The report that appears on the website golfstylesonline.com is, to put it mildly, an eye-opener.
Michael Keating, publisher of the GolfStyles Media Group, bluntly states in his first paragraph, "What happened at Laurel Hill Golf Club in Lorton, Virginia, on June 22 has been met with incredulity, astonishment, outright disbelief and, eventually, incomprehension."
That about sums it up.
"What happened," according to Keating, is that Patrick Wills, a 59-year-old retired Marine, while playing in a 54-hole summer solstice tournament, shot a 57 in the second round, highlighted by three holes-in-one. Two of them came on par-4 holes.
Wills' three playing partners were witnesses: sons Charlie, an engineer, and Christopher, an Afghanistan combat veteran, as well as Air Force major Matt Ghormley.
Wills plays to a plus-4 handicap and he shot a 58 in this same event a few years back. He understands, however, that this report will be met with skepticism in some quarters.
“I’ve been around the world 10 or 12 times, fighting for this country’s freedom," he said. "People are allowed to believe what they want to believe - I fought for that freedom. But I know what I shot, my playing partners know what I shot and the people at the tournament do as well. I mean, I’m an accomplished amateur. I set my first course record when I was 16, shot a 65 or 66, and I’ve added a few since then. Anyone that has ever played a competitive round with me, they know what I’m capable of. They’ve seen it. So people are entitled to believe what they want, but I’ve always been drawn to golf because it aligns with my morals. I’d rather call a penalty on myself, or even disqualify myself, because I respect the game.”
Laurel Hill, a par-71 layout which hosted the 2013 U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship, was set up by Keating, the tournament director, to get easier as the day of endurance progressed, meaning players moved up a tee box with each subsequent round. The second round was played from the white tees, which measured 6,021 yards.
Wills birdied four of the first six holes, even dropping a shot on the par-3 fourth hole. But the highlights began on No. 7, a par-4 measuring 278 yards. Wills said he lasered the distance as 250 yards to the front of the green, hit a "baby-draw 3-wood" and then went to go find the ball.
"I was trying to be realistic, so I started looking on the back of the green," Wills said. "I was pleasantly surprised to say the least."
Wills made the turn in 29. Three holes later, he hit a driver on the 311-yard 10th hole. The shot looked pretty good, but Wills was still shocked when his playing partners told him the ball was in the hole - again.
"I literally said to myself, 'Get real.' I thought they were teasing me," he said. "Never in my wildest imagination did I think I could get multiple ones in the same round."
His imagination needed to get even wilder. He pulled up to the par-3 14th hole, playing 176 yards uphill, and jarred a 5-iron. At this point, Wills' playing partners were "dumbfounded," but he tried to keep calm.
"I still had four more holes to play," he said. "I knew I had a special round going, and I didn't want to throw that away."
Wills played his final four holes in 1 under to post a 14-under 57, but the score could have been even lower. He reached the green on the par-5 18th in two shots, only to three-putt from 18 feet, drawing similarities to Dustin Johnson's painful close the same day at the U.S. Open.
"I almost would say that I can empathize with him now," Wills said.
The round is an all-time best for Wills, but he is no stranger to low scores. He said he has carded "numerous" rounds of 59 and entered the day with 22 career aces, including four on par 4s. Those numbers have now been beefed up to 25 and six, respectively.
Wills also took a shot at the Champions Tour upon turning 50, but he wasn't able to make it out of qualifying and had to put his competitive aspirations to the side when his wife's health took a turn for the worse.
Gene Orrico, Laurel Hill's director of golf, verified the score for GolfChannel.com.
"He's a good stick. A very, very good player," Orrico said. "I've been playing for 43 years, throw one of those aces at me."
Wills had a short turnaround time before the third round, shooting a 5-under 66 from the gold tees to close out the 54-hole event. But it's the middle round of his solstice journey that remains an all-timer.
"I had never imagined anything like this in my whole life," he said. "I was literally out of my mind."