Al Geiberger’s 59 At The Memphis Classic
On June 10, 1977 at the Danny Thomas Memphis Classic (now the Fedex St. Jude), Al Geiberger became the first player to shoot at 59 in a PGA TOUR event. The feat has since been bested, but Geiberger is foreverafter known as Mr. 59.
In 1977, the Danny Thomas Memphis Classic was held at Memphis’ Colonial Country Club. The 39-year-old Geiberger already held the course tournament record of 64 there. The Colonial Country Club played to a par 72 at 7, 193 yards.
June 10 was a hot day in Memphis. Temperatures reached 98 degrees.
Beginning his round on the back nine, Geiberger opened with a birdie (on 10).
“I just sank a routine 40-foot putt to get started,” Geiberger said.
He got a par on eleven.
Geiberger made a 14-foot putt for birdie on the par three twelfth. He then parred 13 and 14.
Starting on the fifteenth, Geiberger played seven straight holes under par. Hitting fairways and greens, Geiberger made short putts for birdie on 15, 16, 17 and 18.
Making the turn to the 576 yard first hole, Geiberger wound up with an eagle. Newspaper accounts vary as to the circumstances. One says that he “routinely holed a wedge shot for eagle,” while others say he reached the green in two and sank a 30 foot putt.
The eagle was followed by a pair of 20 foot putts for birdie on holes two and three.
A short putt on the fourth was deflected by a bump. Players said that the course’s greens were far from smooth on that day, which makes the score even more remarkable.
Pars on the fifth and sixth were followed by another birdie on the seventh. The record was set on the final hole (the 9th), with a six foot birdie putt (or perhaps 8 feet … accounts vary).
On the round, Geiberger hit 18 fairways and 18 greens in regulation and had 23 putts.
After the round, Geiberger said that he knew where he stood on the final hole, but felt no real pressure:
“It is not as frightening as you might think, because I kinda worked up to it. Everything was going so well, it just seemed natural.”
“Everything was going well for me. The adrenaline was really flowing. I was playing so well and putting so well. I was nervous, but not scared.”
Dave Stockton, who was playing with Geiberger, remembered the round:
“I’ve never seen anything like it. When we came down to that last hole, people were yelling for him to do it. Players were coming out of the clubhouse to gallery and you never see that. I kept trying to hit a good shot so as not to break his concentration, and sure enough, I would hit it sideways somewhere.”
Stockton also noted that Geiberger had been struggling heading into Memphis. He missed the two prior cuts. A strained back and the death of his father earlier in the year had taken its toll.
“When we were in Atlanta (two weeks prior), I was giving him a putting lesson. He just wasn’t putting.”
Putting lesson aside, Geiberger credited Stockton for spraying a mysterious substance on his shoulder before the round to help with stiffness and pain.
“I don’t know what it was, but Dave already wants to know what I’ll pay to have him spray me again tomorrow.”
Geiberger also thought a fan may have helped. On the fourteenth, a man came out of his house and gave Stockton a diet cola, cheese and crackers.
“I didn’t make anything but birds after that.”
One asterisk for that remarkable round was that — due to rain — the players were using improved lies. Geiberger says, however that he did not improve a lie during that round.
Geiberger was convinced that in the future, shooting 59 would be a routine event.
“It (60) was a mental barrier, just like the four-minute mile. Once that was broken, several people did it, I’m sure this will be the same way. Now everybody will shoot 59. if I can shoot it, anyone can.”
He was, of course, wrong. It took 26 years for another player to shoot a 59. The next to break 60 was Chip Beck at the 1991 Las Vegas Invitational. David Duval shot a 59 at the 1999 Bob Hope Classic. Paul Goydos repeated the feat in 2010 at the John Deere Classic. In 2010, Stuart Appleby shot 59 in the final round of the Greenbrier Classic. Justin Thomas shot 9 at the 2017 Sony Open. Adam Hadwin made his mark at 59 at the 2017 CareerBuilder Challenge. However, the record for low round currently is held by Jim Furyk at the 2013 BMW Championship.
On his round, Geiberger was in reach of breaking another record for consecutive birdies. At the time, the record was eight, set by Bob Goalby in 1961 and tied by Fuzzy Zoeller in 1976. The current record is nine, set by Mark Calcavecchia at the 2009 RBC Canadian Open. Calcavecchia shot a 65 on that day.
“The first thing I thought about the day was the record for eight birdies in a row, then I blew that” Geiberger said. “Then I set 59 as my goal. It sounds ridiculous to talk in those numbers.”
Lee Trevino said of the round:
“Al Geiberger should have to take a test to prove he’s a member of the human race.”
Curtis Strange noted:
“That course was one of the 3, 4, 5 courses I would have bet you would have never seen a 59 on. I think it’s one of the greatest feats in the history of the game. I really do.”
