MUSCLE SHOALS — His elbow was throbbing and Stuart Clark said the rest of his body wasn’t in much better shape as the University of North Alabama golf team coach headed to Cypress Lakes Golf Course last Monday for a PGA Dixie Section pro-member tournament.
Why the aches and pains? Clark and his wife sold their house and the night before the tournament was spent moving furniture and the rest of the chores associated with moving from one place to another. Also, at 37 years old, it takes a little while for the body to loosen up.
Clark’s pre-round preparation consisted of hitting about 30 practice shots and jumping in the cart for a quick ride to the third tee, where he and playing partners Nick Agee and Cory Murks were starting their day.
Less than four hours later, Clark tapped in a 1-inch putt for a course-record 12-under-par 59 on the par 71 municipal layout. Fifty-nine is the holy grail of golf scores, dreamed about by everyone who grips it and rips it, yet achieved by only a handful of players.
David Duval is the proud owner of a 59 in tournament play. So is Annika Sorenstam and Paul Goydos. Tiger Woods has never done it in a tournament. Neither has Phil Mickelson or Jack Nicklaus.
“It was totally unexpected,” Clark said Monday, a week after bringing the 6,182-yard course (from the white markers) to its knees on a breezy, overcast day.
“We had to be out of the house, so we spent all day Sunday moving,” Clark said. “I really didn’t think I’d play very well.”
Clark, a former All-America golfer at UNA, has logged plenty of rounds at Cypress Lakes and is always capable of producing a low score. He’s shot 61 three times, including twice at Cypress Lakes.
Clark’s round included an eagle, 11 birdies and one bogey.
“It was pretty exciting to watch him,” Agee said. “As it went along, I was probably as nervous as he was. We were both shooting around par but mostly just trying to stay out of his way.”
Clark started his round with four straight birdies before stalling a 3-putt bogey on the difficult seventh hole, a long par 3 over water. He quickly regrouped with birdies and Nos. 8-9.
Clark holed a ticklish downhill 5-footer on the ninth. “That putt was so fast,” he said. “I just touched it and it went in.”
Clark moved to 6-under with a birdie at No. 11, another short par 4. It wasn’t until No. 14 when things really got interesting.
He holed a 4-footer for a birdie there and then drove the green at the short 15th hole. When he curled in a 20-footer for eagle to get to 9-under, Clark said he started to think about his score. “When that went in, I thought, ‘I’ve got this pro-am,’ ” Clark said. “Up until that point, we were just having a good time, joking around and playing golf.”
“That’s when I started counting up his score,” Agee said. “I didn’t know if he was thinking about it or not.”
It got real serious when Clark canned a 15-footer on No. 16 to get to 10-under.
The par-3 17th and par-4 18th holes are among the toughest at Cypress Lakes and both were playing into the wind, not that it mattered.
Clark made a 15-footer on No. 17 and added a 4-footer on No. 18 to reach 12-under.
“I was trying not to get too excited,” he said. “I’m 37 years old, and I’ve been playing for 32 years. You don’t get too many opportunities to do something like that in golf. I was 12 under. That’s the magic number on a par-71 course.”
Clark played conservatively on the final two holes, hitting irons off the tee on both holes. He needed a 10-foot par saver on No. 1 to keep the round going and drained it. His bid for 58 on the final hole came up an inch short.
“It didn’t set in right away,” he said. “I tell my team that most of the time in golf I don’t win much. It’s usually disappointment. For one day, it was God telling me that it was going to be my day.”
Contact Gregg Dewalt at 256-740-5748 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @greggdewalt on Twitter.