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The Guinness Book of World Records Recognizes Patrick Wills' Three Aces

It is quite possibly the greatest round of golf ever played by an amateur who doesn’t personally know Shivas Irons or Bagger Vance. What happened at Laurel Hill Golf Club in Lorton, Virginia, on June 22 has been met with incredulity, astonishment, outright disbelief and, eventually, incomprehension.

Patrick Wills, 59, of Woodbridge, Virginia, started the second round of GolfStyles’ annual Solstice Survival tournaments in his usual fashion, with birdies on four of the first six holes (as well as a bogey). Wills annually averages about 66 per round and in 2011 fired a second-round 13-under 58. He has not shot above 70 in more than a decade of Solstice Survivals. He’s a good local player, a plus-4 handicap with phenomenally good scores posted at his home Medal of Honor Course in Quantico, Virginia. And, of course, the Solstice Survival. Most good players look at his scores, shake their heads and ask out loud why we don’t see his name in regional, state and national tournaments. Wills tried for the Champions Tour, the most closed golfing society in the world, and got past the regional qualifiers, but the big stage only has a spot or two and it wasn’t for him. Wills, a retired Marine Corps officer, was recently named the Dean of the Defense Systems Management College at Fort Belvoir’s Defense Acquisition University.

The odds of recording a hole-in-one for a good player is about 5,000-to-one (12,000-to-one for most of us), so it was not totally unusual for Wills to ace Laurel Hill’s seventh with a strong 3-wood, even if it is a par 4 playing about 260 yards this round (289 on the card). After a birdie on the par-5 ninth, he’s out in 29. Then it gets surreal.

The odds of recording two aces in the same round are calculated at 67 million-to-one. The odds of acing two par 4s – two double eagles – in the same round are about as astronomical as winning the Mega Millions and Powerball lotteries on the same day. So, here we have Wills looking to cut some distance off the 334-yard par-4 10th with a driver over the trees on the left side of the slight dogleg, which is exactly what he did. After a search for his ball, it was found in the cup. It had to run through a hard bunker or bounce over it, but there it was, another albatross.

“As we approached the green I checked the front bunkers and the ball was not to be seen on the green or in the bunkers,” Wills said. “As I started to head to the back of the green one of the members of the group stated maybe it was in the hole. I thought to myself ‘get real’ and continued to the back of the green. Either Christopher or Matt (playing partners), looked in the hole and asked what ball I was playing. At that point I was looking behind the green and answered. I was told it was in the hole. To say the least ,I was shocked and in disbelief.”

It was the 25th ace of Wills’ career, the sixth par 4, with the majority coming in competition.
A couple of pars and birdie later, Wills is 11-under after 13 holes. The par-3 14th is an uphill 187-yarder, a bitch of a hole with today’s pin position all the way back, making it 191 to the flag.
The odds of three holes-in-one in the same round are in the multi-billion-plus-to-one-range. A dad claimed his kid had three aces in a 2007 round in Naples, Florida, but his story was dismissed because it was just the dad and kid and they didn’t report it to anyone after the round late in the day. A European Tour player had two aces in a round in 2013, and Yusaku Myazato had a pair of slam dunks in the same round of the 2006 PGA Tour Reno-Tahoe Open.

Anyway, it was Patrick Wills’ sons – Charlie, an aerospace engineer, and Christopher, a Navy Hospital Corspman and Afghanistan combat veteran – both excellent players as well – and Air Force Major Matt Ghormley who witnessed the elder Wills’ gazillion-to-one shot arc straight toward the back pin on No. 14, hearing the clank and suspecting that the impossible had happened. It did.
“ I was dumbfounded and in a state of shock,” Wills said. I cannot remember if I called out in joy or broke down in disbelief. I have been caddying and playing golf since I was a little boy and never experienced anything like this.”

The third ace of the round, defying all mathematical possibilities and comprehension, was followed by a birdie. Then the round ended with a whimper, a mere three pars on the closing holes, including the relatively easy par-5 18th. Wills was in with 28 for a second-round total of 14-under-par 57. Wills finished the day with rounds of 68-57-66 for a 22-under-par total. The day included 19 birdies, an eagle and two double eagles against just five bogeys. Unbelievable for an unheralded amateur? His last six Solstice Survivals at Laurel Hill – definitely not an easy course but one with generous landing areas and only modestly sloping greens – are a combined 100-under par, with a previous low of 21-under in 2010 and the highest total of 13-under in 2012.

