A Desert Classic: David Duval Joins the 59 Club in 1999

World Golf Hall of Fame's picture

January 08th 2019

By Travis Puterbaugh, Curator
World Golf Hall of Fame

The Desert Classic in the Coachella Valley of California is returning to its roots in 2019. Well, almost. The tournament most recently known as the CareerBuilder Challenge (2016-2018) and the Humana Challenge (2012-2015), will be played in 2019 without a title sponsor. Once known the world-over as the Bob Hope Desert Classic, it will simply be played this year as the Desert Classic. Since its debut in 1960, the tournament has been synonymous with philanthropy, celebrities, scenic courses and memorable moments.

This year the PGA TOUR celebrates the 20th anniversary of one of the most memorable events in the tournament’s six decades of play. No, not Michael Jordan’s entry into the 1999 event – although that certainly was cause for excitement in the desert. Rather, what still gets talked about today is what occurred in the final round of the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic when David Duval went where only two other golfers had gone before on the PGA TOUR: a sub-60 round.

Duval had already begun his ascent to the top of the golf world by early 1999. A seven-time winner on the PGA TOUR, including the TOUR Championship in 1997, Duval also captured the Byron Nelson Award and Vardon Trophy for lowest scoring average in 1998. Just two weeks prior to the Chrysler Classic, Duval won the season-opening Mercedes Championship in Hawaii. He would eventually ascend to the top spot in the Official World Golf Rankings by March, with his improbable performance in the desert one of the year’s true highlights.

He began the final round, however, facing a canyon-sized hole, seven-strokes back of the leader Fred Funk. Much like a starting pitcher in baseball who claims to have had a terrible bullpen session before his start, and is then incredulous when he tosses a no-hitter, Duval had no reason to believe he’d be in for such a special day as he felt “lethargic” warming up before the round.

“Today is the worst day I felt, actually, on the range,” Duval said post-round. “I just really was a bit lethargic and didn’t feel like I had a ton of energy this morning.”

The feeling didn’t last long as Duval got off to a red-hot start on the Palmer Course at PGA West, tallying birdies in four of his first five holes. His birdie on the first hole came after hitting his pitching wedge to within five feet of the cup. He called this birdie putt his most important of the day as he had been struggling with his putter. He needed to make that putt, he said, “just for me.” It got his round off to a fast start, and he never eased off on the gas.

After making the turn at 31, Duval notched birdies on six of his first seven holes on the back nine to move to the top of the leaderboard. Now with the lead, Duval had a chance to play for history with a 59 within his grasp. To this point, only two other golfers in PGA TOUR history had achieved a 59 in official tournament play: Al Geiberger in 1977 (Danny Thomas Memphis Classic) and Chip Beck in 1991 (Las Vegas Invitational). Sitting on a 61 (-11) with two holes left to play, birdies on the final two holes would guarantee Duval golf immortality. Still, the tournament’s outcome remained very much in doubt.

After parring the par-3 17th, that meant in order to break 60, Duval would need an eagle on the final hole, though avoiding a playoff with Pate by any means necessary took priority over history. On the 543-yard par-5 18th, Duval hit his second shot (a 5-iron) 210 yards to within six feet of the hole. It was both his best and most clutch shot of the day. He calmly rolled in the right-left putt to make eagle and put the pressure on Pate to birdie the 18th to force a playoff. When Pate’s 15-foot putt lipped out, Duval had captured his 9th tournament win in his last 28 starts.

Afterward, Duval readily admitted that both Pate and Funk had played better overall tournaments, but that he saved his best golf for Sunday. He had to shoot a 59 to win, and he did. Playing partner Bob Tway said of Duval’s historic round, “Think about it this way. I shot a 72, which isn’t that great, but it’s still even par, and David beat me by 13 strokes. How good is that?”

In the 20 years since, only six other golfers have joined the “59 Club” on the PGA TOUR: Paul Goydos, Stuart Appleby, Jim Furyk (twice), Justin Thomas, Adam Hadwin, and Brandt Snedeker. Appleby and Furyk are the only other two to break 60 in the final round, with Furyk registering a final-round 58 at the 2016 Travelers Championship in which he finished T-5. Appleby at the 2010 Greenbrier Classic and Duval at the Chrysler Classic in 1999 each won by just one stroke, needing every bit of magic along the way to guarantee their place in golf history.

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