Most golfers treat their aces the way the do their grandchildren. They cherish them, tell stories about them to perfect strangers and they daydream about the glorious day when they can celebrate having another one.
Not Arnold Palmer. He treats his aces the way the rest of us treat a drawer full of old socks. Sure, there are some interesting pairs in there, but mostly there are neglected singles and evidence that more than a few might be lost to the laundry.
“"It's been a problem compiling Arnold's aces,” says long-time Palmer assistant Doc Giffin. As near as we can figure, he's had 20, but there might be more out there he's forgotten, like one in Cleveland.”
Palmer spent several golf-rich years in Cleveland as a lad stationed there at a Lake Erie U.S. Coast Guard base and later as a paint salesman and it was there, many years later, that one of Palmer’s orphan aces finally found a home in Palmer lore.
There was no mention of the Cleveland ace on the comprehensive list of Palmer holes-in-one included in “A Golfer’s Life” (Ballantine Books), the fine 1999 book Palmer co-wrote with James Dodson. It wasn’t until 2005 when Giffin says he heard from a friend who mentioned to him the time he was golfing with Palmer in 1953 and the Coast Guardsman knocked in an ace on the 160-yard 5th hole at Cleveland’s Pine Ridge Country Club. That well-struck wedge meant the shot wedged itself into the list as Palmer’s first out-of-state ace. His first two aces occurred on the dainty downhill second hole at Latrobe Country Club, the third at nearby Greensburg C.C. Those dates and details are lost to history.
Palmer’s not unlike other professional golfers in his neglectful recollection of the shot over which every amateur obsesses. Perhaps it’s because, as Lee Trevino says, the hole is where the professionals are aiming. They aren’t satisfied just landing on the green. They’re aiming right at the stick.
“I’ve had aces where people call me a lucky son of gun,” Trevino says. “Well, that’s where I was aiming. It would have been lucky if I’d have been aiming at the big bunker on the right and wound up in the hole.”
It’s likely Palmer can obsessively recall with detailed clarity something about each of his 92 victories because that’s what matters most. But if he ever took the time to really reflect on his aces, he’d probably be pretty impressed. Everyone else is.
Many of his aces are marvels -- and that’s doesn’t include the ones that didn’t count.
He had one on the 238-yard par 3 17th at Bay Hill after a club dispute with an impudent caddie nicknamed TomCat.TomCat had insisted a 3 iron was the right club. Given the distance and the wind, Palmer thought it ought to be a 2, but relented and wound up leaving the ball short in the drink. Instead of a drop, he grabbed the 2, re-teed and knocked the mulligan right at the stick. As the ball rolled into the cup for par the really hard way, Palmer shot the caddie an I-told-ya-so glare. But TomCat remained unbowed. “He just stared back at me and said, ‘No, suh, you hit dat 2 iron fat,’” Palmer says.
His ace distances range from 122 to 245 yards for a total of 3,305 yards or about 1.8 miles of unbroken magic. He’s had aces in 11 different states, two countries, during six months with every standard club except driver and putter.
As for trivia, it’s marginally interesting stuff. Certainly not enough to ignite any post-round banter at the local tavern. But how about this?
He had three aces in 1965, in March, May and September. His longest ace drought was 13 years between number nine from September 1966 (a Wilmington, Delaware, exhibition with Jack Nicklaus) to his tenth on September 27, 1979, on the number two hole at Bay Hill’s Charger course.
His most recent? At Bay Hill’s Charger No. 7 two months after his 82nd birthday in 2011.
His shortest? A mere 24 hours.
That was September 2-3, 1986, during the Chrysler Cup Pro-Am at the TPC at Avenel in Potomac, Maryland. He aced the 182 yard 3rd hole on consecutive days, a feat that was never done before or since in professional golf. The Washington Post’s Tom Boswell celebrated the sensation thus: “On Tuesday, Arnold Palmer made a hole in one. Yesterday, he returned and made a hole in a million.” Boswell calculated Palmer’s played more than 40,000 par 3s and had made “only” 13 aces, and figures the odds of him acing the same hole twice in a row exceed 10 million-to-1.
What might be most remarkable is that 66 percent of the aces -- 8 of 15 -- whose dates are verifiable occurred in September, with five of those being struck between September 3 through 7. In fact, nearly every day in September he’s done something worth celebrating. Besides his September 10, 1929, birthday, he also carded his best ever, a 60, at Latrobe on September 13, 1969.
So even a casual student of probability and statistics might want to unfold a lawn chair on September 6 near the second green at Latrobe Country Club. He’s celebrated aces on September 6 twice before, once in 1965 in Tennessee and again in 1997 when he aced Latrobe’s second for the fourth time.
Acing on the 6th at the second would be a tidy way to round off what may or may not be Arnold Palmer’s 21th career ace. Either way it doesn’t matter to him. Like socks, he doesn’t worry about the ones he’s lost, instead remaining forever optimistic he can always snag another one any old day.