Another round of showers had pelted the venerable golf course the night before, washing out some of the bunkers and turning the pedestrian paths into quagmires. Oak Hill had been transformed into Soak Hill, and the 1989 U.S. Open was in danger of becoming one massive water hazard.
Amazingly, the ark-like conditions weren’t enough to deter Rochester’s golf diehards from making their appointed rounds that June 16th 30 springs ago. About 50 of the thousands of the spectators who sloshed through the muck and mire that misty morning for the prestigious tournament’s second round decided to plant themselves near the sixth green. Like real estate, golf spectating can be a case of location, location, location. Their decision to locate at that particular hole would be rewarded four times over as they witnessed something never achieved before and something likely never to be achieved again. This was the golf equivalent of lightening striking in the same spot four times in less than two hours.
At about 8:15 a.m., no-name golfer Doug Weaver pulled a 7-iron from his bag and prepared for his first shot. The flag on the par-3 hole was just 160 yards away, and downhill. The greens had been softened by a week’s worth of rain, so Weaver ascertained the best strategy would be to shoot past the pin and let the ball roll back toward the cup. Playing in the first group of the day, he followed through on his shot, and his strategy proved dead, solid, perfect as his dimpled Titleist behaved as instructed, hitting the green 10 feet above the flag and spinning slowly down the swale for a hole-in-one. The hardy, mud-caked souls near the green roared their approval, not realizing they were about to witness one of the wackiest and memorable two-hour stretches in the history of golf.
Roughly 70 minutes after Weaver’s ace, Mark Wiebe followed suit. Using a 7-iron. On the very same hole. Twenty-five minutes later, Jerry Pate would score another hole-in-one on the same hole with the same type of club. And about 15 minutes after that, Nick Price would equal their feat with—you guessed it—a 7-iron on No. 6. By that time, more than a thousand spectators had crammed the periphery of the hole, as word spread that history was repeating itself again and again and again.
Golf Digest magazine put the odds of four golfers sinking aces on the same hole on the same day at 332,000 to one. The National Hole-in-One Foundation said the chances were much slimmer than that, more like one in 8,750,000. That’s still much better than your odds were for winning the recent $350-million PowerBall lottery (one in 292,000,000), but still incredibly rare. The foundation also said statistically it would be another 190 years before the feat would be equaled. If that’s true, then future generations of golf fans might want to set up shop on the par-3 hole of the 2179 U.S. Open.
Although the 1989 Open is best remembered for Curtis Strange becoming the tournament’s first back-to-back champion since Ben Hogan in 1950-51, the four aces continue to be more than just a minor footnote at a major. Interestingly, in those pre-camera phone, pre-internet days, it wasn’t chronicled in still photographs or video. (ESPN’s coverage of the tournament didn’t begin that day until early afternoon.) The news wound up going viral the old-fashioned way: by word of mouth and wire-service stories.
Weaver showed up for his historic leadoff shot struggling mightily, already three-over-par through the first five holes. With one swing, he shaved two strokes off his score. The roar of the crowd after his ace was noticed by fans at adjoining holes, and soon the galleries around the sixth hole began to swell. When Wiebe showed up, a volunteer excitedly told him about Weaver’s ace and several close calls that followed. Wiebe decided to mimic Weaver’s above-the-pin strategy and imitation proved to be the sincerest form of flattery as he scored a hole-in-one and pulled his score back to par.
Pate heard the loud applause and quickly figured out what had happened. The winner of the 1976 U.S. Open also arrived at No. 6 two over par and told his caddie: “Hell, we might as well go for it.” Go for it, he did—with the same results. The rapidly growing gallery thundered its approval when the ball spun down the hill and into the cup. Pate remained calm, and merely smiled as he walked down the fairway to retrieve his ball. Playing partner David Graham grabbed Pate’s hat and threw it in the air. “Get excited, man,’’ Graham shouted. In reality, Pate was plenty excited. Later, he would tell reporters, “Other than winning the Open (in 1976), this is the greatest feeling I’ve had.”
When Price got to the hole, the marshal was jumping up and down, and telling him: “Everyone is making it today.” Price took his best shot, and was similarly rewarded. At a post-round press conference, John Morris of the United States Golf Association joked: “There won’t be any more holes-in-one there because we’re planting a tree there.”
Interestingly, none of the “Four Aces” would do much else of note at that Open. Wiebe finished tied for 33rd and Weaver tied for 69th, while Pate and Price missed the cut. Of the four, Price, a South African-born Zimbabwean, would go on to have the most illustrious career, winning three majors and induction in the World Golf Hall of Fame. Pate won eight times on tour, including that Open 13 years earlier, and would become a respected golf TV analyst and entrepreneur. Weaver has enjoyed success as an instructor, earning the nickname, “The Golf Whisperer.” And Wiebe wound up claiming two PGA Tour titles and five Champion Tour victories.
But, for as long as golf is played, this disparate foursome will be connected. They’ll be remembered for that soggy June morning when everything came up aces.
Best-selling author and nationally honored journalist Scott Pitoniak is the Rochester Business Journal sports columnist.