Thirty years ago this June, Al Geiberger became the first golfer to shoot a sub-60 round in a PGA Tour event. His score of 59, posted on the second day of the Danny Thomas Memphis Classic in Tennessee, has been matched twice (by Chip Beck in 1991 and by David Duval in 1999) but never beaten. Today, the 70-year-old California native, who won 11 events during an 18-year career on tour, serves as the professional emeritus at the Stone Eagle Golf Club in Palm Desert.
What is a professional emeritus?
AL GEIBERGER: It means you’re the old fart around. The members at Stone Eagle are close to my age, so they relate to me because they came up through my career. That’s the reason I’m here. If it were a young person’s course, I probably wouldn’t be here.
Why do people join Stone Eagle?
Stone Eagle is a pure golf club. There are no other facilities—no pools, no tennis courts—so they join for the golf. The course is not like any of the other courses in the desert, and it’s not like any other course I’ve ever seen. I’m not going to say it’s the greatest or the toughest; it’s just so different because of the terrain and the way Tom Doak designed it. I kid people along the way and say, “Well, here’s a pretty hole.” And they say, “What do you mean? We just played 12 of them.”
How did the club commemorate the 30th anniversary of your 59?
They were planning a big dinner out here for the anniversary, and I said, “What if somebody shoots a 58 between now and then? It will kill the whole thing.” But they said, “No, you were the first one to shoot 59, and that’s what people remember.”
In other sports, several records from your era have been broken in recent years. Why has yours survived?
Golf is different now because of the equipment, but I’m not so sure they shoot any better. We played more of an accuracy game. Hitting the ball on the fairways and greens was important. Now these young players go out, and I think, why did they shoot a 78 or 79 when they should be shooting 70 or 71? Well, it’s because they had a triple bogey. They had a great big gorilla shot that ended up in trouble. So I think sometimes the newer equipment gets them in trouble, because they don’t play real smart. Long hitters were freaks in my day. We just put it on the fairway and put it on the green, and I still think that’s the better way to play.
What was the key to your 59?
A little bit of everything. I had a good swing thought, and as the day went I kept hitting it better, so that gave me more confidence. People ask, “How did you stand the pressure?” I say, “Well, I thought I would never miss another shot and never miss another putt.” In golf, if you feel like you’re playing well, then you are. But if you’re shooting good scores and don’t feel like you’re playing well, look out.
What is your low score at Stone Eagle?
I’ve had a few rounds of 66. I get out there with groups, and after a while, you start messing around and trying to show them different shots, so you kind of get away from shooting a score. I almost feel like I’m a glorified caddie in a way, because I’m reading distances and putts. I find myself reading everyone else’s putts, and then when I get over my own, I can’t see it.
What will it take to break 59?
Here’s how I picture it: [A player] is coming down the last hole, and he has to birdie it to shoot a 59. He hits an 8-iron to the green—he’s trying to get it in there close—and it goes in the hole. Now that I’ve watched players kind of lose it at the end trying to get there, I’ve realized it has to be something they don’t have control of. Now they know it’s a record. I didn’t really know it was a record, and I think that helped me mentally. I tell people that stupidity helped me in a great moment of crisis.
Stone Eagle Golf Club, www.stoneeagleclub.com