- The Washington Times - Monday, June 3, 2002

For the average duffer, the odds of making a hole in one are about 34,000-to-1, according to the helpful folks at holeinone.com longer than the odds of living to the age of 100 (20,000-to-1). The typical ace is made by a 39-year-old male, a 14-handicapper, with a 9-iron on the ninth hole from 150 yards.
On Saturday.
In California.
The typical ace is definitely not made by one of the leaders of the Kemper Open coming down the stretch on a Sunday. Those are the kinds of shots that drop in a Dan Jenkins novel, not in a real-life PGA Tour event. But Bob Burns pulled it off yesterday at the 157-yard 11th at Avenel. One moment he was tied for the lead at 10 under, the next his 9-iron tee shot was landing on the right side of the green and rolling, rolling, rolling 50 feet down the hill right into the cup. How's that for grace under pressure? (Or is it good fortune under pressure?) With one swing of his club, Burns had put two strokes between him and the rest of the field.
You're supposed to win the tournament when that happens, aren't you? In fact, you're probably supposed to walk on water (in this instance, across the pond at 17) en route to the trophy presentation. You're not supposed to double-bogey 16 totally killing your chances after hitting, by your own estimation, "my two best shots of the day."
Such are the vagaries of golf, as Burns will tell you. The 34-year-old Northern Californian has seen much in his travels on the PGA and Buy.com tours. He's made multiple trips to the Qualifying Tournament, once missing out on his card by a single stroke. At one point (1997), he pretty much dropped off the face of the earth. Burns has been to Hattiesburg and back, make no mistake about that.
That's why he reacted the way he did when the golf gods smiled on him at 11. "I didn't take the hole in one to mean I was going to win the tournament," he said. "It's a tough golf course. The greens are fast and firm. It's windy out. "
And on top of that, he'd never won a PGA event. He'd won twice on the lesser tour, but the best he'd done against the big boys was tie for fifth in the '94 Buick Classic. Most of his adversaries yesterday, on the other hand Steve Elkington, Justin Leonard, eventual winner Bob Estes, even Rich Beem had experienced the thrill of victory.
"There's some things in my game that I revert to under pressure," Burns said, "and that's something I have to work on. I get underneath it a little bit, and it causes me to spray it a little bit left and right off the tee like I did at 18."
To make matters worse, his playing partner, Estes, is an automaton, a par-making machine. He had 17 of them in the final round 17 pars and one birdie. Indeed, he was the only player not to make a bogey all day. So Burns' ace didn't rattle Estes in the least. Well, OK, maybe a little.
"There's a lot of guys out here like Bob who work so hard at it and do everything they can to win tournaments," said Estes. "I was like that for a long time. So yeah, [after the hole in one] it could easily have been Bob Burns' day. But I also knew we had a lot of golf left, and on this course there's so much danger that a one- or two-shot lead with that many holes left is not that big a deal."
And sure enough, by the time they came to the fateful 16th hole they were even at 11 under. Burns had bogeyed the murderous 12th, and Estes had finally made a birdie at 14. But while Estes did the sensible thing at 16 and hit to the middle of the green, Burns did the courageous thing and went for the pin. His reward? A double bogey and a third-place check for $208,000 (after his approach went a tad too long and rolled into the collection area).
The money should help Burns stay on the tour, but a victory would have helped more. The Bob Burnses of the world get only so many cracks at the crystal, and who knows when the next opportunity might come?
Fortunately, his good buddy Beem was around to cheer him up. They're always being mistaken for each another, it seems "and it really [hacks] us off," Burns said with a smile.
So when Burns arrived at the interview tent just as Beem, the runner-up, was finishing Beem said, "Hi, Burnsy. Did you sign my [autograph] for any of the people today?"
Soon enough, he was inviting Burns to a post-tournament pizza party. "What kind of pizza do you want, Burnsy?" he asked on the way out.
"Pepperoni and black olive," came the reply.
Let's end it there, shall we? Let's end it with Rich Beem and Bob Burns chowing down on a pizza, talking about a hole in one and a tournament that was almost theirs.

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