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Two months later Paul Goydos turned up for the John Deere Classic, a few weeks removed from his 46th birthday. He was in his 18th season on Tour, having earned only two victories but a lot of admirers with his glib sensibilities and throwback, ball-control game. Goydos turned pro two years before Beck's 59, and his configuration of TaylorMade clubs was a testament to how much the game had changed: Whereas Beck carried a one-iron, Goydos had nothing lower than a four. He carried (and still does) two hybrids, two wedges and a driver with a 44½-inch shaft. For his 59 he used a Titleist Pro V1, the gold standard of solid-core balls, which was introduced in October 2000.
Goydos had little reason to feel optimistic about his chances at the Deere—he had missed the cut in six of his 13 previous starts. The 7,257-yard, par-71 TPC Deere Run had been softened by rain, leading to lift, clean and place. Goydos caught another break; he was sent off in the second group of the day, on flawless greens. He birdied two of the first four holes and then made a key par at the 5th. Goydos is old enough to have learned the game before square grooves were popularized. Last year he was happy to go back to the less aggressive grooves because "the flyer helps you sometimes." On the 5th hole he hit a "really dumb" drive into the right rough. He had 160 yards to the flag. "With square grooves I couldn't have gotten a seven-iron to the green. With the V-grooves I caught a flyer and knocked it on." He salvaged a par, then birdied the next two holes with 40 feet of putts, making the turn in four-under 31.
And then all heaven broke loose: eight birdies on the back nine, including the final three holes. Goydos's shotmaking included a "chippy" 102-yard nine-iron on 10 and an adrenaline-fueled 173-yard seven-iron on the 18th to seven feet. "I played good and shot 59," Goydos said, "but I could have played good and shot 65. There's something going on that's maybe a little unexplainable." Actually, it was quantifiable: For the day he made 187½ feet of putts. (Duval needed barely a third of that.) Goydos's 13 holed putts of longer than five feet tied the most for any player in any round since the arrival of ShotLink in 2003.
"It always comes down to the putting, doesn't it?" says Geiberger, momentarily overlooking Duval's 59.
Goydos said he was speechless to have shot such an iconic number, but the euphoria was diminished somewhat when he showed up for his second round to find himself four strokes out of the lead. That's because a few hours after Goydos's 59, Steve Stricker had fired a 60 and just kept going.
On July 8, 2010, Goydos and Stricker navigated a legit PGA Tour course in a combined 119 strokes; then the levee broke.
Sixteen days later Carl Pettersson shot a 60 at the Canadian Open that included a bogey on the 2nd hole and a 30-footer on the last that grazed the cup. Six days after that, at the Irish Open, Ross Fisher needed two birdies on his final four holes to become the first player to shoot 59 on the European tour, but he parred in. The next day two more players took a run at 59 at the PGA Tour's Greenbrier Classic, played in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va., on the 7,020-yard, par-70 Old White course. D.A. Points was 10 under par standing on the tee of the par-5 17th hole, but he made a soul-crushing bogey and settled for 61. J.B. Holmes shot a 60 that included a bogey on the 3rd hole, a lipped-out three-footer for birdie on 11 and a missed 10-footer for eagle on 17. Afterward he said, "Oh, yeah, there's definitely a 59 out there."
The following day Stuart Appleby made Holmes a prophet. The round fell into the familiar pattern: a hot start (28 on the par-34 front nine), a crucial mid-round burst (eagle at 12), a little lull as he contemplated the magnitude of the opportunity (pars on 13 through 15) and then a heroic finishing flourish (birdies on 16, 17 and 18). Like Duval, Appleby's 59 resulted in a one-stroke victory. He was asked if it was any less special as the first 59 to come on a par-70. "Look, I'll debate it with you," he said. "It is a number. I shot that number. Who says par is supposed to be 72?"
For Appleby the key blow was his eagle on the 568-yard 12th, which he reached with a four-iron despite clipping a tree with his drive. (Duval laid up on four of his five par-5s.) Appleby is more of a power player than Geiberger or Beck or Goydos, but he's hardly an animal off the tee. Still, Appleby rendered Old White defenseless. On the 440-yard 2nd hole he hit a nine-iron to 11 feet. On the 445-yard 16th he hit a "punchy" eight-iron to 15 feet. "Benign" was the word he used to describe the course.
The lengthening of classic tracks for major championships gets a lot of attention, but other Tour venues have not grown fast enough to keep up with advances in equipment, agronomy and fitness. Appleby, Duval and Beck shot 59s on courses that were shorter than Geiberger's, while Goydos's was basically the identical yardage. "In my day a 450-yard par-4 was a monster," says Beck. "It was something to be feared. Now that hole is driver-wedge." Appleby doesn't disagree. "When I showed up on Tour [in '96], there was long and very long, and I was long. Now there's long, very long and oh-my-God."