By Jeff Babineau, Golfweek
Golf has a creative lexicon for certain numbers, a 77 representing “Double Hockey Sticks,” and an 88 being the dreaded “Double Snowman.” But 55? Really? Double nickels, perhaps? It’s usually a phrase reserved for state highways, and not part of any 19th-hole conversation.
Fifty-five, though, is the total number of strokes played by Rhein Gibson over 18 holes last Saturday morning at River Oaks Golf Club in Edmond, Okla. His accomplishment, and his scorecard, showing 12 circles around birdies and two triangles around eagles, has gone viral across the sports universe. The score is no misprint. That’s 16-under 55, or what you might shoot alongside three buddies at a charity scramble – if the four of you play lights out, of course.
Gibson, 26, is an Aussie-turned-Okie who lives in Edmond and plies his trade on the Golfweek National Professional Golf Tour. In fact, he currently sits tied for 26th after three rounds of a GNPGT stop at Wild Horse in Gothenburg, Neb. (Through six 2012 events, he ranks 12th in earnings.) Gibson shot a fine round of 66 on Wednesday at Wild Horse, but considering what he was doing four days earlier, it probably felt like an 80.
Heading off No. 10 at River Oaks on a damp Saturday morning, Gibson parred the opening hole then tore off six birdies and a pair of eagles to make the turn at 10-under 26. Digest that fireworks display for a minute. Ryan Munson, one of two other players in the group (and an acquaintance of mine), happened to be one of two other players in the group. He turned in 36, got lapped by 10, and knew he was witnessing something very special. He and Eric Fox, a former college player who completed the threesome, didn’t quite know what to do or how to act as they played along.
“It was like he was throwing a perfect game, and we were just trying to stay out of his way,” said Munson. When Gibson made his 13-foot right-to-left slider for birdie to go 10 under at No. 18 (his ninth), all silence went out the window. “We whooped, we high-fived and we did our ‘bro hugs,’ said Munson, a financial adviser who plays off scratch. “It’s the most phenomenal thing we’d ever seen.”
Gibson made the turn needing only two birdies to break 60. A week earlier, he’d eclipsed the standing course record of 62 at River Oaks by shooting 11-under 60 – but he’d finished in disappointing fashion, with seven consecutive pars. Not this time. After pars at Nos. 1 and 2 (his 10th and 11th holes), he reeled off six birdies in his final seven holes, including birdies at 7, 8 and 9.
All three players were nervous when they stepped to the tee at the final hole. Munson said Gibson took out a 3-wood and drove it well right, into the 18th fairway, but he hit a great recovery up and over two sets of trees, and his 8-foot birdie attempt for 55 “could not have been more dead-center if you stood over the hole and dropped it in there. We were all dumbstruck.”
River Oaks happens to be Munson’s home course, and he is quick to emphasize that it’s “anything but a walkover track.” The group played from about 6,800 yards on Saturday morning, and the course was wet after receiving overnight rains. “There’s trees, water and out-of-bounds galore out there, and the wind is usually a good defense. You can score there, yes, . . . but this round was ‘crazy good.’ "
An attempt to reach Gibson by cell phone in Nebraska was not successful. Munson said Gibson told him he was able to stay relatively calm throughout round, a new song by the Eli Young Band softly humming in his head. About 25 members and friends gathered around the ninth green (his 18th) to watch the final putt, and Gibson’s round was celebrated afterward with a few beverages and even an emergency nine. Munson said teaching pro Jim Young, who plays in the Saturday game, joked to Gibson: “Act like you’ve been there before, even if NO ONE ever has!”
Annika Sorenstam long has talked about a “perfect” round of 54 but never got closer than 59, and there have been a handful of 58s and 59s by PGA Tour players (59, by five players, being the lowest round in official competition). Former PGA Tour pro Homero Blancas Jr. once shot 55 in Texas, but it’s not recognized by Guinness World Records because it came on a golf course that measured just more than 5,000 yards. (The standard is 6,500 yards.)
“You could feel the buzz around the last green,” said Munson of Gibson’s finish, still excited by it days later. “Eric and I agreed it’s the most phenomenal thing we’d ever seen.
“I mean, hey, it could be the greatest round of golf ever played.”
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