SILVIS, Ill. — For most of his 18 years on the PGA Tour, Paul Goydos has been called “Sunshine” by some of his peers.
It’s like calling a giant “Tiny.” Goydos typically is self-deprecating about his golf game at best.
“Golf writer John Feinstein once said his close friend Goydos can find a cloud in every silver lining.
I just feel golf’s hard,” Goydos said. “It’s hard for everybody. Eventually, it gets to everybody, too.”
But Thursday morning at the John Deere Classic, everything was sunny and funny in Goydos’ world. He shot a 59. An 18-hole, 12-under-par, 59. It was only the fourth score of that total in PGA Tour history, tying the mark of Al Geiberger, Chip Beck and David Duval.
“That’s just a mythical number in our game,” Goydos said.
It was the kind of performance that had a few other Tour pros watching with the fans as Goydos arrived at the 18th green with a 7-footer left for a birdie and the 59.
“I was probably as nervous as I’ve been over a putt in my life,” Goydos said. But he rolled the downhill putt perfectly, saying “the ball couldn’t have gone more in the center of the hole with a laser on it.”
He birdied every hole on the back nine but the par-4 15th, where he made a nice par-save.
“I kind of realized walking to the next tee if I birdied the last three holes, I could shoot 59,” Goydos said. “And they talk about you don’t talk to the pitcher when he’s got a no-hitter going, blah, blah, blah. But the reality is in that situation, three holes to go, that’s a pretty good challenge to yourself, and that’s what I did.”
“It was pretty incredible,” said playing partner Cliff Kresge. “He stepped up like a true champion and birdied the last three holes. It was awesome.”
On the greens, he was beyond awesome. On holes 11 through 13, Goydos made birdie putts of 39, 19 and 24 feet, respectively. He made five others from 11 to 18 feet.
Of his birdie at No. 13, he said “I didn’t really think I hit a great putt. I hit it solid, but … I looked up and I’m watching it, and I’m going ‘Oh, no. This putt went dead center.’ I thought, this is getting ridiculous.
“There was a piece of me at that time that kind of obviously feels a tad guilty. I mean, I am making everything. (Jonathan) Byrd and Cliff aren’t playing any worse than me tee to green. Every good thing that could possibly happen, I was just stealing from them.”
All afternoon here, it looked so weird to see a leaderboard with a 59 at its top. How nice it was that it belonged to someone like Goydos.
This is someone who once was an inner-city junior high school teacher in his Long Beach, Calif., hometown. This is someone who was left to raise two teenage daughters by himself last year after his ex-wife died suddenly after apparently taking something to try to negate the pain her recurring migraine headaches.
This is someone who has had hip surgery, nasal surgery. This is a 46-year-old who, though he has carved out a great living and life on the Tour, has known a lot more disappointments than glories.
He has two PGA Tour wins, in 1996 at Bay Hill and in 2007 at the Sony in Honolulu. But this is his 446th career start.
He lost the 2008 Players Championship in a playoff with Sergio Garcia. He led this year’s AT&T by a shot with five holes left this winter at Pebble Beach, then had a quadruple-bogey 9 on No. 14 to see his chances nosedive into the Pacific.
In his 13 tourneys since that day, Goydos best finish has been a tie for 38th. Then Thursday, on a morning after an overnight of hard rain, “Sunshine” was a bolt of lightning.
“I thought my putting was getting a little bit better,” he said. “I thought my game was getting a little bit better, also. But today was, you know, well, today was a nuclear bomb.
“I mean, it’s gone from climbing a hill in your backyard to being on the moon.”
Goydos gives great quotes. Always has, from what I’ve heard and read. He has claimed to be the worst player in the history of the PGA Tour. Which is an absurd exaggeration, given his two wins and over $10 million in career earnings.
Thursday was the first time I’d ever been around him, and it was clear he has a clear head and terrific wit. But it also was clear it was taking a while for him to wrap his mind around this amazing score of his.
“I think that is a goal in your career, to break 60,” Goydos said in seriousness, not stopping to realize it’s a score Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Ben Hogan – you name it – never accomplished in a PGA Tour round.
“At the end when I look back and I’m not playing any more, winning on the PGA Tour is a big deal. I’ve got 10 hole-in-ones. I’ve got three double-eagles. Fifty-nine is one of those things I’m going to look at and say that’s pretty cool.
“To put myself in the context of history, I think is a little more difficult. I wouldn’t say I’m very good at that.”
Three hours after his round had ended, Goydos was on a conference call with golf writers around the world, who are either in Scotland or are headed there for next week’s British Open. The Deere is always an afterthought for those folks. But not Thursday. Not for a 59.
“I’m flabbergasted by the attention it’s getting as it is,” he said. But it isn’t his career-best moment.
“They’ve asked me a number of times, would you rather shoot 59 and finish third or shoot whatever and win the tournament. To me, there’s not even an answer to that question. It’s obvious I’d rather win the golf tournament.”
Yet, “Sunshine” didn’t try to pretend this wasn’t a really big deal.
“I don’t think there’s any question,” said Goydos. ”I’m tickled.”
So were a lot of people here. A 59? That really is mythical.