Tales From The Vault: Al Geiberger’s 59
Looking back at the Sports Illustrated story from 1977 on Geiberger's legendary round
Phil Mickelson spent most of Thursday afternoon chasing one of sports’ most hallowed numbers: 59.
Only five players in PGA Tour history have posted that low a single-round score, yet Mickelson came agonizingly close to joining them (or even surpassing them) in the opening round of the Waste Management Phoenix Open. He’d posted a 52 through 16 holes, needing just a birdie on one of the final two holes to match the record — or birdies on both to set the new mark. Yet a pair of close missed putts cost Mickelson in his bid for history and he “settled” for a 60. (His caddy’s reaction says it all.)
Others to post a 59 in tour-sanctioned events are Chip Beck, David Duval, Paul Goydos and Stuart Appleby. The first — and the name most widely associated with the accomplishment — was Al Geiberger, when the Red Bluff, Calif., native shot a bogey-free round of six pars, 11 birdies and one eagle in the second round of the Danny Thomas Memphis Classic on June 10, 1977. What makes Geiberger’s accomplishment even more impressive is that he did it with balata balls, blade irons and persimmon woods that didn’t carry the yardage of today’s clubs.
Here’s a look at Charles Gillespie’s story on Geiberger’s history-making round from the June 20, 1977 issue of Sports Illustrated.
The overzealous were comparing Geiberger’s feat to man’s first walk on the moon, then withdrawing the comparison because so much technology and outside assistance were involved in the moon walk. The merely awestruck were calling it one of the most significant athletic achievements of the century, like perfect games and four-minute miles and seven-foot high jumps and Lone Eagles and the first dog to fetch a stick without complaining.
An incredible footnote from Geiberger’s round: he managed to pick up 17 strokes on the first-day leader, Tom Storey, who shot a 76.