As a 30-year-old pro at Orchard Lake Country Club in Michigan, I qualified for the 1994 PGA by tying for third in the '93 National Club Pro Championship. Then I herniated a disk, and it hurt like hell to swing. I couldn't practice much, but there was no way I was going to miss my chance to play with the big-timers at Southern Hills.
I tried to keep it in play, but the injury had stolen my mojo. I shot 87--88 and missed the cut by 30. The psychological agony was worse than the physical pain, and it was only just beginning. When I got back to my hotel room, I turned on SportsCenter, and there was Keith Olbermann making wisecracks about me: "George Bowman, with the highest two-round total in PGA history, ha-ha!" I was bad, but had I been that bad? I checked the record book. As far as I could tell, two others had equaled my level of futility, and four other players had done worse. Somehow, though, that didn't keep Olbermann and ESPN from making me the joke of the week.
Over the ensuing months the humiliation and my aching back made me think about quitting the game. Pete Rose talked me out of it. Pete and I had been playing together some that summer, and he said, "You're embarrassed? You looked bad on TV? Hell, I've been in prison. You can try again, can't you?"
After Pete challenged me, I rehabbed my back and qualified for the 1996 PGA Championship at Valhalla. In the first round at the 3rd hole, a 199-yard par-3, I hit a four-iron that rolled into the cup. With one swing I'd gone from joke of the week in '94 to CNN's Play of the Week in '96. I wound up shooting 72--74 and missing the cut by a stroke, but the PGA sent me a Waterford Crystal decanter set to commemorate my ace. I felt redeemed.
August 22, 2010
Until five years later, before the 2001 U.S. Open, when Golf Digest ran a chart of stats from previous events at Southern Hills. There I was: "Club pro George Bowman from Michigan shoots 87--88—11 strokes higher than the previous worst-ever PGA score." The story was getting less accurate. Now those words worst ever seemed inscribed on me like an ugly tattoo. I wrote to Golf Digest demanding a correction. I'm still waiting.
Looking back, I wouldn't trade my PGA high- and lowlights for anything less than a Wanamaker Trophy. And every year I keep an eye on the club professionals to see who'll be the first to match my record. My real record. In the 94-year history of the PGA Championship, I've got the only ace made by a guy who never played on Tour.
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