What's in a golf number?

TIM MCKAY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:57 AM ET

There are certain numbers that taunt golfers.

The most sexy, of course, are Nos. 1 and 59.

There are many holes-in-one on the PGA Tour every year, but 59s are few and far between.

This season has been an anomaly, at least statistically, with two journeyman players firing rounds of 59, only the fourth and fifth such occurrences in the history of the PGA Tour.

The most recent, and first by a non-American, was a blistering 11-under-par in the final round of the Greenbrier Classic on Sunday by Australian Stuart Appleby. It came just three weeks after Paul Goydos posted the same score in the first round of the John Deere Classic.

The only other 59s in official PGA Tour events (it has been done in events such as qualifying school and U.S. Open qualifying) belong to Al Geiberger, Chip Beck and David Duval, but those feats were spaced over a span of 22 years. That there have been two 59s in the past month has surprised many, but not Dr. Doug Smith.

The clinical and sports psychologist, who has offices in Whitby and Cobourg, Ont., has worked with many top athletes, including several PGA Tour players. He says it's no accident when a player is able to shoot 59.

"That's what psychologists are working with athletes to do," says the cerebral Smith, himself an excellent golfer. "It's all planned, processed and strategized ... They need a little bit of luck and the right conditions, but they've been working on this for years."

We all know golfers are gifted physically, but it's the mental preparation that allows them to go super-low. And Smith says 90% of players now are using the services of a sports psychologist (not to be confused with an unlicensed sports consultant).

Smith says any golfer at the PGA Tour level is capable of shooting 59, it's the mental aspect that gets in the way.

"What Appleby did is a miracle. Shooting a 59 is a miracle anyway," he says.

He says Appleby likely was in a zone, "like a hypnotic trance."

"He would feel calm, cool, patient, and feel safe and secure."

It also likely helped that Appelby came into the final round seven strokes off the lead.

"He had a total go-for-broke attitude. In this zone, there is no fear, you can't lose."

Still, everything has to go right.

"The difference between 59 and 60 is a half-second sneeze," Smith says. "One stroke is so infantesimal it's almost ridiculous. We're talking about tiny, tiny little gradations in a mental process."

So why have there been two 59s carded this year, the first since Duval's in the final round of the 1999 Bob Hope Chrysler Classic? Smith has his theory on that, as well.

He says sports psychology is about teaching people to do a task focusing only on the variables in their control, almost like a machine.

Well, who's the only golfer you know of who has been compared to a machine? Smith thinks it no coincidence these low scores have coincided with Tiger Woods' absence and subsequent personal problems.

"When Tiger came out of the loop, these guys came out of the woodwork," he says. "He made them so damn nervous. You can't believe how intimidation is a factor.

"When the veneer has been taken off, there's no more mystery, he's not a machine anymore."

And with Tiger out of the picture, maybe some of the other golfers started to believe that they actually could win.

"They didn't believe in themselves. If you don't believe you're as as good as anyone in the world, it ain't gonna happen," Smith says.

"That's what Tiger was trained for from 13 to 23.

"He has lost the zone now, but it's amazing he was still in the zone when he was doing this stuff (extramarital affairs) and no one knew about it."

Smith says 59 is just a number and it will be lowered.

In fact, Ryo Ishakawa shot 58 on the Japan Tour earlier this season and a junior golfer, Bobby Wyatt, shot 57 (missing a putt for 56) last week at the Alabama State championship.

"Anybody can do it," Smith says. "There's a science and a method and once you learn that, you have to practise it and apply it."

Smith, whose website is pro-mind.ca,thinks 36 is doable.

"Roger Bannister could have never beaten the four-minute mile unless he thought it was possible."


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