Al Geiberger, who 30 years ago became the first golfer to record a sub-60 round in a PGA Tour event, agrees with the comparisons that equate his achievement with that of Roger Bannister, the British runner who, in 1954, became the first person to finish a mile in less than four minutes. “People remember him because he was the first to break [the four-minute mile],” Geiberger told Robb Report executive editor Bruce Wallin during an interview for the Pro•File feature in Private Golf, a special section that begins on page 163. “No one remembers the guys who came after him.”
The guys who came after Geiberger, the other two members of the PGA Tour’s 59 Club, are Chip Beck (in 1991) and David Duval (in 1999). Considering the tailspins their games eventually took following their record-tying rounds, Beck and Duval could be compared to another Roger, a guy who became the first in his sport to better a milestone sum of 60.
If there is such a thing as the curse of the Bambino, it afflicted Roger Maris as much as it did the Boston Red Sox. After he hit 61 home runs in 1961, Maris hit only 33 the next year, and, because of injuries, his production continued to decline rapidly before he retired in 1968 at 34, an age that now is considered a baseball player’s prime.
Like Maris’ 61-homer season, which occurred during a 162-game season as opposed to the 154-game season that Babe Ruth played, Beck’s round of 59 initially was considered tainted by its circumstances. In 1991, the Sunrise Golf Club in Las Vegas, then the site of the Las Vegas Invitational, was less than a year old. The rough was cut short, the greens were perfect, the wind was not blowing, and the course, though a par-72 like other tracks that host PGA tournaments, was 6,914 yards long, a relatively short distance by Tour standards. Furthermore, Beck did not win the 90-hole tournament; he finished two strokes off the lead.
Beck, who was second on the PGA Tour earnings list in 1988 and the runner-up at the 1993 Masters, continued to play well until the mid-1990s, and then his game plummeted. From 1997 to 2004, he missed 97 of 169 cuts, including 46 consecutive cuts from 1997 to 1998. By 2003, Beck was playing in the Nationwide Tour, golf’s version of the minor leagues. (He did enjoy a SportsCenter highlight moment that year, when he sank a hole-in-one on a 316-yard par 4 at the Omaha Classic.)
In 2004, midway through the Nationwide season, Beck went to work for an insurance company in Chicago because he was not making enough income from golf to pay his bills. However, two years later, when he turned 50, he became eligible for the Champions Tour, which has been called golf’s greatest mulligan. Beck immediately made the most of his second chance, posting five top-10 finishes and making more than $660,000 in prize money in 2006.
Duval has yet to resurrect his game. As with Maris’ decline, Duval’s free fall has been attributed to injuries, though some say the problem is more mental than physical, as is often the case in golf. Duval invites the psychoanalysis when he refers to his 2001 British Open victory as his “existential moment,” when, like Peggy Lee, he asked, is that all there is In terms of victories, there has been nothing more; Duval has not won a tournament since.
In 2002, he dropped to 80th on the PGA Tour money list, although, as he noted at the time, he still earned $800,000 in prize money, and he also was collecting about $7 million a year from his Nike endorsement deal. In 2003, he finished 211th on the money list and made only $84,708. By 2004, the Official World Golf Ranking had him listed at number 251, and this July, after playing infrequently for the previous couple of years, he was ranked 450.
Duval has fallen 449 rungs from where he stood in April 1999, shortly after recording his score of 59 in the fifth and final round of the 1999 Bob Hope Chrysler Classic at PGA West in La Quinta, Calif. In 2004, Golf Magazine ranked that performance number two among the best rounds of golf it had ever covered. (Johnny Miller’s final round of the 1973 U.S. Open was number one, and Geiberger’s 59 was third.) Duval completed his 13-under-par day with an eagle on the tournament’s final hole, a par-5, 543-yarder. His six-foot putt gave him a one-stroke victory.
In October 2006, England’s Justin Rose had a chance to join the 59 Club but missed a 14-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole in the first round of the Funai Classic at Walt Disney World in Florida. Afterward, he joked with reporters about having jinxed himself toward the end of the round by openly discussing his chances of shooting a 59. “Maybe the curse got me,” he said.
Or maybe, by missing that putt, Rose avoided a curse.