It was only minutes after Jim Furyk had drained a 3-foot, 3-inch birdie putt on the ninth hole of the BMW Championship’s second round on Friday when I took to Twitter in an attempt to provide perspective in regard to the most recent history-maker on the PGA Tour.
You can't really 'rank' the 59s. But let's do it anyway: 1. Duval; 2. Geiberger; 3. Appleby; 4. Furyk; 5. Beck; 6. Goydos.
Reaction – as it almost always is within social media – was mixed. Some people said I nailed it. Some thought I was way off. PGA Tour pro Arron Oberholser, whom I respect and whom had already tweeted that the first-ever 59 remains the best, shot back, “Are you kidding me Sobel?”
Others didn’t so much contest my ranking as ask for an explanation. So here it is.
There’s no wrong answer here, but there are two different schools of thought. One looks more closely at the round itself – the difficulty of the conditions, the separation from the rest of the field, the par number on the scorecard. And then there’s mine, which takes into account the pressure of the moment – when trying to win the golf tournament in the final round, when needing a big shot on the final hole, when attempting to become the first to accomplish the feat.
That’s how I came up with my ranking. Let’s break down the Dirty Half-Dozen:
1. David Duval: PGA West (Palmer Course, par 72); Bob Hope Chrysler Classic final round; Jan. 24, 1999.
This 59 occurred on a birdie-binge course in the desert, but is etched with everything necessary to call it the best ever. It came on a Sunday afternoon, was a 13-under-par score and gave Duval the tournament victory. Toss in the fact that he was throwing darts all day and actually eagled the final hole to erase a seven-shot deficit and win by a single stroke. Doesn’t get much more dramatic than that.
2. Al Geiberger: Colonial Country Club (par 72); Memphis Classic second round; June 10, 1977.
If you include The Open Championship, they’d been playing eventual PGA Tour-sanctioned rounds for 117 years before Geiberger became golf’s version of Roger Bannister breaking the four-minute mile. That in itself is enough to forever keep it amongst the best 59s, but throw in the fact that – unlike his brethren in the exclusive club – he was using persimmon woods and balata balls on a 7,300-yard course, and the achievement remains truly remarkable to this day.
3. Stuart Appleby: The Greenbrier (Old White Course, par 70); Greenbrier Classic final round; August 1, 2010.
Let’s face it: The Old White wasn’t exactly a fire-breathing dragon of a golf course in its first year on the PGA Tour schedule and at par 70, Appleby “only” had to post a score of 11-under. Even so, it came on a Sunday afternoon and led to a trophy and oversized check presentation afterward. In my book, that outweighs almost every other weekday round of the same score.
4. Jim Furyk: Conway Farms (par 71); BMW Championship second round; Sept. 13, 2013.
The numbers are impossible to argue. Furyk’s 59 on Friday the 13th was a scary six shots better than the next-best score of the day and more than 12 shots better than the field’s scoring average. And that’s against a field of 69 other elite players, with no also-rans anchoring down that number. In windy conditions and with some bouncy greens, the only 59 on the PGA Tour to feature a bogey was a thing of beauty.
5. Chip Beck: Sunrise GC (par 72); Las Vegas Invitational third round; Oct. 11, 1991.
It took 14 years for another player to match Geiberger’s feat, but Beck’s scorecard was immaculate, with 13 red circles and five pars. Perhaps just as interesting was this quote from the longtime pro after Duval matched him eight years later: “Actually, I wish he had broken the record and shot 58. I think it will happen soon, and I hope it does. That's the next level.” We’re still waiting.
6. Paul Goydos: TPC Deere Run (par 71); John Deere Classic first round; July 8, 2010.
Let’s be real here: There’s no such thing as “last place” on a ranking of PGA Tour 59s. It’s like being ranked last on a list of dates with Kate Upton. But Goydos clearly had the best sense of humor after his record-tying number. 'Most people try to shoot their age,” he deadpanned. “I shot my height.'
As if it isn’t difficult enough to rank these six – and again, there really is no wrong answer – my initial tweet was followed by this one from a legend who posted 59 in the second round of the 1974 Brazil Open:
@JasonSobelGC What about ranking all 59's not just those on the PGA Tour Jason?— Gary Player (@garyplayer) September 13, 2013
Uh-oh. Valid request and a potentially fun project – and I try to never let down a legend. Looks like it’s back to the research archives for me ...