When John Wooden worked magic on a golf course


All along, we have assumed that John Wooden’s 10 national collegiate basketball titles as UCLA’s coach represent his most amazing achievement in sports. All along, we assumed wrong.

Those 10 titles are the most defining, not most amazing.

Which brings us to the Bob Hope Classic golf tournament that ended Monday in La Quinta, and to one of its players, Carl Pettersson, the Swede who played for North Carolina State and who has won more than $2 million in three of his seven full seasons on the PGA Tour.


John Wooden, age 99, and Carl Pettersson, age 32. Two names never previously used in the same sentence.

Hang in here. There is an explanation.

Saturday at La Quinta Country Club, in the third round of the five-round Hope, Pettersson stood 259 yards from the pin for his second shot on the par-five fifth hole. He took out his three-wood and, as his caddie, Grant Berry, said Monday, “hit as good a shot as you’ll ever see.”

Pettersson’s summary, as typifies most pro golfers, was less flamboyant: “I hit it as hard I could, it landed and rolled in.”

He had scored a double eagle, a two on a par-five hole, something golfers call an albatross. They are so rare that last year on the tour, only four were made. In 2008, there was only one, by Daniel Chopra, and in ‘07, only five. In the 31-year history of the Champions Tour, golf’s senior circuit where accurate records were kept from the beginning, a total of 34 double eagles have been made.

When it happens, it gets headlines, as Pettersson’s shot did here in the desert. For anybody who achieves it, even if you are a pro, it is a memorable moment.

“It was my third,” Pettersson said, “but the other two were in practice.”

Holes in one are commonplace by comparison. Pettersson has had nine, one on the tour, on No. 14 at Riviera at the 2004 Nissan Open, now the Northern Trust Open. Golf Digest rates the possibility of getting two holes in one in the same round as 67 million to 1, or about the same as O.J.’s DNA odds.

Golf Digest also lists something even more incredible: a golfer having a hole in one and a double eagle in the same round. It doesn’t give odds, but just think in terms of double O.J., or maybe triple. Golf Digest says that feat has been reported as happening four times in history.

One of the four was by John Wooden.

It was 1947, and Wooden, 36, was soon to move to UCLA and change the course of the school’s athletic history.

Although Golf Digest reports it as taking place at the Erskine Park Golf Course in South Bend, Ind., Wooden said Monday that it was at the Chain of Lakes course, now the South Bend Country Club.

“I used a four-iron for the hole in one,” Wooden said from his home in Encino. “It was about 185 yards. Then I made the two on the par five on the back. Used a brassie.”

A brassie was the rough equivalent of a two-wood.

Wooden said he kept the card and has it stored somewhere. He said he remembers the local paper running a little story the next day. He also retains his typical self-effacing humor about this feat.

“I shot a 77 that day,” he said. “You go five under on two holes and a 77 doesn’t look all that good.”

Wooden said that his love of golf is right up there with that of his favorite sport, baseball. It also bridges several generations. He said he has fond memories of walking a course a few years ago with Tiger Woods, and fond memories of watching Byron Nelson play in a tour event in South Bend in 1948.

“He won the tournament,” Wooden recalled, “but he shot one shot more each day. I remember one of the sportswriters writing that was because the divots got an inch deeper every day.”

Pettersson was asked Monday if he had heard of anybody making a hole in one and a double eagle in the same round. His eyes got wide and he shook his head. He was told it had been done by John Wooden.

“The old basketball coach?” he asked. And his eyes got wide again.

It turns out that the ace/double-eagle combo had been achieved much closer for Pettersson’s memory than Wooden’s feat 63 years ago.

One of the four double eagles listed for 2009 in the official PGA guide was by Nicholas Thompson, who achieved it three months ago at the Open in Scottsdale, Ariz. In that same round, two holes later, Thompson made a hole in one.

Thompson shot a 65 that late October day, posted his only top-10 finish of the year and, partly because of that three-hole spree of five under par, managed to keep his ranking in the tour’s top 125 and keep his card for this season.

He wasn’t at the Bob Hope on Monday. He had missed the cut by two shots.

Or, as golf lore should start listing it, he had missed by 40% of a John Wooden.