At the age of 39, and with 18 years of touring experience behind him, Geiberger is a relatively calm man and apparently a popular figure with his colleagues. If he was as excited about his score as the gallery was, he managed to contain that excitement in his tall, lean, composed frame. He began the round at 12:32 p.m. on the back side of Colonial's pleasant acreage, starting strong with birdies on his first hole (which he later jokingly described as "a routine 40-foot putt") and his third, and then closing out the nine with four consecutive birdies for a six-under-par 30. He must have decided this would be a special round; he had used the same ball for his first nine and continued to play with it coming in. Moving over to the front side to complete the round, Geiberger holed out a wedge from 30 yards away for an eagle three at No. 1 and suddenly he had a goal firmly in mind. His five straight sub-par holes put him within range of the PGA record of eight, held by Bob Goalby and Fuzzy Zoeller, and he focused his game on achieving that modest end.
His good friend Dave Stockton, who was paired with Geiberger and Jerry McGee during the first two rounds at Memphis, describes Geiberger as basically a conservative player who "usually goes for the fat part of the green." Geiberger sees himself in considerably more rakish poses. Now he attacked the flags instead of the fat and ran off two more birdies before finally faltering on the 4th hole (his 13th) and recording a lousy par.
By this time the galleries had been alerted to the raid in progress. Keep in mind that this was a crowd already so shaken and amazed it would have dozed off at the wreck of a circus train in a nudist camp. During Wednesday's Pro-Am, former President Gerald Ford made one of the more famous holes in one in golfing history. The next day's first round of the tournament—officially known as the Danny Thomas Memphis Classic—provided comic relief when Bruce Fleisher's tee shot lodged in the slacks—six inches below the waistline—of a startled crosswalk guard named Bobby Hendren. A stiff-lipped, non-communicative Fleisher fished the ball out and played his drop without comment. Hendren said he was glad the rules did not require the ball to be hit out.
They were still remarking upon that event on Friday when a grass fire in one of the parking lots spread to seven automobiles and a pickup truck. The miniature holocaust destroyed five of the vehicles. Meanwhile, the near 100� heat and the humidity, which is one thing Memphis does not lack, had left the galleries dripping like faulty faucets. But even in that debilitating atmosphere people knew history was in the making, and they began hurrying to watch and to offer Geiberger their support.
As soon as Geiberger failed in his quest for eight consecutive birdies he realized he still had a chance to accomplish something out of the ordinary. He readily admits he began thinking "59." In the unlikely event the goal might have slipped his mind, the gallery began shouting "59" at him. If you think this sort of thing has to be a jinx, forget it, because Geiberger finished his remarkable day with three more birdies on the last four holes, including the final one, when he might well have been stuck with a mediocre 60 and edged into the record book alongside the Brackenridge boys.
"The crowd was pumped up," Geiberger said, "and so was I. When you're pumped up you can hit the ball harder." Actually, he hit the ball perhaps a little too hard off the tee on the 403-yard final hole because the lie left him "between irons" and he had to make a decision between a nine-iron and a hard pitching wedge. He chose wisely, as events would demonstrate. He selected a nine-iron, hitting the shot easily and leaving himself with a putt just long enough (eight feet) to give his 10,000 followers time to build up a great, appropriate roar. Score for this nine: 29.
Johnny Miller said later he was not surprised to see Geiberger withstand what a great many golfers would have considered terrible pressure. "I like to study people under pressure," Miller said. "They walk different and talk different. It's funny to watch them. But Al's sort of a low-key guy. He never seems like he's going to choke. You just don't make 12 putts of more than 10 feet in a round like he did. It's great to see it, great to know it's possible. It either encourages or discourages. Golfers think, 'Aw, I can't do that,' or they think, 'If he can do it, I can do it.' "
In the locker room someone noted that Geiberger had picked up 17 strokes on the first-day leader, Tom Storey, whose 76 ordinarily would not have seemed nearly as disastrous.
Geiberger's 59 came on the second day of the Memphis Classic and gave him the 36-hole lead by six strokes. The next day he ballooned by 13 strokes to an even-par 72. "I did feel sort of a letdown," he said. "It was hard to get my thoughts going in the same direction. I caught myself wondering, but I do that a lot anyway." On Sunday, he stopped wondering long enough to shoot a 70 and win the tournament by three strokes over Jerry McGee and Gary Player.
McGee says he now plans to enter Geiberger in next year's NBA Slam Dunk contest. Why not? The game is putting a ball into a hole, and Mr. G obviously does that very well.