Golfers are a cynical group, a condition attributable to their frustrations. Perhaps no other game finds appeal from the notion that perfection never is to be attained or, once briefly experienced, never to be repeated. The vagaries of the swing confound the most accomplished, while the less gifted remain convinced that bone and muscle conspire to make them appear foolish. Gusts of wind baffle well-struck shots. Balls take peculiar bounces. And what golfer never has railed at the putt that wobbled?
Yet on a magic autumn afternoon in 1971 none of these tragic things happened to Tom Doty, at least not for a long while, and when his round was over he had not only the best golf story of the year but perhaps the best of all time. For. during a four-hole stretch that unseasonably mild afternoon last November, he was the most talented golfer in the world. What Doty did that day defies credibility, and the feat well may have doomed his career. The mind cries out in protest, but he has witnesses and little apparent motive for deception.
On successive holes the 22-year-old assistant golf professional holed out a three-wood shot, a drive, a four-wood shot and a nine-iron shot. He went 2-1-1-2 with a double eagle, back-to-back holes in one and an eagle. And he may go through life burdened with his accomplishment, shadowed by whispers, for who among knowing golfers will believe him, and how can he hope ever to equal, much less surpass, the feat?
Manny Kantor, Peter Orofino, Harry Robbins and Frank LaPuzza always will believe him. They were playing that day with Doty at the Brookwood Country Club, located in the small Chicago suburb of Wood Dale, Ill., not far from O'Hare International Airport. These four businessmen, all in their middle 50s and 60s and longtime golfers, serve as testimony to the best golf ever recorded.
Doty finished with a round of 59, 13 under par on the 36-36—72, 6,435-yard course. But his final score means little. Homero Blancas once shot a 55 while an amateur. The fact is, there is no known precedent for what Doty accomplished during that one remarkable four-hole stretch.
The round came on a Wednesday, shortly before Tom was to leave for a try at the winter tour in Florida, and it started innocuously enough with a bogey on the 3rd hole, where Doty joined the foursome of members. It hardly seemed possible that this would turn into the kind of game Doty fashioned in the pro-member tournament four months earlier. That time he set a course record with a 64.
Now at the 500-yard, par-5 4th hole Doty hit a solid drive down the left side of the fairway. "It was a fantastic drive," says LaPuzza, a 62-year-old bookstore owner. "My second shot was just a little bit ahead of his first." Doty pulled out a three-wood, aimed over a clump of 12 evergreen trees on the left and sailed a shot that seemed to explode off the club face. The ball hit just in front of the green, took a couple of hops and rolled into the cup for a double eagle.
The 5th hole at Brookwood is a weak par-4, 360 yards by the card, but it is a dogleg left, and plays less than that. A big hitter can carry a series of mounds and a bunker well out from the tee and put the ball on the green. With a strong wind at his back, Doty went for it.
"It's either on the green or close," Orofino said to Robbins as Doty's shot hooked toward the flag.
As they approached the hole and noticed that the ball was not visible, Kantor said: "I got a hunch. I wouldn't be a bit surprised if that ball went into the hole." And there it was, nestled at the bottom of the cup. Doty had played the previous hole with another ball, but after the double eagle he had put it back in his golf bag as a trophy. He did the same with this one.
As the group stood on the 6th tee, the golfers did not discuss the prospects of another hole in one. For one thing, the favoring wind of the 5th hole had shifted direction, and was now in their faces. And although the 6th is only 170 yards long, a par 3, the cup that day was near the back of the green. Doty took a four-wood from his bag to combat the wind.
"It hit a foot and a half in front of the hole," remembers Doty. His view of the tee shot was hampered by a bright sun, but he suspected what had happened, and it scared him. He said, "You guys go up there. I'm not going because I think I hit it in the hole."
The four older men jumped into their golf carts and tooled ahead, like armored-car drivers on a reconnaissance mission, and boisterously verified that the ball had found the cup for Doty's third consecutive miracle shot. So this ball went into the golf bag, too.
The back-to-back aces were among the few ever reported, an extraordinary achievement for a man who as a highschooler in Davenport, Iowa had not been good enough to make the golf team. As the five reached the 7th tee they seemed beside themselves, laughing and shouting. The 7th, like the 5th, is 360 yards long and, as Doty's playing companions well knew, he had on occasions before driven the hole. As he addressed his tee shot the older men crouched behind him, urging him to commit further madness. They wanted another hole in one.
"My mind was just gone. I didn't know what I was doing," Doty remembers. "It was like having a putt for $50,000. I couldn't even take the club back. I had to walk away and set up to it again and just try to hit it on instinct." He almost smothered the ball, driving it about 220 yards into the left rough, perilously close to some small trees that speckle the area.
For his second shot Doty used a nine-iron. "I had to hit the ball over a large tree and let the wind carry it onto the green," he recalls. The ball floated over the tree, nestled onto the green and trickled into the cup.
"My God, it's in," said Orofino.
"Right about then I was ready to put my clubs away or sell them and take up some other sport," Doty says. Instead, he played the next hole, making, of all things, a par. He played erratically after that, missing six of the ensuing seven greens, but he chipped up close enough to save his par on the ragged holes and even pushed an eight-foot birdie putt in on the 11th.
Doty also birdied the 15th, 16th and 17th holes, sinking short putts for the first two birds, chipping in from 15 feet for the third. The fact that he chipped and putted so well throughout the round is no accident. He frequently spends his summer nights practice putting on the 18th green at Brookwood, his labors lit by the lights of a nearby parking lot. And in his small apartment, which adjoins the club's golf shop, Doty often amuses himself by chipping golf balls into makeshift practice nets, interrupting the routine for morning and evening calisthenics.
The assistant professional bogeyed the 18th hole, three-putting from 10 feet by missing a one-foot putt, then went to the first tee to play the two holes he had skipped on the front side. He eagled the first hole, sinking a sand shot from the left bunker on the short par-5 hole. At the par-4 2nd he hit a bad four-iron approach to the left of the green, half-fluffed a chip shot into a bunker, blasted out and sank a 3½-foot putt for a bogey.
For 15 holes Doty was 16 under par; he bogeyed the remaining three holes. During the entire round, he used only 15 putts, and 10 of those came on the back nine.
Doty must contend with suspicion when he discusses the round. There is an inclination to interrogate rather than question him and his companions about the happenings that day. But there is nothing in his background to suggest chicanery. In fact, he has been known to call penalties on himself as well as his partners even in obscure pro-am tournaments.
"It's hard to believe," agrees Tom's boss, Emil Esposito, the Brookwood club professional. "I've been playing golf since I was 9 years old. But he's got four members with him."
Esposito is a past Illinois Open champion. He was one of the golfers who held the course record of 65 before Doty broke it. Gary Player was another. "They don't believe it," says Esposito of people's reaction to his assistant's round. "Ninety-nine percent don't believe it. But if you went to sleep and dreamed of shooting 59, you wouldn't shoot 59 that way: 2-1-1-2. You have to go by the man's honesty and you have to go by the members. You got four guys who play golf and Tom, and you got to go by their honesty. That's the way I look at it. And I'll always look at it that way."
Doty was using a new grip, one that basically left the right thumb and forefinger off the shaft of the club. But golfers searching for a plausible explanation to the Super Round never will accept a simple, secret grip as the answer. No, something out of the ordinary took place that day on the outskirts of Chicago. For a brief period of time a man conquered golf.