Jesse Massie was midway through the back nine of a round of golf at Glenmary Country Club in Louisville on Friday when he and his playing partners, Kevin Purcell and Chris Miller, decided they’d play a second 18.
“I said sure,” the 25-year-old Massie recalled, “because I didn’t have anything else to do.”
And it’s a good thing Massie was free, because after recording a 67 on his first try, the mini-tour pro carded a 16-under-par 56 in his second round — one of the lowest scores in the history of the sport.
“I was shaking,” Massie said of his performance, which he closed with a 20-foot birdie putt on 18. “It was pretty remarkable.”
Added Miller, a local high school golf star who will start at Clemson this fall: “I was at a loss for words at the end of the game when he added it all up. It was incredible.”
It was the kind of effort you’d have to see to believe, really. And even then, you still might call foul. Glenmary club pro Jack Ridge was certainly caught off guard when Massie and his friends shared the news of Massie’s stunning score from the tips on the 6,450-yard course.
“When he came into the pro shop, he was real fidgety and nervous-acting, and he said he needed an extra scorecard,” Ridge said of Massie, who plays at Glenmary “maybe half a dozen times per year.”
“I asked him what was going on, thinking maybe he had a hole in one or something, and he said, ‘Well, you won’t believe this, but I just shot a 56.’ And the two guys he was playing with shook their heads and said, ‘Yes this really happened. This is for real, no joke. We played honest, USGA rules, played the ball down and he shot a 56.’”
“He’s a good, honest kid, and I wouldn’t have pushed this story at all if I thought there was something fishy about it,” added Ridge, whose low score at his own course is a 68. “I think it’s 100 percent legit.”
The record round was comprised of 14 birdies, one eagle and three pars — and included one penalty stroke, when a ball became stuck in a cedar tree two feet off the ground on the fifth fairway.
Massie’s previous low round was a 61 at Arlington Country Club in Richmond, Ky., the home course for Eastern Kentucky University, where Massie played in college.
Massie said he knew he was playing an above-average round when he shot 29 on the front nine, even with his penalty stroke. The front side at Glenmary features eight holes with water, and all nine have out of bounds areas, meaning accuracy is critical.
“It’s always the tougher side there, so I’m always trying to shoot 2- or 3-under,” Massie said. “I birdied my last four holes on that side to shoot 29, and it was funny, because I looked at my buddy and I said, ‘Let’s not screw up the back side this time.’”
Then after opening the back nine with a par on 10, a birdie on 11 and a 35-foot eagle putt on 12, Massie started to sense that something truly special was within reach.
“I was more nervous when I got to 11- and 12-under par, because as a golfer, you really want to break that 60 barrier,” Massie said. “When I got to 14-under, I wasn’t really nervous anymore. I was trying to get into the clubhouse and just post the number.”
His buddies, meanwhile, tried their best to treat the performance just like any other round.
“We almost kind of treated it like it was a no-hitter,” said Purcell, a childhood friend of Massie’s. “We didn’t want to mess him up, so it was just like, ‘Good shot buddy, good putt buddy.’ It was surreal to see, and everything he was putting was going in. It was amazing.”
Added Miller: “His ball striking was just phenomenal. He didn’t miss, and it’s not like he was lipping in putts, either. They were all dead center.”
Massie hit every fairway and green on the back nine, though he said several of his approach shots weren’t especially close. In addition to the 20-footer on 18 and the 35-foot eagle putt on 12, Massie also nailed a 30-footer on 17 and several other putts 15 feet or longer. For the round, Massie hit 17 greens in regulation and had just 21 putts.
“The game is all about how much luck you can get in a day,” Massie said. “If you make two or three of those (long) putts in a round, you’re very happy, and I couldn’t believe that every single one was going in. I had to think some other power was in control also.”
Massie currently competes on the Carolina Series of the NGA Pro Golf Tour — a tour that is also home to Rhein Gibson, who last May shot a 55 at River Oaks Golf Club in Oklahoma City, a number thought to be the lowest-recorded score in the history of golf. However, River Oaks is a par 71, and Ridge said he’s not aware of a golfer ever shooting lower than 56 on a par 72.
“It’s got to be one of the greatest rounds of golf ever,” Ridge said.
Massie, however, has aspirations of qualifying for a Web.com Tour event and getting through Q-School, but understands he has a lot of improving to do — even for a guy who shot a 56 — if he wants to attain his goals.
“I just want to keep learning and keep getting better at the game,” said Massie, who claims he used to be a “110 percent guy” — a big-hitting player with little emphasis on finesse or control.
“There are so many good golfers out there that could be playing on the PGA Tour, and it’s just hard to get there. There are thousands of guys who could play on the Tour right now, and they just can’t get on it. You’ve just got to keep trying, and hopefully you can get that one month where you’re on fire, you’re playing well and it’s the right time.”