For comparison, the USGA 2013 Public Links Championship was contested at Laurel Hill. For the two-day, 36-hole qualifying, the course was set up 700 yards longer, a par 70 – not 71 for everyday play – faster greens and higher rough than the day Wills faced the Solstice Survival’s second round. So, really, it’s not much of a comparison, but it should be noted that 32 Public Links players – some of the country’s best amateurs but only those who play out of public courses – shot under-par rounds with one 64, a 65 and several 66s recorded. The two-day medalist score was four players at 8-under and 20 players total were under par.

The Solstice Survival is a different animal of a golf tournament. Some players feast on it, others are devoured by it. I’m in the former camp, having shot under par for 54 holes on a few occasions and routinely shooting scores that aren’t reproduced in other amateur events. I’ve shot 7-under and 8-under as a 2 and 3-handicap, something the Pope of Slope devotees will tell you is impossible. In the Solstice, it’s easy to get in a comfort zone, knowing the course’s nuances, pin positions and local knowledge. Sometimes, though obviously not in Wills’ case, your game becomes unglued and sideways shots and worse accumulate with no letup or mercy. Hence, the Survival half of the event’s name. Having played in 112 of them to date, my observation is that the good player can thrive in a Solstice, the medium-range player gets the good, the bad and the ugly, and the high-handicapper struggles in the midst of a fun but challenging day. Kind of like golf in the real world.

Normally after a net tournament, the grumbling about handicaps is most voluble from those who did not have their best days. But the Solstice Survival is a net and gross event and at Laurel Hill, it’s the gross scores that produce the most malcontented accusations of disbelief. Of course, it doesn’t help that the plus-4 handicap also placed first in the net division. Nevertheless, it’s the Solstice Survival where Patrick Wills has found his golf wheelhouse, and for those relatively good players who refuse to believe, without a whiff of proof otherwise, the snickering is petty. The Solstice Survival at Laurel Hill is contested on a public course. Spectators are welcome.

Patrick Wills’ round of 57 that included three holes-in-one, two on short par 4s, is unfathomable, to be sure. It is hard to objectively state what is the greatest round ever played, but in the annals of everyday golf by a bunch of golf nuts playing three rounds in a day, this is the best without a doubt.

The Guinness Book of World Records now recognizes Patrick WIlls' three aces. Amazingly, the two albatrosses only ties the world record. Wills' round of 57 is two shots higher than the lowest score ever of 55. The record belongs to Australian professional Rhein Gibson, who shot 16-under at River Oaks Golf Club in Edmond, Oklahoma. Three others, including Homero Blancas, have recorded 55s, but they were on 9-hole courses or layouts under 6,000 yards. Numerous 56s and 57s have been reported and are no longer tracked because of their frequency. The lowest professional rounds ever recorded in events on courses that exceed 6,500 yards are Shigeki Maruyama’s 58 at Woodmont’s par-17 South Course in the 2000 regional U.S. Open qualifying and Ryo Ishikawa’s final-round 58 at The Crowns tournament on the Japan Tour in 2010. PGA Tour pro Jason Bohn also closed with a 58, this one to win the Canadian Tour Bayer Championship in 2011, but it’s not recognized by Guinness because the course was slightly less than 6,500 yards.

Most golfers I know react to Wills’ success in the Solstice Survival as if Wills now has an obligation to take his game to higher levels. The fact is, there are plenty of good golfers who are content where they are and have no desire to grind toward failure, even though Wills has and even though to most of us it is a Walter Mitty fantasy right there for the taking.

Wills grew up caddying to help support his family and started playing only after learning the game and practicing on the range. His high school coach was Tom Tryba, father of PGA Tour member Ted Tryba. His two goals were to become a golf professional and serve his country, hopefully both. He chose the latter, but along the way won multiple base, military, club and local championships. During that time, Wills dealt with multiple injuries, some combat related, and still deals with back issues.

As it happened, Wills’ wife of 37 years had life-threatening health issues about the time the Champions Tour seemed within reach. For Wills, it was not a close call, and as any deployed military man knows, it is the wife who is the glue of the family. In this case, aspirations of higher golf were, and remain, trifling. These days, Wills would rather play in events with his sons, waiting for the day son Charlie, then Christopher, beats him, just as it was when Wills finally bested his dad, a World War II decorated Marine and police officer. As it is, Wills is a Solstice Survival legend and a Marine Corps combat veteran who runs an accredited school that trains Department of Defense personnel in fields of acquisition, technology and logistics, and who plays in golf tournaments every now and then, including next year’s Solstice Survival, we hope.

– Michael Keating, Publisher, GolfStyles Media Group

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