GOLF / MAL FLORENCE : Just Call Donna Duke 'the Queen of Aces'

The average golfer is just content to reach the green from the tee on a par-three hole. Expectations are considerably higher for Donna Duke.

"The last thing I want to hear when I'm on the tee is for someone to say, 'Let's see a hole in one.' Then, I try too hard," Duke said.

Duke, 60, a retired civil-service worker, has created her own pressure cooker. She has recorded 28 holes in one and reportedly has witnesses to verify each of them.

You don't believe it? Neither, perhaps, would Ripley. The odds of any golfer scoring a hole in one are 8,000 to 1.

But people who have seen her play say she has an uncanny knack of hitting the ball close to the hole, if not in.

Duke is aware that there will always be skeptics.

"If I had one or 28, I would run into that," she said. "But I get nothing out of this, nothing financially. What good would it do me to say that I've done it when I hadn't? I always have three to four golfers with me."

Duke was preparing to go on vacation to the island of Maui in Hawaii to play golf with friends. What else?

She is just grateful that she is even playing now.

Duke had a mastectomy in September of 1989 and then underwent six months of chemotherapy.

"You just keep your fingers crossed and hope (the cancer) doesn't recur," Duke said.

She recorded her last hole in one on June 15, 1989, at the Los Robles course in Thousand Oaks. She holed a six-iron from 131 yards.

That gave her 28 aces, beginning with her first one on Sept. 22, 1984, at the Ojai Valley Inn & Country Club.

But that's only the official count by her reckoning and those of witnesses.

"I have lived in Leisure Village, a retirement center in Camarillo, since April of 1987," she said. "We have a par-three, 18-hole course. Since I have been here, I've had 10 (aces) and three or four this year. But they don't count because it isn't a regulation course."

Some people, low handicap golfers, play all of their lives and never get a hole in one.

"It's unreal," she said. "I just like to hit the ball in front of the cup and roll it in. That's the key for me."

Duke, who plays to a 10 handicap, isn't choosy as to where she gets her aces, having recorded them at several different courses, among them Camarillo Springs, River Ridge in Oxnard, Saticoy Regional and the Clark course at the Point Mugu Naval Air Base.

She said she has even been deprived of holes in one by a fraction of an inch, or a blade of grass.

"I think it was January of this year on the island green at River Ridge, when a marshal rushed up to see how close the ball was. It was one-third over the cup and it wouldn't fall."

Even though she claimed 14 holes in one--with witnesses--in the calendar year of 1985, three on successive days, she wasn't credited with a record.

Her 12th, ostensibly breaking the record at a 274-yard hole at Point Mugu while cutting a dogleg, wasn't acknowledged by Golf Digest, which monitors records.

Golf Digest editor Lois Hains said it couldn't be accepted because no one had actually seen the ball fall into the cup.

Duke and her three playing partners explained that she got that ace on a hole with an elevated green and that no one could possibly have seen the ball disappear into the cup.

"Maybe they think I have a trained pet gopher who is picking the ball up with his teeth and dropping it in the hole," Duke said at the time.

Anyway, she refused to submit any of her subsequent aces to the magazine for verification.

Duke is seeking other records--with help. She said that she will be among 76 golfers April 1 at Las Posas Country Club in Ventura, where they will try to break the world record for the fastest round.

It's a relay affair with one player teeing off, another hitting a second shot if required and others stationed on the green.

"Our goal is to play every hole in less than 30 seconds," Duke said.

It would, of course, speed things up if Duke got a hole in one on her turn.

It seemed that it was just a matter of time until Rocco Mediate won for the first time on the pro tour.

The 28-year-old pro was in contention at both the Pebble Beach tournament and the recently concluded Nissan Los Angeles Open. Finally, after six years of trying, he won the Doral Open last Monday, beating Curtis Strange in a playoff.

Mediate credits an improved short game for elevating him from an also-ran to contender, then finally to winner.

"I've learned to hit different types of chip shots, and little pitches from 40 to 60 yards," he said. "This is the difference how I've done this year compared to where I was last year. I've always been consistently high in hitting greens in regulation."

With his victory, Mediate has already earned $403,824 this year. He says he makes a good living now, but adds that that he has to perform to maintain his status.

"No one is giving me all this money before I tee off," he said.

Mediate says he has an arrangement with a golf club manufacturer, which provides his equipment and pays him by performance.

He estimates that his expenses for a year amount to about $100,000, including airline fares, hotels, food and other expenses while traveling with his wife, Linda, and their 5-month-old son, Rocco Vincent.

"If I play well, they give me money," he said. "If I don't, they don't. Baseball players, for example, have no concept of reality. They have guaranteed contracts. Even if they play bad, it's all there."

Golf Notes

Donna Duke says she played for 14 years before she got her first hole in one. Norman Manley of Long Beach holds the record for aces with 59, according to Golf Digest. . . . The Los Angeles City boys' and girls' Junior Golf Championships are scheduled March 25-27. Players between the ages of 12-17 can participate in the 36-hole stroke play event, and those 11 and under will play 18 holes. The tournament will be held at the Wilson, Harding and Roosevelt courses in Griffith Park.

The West Coast Golf Show will be moved to the Anaheim Convention Center for 1992, '93 and '94. This year's show, scheduled Aug. 17-18, will remain in Long Beach. . . . A new irrigation system is being installed at the Altadena Golf Course. . . . The American Lung Assn. golf privilege card is available. The card fee is $60, allowing for 55 rounds of golf at Inland Empire courses. Proceeds from the program provide community health programs to fight lung cancer. For details, call (714) 884 5864.

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