Greg Hansen: Rare feat in golf: Tucsonan shoots 59

2013-08-15T00:00:00Z Greg Hansen: Rare feat in golf: Tucsonan shoots 59Greg Hansen Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
August 15, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Fourteen years after Willie Kane shot a 58 at the old Randolph South Golf Course, I listened, spellbound, as he recounted every shot, with immediate recall of the clubs he used and the distances of each birdie putt.

"Sometimes at night when I can't get to sleep," he said, "I replay that round, hole-by-hole, and I always fall asleep before the back nine."

You want to dream? Shoot a 58.

There is no smart phone-video, not even a still photograph to capture Kane's historic moment. And because Randolph South was reshaped into the Dell Urich Golf Course, the old scorecard no longer hangs in the pro shop.

Now I hit a computer button and punch up "Mike Russell 59." That's it. Almost immediately, the drama and tension of a golfer treading on hallowed ground is transmitted via your laptop.

It is Willie Kane in 1989 captured for posterity.

"Mike made a 40-foot birdie putt at 16, and when we got to the 17th tee, he said, 'I need an eagle and a birdie to shoot 59,'" says Brent Newcomb, golf pro at the Stone Canyon Club and part of Russell's Saturday afternoon foursome. "I hadn't been thinking about 59 until that moment. I mean, when do you play with someone who has a chance to shoot 59? Even I got nervous then."

It's not that Mike Russell hadn't gone ridiculously low before. He won 2010 and 2011 PGA Southwest Section, Southern Chapter championships, the top pro Tucson among pros. He had shot 64 at Stone Canyon, his course, where he is director of golf operations. He had been a standout college golfer at Boise State and played dozens of sub-par rounds in minitours and pro-ams everywhere from St. Andrews to Pebble Beach.

But when he stepped to the 17th tee Saturday afternoon, 10-under par, he had taken 54 stokes. Not a bogey on the card. This was entirely new territory.

"Nothing I hit was ever 'oh, oh, get down,'" Russell remembers. "It was strange because, leading up to the day, nothing had happened to make me think 'today's going to be a great day.'"

How's this for greatness? On the 17th tee, with tension mounting, Russell hit a utility club 274 yards on the tricky par-4. The ball rolled to within 4 feet of the cup. As if on demand, the eagle half of his eagle-birdie finish was booked.

He went to the 18th tee 12-under par.

At the finishing hole, Newcomb wasn't sure if the proper demeanor was to keep a distance between himself and Russell, sort of like baseball teammates avoiding a pitcher during a no-hitter. But this wasn't a no-hitter; it was a perfect game.

Russell's tee shot at 18, a safe three iron, was dead straight, leaving 183 yards to the pin. At that moment, Dr. Mike Virro, who regularly plays in Russell's Stone Canyon foursomes, took out his smart phone and began to video the drama. Virro even began to narrate an impromptu play-by-play.

"I didn't know what to think," says Newcomb. "At first I thought it might mess with Mike, mess with the flow. I was taken aback."

Russell hit his approach shot to within 16 feet of the pin. No mess.

Once the group reached the green and putts had been measured, nobody moved nor made a sound. For 12 seconds, Russell stood over a 16-foot putt.

When do you get to be part of, or witness, a sports moment like that?

The YouTube video lasts 55 seconds, but for Mike Russell it will endure forever. After the putt at 18 dropped - Russell had an insanely low total of 23 putts - he dropped his putter, threw off his hat and sprinted to the back of the green. He jumped and punched the air.

Then he retrieved the ball and kissed it.

He had shot 31-28-59. He had two eagles and nine birdies.

"I kept thinking, 'did that really happen?'" he says now. "I've had days when I hit the ball almost as well as I did on Saturday, but I never converted on all of those putts, whether it be 4 feet or 18 feet. It's hard to fathom."

Russell became the sixth man in Tucson history to break 60. It's an elite list that began in 1977 when five-time Tucson City Amateur champion Armen Dirtadian shot 59 at Randolph South. Kane was next, a dozen years later.

By 2000, PGA Tour regular Rich Barcelo shot 59 at the relatively new Arizona National, bettered three years later, when Arizona All-American Chris Nallen shot 58 on the same course during a UA practice round.

In 2010, Skyline Country Club pro Chris Dompier chipped in for a birdie on the 18th hole at his home course, shooting 59. Now Russell makes it a Big Six.

"I've told Mike for years he could do it, break 60," says Newcomb. "I played with him when he shot 64 there, but I've never seen anybody hit the ball as well as he did Saturday. I don't know if it's possible to hit it any better. I'm glad we got it on video."

Ironically, Russell did not play in this week's Chapter Championships (won by Newcomb). He chose to stay at the pro shop and work.

"I'm almost afraid to play again," he says with a laugh. "How do you back up a round like that?"

Contact columnist Greg Hansen at ghansen@azstarnet.com or 573-4362. On Twitter @ghansen711

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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