"You're always a day late and a dollar short, Norm," agrees Marge Manley, his wife of 18 years and one of his regular golf companions.
"This is what you get when you're an amateur," says Manley, dumping a dozen Foot-Joy "Hole-in-One" key chains into an ashtray. They clatter but not quite like a jackpot. Digging through the ace memorabilia of plaques, medallions, certificates, photos and clippings stacked in a drawer in his home, Manley finds what is perhaps the most ironic memento in this still burgeoning collection—an invitation to join the National Hole-in-One Association's Ace-Maker Club. A $20 membership fee entitles him to, among other perks, an official membership card, auto decal and suede luggage tag with logo, and a chance to win a Las Vegas minivacation. The brochure features a picture of Mancil Davis, a Texas club pro credited with 48 aces. The photo is captioned "Mancil Davis, the King of Aces."
There is no reigning authority in this matter, but by way of qualifying things, Golf Digest considers Manley's 59 the amateur record and Davis's 48 (accumulated over 22 years) the professional record. The Guinness Book of World Records, which accepts aces made on non-regulation courses, recognizes neither but awards its ace crown to 29-year-old Scott Palmer of San Diego, who has 95.
Guinness does, however, recognize Manley for something that truly was a once-in-a-lifetime feat. While competing in the men's club championship at Del Valle in Saugus, Calif., on Aug. 30, 1964, Manley teed up on the 330-yard seventh, which has a sharp dogleg to the left with hills and rough guarding the green. Using a five-iron, he hit a high shot that cut over the hill, homed in on the green and rolled right into the cup. On the next hole, this one 290 yards and also a downhill par-4 with a dogleg to the left, Manley tested even his staunchest believers by holing out that tee shot, with his three-wood. These are considered by Guinness to be the greatest back-to-back aces ever.
Making history and keeping clubhouse bars crowded was not at all what Manley had in mind 40 years ago when he began his golf career with, ironically enough, a lie. Fresh out of the Navy and working for Boeing in Seattle, Manley had his romantic sights set on a coworker who spent all of her spare time on the golf course. Negotiating for a date with her, he claimed some ability with a golf club, when in fact he had never picked one up. (A natural athlete, Manley lettered in basketball, football, baseball, track and fencing at St. John's Military School in Salina, Kans.) With the help of a friend's father, a Ben Hogan book and some practice on a driving range, he learned as much about the game as he could in a week and joined the young woman's foursome in a tournament. Incredibly, he shot one over par on his first round and. completely enamored of the game if no longer of the young woman, began wearing out Seattle's public courses for 50 cents a day.
He eventually found the soggy weather too disruptive to his golf, so he migrated to Southern California and a job at Northrop. From there Manley moved on to Hughes, then back to school, again to Hughes, on to TRW and finally completed his tour of West Coast aviation plants at Douglas Aircraft, where in 1970 he met Les Elliott, a fellow golf fanatic who became a regular partner. Elliott figures he has seen about 20 of Manley's aces, including several that never made it into the official tally because there were no other witnesses. (Manley has never sent Golf Digest an ace card that wasn't witnessed by at least two people.) Although he has never made a hole in one himself, Elliott has become fairly blas� about Manley's. "The first one I saw was over the water, and I was so excited, I damn near fell in the lake," he says. "But after a while they became commonplace."
Manley himself is long past getting excited over every ace and sometimes finds the uproar he causes ridiculous because, he says, some of them resulted from "really lousy shots." In particular he remembers one at the Ojai ( Calif.) Valley Inn and Country Club. The ball bounced across the street, hit a telephone pole, bounced back inbounds, rolled onto the green and into the cup. Another, at Del Valle, sailed through the air, hit the flag, got wrapped up in it and slid down the pole and into the hole. "Ninety-nine percent of it is luck," Manley concludes.
Elliott concludes differently. "Norm is a good golfer," he says. "He takes aim and has a very quick and powerful swing."
"I am straight," Manley concedes. "I used to be deadly. Hey!" he remembers suddenly, "last year I shot my age for the first time!"
To shoot Manley's age, which is now 65, is unthinkable for many golfers, including Elliott, who would be content to break 80. Now 77, Elliott figures he will be in his 90's before his age and his score match. "Norm says he hopes he never shoots my age," Elliott says, laughing.