Ace Venturer: One man's futile quest for a hole-in-one

Hole In One Pic

The older I get, the more I am resigned to not accomplishing certain things.

Things that my younger, more quixotic self assumed were not just possible but probable. Things that were meant to occur at that intersection of opportunity and destiny.

Climbing Mount Everest, for example. That’s not going to happen now. Too expensive. Learning Mandarin. Nope. Too time-consuming. Seeing Scotland win the World Cup. Ha! Too far-fetched.

Age, I have realised, doesn’t deprive you of experiences so much as calibrate your expectations. The innocence of youth gives way to wizened pragmatism. I guess that’s what separates bucket lists from shopping lists.

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All of which is why I have come to accept – reluctantly, might I add – that I will probably never have a hole-in-one. I’ve weighed it up, considered all the factors, both in isolation and in sum, and concluded that it’s just not going to happen for me.

I’m 38 and I’ve been playing golf for a long time. To date, the closest I’ve come to an ace was on the par-3 15th at Seafield Golf Course in Ayr, where my ball finished up about a foot from the hole. That was nine years ago.

Never have I hit the pin, nor lipped out. Not once have I felt my pulse quicken at the sight of my ball tracking towards the hole. I’d even settle for a “here now, that’s got a chance” from one of my playing partners. Alas, no.

A decent(ish) 8-iron that pitched nicely before running out of steam is the best I can point to from hundreds of rounds of golf. In the grand scheme of things, that’s not even close.

Recently, I met an old friend for lunch. It was our first time catching up since before the pandemic and, like so many others, he used the time afforded to him by furlough to play more golf. It was during those masked-up months of fear, uncertainty and doubt that he had his first-ever hole-in-one. Ye Gods, how he relished recounting every detail for me.

He was between clubs but “something told him” to go with an easy six instead of an everything-you’ve-got seven; the wind was a little more off the left than usual; he caught it a little thin (yeah, sure) but started it on precisely the line he’d wanted; he saw it the whole way; and because the clubhouse was shut (COVID, remember?), he didn’t even have to buy a round of drinks.

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That’s the abridged version. The full story took a good – if ‘good’ is indeed the word – twenty minutes. He’s one of my best friends and I love him like a brother but I wanted to drown him in his pint of Carlsberg. Not because he took forever to tell the story but because he has the story to tell. I can’t deny it, I’m jealous. Yes, it’s an ugly trait. Yes, it’s a wasted emotion. But I feel it. Had my pal gone on much longer, he’d have felt it too, believe me.

As I write, Miguel Angel Jimenez has just had two holes-in-one in the same tournament, the greedy swine. This, you may or may not be aware, is the same Miguel Angel Jimenez who holds the record for most aces on the European Tour. Ten, he’s had. Bloody TEN!

That, though, is nothing compared to Norman Manley, an amateur golfer from California who reportedly had 59 holes-in-one in a 15-year period between 1964 and 1979.

The former aircraft designer’s fluky exploits even earned him a feature in Sports Illustrated and a “letter” from Snoopy in the iconic comic strip ‘Peanuts’. Giving a cartoon beagle cause to congratulate me on the quality of my ball-striking is the sort of exaltation I can only dream of.

I have, in fact, on more than one occasion, done just that. I had a vivid dream some years ago in which I had a hole-in-one on the first at St Andrews. Evidently, my subconscious has a sense of humour choosing a par-4.

As I recall, I managed it in front of Ant and Dec, who came rushing onto the green to interview me about it for one of their abominable Saturday night TV shows. It was as the crowd began to chant my name – “Mi-chael! Mi-chael! Mi-chael!” – that I awoke, ace-less once more.

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I’ve spent some time researching holes-in-one. Estimations vary but the consensus is that the average player’s odds of managing it are around 12,500 to one. It’s around 2,500 to one for professionals. At a rate of, say, four par-3s per course, we’re talking more than 3,000 rounds just to test the statistical probability. That’s the equivalent of a round per day, every day, for the next eight years. You can see why I’m sceptical.

Of course, there are reasons to be optimistic. Some studies insist that, on average, you must have played golf for at least 24 years before chalking up your first hole-in-one. I’m a good six years shy of that. It has also been reported that 60% of all holes-in-one recorded in the UK are by golfers aged 50 and over. Time is apparently on my side.

Talent, however, is not, So, Lady Fortune, it’s over to you.

What is it they say? “Better to be lucky than good”? Oh, how I’d love to find out.

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This article first appeared in issue 192 of bunkered (March 2022). Click here for our latest subscription offer. International subscriptions also available.

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