I was still thinking about it."

St. Petersburg man's ace one in a million 05/16/08 [Last modified: Friday, May 16, 2008 9:32pm]
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