Pursuit of the Hole-in-One

This article appeared in the Fall 2014 issue of New Jersey Golf News.

By John Focht

Approaching the 18th tee box, the sweat dripped down my forehead. The blisters on my hands stung as they pressed against the grip of my club. The summer sun beat down on me, and the course, as I looked at the 18th hole in the distance. I pulled my club back and struck the ball. As it left my club, I watched its travel in amazement as it headed with ease up the course and directly at the 18th hole. Could it be? Yes, it was a hole-in-one on the 18th hole, and a spot on golf’s immortality list, or at least a free game. Yep, the hole-in-one on the 18th hole in miniature golf provides you with the distinct pleasure of another round of miniature golf, on them.

While my days on the miniature golf tour on the Ocean City boardwalk has provided me with countless hole-in-one moments, a real hole-in-one continues to elude me. The hole-in-one is to me as Moby Dick was Captain Ahab. It has taunted and conquered me. Like Moby Dick to Ahab, the hole-in-one has become my white whale.

But I am clearly not alone in my lifelong quest for the hole-in-one. The hole-in-one is to golfers as the perfect game is to baseball pitchers. While you might be in the zone and firing on all cylinders on certain days, most of the time it just comes down to making the moment. The hole-on-one is the ultimate ticket to immortality, and the easiest way to turn around your fortunes in a round. After all, if you shoot a 101 and hit a hole-in-one, no one will ever remember your eight bogeys on the afternoon, but they sure as heck will always remember “your hole”.

But is it really luck, or are talent and the will to succeed the driving factor in capturing one of golf’s greatest moments? After all, some of the greatest golfers in the world have never hit a hole-in-one, but many Sunday afternoon amateur golfers have their name on a plaque at their neighborhood pro shop for the world to see. It’s the place where their hole-in-one will live in infamy.

According to National Hole in One Insurance, skill has much more to do with a hole-in-one than actual luck. Although, I did not really need to look that stat up; all I needed to do was compare my career hole-in-one record of zero to Tiger Woods career hole-in-one record of 18 to understand that. In November 2013, Golf Digest reported the National Hole in One Insurance odds of a Pro Golfer getting a hole-in-one at 2500 to 1, while amateur golfer’s odds stood at 12,500 to 1. To further strengthen that point, Golf Digest reminds us that Tiger Woods captured his first hole-in-one at the tender age of 6, while Michelle Wie hit hers at the age of 12. I don’t think I captured my first miniature golf hole-in-one until at least the age of 12.

So, does it really take talent and skill to precisely hit a golf ball though the air at distances that range from anywhere from 70-75 yards upwards to 300 yards? It still seems pretty lucky, whether you are a professional or an amateur, to send a golf ball through the air at that distance and successfully find the bottom of the cup in one shot. But skill does play a huge part as professional golfers will almost always perfectly strike a ball. They have the skill, the back swing, the power, and the finesse that amateur golfers simply do not. Heck, amateur golfers have better odds of being struck by lightning or giving birth to twins than hitting a hole-in-one.

Despite the odds, I continue my pursuit of my white whale. Aside from the miniature golf courses, my pursuit has been scarce. I have not even golfed with anyone who has driven home a hole-in-one.

My closest personal venture to capturing my white whale was on a course ten years ago. The par 3 hole ran up a slight incline and had a small drop off the back of the green. The hole carried about 135 yards and the cup and the flag on that day were centered in the middle of the green.

On the tee box, I approached my ball with the least bit of confidence I would even carry it over the 50 yards of marsh that sat in the middle of the fairway. But as my iron struck the ball, something felt different. The strike of the ball was perfect. The swing, the sound, and the feel of the impact of the golf ball felt like no other ball I had ever struck. I lifted my head to find my ball perfectly sailing through the air like a bird gliding overhead. My ball was in flight, carrying perfectly toward the dead-center of the green. It hit the front of the green and rolled. My group held its collective breath as we watched as my ball roll directly toward the pin and disappear. “It’s in the hole!” the one member of my group exclaimed. For that brief moment I had done it. My pursuit of the white whale was complete, and I had etched my name on golf’s immortality list. This would be forever known as “my hole.”

As we strode to the green, I witnessed the other three golf ball lay about the green like carcasses knowing that my ball was at the bottom of the cup. But as I got closer to the hole, and the back of the green came into view, there lay my ball, ten yards beyond the hole. It had rolled down the back edge of the green. It left our view from the tee box not because I had hit a hole-in-one, but because my ball rolled off the back edge, out of view from the tee box. My white whale had eluded me yet again.

It’s unknown if Captain Ahab actually captured Moby Dick or simply plunged to his death in his quest of the great whale. The pursuit of the hole-in-one has taken down plenty of golfers. Several have persevered and conquered, while others have sunk to the great depths of their favorite courses never to be heard from again.