Going off the first tee at 12:20 p.m. Friday for the start of the Boeing Classic will be a group of three 50-and-over golfers who likely won’t be followed by too many gallery members.
That is understandable. The marquee trio of hometown hero Fred Couples, money leader Bernhard Langer and John Cook comes a half-hour later. That is expected to draw a huge crowd.
At 12:20 — obviously grouped by circumstances — will be Paul Goydos, Chip Beck and Kevin Sutherland.
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Just three of the 16 touring professionals in history who have ever shot the magical single-round score of 59 in a sanctioned event.
Sutherland, a Sacramento native, just made history last week when he recorded the first 59 on the Champions Tour. He made 12 birdies, an eagle and a final-hole bogey to shoot a 13-under-par 59 at the Dick’s Sporting Goods Open at En-Joie Golf Club in Endicott, N.Y.
Goydos and Beck shot their 59s on the PGA Tour — with Beck’s coming at the 1991 Las Vegas Invitational, and Goydos’ at the 2010 John Deere Classic.
“When I finished, I thought, ‘This is a pretty cool thing for me,’” Goydos said. “I didn’t really understand the significance of how it would be from a national sports scene.
“I am remembered for shooting 59, not for winning (twice) on the PGA Tour. That surprised me.”
SUTHERLAND GOES LOW
Sutherland wasn’t a big name on the PGA Tour, but he did win there — capturing the 2002 World Golf Championship-Accenture Match Play title over Scott McCarron.
But he battled a back injury in the latter stages of his career. This season, after turning 50 on the Fourth of July, he was eligible to play in Champions Tour tournaments.
His third event was last week’s Dick’s Sporting Goods Open. During a practice round, he asked Goydos if a 59 had ever been shot on this tour.
“I was just curious,” Sutherland said. “It wasn’t some sort of Nostradamus thing, like I saw something in the future. I just asked because the scores were so low in Minnesota (at the 3M Championship).”
To start his second round Saturday, Sutherland opened with four consecutive birdies, then made an eagle-3 at the par-5 fifth hole. He made three more birdies, including a holeout out of a greenside bunker at No. 7, to end his first nine holes in 9-under 27.
That is when folks began paying attention.
He drove it on the green at the short par-4 16th for a two-putt birdie to move to 13-under. And at a tricky pin at the par-3 17th, he nearly made a hole-in-one, settling for a tap-in birdie.
“There was no 59 out there,” Goydos said. “The rough was thick. The fairways were narrows in spots. The greens had firmness. On Saturday, the hole locations, especially on the back nine, were brutal.
“But that is how it works.”
Goydos was hitting golf balls on the driving range when he heard that Sutherland reached 14-under for his round. He then walked to where other players had gathered behind the 18th green.
Sutherland hit his drive in the trees, and got to the front of the final green on his second shot. He faced a makeable 40-foot chip for another birdie.
“Thing is, if he makes that (chip) for a 57 … that ends the discussion (on greatest rounds in golf),” Goydos said. “Our lifetime is over, because nobody is shooting 56 on the PGA Tour or the Champions Tour.”
But Sutherland ran his chip shot by, and missed the 8-footer for par to end up with 59.
He didn’t win the tournament — Langer did. Sutherland shot a 74 in the final round Sunday.
“Saturday night was hectic,” Sutherland said. “I mean, it was a great night. But I was tired the next day. It was nice to get a day off (Monday) so I could get a chance to relax.”
HOW DOES A 59 HAPPEN?
As Goydos poignantly points out, it just does.
It does off a framework of the things that make that kind of scoring possible — the golf ball, the grass and the weather and course conditions.
“The advances in agronomy, and the way they are able to grow grasses now, especially on these fairways — every shot is like hitting off a tee,” Goydos said. “And when the greens are in such good shape, in terms of smoothness — a 10-foot birdie putt today you probably have the same chance of making as a 5-foot birdie putt 15 years ago.”
Goydos and Sutherland admitted a few golfers who are scouting a course will talk about the possibility of shooting a 59. But not many.
“When I shot my 59, it was indoors — no wind, 95 degrees and the greens were soft,” Goydos said. “You need to have the perfect storm of a guy getting hot for 18 holes — not just nine holes — and the conditions need to be right. And you need a little bit of luck, too.”
A 59 AT BOEING?
TPC Snoqualmie Ridge isn’t short — it tips out at 7,183 yards at par 72 — but it does offer the touring professionals five legitimate chances at eagles with four reachable par-5 holes, and the drivable par-4 14th over “Bear’s Canyon.”
But how low is too low?
If you look at the 2006 event — the second year of the Boeing Classic — 59 seemed like not only a distinct possibility, but maybe likely. Scott Simpson started Saturday nine shots off the lead, but fired an 11-under 61 — his lowest competitive round.
Starting on the back nine, Simpson made seven birdies to go out in a tournament-record 29. He admitted afterward with three holes to go, he thought that a 59 could happen — but he missed a key eagle putt at the eighth hole.
A day later, Tom Jenkins matched Simpson’s 61 to tie the course record. Thirteen rounds of 65 or lower were recorded that week.
The average score that week was 70.8, making the Boeing Classic the fourth-easiest layout on the Champions Tour.
Since then, the course has toughened up. In four tournaments since 2006, the average score was over-par — including a 72.9 in 2011, making TPC Snoqualmie Ridge the sixth-toughest course on the tour.
Over its history, the Boeing Classic has seen 470 rounds in the 60s — or at a 22.3 percent clip. And rounds of 65 or lower? There have been 19 of them since 2006, and nothing within two shots of the 61s shot by Simpson and Jenkins.
“This is just too big of a course,” Couples said. “(A) 63 or 64 is doable … but no, there’s no 59s to be shot here.”