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In September 1963, Norman Manley, a 40-year-old electric designer with Hughes Aircraft in Culver City, Calif., had a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Hitting a seven-iron on the 168-yard par-3 16th hole at the Willowick Golf Course in Santa Ana, Calif., he did what he had only dreamed of doing in 15 years of near-scratch golf: He made a hole in one. Three men sitting on a railroad embankment to the left of the green saw the ball go in the hole and cheered in appreciation. But neither the admiring trio nor the exultant golfer had a clue that they had just witnessed the genesis of something truly special. Thrilled down to his spikes, Manley happily followed golf custom by buying beer for everyone in the clubhouse bar.
Over the ensuing years Manley has run up quite a bar bill. On April 8 he laid out about $80 at the bar after having made his 59th hole in one. That was on the par-3, 158-yard 11th hole at Indian Hills in Rubidoux, Calif., one of 40 courses on which Manley has shot aces.
Fifty-nine? Getouttahere! Yes, it is so, and Golf Digest, the magazine that traces the nation's aces, recognizes this as the greatest number by an individual. (For verification, Golf Digest requires that a hole in one be made on a regulation course—no more than six par 3s—and that the ace be witnessed by at least one other person. In addition, the golfer must have his scorecard signed by the club pro.)
The U.S. Golf Association does not keep records of holes in one but refers golfers to Golf Digest. "They are strict in their record keeping," said Rhonda Jenkins of the USGA. "You can't just claim to have made a hole in one; it has to be verified." Does the USGA accept Golf Digest's tally as fact? " Golf Digest is the only operation that keeps track. They are the correct source, and we don't try to check up on them," said the USGA's Wes Seeley. "They have been keeping track for 36 years, so I'm sure they have the best information out there."
Given that the odds of getting a hole in one are estimated at 15,000 to 1, some people might say that Manley has made more than his fair share of long shots. Some might want a piece of the action. Last year Manley's record of 58 prompted Snoopy to write him a letter in the comic strip Peanuts: "To Mr. Norman Manley, Long Beach, Calif. I read that you have made 58 holes-in-one. I have never made any. I am sure you don't need them all. Please send me one."
Dear beagle, if you knew how many times Manley has wished he could do just that. Believe it or not, his talent for making golf's most coveted shot has caused him a fair amount of grief and embarrassment over the years. Some people—club pros in particular—don't want to believe Manley and prefer to accuse him of lying and cheating. Manley reasons that pros "hate to see an amateur doing something better than they."
At least one pro apparently found the experience akin to torture. Some years ago the club pro at Industry Hills in City of Industry, Calif., initially refused to acknowledge a 310-yard Manley hole in one despite the testimony of witnesses. "A foursome on the green witnessed it, a marshal witnessed it and our group witnessed it," Manley says, "and it took that guy three months to get that card signed. And then he threw it at me."
As much as it may pain club pros to sign Manley's scorecard, they can be sure he doesn't relish handing them the card. "I've been called a liar," he says. "I've been told I'm full of baloney, that I've got a hole in my pocket, that I've trained my dog to go up and drop the ball in the hole, that my wife puts the ball in the hole—you wouldn't believe the ways people doubt me. It gets tiresome and embarrassing."
One club pro who would never doubt Manley is Claude Waymire of the Quail Ranch Country Club in Moreno, Calif., a course Manley frequents. "I might get a little jealous," says Waymire, "but I'll believe him. What people don't seem to realize about Norman is that he plays golf to a professional caliber. If he had decided to turn professional 25 years ago, I don't think people would make such a big deal about his aces."
Manley never became a pro primarily because he couldn't afford to join the Tour as a young man. And back then the payoffs were nothing like today's sizable purses. Even so, any bankable booty would have been more than Manley has garnered as a result of his accumulation of aces. His cash total so far? "Not a dime," he says. Indeed, Lady Luck, who at times seems to positively beam down on Manley, at other times seems bent on tormenting him. He recalls a pro-am tourney at Sahara-Nevada in Las Vegas six years ago that offered $50,000 to anyone who aced the 11th hole. Manley missed the tourney because of a broken-down car but played the course the next day and—talk about crummy kismet—holed out in one on the 11th. "My wife tells me that's the story of my life," Manley says, laughing.