Going into the World One Club Golf Championship, Tim Burklew had a ridiculous plan. The 26-year-old butcher from Williamston, N.C., intended to turn pro the morning of the 18-hole tournament. He planned to hit some shots farther than anyone else and to hit some shots shorter than anyone else. And—oh, yes—he would get down on his knees to putt.
The most ridiculous part of this plan is that it worked. In the fifth edition of the One Club Championship, held last October at the Lochmere Golf Club near Raleigh, N.C., Burklew broke the world record and beat the field of 105 by one stroke. Using a six-iron, he shot a 72 to become the first player ever to officially equal par with a single club, sealing his $11,000 victory with a miraculous sand shot on the final hole.
Burklew's par 72 was impressive, for playing with only one club is as demanding as it sounds. Like Burklew, most players choose a middle iron for versatility, but with that club they have trouble hitting approach shots high enough to hold a green, and they have problems making putts that don't squirt off the club face.
These difficulties were spotlighted in the One-Club Challenge, an exhibition held after the 1984 British Open at St. Andrews. Six top pros struggled with their pitches, blasts and putts, and their scorecards were littered with bogies. In the featured nine-hole match between two experienced one-club players, Seve Ballesteros finished three over par and Lee Trevino was five over.
Burklew was an unlikely candidate to set a world record. Before the One Club Championship he was too obscure even for a trivia question. He played one year at Florida Tech in Melbourne, then dropped out of school to earn some money. He moved to Williamston, where he bought a mobile home and got a job carving meat at the Be-Lo Supermarket.
But Burklew showed talent playing with a full bag. The 5'9", 200-pound native of Florida could drive more than 300 yards. Utterly self-confident, he broke course records at two North Carolina courses, High Hampton Golf Club and Roanoke Country Club, with 64s. His long game was accurate—no, the butcher didn't slice—but he admits, "My putting was atrocious."
One-club golfers usually putt by chipping, or striking the middle of the ball with the bottom of the club face, or they reverse their stance and hit with the back of the club head. But Burklew had a better idea.
Since his putting couldn't bring the course to its knees, he would bring his knees to the course. Kneeling on his living-room floor, Burklew tried about 15 different grips on his six-iron. He settled on overlapping the shaft just below the leather with his left hand and placing his right fingertips on the bottom of the shaft, with his index finger behind the club head. He lined the ball up with his right knee, closed the club face and took a normal putting stroke.
"I practiced in my mobile home for some three hours every night," says Burklew. "I could putt up to 40 feet—a machine returned the ball. I couldn't practice at the local course. People there laughed at me."
Because no one uses a caddie to carry a single club, Burklew couldn't get advice about the Lochmere course during the competition. As tournament director Rene Miller said, "The only caddie at Lochmere is going to be my Eldorado." So Burklew played a practice round to study the tight, wooded course.