The excited babble of voices on the 18th tee at Linden Hall golf course in Dawson, Pa., floated over to the 17th green. "Hey, come here, you've got to see this! This is unbelievable!" It was, too. Jack Pulford was crouched on one knee, his nose practically touching the grass. He looked like a zoologist sizing up a rare species of earthworm.
"Angelo drove his ball into the ground!" said Pulford. "I've never seen anything like it." Indeed, Angelo Spagnolo's Maxfli DDH was embedded three inches into the soft sod, just in front of the green tee from which it had been jackhammered. Spagnolo stood off to the side, shaking his head, a rueful grin on his face. Having people marvel over his golf shots is not new to Spagnolo.
"I do have a tendency to come down on the ball with my driver," he said. Several holes earlier, in fact, Spagnolo had come down so hard with his Power-Pod driver that the pod became dislodged from the shaft and flew 70 yards down the fairway. "We have a measurement on the pod," said Spagnolo, "but we never found the ball."
Yes, America's four Worst Avid Golfers—WAGs as they now call themselves—are still making unscheduled excavations on golf courses throughout America. Remember them? Golf Digest threw them together two years ago after a nationwide search to find four golfers who loved the game and pursued it avidly, but whose scores approximated those of an above-average bowler (SI, July 1, 1985). In addition, the Un-Fab-Four had to know they were bad and possess a sense of humor about their game. Such men are hard to find, but Golf Digest did remarkably well in choosing: Spagnolo, a retail grocer from Fayette City, Pa.; Pulford, a restaurant owner from Moline, Ill.; Kelly Ireland, an attorney from Tyler, Texas; and Joel Mosser, a stockbroker from Denver.
September 27, 1987
The WAGs made their debut in June 1985 at a memorable 18-hole death march (sanctioned, surprisingly, by the PGA) at Sawgrass, the Tournament Players Club in Ponte Vedra, Fla. They played from the back tees under official PGA rules, accompanied by a gallery of about 200 people who didn't know whether to laugh or cry. The seven-hour tournament fell somewhere between a comedy revue and a public flogging. Ireland was low man at 179, followed by Mosser (192), Pulford (208) and Spagnolo (257), who drew most of the attention for the 66 he recorded on Sawgrass's "island hole," the par-3 17th. After dropping his first drive into the drink, the grocer plunked 26 more balls into the lake before playing around the water and putting up the cart path. "I always tell Ange he took a dive," says Pulford, who had had fourth place in his grasp before Spagnolo's historic 66. "On that day, I should have been the worst."
The idea of actually seeking out and promoting bad golf drew criticism in some golfing circles, but for the most part the idea was well received. As advertised, the WAGs were indeed avid golfers who took the game every bit as seriously as the scratch player. They just happened to be bad avid golfers. And they still are.
Seeing the promotional potential in their Sisyphean struggle, the WAGs have stayed together on an irregular basis since Sawgrass, playing in several tournaments a year for the benefit of various charities. To date, they estimate, they have raised about $175,000. The Linden Hall event in August, for example, was the third Worst Avid Golfers tournament organized by Spagnolo, and it raised about $50,000 for the Multiple Sclerosis Service Society of Pittsburgh. Pulford has chaired three charity events, one played in conjunction with the Hardee's Golf Classic in Coal Valley, Ill., for which his Moline restaurant, the Greenbriar Pub, serves as the WAGs' official watering hole. Ireland was a board member of the Eisenhower Invitational, a prestigious charity event at the attorney's home course, Hollytree Country Club. Hollytree hasn't recovered from the WAGs' assault, which included a misplayed Pulford iron shot that ricocheted off a tree and hit him in the head.
"Shall I get you an ambulance?" said a concerned Spagnolo. "Get me a beer," said Pulford.
The WAGs are surprised, delighted and somewhat benumbed by their celebrity. They don't expect red-carpet treatment and, indeed, don't always get it—Phil Rodgers refused to let them participate in a clinic he gave at the Eisenhower—but most golfers, pros and fellow duffers, respect their perseverance. "The only difference between me and many other golfers," says Spagnolo proudly, "is that they quit and I didn't. And I won't." Pulford says that he will be 'shooting in the 80s by next year.
"As far as I was concerned, that first tournament was simply a round of golf at a course I wouldn't have otherwise had a chance to play," says Spagnolo, who frequently adds a tiny 66 to his signature, "but look what's happened. I have been invited to 50 or 60 different golfing events. I have met famous people. The London Daily Mail sent a reporter over to play a round with me and write a story about it. I have been through the Golf Digest school. Four guys who would not have met each other have become best friends. And we have been able to do some good, raise some money. It changed my life forever." But has it changed your golf game, Ange? Are you and the other WAGs any better? "Well, I don't know, really," said Spagnolo, holding forth at a cocktail party that preceded the Linden Hall tournament. "I think I am, a little. But sometimes I still do the craziest things. Like during today's practice round. I skulled a sand wedge that went screaming across a parking lot, heading right for one of those expensive vans. I mean that thing took off like...."
"Oh, there's no question we're better," says Pulford, who claims to have broken 100 twice in his quest for the 80s. "If we went back and played the TPC tomorrow, I guarantee there wouldn't be a 200 in the bunch."
In all likelihood three of the WAGs are better, the exception being Ireland, who doesn't play as much as the others. But only a little better. They are still the delightful dukes of dufferdom, capable of making extraordinarily bad shots and disproving, with every club in their professional-looking bags, the axiom that practice makes perfect.
Here are their scores at Linden Hall, a moderately difficult public course: Mosser was low WAG with 116, followed by Pulford (126), Spagnolo (132) and Ireland (136). The tournament was played from the back tees, "just so Angelo could watch other people suffer," as Pulford put it.
A long-driving contest preceded the tourney and—lo and behold—Spagnolo and his then-intact Power-Pod finished fifth with a 209-yard effort. Had there been a prize for deepest drive, of course, Angelo would have been a mortal lock.