At the end of that round, the leaderboard was:
- Al Geiberger 72 – 59 = 131
- Keith Fergus 70-67 = 137
- Gary Player 67-71 = 138
- Ray Floyd 73-65 = 138
- Mike Morley 69 – 70 – 139
- Mike Hill 68 – 71 = 139
- Tom Weiskopf 71 – 68 = 139
Geiberger would go on to win that tournament, though not without a challenge from Gary Player. The Black Knight started the final day four shots back, and caught and passed Geiberger with an eagle on the 7th hole. Geiberger said
“I thought that when Gary eagled number 7 and I bogeyed the eighth that it was his ball game. But I birdied ten and Player bogeyed and it put me back in the game.”
Player’s eagle came on a 35 foot putt.
A bogey from Player on the 14th, bettered by Geiberger’s 30 foot putt for a birdie gave the lead back to Mr. 59. Player’s shot had hooked into the crowd.
“I ran a fifteen foot birdie putt on number fifteen right on top of a long birdie putt by Player and I felt like things were going my way just as they did on Friday for the record round.”
On the final hole, Geiberger laid up to play it safe, but still brought in a birdie.
Geiberger shot a two-under 70 in the final round for a 72-59-72=70. Note that he won the tournament without a score in the 60s — the only time that has happened in a non-major.
The final leaderboard that week at the Memphis Classic:
- Al Geiberger 72-59-72-70 = 273
- Jerry McGee 70-70-69-67 = 276
- Gary Player 67-71-69-69 = 276
- Tom Weiskopf 71-68-69-69 = 277
- Mike Morley 69-70-71-67 = 277
Another event of note from the Memphis Classic of that year: President Gerald Ford shot a hole-in-one during the pro-am.
The win in Memphis was Geiberger’s tenth of eleven career PGA TOUR tournament victories .
Greiberger was a native Californian who graduated from the University of Southern California. He turned pro in 1959 and joined the PGA TOUR in 1960. His first professional win was at the 1962 Ontario Open. A solid player, he won the 1966 PGA Championship. He then stalled, not winning again until 1975. Gastro-intestinal issues were apparently at the root of his playing difficulties. Greiberger’s final PGA TOUR victory was at the 1979 Colonial National Invitational in Forth Worth. He shot a 276 (-6) for a one shot lead.
Greiberger also played on the 1967 and 1975 Ryder Cup.
Following surgery to remove his colon, Greberger went on to rack up another ten wins on the Champions Tour.
While Geiberger was the first to shoot a 59 in a PGA TOUR-sanctioned event, he as not the first to shoot 59 in a professional tournament. That honor goes to Sam Snead, who in 1959 shot a 59 at the Greenbrier Open. The Greenbrier Open was a pro-am tournament staged at the annual Spring Festival at The Greenbrier.
Although Jack Snead was young when his father played his unprecedented round of golf, he recalls he and his father had talks about that long-ago day.
“He was really tickled,” the younger Snead said “He got a telegram from Queen Elizabeth the next morning.
“He said that he could have shot a 58 if he hadn’t missed a three-foot putt on the 17th hole, which was a par three then.”
Buddy Cook, host golf professional at The Greenbrier when Snead carded the enviable 59, remembers the excitement it promoted among the fans and sports writers at the Spring Festival.
“I was in a foursome playing right behind Sam,” said Cook, who lives in White Sulphur Springs.
“He missed several putts coming in or the score would have been lower than 59. Sam was jubilant. Everyone was celebrating.
Like Snead, Geiberger’s swing was a thing of beauty. In the mid-1980s, a company called Sybervision recorded Geiberger’s swing for a videotape lesson series. The idea was that golfers would watch Geiberger’s gorgeous swing and perfect rhythm over and over in an endless loop, until they were imprinted on their brains. With the imprint, golfers would then be able to recall the motions and rhythm on the course. Learning by watching.
I have a copy, have used it, and think it actually works.
Geiberger’s PGA TOUR and Champions Tour wins:
PGA TOUR :
1962 Ontario Open Invitational
1963 Almaden Open Invitational
1965 American Golf Classic
1966 PGA Championship
1974 Sahara Invitational
1975 MONY Tournament of Champions
1975 Tournament Players Championship
1976 Greater Greensboro Open
1976 Western Open
1977 Danny Thomas Memphis Classic
1979 Colonial National Invitational
1987 Vantage Championship
1987 Seniors International Golf Championship
1987 Las Vegas Senior Classic
1988 The Pointe/Del E. Webb Arizona Classic
1989 GTE Northwest Classic
1991 Kroger Senior Classic
1992 Infiniti Senior Tournament of Champions
1993 Infiniti Senior Tournament of Champions
1993 GTE West Classic
1996 Greater Naples IntelliNet Challenge
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