Golfers are a cynical group, a condition attributable to their frustrations. Perhaps no other game finds appeal from the notion that perfection never is to be attained or, once briefly experienced, never to be repeated. The vagaries of the swing confound the most accomplished, while the less gifted remain convinced that bone and muscle conspire to make them appear foolish. Gusts of wind baffle well-struck shots. Balls take peculiar bounces. And what golfer never has railed at the putt that wobbled?
Yet on a magic autumn afternoon in 1971 none of these tragic things happened to Tom Doty, at least not for a long while, and when his round was over he had not only the best golf story of the year but perhaps the best of all time. For. during a four-hole stretch that unseasonably mild afternoon last November, he was the most talented golfer in the world. What Doty did that day defies credibility, and the feat well may have doomed his career. The mind cries out in protest, but he has witnesses and little apparent motive for deception.
On successive holes the 22-year-old assistant golf professional holed out a three-wood shot, a drive, a four-wood shot and a nine-iron shot. He went 2-1-1-2 with a double eagle, back-to-back holes in one and an eagle. And he may go through life burdened with his accomplishment, shadowed by whispers, for who among knowing golfers will believe him, and how can he hope ever to equal, much less surpass, the feat?
Manny Kantor, Peter Orofino, Harry Robbins and Frank LaPuzza always will believe him. They were playing that day with Doty at the Brookwood Country Club, located in the small Chicago suburb of Wood Dale, Ill., not far from O'Hare International Airport. These four businessmen, all in their middle 50s and 60s and longtime golfers, serve as testimony to the best golf ever recorded.
Doty finished with a round of 59, 13 under par on the 36-36—72, 6,435-yard course. But his final score means little. Homero Blancas once shot a 55 while an amateur. The fact is, there is no known precedent for what Doty accomplished during that one remarkable four-hole stretch.
The round came on a Wednesday, shortly before Tom was to leave for a try at the winter tour in Florida, and it started innocuously enough with a bogey on the 3rd hole, where Doty joined the foursome of members. It hardly seemed possible that this would turn into the kind of game Doty fashioned in the pro-member tournament four months earlier. That time he set a course record with a 64.
Now at the 500-yard, par-5 4th hole Doty hit a solid drive down the left side of the fairway. "It was a fantastic drive," says LaPuzza, a 62-year-old bookstore owner. "My second shot was just a little bit ahead of his first." Doty pulled out a three-wood, aimed over a clump of 12 evergreen trees on the left and sailed a shot that seemed to explode off the club face. The ball hit just in front of the green, took a couple of hops and rolled into the cup for a double eagle.
The 5th hole at Brookwood is a weak par-4, 360 yards by the card, but it is a dogleg left, and plays less than that. A big hitter can carry a series of mounds and a bunker well out from the tee and put the ball on the green. With a strong wind at his back, Doty went for it.
"It's either on the green or close," Orofino said to Robbins as Doty's shot hooked toward the flag.
As they approached the hole and noticed that the ball was not visible, Kantor said: "I got a hunch. I wouldn't be a bit surprised if that ball went into the hole." And there it was, nestled at the bottom of the cup. Doty had played the previous hole with another ball, but after the double eagle he had put it back in his golf bag as a trophy. He did the same with this one.