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Pond-skimming hole-in-one rekindles memories of shot in Las Vegas

Jon Rahm’s incredible pond-skimming hole-in-one during a Masters practice round Tuesday rekindled memories of a remarkable golf shot of a different ilk that allegedly happened in Las Vegas nearly a half-century ago.

During the 1974 U.S. National Senior Open at Winterwood Golf Course, which became Desert Rose and is now known as The Club at Sunrise, a 64-year-old pro named Mike Austin pulled a Wilson persimmon head driver from his bag, shouted Fore! to the group ahead and blasted a golf ball into the parking lot of the Moapa Paiute Travel Plaza at Valley of Fire Highway and Interstate 15.

OK, slight exaggeration. Austin’s drive with a 27 mph wind at his back traveled a purported 515 yards on the then-fifth hole at Winterwood, a 450-yard, par 4 with a slight dogleg right.

“It was like God held the ball in the air,” Austin’s wife, Tanya, said at the time or shortly thereafter.

Las Vegas golf enthusiast Jack Sheehan, who met Austin, believes St. Peter and various archangels must have been helping, too. He called it a Paul Bunyan story.

“I don’t believe for a minute he hit a ball that far if he had a frickin’ hurricane behind him,” Sheehan said. “Nobody else in that era ever hit a ball 400 (yards). And so for an older guy to hit one 515 … let’s be realistic. The balls weren’t as good then, the drivers weren’t as good, so that’s literally impossible with a persimmon wood.

“So 515 is pure fantasy.”

If you’re wondering how Austin’s drive measures up to today’s big-hitting, metal-head behemoths, the longest drive of the 2020 PGA Tour season was 449 yards by Justin Thomas.

In one of his last interviews about The Drive, Austin, a distinguished Scotsman, said this: “I knocked the hell out of it. But the ball went up strangely. Went out about 10 or 15 feet high and kept going at the flattened level. I could put my finger on it the whole way until just before it dropped.”

The Guinness Book of World Records still recognizes Austin’s drive as the longest shot in golf history, but there’s one that traveled even farther.

During the 1992 Texas Open, 31-year-old Carl Cooper gripped it, ripped it and hit a ball off the tee that traveled an estimated 787 yards after coming to rest 330 yards beyond the hole. Cooper’s drive landed on a downhill cart path and, like the Energizer Bunny, it just kept going and going and going.

Cooper double-bogeyed the hole. So much for hitting it big.

Contact Ron Kantowski at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow @ronkantowski on Twitter.

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