At the turn an ESPN camera crew picked up Beck. A warm breeze blew in, and the greens began to get dry and crusty. "The putting surfaces were so much more challenging back then," says Beck. "It was the era of hand mowers and metal spikes. On the back nine the ball was bouncing on every putt."
Still, he holed three birdie putts on the first six holes of his second nine. Beck needed to birdie the final three holes, and like Geiberger before him, he let his mind wander. "I started thinking about the money," he says. At the start of the '91 season a $1 million bonus was being offered to any golfer who shot a 59. "Back then that was a lot of money," Beck says with a laugh. Half of the dough had to be earmarked for charity, and that was what Beck really lusted for because he and his wife, Karen, had recently started a charitable foundation. The feeling of playing for something larger quieted Beck's nerves.
He reached the par-5 7th with a 227-yard two-iron and two-putted for birdie. Then he got a break on the par-3 8th when his leaky tee ball, with a five-iron, bounced off a greenside mound to within eight feet. Beck shook in the putt. After a perfect drive on the 9th hole Beck had 157 yards left and only one swing thought: Hole it! Seriously. "I didn't want to have a putt that meant so much," he says. His eight-iron was brilliant but not quite perfect, leaving a 3½-footer. Sure enough, two spike marks were in his line. "If I hit my putt where I wanted to, it looked as if my ball would get pushed slightly to the right of one of the spike marks and catch the right side of the hole." That is precisely what happened. "Oh, baby!" hollered Beck, who just like that was $1 million to the good.
The comparisons to Geiberger's 59 were immediate and generally unflattering, given that the first had been shot on one of the Tour's toughest tracks. Beck was never bothered. "A 59 is a 59 is a 59," he says. "But it's fun for fans to compare them. And if you ask me, I think David's is the best."
Duval had won eight times in the preceding 15 months when he arrived at the 1999 Bob Hope Classic, but he still lacked a signature victory. This was early-period Duval, when he was a taciturn enigma hiding behind wraparound sunglasses. The final round of that Hope was an unlikely Sunday for a defining performance—Duval was seven strokes off the lead as he teed it up on the 6,950-yard Palmer Private course at PGA West, a quirky layout with five par-5s and five par-3s. While Geiberger and Beck both holed a number of mid-range putts, Duval's 59 was a monument to ballstriking. He birdied the first three holes, knocking it stiff each time. In the middle of his round Duval became even more precise, hitting a pitching wedge to four feet on the 11th hole and a six-iron to two feet on the 12th. That brought him to eight under par, and Duval never took his foot off the gas. On the par-3 15th hole he stuck his eight-iron a foot from the hole. "It was an easy 59," Jeff Maggert, one of Duval's playing partners, would later say. "I've never seen anyone hit the ball that close for an entire round. It was sort of like a no-hitter. I didn't want to say the wrong thing. Finally, [on 15] after he stiffed it for the fourth straight time on a par-3, I said, 'I didn't realize we were playing par-2s today.'"
On the par-4 16th Duval stuffed a sand wedge to six inches. "It helped me that this happened when I was trying to win," he says. "I didn't think about my score until I got to 11 under, on the 16th hole. I simply kept trying to make more birdies."
These first fleeting thoughts of a 59 temporarily sidetracked Duval, as he produced a so-so nine-iron on the par-3 17th and then missed the 20-footer. So to attain golf's magic number, he needed an eagle on 18, a watery par-5. Duval began by smashing a 320-yard tee ball, using his 6.5-degree Titleist 975D driver with a 44-inch shaft. From 226 yards he flushed a five-iron that cozied to within six feet of the hole. If he made the putt, Duval would be in a great position to win the tournament, but he admitted, "I was more excited about the score than having the chance to win. The 59 was first and foremost in my mind." He made the putt and then loosed a series of uppercuts, the most passionate, spontaneous display of emotion in a career that includes a win at the 2001 British Open. None of the players behind him could match Duval's torrid pace, and his 59 stood up for a rousing comeback victory, which explains Beck's (and others') affection for the round.
Doing it on Sunday certainly earns Duval bonus points, but he did enjoy certain advantages over Geiberger and Beck, notably the absence of spiked-up greens and scrubby fairways. Duval did not have to deal with oppressive Memphis heat or the weight of a much ballyhooed $1 million bonus. His tools were significantly better too. He was playing a Titleist Professional 90 wound ball, which was significantly longer than the balatas used by Geiberger and Beck. At 260 cubic centimeters Duval's titanium-faced driver was larger and much hotter than his predecessors'. This was the dawn of the launch-monitor era, and Duval was able to scientifically identify the perfect lightweight graphite shaft to max out his driver's efficiency. Yet 11 months shy of the turn of the century, golf's equipment possibilities were not yet fully realized. A year and a half after Duval's 59, solid-core balls would begin to spread on Tour, a revolution that was comparable in importance to the transition from hickory shafts to steel.
Driver heads would balloon to their current maxed-out size of 460 cc. The power game that had first been glimpsed with the ascendency of Duval and Tiger Woods would sweep the sport. The game was changing, but how much so wouldn't be obvious until the end of the aughts.
On May 2, 2010, Ryo Ishikawa, then 18, shot a final-round 58 to win the Crowns tournament in Japan. (He missed a 15-footer on the final green for a 57.) It was a stunning achievement but instantly dismissed by some because Nagoya Golf Club was a mere 6,545 yards and played to a par of 70.