Nearly two years to the day after Annika Sorenstam became the first woman in LPGA history to shoot 59, Meg Mallon arrived on her final hole, a par 3, in the second round of the 2003 Welch’s-Fry’s Classic in Arizona knowing that birdie would give her a 59.
“I probably sat on the tee box 20 to 25 minutes,” said Mallon, “waiting on the group in front of us. No one dared come near me on the tee box, but I could see all the players coming out of the locker room.”
Eventually, Mallon hit a 5-iron to 25 feet. What she thought was a fast, downhill putt came up 2 ½ feet short.
“First 60 in the history of the LPGA and all I heard was a groan,” she recalled, laughing, “and everyone walked back into the locker room.”
Mallon happened to be playing alongside Sorenstam 20 years ago at the Standard Register Ping in Phoenix when, on March 16, 2001, the unshakable Swede carded the first and only 59. Mallon said her 1 under that day at Moon Valley Country Club felt like an 80.
“As pure and perfect as you can get,” said Mallon of Sorenstam’s 13-birdie delight. Sorenstam’s sister, Charlotta, the defending champion at the Standard Register Ping, rounded out the threesome.
There’s much about the day that, two decades later, Sorenstam can’t recall. The zone can be a forgetful place.
She remembers getting stuck in traffic on her way to the course. Her rushed warmup. She remembers asking caddie Terry McNamara early in the round how many birdies he’d seen in a row.
“Well, I’ve done six before,” she told him, “so I know I can do six.”
After eight consecutive birdies, Sorenstam told McNamara that she was so nervous that she needed to make a par. She did so at the ninth. The birdie spree resumed on her 10th hole.
Sorenstam was a teenager on the Swedish National Team the first time she heard Pia Nilsson talk about shooting 54. If she could birdie three or four holes every round, and after 10 rounds likely have a birdie on every hole, why not birdie all the holes in the same round?
“Of course, we all giggled,” said Sorenstam.
But she kept that vision of the perfect round alive, and when she got to the ninth hole at Moon Valley (her 18th), Sorenstam told McNamara that she wasn’t playing away from the flag. She wanted to shoot 58.
“Coming down the stretch,” said Sorenstam, “in my mind, I had kind of done it, if you know what I mean. You just have to have that belief.”
After knocking her 15-foot birdie putt roughly 3 feet past the hole, Sorenstam told herself all the positive things she could think of standing over a par putt that would ultimately shape so much of her identity and career.
She rolled in the putt and leaped into McNamara’s arms.
“The place was going nuts,” said NcNamara. “The ninth green connects up to the putting green over this little knoll but the green never stops. There were 30 or 40 players standing on the putting green getting ready for their rounds, and they just stopped to watch this. It was packed, and it was pretty amazing.”
Sorenstam, who had won the Welch’s Circle K the week prior, held off Se Ri Pak over the weekend to win by two shots at Moon Valley. The next week she won her first ANA Inspiration.
She’d go on to win 72 times on the LPGA, including 10 majors, before retiring in 2008.
“This was the day for me,” McNamara said of the 59. “She probably knew it before, but this was my day where I thought OK, we can do all this. Because if we can do this today, we can do anything.”