Ben Wright: Gutsy Recovery

What do we make of the hole-in-one: the proper outcome of a perfectly executed shot—or an outrageous fluke? My lifetime total of two aces in nearly 63 years of playing golf could make a strong case for either theory.

I managed my first hole-in-one at the tender age of 17, while representing the county of my birth, Bedfordshire, for the first time. I was chosen to play in the top foursome in this match against our hated rivals from across the border in Hertfordshire, and it was a baptism by fire. Fortunately, I was nursed along by my more experienced playing partner, a gentleman named Leslie Randall who had won the County Championship a number of times.

Playing an alternate-shot format, we were three down with four holes to play when we reached the par-3 15th at South Bedfordshire Golf Club. The hole played along a hillside sloping down from right to left, with a shallow bunker in front of the green and oblivion anywhere left of it. A narrow path led from tee to green.

With our smug opponents’ ball resting three feet from the cup, I selected a 7-iron, nervously settled into my stance—and stone-cold topped the shot. In fact, I topped it so fiercely that it fairly whizzed down the path, scurried through the bunker, slammed against the flagstick and dropped exhaustedly into the cup. Capitalizing on our good fortune, we also won the last three holes for a most unlikely come-from-behind victory. Without shaking hands, our opponents departed and were last heard mouthing vile oaths in the parking lot.

My second ace was recorded at Knollwood Club near Chicago, during a two-man scramble staged by my then-employer, CBS Sports. No one bothered to date the scorecard, but it was signed by, among others, Ken Venturi, Steve Melnyk, Frank Chirkinian, NBA coach Don Nelson and, most importantly, my partner, David Begal, and our fellow competitors, Houston Rockets PR man Jim Foley and my esteemed producer, Chuck Will.

I had initially declined to play in the tournament due to a fairly serious case of food poisoning. But the organizers of the event, Knollwood member Jim Kendrick and CBS’s Bob Drum, prevailed upon me, and I borrowed a brand-new set of Ben Hogan clubs from the Knollwood professional.

Thankfully, Knollwood’s third hole returns to the clubhouse, because halfway down the fairway a wave of nausea struck and I had to make a run for the locker room, leaving poor David to play the hole by himself. By the time I emerged from the clubhouse, ashen-faced and sweating profusely, quite a crowd had assembled on the fourth tee—and they were anything but friendly, thanks to the delay of game I had created. My caddie, an earnest young Evans Scholar, advised me the shot was either “a hard 6 or an easy 5-iron, Mr. Wright.” I replied brusquely that he had obviously not observed my physical condition, and told him to give me the blankety-blank 4-iron.

Quite fearful I might whiff altogether—or even fall on my face—I instead put a relaxed swing on the ball and watched it soar to the green some 170 yards away, land 15 feet in front of the hole, gently bounce twice and roll straight into the cup. Pandemonium ensued. David made a great 3 at the next hole with a monster birdie putt, and we won the event with a 68. Kendrick rewarded me with a case of Dom Perignon, and we sprinkled the infield many a time before leaving that lovely club.

Having recounted these adventures, I can now answer my original question: outrageous fluke.