Let's concede that Chip Beck should have shot his 59 in the final round of the Masters in gale-force winds with someone else's clubs, with his wife in the hospital having a baby and with some jerk yelling "You're the man!" on every tee. Now, that would have been a 59 everyone could have respected.
The 59 Beck did shoot? Child's play. The course was less than a year old. The greens were perfect. The roughs weren't rough. The wind didn't blow. Nearly everybody else was inside watching the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings. And besides, let's face it, 500 grand—the golfer's portion of the $1 million bonus for breaking 60—just isn't enough to make a guy choke anymore.
Forgive the sarcasm, but when Beck achieved the feat in the third round of last week's Las Vegas Invitational, it was as if he had kicked an anthill. The asterisk-bearers and professional minimizers were up his pant leg in an instant. No way, they claimed, could Beck's 59 at the 10�-month-old Sunrise Golf Club be compared with the only previous 59 in PGA Tour history, which was shot by Al Geiberger in the second round of the 1977 Memphis Classic, on the mature, tree-lined course at the Colonial Country Club. Beck's 59 was tainted, they said, because he shot it on an easy course.
True enough. Sunrise has no rough and no shade. The freshly planted saplings lining the fairways are not much thicker than a flagstick, and when Tour sophomore Robert Gamez got a look at the place last week, he predicted that someone would shoot 59. So we're not supposed to be impressed that Beck made 13 birdies and five pars over 18 holes, that he broke 60 without benefit of an eagle or even one shot holed from off the putting surface, or that he stood over a putt worth half a million in cash without losing his lunch—and then made it.
"How can you belittle that?" said Jim Colbert, an ESPN golf commentator and a co-owner and co-designer of Sunrise, on Sunday. Colbert resented the implication that soft course design, and not Beck's shotmaking, was behind the score.
Yes, the scores in Vegas were low—low enough to invite ridicule. All but one of the 75 players who made the cut finished 10 under par or better. Because the Las Vegas Invitational is a 90-hole pro-am, the rough on the tournament's three courses was scalped to speed the play of the amateurs. That's why bogies were as rare as earmuffs in the desert. Bruce Lietzke shot a second-round 63 at Sunrise. Jim Gallagher Jr. and Dicky Thompson had course-record 61s at Las Vegas Country Club, where eventual winner Andrew Magee fired a 62.
"A turkey shoot" is how Steve Jones described the tournament after firing a 63 on Friday at Sunrise. Beck, even with his 59 and three other rounds in the 60s, finished two shots behind Magee and D.A. Weibring, who had five-round totals of 31-under-par 329 before Magee prevailed on the second sudden-death hole.
That kind of scoring could only dilute the impact of Beck's round. Starting on number 10 on Friday morning, Beck and his three amateur partners played in relative solitude until he made the turn in 29, seven under par. That's when ESPN got a whiff of history in the making and dispatched a hand-held camera to follow Beck, a 13-year Tour veteran with only three Tour victories, for the remainder of his round.
The story within the story is that Beck hadn't seen Sunrise until sunset. On Thursday, after shooting a 72 at the Desert Inn Country Club, he practiced putting at Sunrise, while his caddie, David Woosley, walked the course to ascertain the yardage on each hole. Neither man had ever set foot on the course until then.
"It's a good course, but a young course," Woosley said on Sunday. "Visually, it lacks definition, which made it easier, but more difficult, too. I'd say to Chip, 'You see that telephone pole half a mile down there? That's your target.' "