By Chris Rodell
The number sounds preposterous enough to be the final rhyme in a Dr. Seuss sort of sentence. Quadrillion, one thousand times one trillion, an astronomical number recognized by only the most mathematically fluent. But that's the number Harvard University mathematicians produced in June 1989 when The Boston Globe asked them to compute the odds of four professional golfers scoring holes-in-one on the same hole, the same day, during a breathtaking span of one hour and 50 minutes.
To be precise, the odds are 1,890,000,000,000,000-to-1. Give or take a couple billion.
That's what happened June 16, 1989, when Doug Weaver, Mark Wiebe, Jerry Pate and Nick Price struck bullseye 7 irons at "Pinpoint," the 159-yard 6th hole at Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, N.Y., during the 89th U.S. Open Championship.
Las Vegas oddsmakers at MGM-Mirage declined an opportunity to determine the chances the same feat would happen at this year's Open at Olympia Fields (Ill.) Country Club. Spokesman Scott Ghertner feared the computations would be calculator breakers.
"Those odds would be almost impossible to figure out, but I'd bet quadrillion is in the ballpark" says Ghertner. "An ace, any ace, is one of the rarer feats in all of sports. What happened that day is unbelievable."
Incidentally, Ghertner has aced three times, each time besting National Hole-in-One Foundation amateur golfer odds of 12,600-to-1. The odds of a professional golfer acing are about 5,000-to-1.
"Oh, man, it's so exciting," Ghertner says. "I've been lucky to get three."
Actually, he's been lucky to get just one. Including the four from 1989, there have only been 37 aces in the entire 108-year history of the U.S. Open. Estimates are that 100,000 golfers ace each year.
But many fine golfers, including many professionals, never get even one. And, yeah, it can be galling. Golfers who've led otherwise full, productive lives with happy, well-adjusted families go to their graves with it clawing at their souls like an unreplaced divot if, just once, they didn't get an ace.
"There's nothing like it in all of sports," says 1985 U.S. Open champion Corey Pavin, who's had 15 aces. "A million factors can mean the difference between a hole-in-one and just a really nice shot."
The first recorded ace in golfing history was struck by "Young" Tom Morris on September 14, 1868, at the number 8 "Station Hole" at Prestwick in Scotland. A local reporter believed the shot was so supernatural he consigned it straight to the X-Files:"Curiously enough the station hole was made by him in one stroke," he wrote.
The first U.S. Open ace didn't come until 1907 when Jack Hobens aced the 147-yard 10th hole at the Philadelphia (Pa.) Cricket Club. After Hobens, it would be another 15 years before Eddie Towns struck ace lightning at the 1922 U.S. Open at Skokie Country Club, Glencoe, Ill. The longest drought in the parched history of Open aces was18 years from Zell Eaton's 1936 ace at Baltusrol (upper) Golf Club to 1954 when Dick Chapman came back to Springfield, N.J., to ace at Baltusrol (lower).
Happily, the trend of aces going down is going up; 26 of the 37 Open aces have happened in the past 25 years. Only Tom Weiskopf has had more than one (two), but neither helped him win. In fact, no one who's aced during the Open has ever gone on to win that week. To the contrary, one lucky shot may doom the rest of the round to mediocrity or worse.
NBC golf analyst Johnny Miller aced at Pebble Beach during the 1982 U.S. Open, but finished tied for 45th. No doubt he felt more like a winner in 2002 when from a nearby broadcast booth he saw his son Andy ace at Bethpage Black in Farmingdale, N.Y., thus becoming the only father-son team to ever ace at the Open championship. Coincidentally, it happened on Father's Day.
Don't bet on any repeats today, says Olympia Fields director of golf Brian Morrison, himself a five-time acer.
"If it happens," Morrison says, "it might happen at the 164-yard 4th, but we only get one or two a year there so the odds are against it."
That means the best chance to see a major championship ace this year is August 14-17 at -- you guessed it -- the fabled sixth at Oak Hill Country Club, site of the 2003 PGA Championship.
"Only three golfers from about 20,000 aced at 6 last year," says assistant club pro Tawya Durni, who's had two aces, including one on number 6. "But because of 1989, people think it must be easy. For some reason, on that day it was. Hubert Green came within inches of acing number 6 that same day. He would have been the fifth."
What are the odds?
Chris Rodell is the author of "Hole in One! The Complete Book of Fact, Legend and Lore on Golf's Luckiest Shot," (Andrews McMeel Publishing, $9.95). Unlike each of the people mentioned above, he has never had an ace.