The Lowest Rounds Ever in Golf
Article by Derek Clements
A LONG time ago in a galaxy far, far away I once shot a round of 79 in a junior medal at my home golf club, Kirkhill, on the outskirts of Glasgow. Nothing remarkable about that, you might think until you learn that my handicap at the time was 23.
It meant that I recorded a net score of 56. To my knowledge, it remains the lowest net score ever recorded at the club in a men’s, women’s or junior competition. My reward was to have my handicap cut to nine and to be informed that I would now be allowed to play in men’s medals at the age of 14. You will be relieved to know that I never again got close to a 56. I never again got close to breaking 60, which is exactly how it should have been.
Years later, while a member at Waldringfield Golf Club, near Woodbridge in Suffolk, I enjoyed a purple patch after turning 60 and saw my handicap cut in a flash from 11.2 to 7.1. It was a shock, but I felt good about myself because it meant that even at my advanced age I had found a way to improve. I struggled to play to my new handicap, just as I had struggled to play off nine from the men’s tees at Kirkhill all those years earlier. But at least I could no longer be described as a bandit.
And make no mistake about it. When I was 14 years old I knew that I had no right to be playing off a 23 handicap. I knew that I was a much better golfer than that. But I honestly and truly didn’t have many opportunities to play competitively back then. So I would head out after school and play with some friends and routinely thrash them. I wasn’t popular but I knew that I would have to face the music one day, and it happened on the day I shot my 79. A round, by the way, that I can still recall like it was yesterday. And a round that should have been three shots better.
Over the years, much has been done to try to make the handicap system fairer. By and large, it has worked, but every now and again somebody will do something on a golf course that just leaves you agape by achieving something so special that you end up doing a double-take just to make sure you read it right. And then you read it again.
If you didn’t watch the final-round action at the 2019 Canadian Open you may have found yourself struggling to believe that Rory McIlroy won with a closing round of 61 that included dropped shots at two of his three closing holes. He could have won with a 59. He had to settle for a 61? A 61? That is nothing.
Round of 57!
Step forward Alex Ross, a 20-year-old American college student. He was playing in the Dogwood Invitational, a men’s amateur event at Druid Hill Golf Club in Atlanta. It is not the most difficult golf course on the planet. Webb Simpson shot a course-record 60 during a practice round in 2007, then shot consecutive 63s to win the event. Rory Hie shot the competitive course record with a 62 in the final round in 2008 to win the event. Brian Harman won with a closing 66 in 2009, Michael Johnson with a 64 in 2013 and Nate McCoy with a 65 in 2011. The winner’s final-round score in the past decade has been no worse than a four-under 68.
Ross shot a one-over par 73 in the morning. Nothing to write home about. Just a half-decent round of golf from a young man who had never previously shot anything better than a 67. What Ross had for lunch is not recorded but whatever it was, we should all be taking it for what he did in the afternoon is the stuff of pure fantasy.
He went out and shot a 15-under-par round of 57, recording an astonishing 13 birdies and an eagle in the process. He reached the turn in 30 and came home in 27. He had seven birdies and an eagle on the back nine. His round was 16 shots better than his effort in the morning. There was no sign of such a score coming. This season, Ross had started in 11 tournaments and had a 73.03 scoring average. He had not win an event, but did have four top-10 finishes. However, Ross’ best career college score was just a 67.
Oh, and Ross didn’t even win the Dogwood Invitational. He had opened with a 75 and his incredible 57 left him in a tie for ninth after three rounds. He followed it with a 70 and finished eight shots behind the winner, Brandon Mancheno, who had rounds of 69-68-65-65. The thing is - nobody will remember Mancheno. Everybody will remember Ross and his miraculous round of golf.
In the pantheon of low numbers, Ross’ round racks up with any score at any level. The record low score on the PGA Tour was a 58 from Jim Furyk at the Travelers Championship in 2017. Stephan Jaeger shot a 58 on the Web.com Tour and Ryo Ishikawa shot a 58 on the Japan Tour. Bobby Wyatt shot a 57 during a round at the Alabama Boys Junior in 2010.
Many top Tour players retain handicaps at their home clubs. For the record Bubba Watson plays off +7.7 at Isleworth Country Club in Florida, while Whisper Rock Golf Club in Arizona boasts many Tour pros as members, including Phil Mickelson (+5.2), Martin Kaymer (+6.6), Paul Casey (+6) and Geoff Ogilvy (+5.8).
Low handicaps are, of course, no guarantee that somebody will make it at the highest level. When German golfer Dominic Foos turned professional at the age of 16 he had a handicap of +6 but has largely disappeared without trace. It should provide young Master Ross with plenty of food for thought.
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