It took Pittsfield's Rick O'Neill 35 years to experience the ultimate thrill for a recreational golfer -- hitting a hole-in-one. It took only another 20 minutes for him experience it a second time.
The 48-year-old defied odds estimated by Golf Digest at 67 million-to-1 by making aces on two holes during the same round on Monday. The first came on the 138-yard, par-3 fourth hole and the second on the 348-yard, par-4 sixth hole at Donnybrook Country Club in Lanesborough.
Considering the ball O'Neill hit for the first ace as his father, Mickey, son, Austin, and nephew, Mike Zoltek, looked on, you have to wonder if higher forces were at work.
"My nephew hit into the woods on No. 3 and while we were looking for his ball, I found a Titleist with a shamrock someone had drawn on it," said O'Neill, who is a front-end manager at Guido's Marketplace in Great Barrington. "When I got to the fourth tee, I pulled a ball out of my pocket and it was that one. I said, ‘What the hell, I'll hit it.'
"I'm Irish, I'm playing at an Irish club and a shamrock is its symbol," said O'Neill of Donnybrook, which is owned by proud Irishman Jim Kelly and his sons, Matt and Doug.
Armed, hopefully, with a ball imbued with the Luck of the Irish, O'Neill pulled out his Taylor Made pitching wedge and took aim at the left-to-right sloping green.
"I play the course 10 or 15 times a year, so I am pretty familiar with it, and I know to try to hit it left [of the pin]," he said. "I did and the ball just trickled down to the hole and went in. There was some hooting and hollering."
"That was awesome," said 16-year-old son Austin. "You could see the ball was going to fall."
Apparently, O'Neill, an above-average golfer who says he breaks 80 more often than not, was able keep his mind on his game despite the thrill he had just experienced. On the par-5 fifth hole, he
On to No. 6, a steeply downhill, dogleg-right par 4. Because it's downhill, the hole plays shorter than the 348 yards on the scorecard, making it reachable with a driver for long hitters.
"Normally on a flat fairway, he drives it 280 to 300 yards," said Mickey. "He is a long and straight hitter."
O'Neill said he had successfully driven on, and over, the green before.
"He killed the ball on that one," said Austin, a member of the Pittsfield High School golf team.
"I hit a very long drive, but to be honest, I didn't think it reached the green," said O'Neill, who was now using a Taylor Made ball, not wanting to lose his hole-in-one souvenir.
When the family foursome rounded the dogleg and approached the green, the ball wasn't in sight.
"We were looking in the rough, in the traps and even over the green," O'Neill said. "My nephew said, ‘Did you look in the hole?' I said, ‘Are you crazy? I just hit my first hole-in-one in 35 years.' "
But, with all other options exhausted, he headed to the hole.
"I was nervous to even look," he said. "I didn't know how I would react. I saw the ball and went crazy."
"The way that green slopes away, it is the hardest one on the course to hold and you would never think the ball would go in the hole," Austin said. "That was pretty insane. There was a lot of yelling and high-fives."
"My son, out of everybody, went the craziest," O'Neill said. "I think my father was is in disbelief. My nephew is in the Coast Guard based in Cape Cod and came up to play a round with us. I told him I wanted him to stay all summer."
With most par 4s measuring more than 300 yards, hole-in-ones for double eagles are few and far between. Golf Digest lists the odds at a million-to-one, compared to 12,000-to-1 for a hole-in-one overall.
Not surprisingly, O'Neill's focus left him a little as he played the final three holes.
"My nerves were shot," he admitted as he played the final three holes in 2 over par to still finish with a 5-under 31 on the nine and a 1-under 71 for 18 (the aces came on the foursome's second nine at the nine-hole course).
Other than the sheer thrill of the accomplishment, the thing that meant the most to O'Neill was sharing it with family members.
"The best part was having my 81-year-old father, son and nephew with me," he said. "It was totally, totally awesome to have my father there, the guy who taught me to play golf."
Dad enjoyed every minute of it.
"I was more than thrilled," Mickey said. "When he started playing golf, I tried to teach him. He played Drury High School but never joined a club and we just go from one course to another together. I really enjoy playing with him. I don't hit it like he does and I don't try to keep up with him anymore, but we enjoy it."
After enjoying a couple of rounds of celebratory drinks -- the first bought by Donnybrook's Matt Kelly and the second by the day's star (Gatorade only for Austin) -- the youngest O'Neill drove dad back to the family home in Pittsfield.
"I decided we needed to stop at O'Connell's and get a scratch ticket," said Austin, figuring the Luck of the Irish might continue.
But three aces in one day? Golf Digest doesn't even suggest odds on that one.
- Powerball (5 numbers plus Powerball): 175,223,510-to-1
- Two aces in one round: 67,000,000-to-1
- Powerball (5 numbers no Powerball): 5,153,633-to-1
♦ Hole-in-one odds for …
1. PGA Tour player
- Odds: 3,000 to 1
- Rounds needed to do it: 900
2. Low handicap golfer
- Odds: 5,000 to 1
- Rounds needed to do it: 1,250
3. Average player acing 150-yard hole
- Odds: 80,000 to 1
- Rounds needed to do it: 23,000
4. Two average players, same foursome acing same hole
- Odds: 17 million to 1
- Rounds needed to do it: 17 million to 1
5. Low-handicap golfer making two aces in same round
- Odds: 67 million to 1
- Rounds needed: 67 million
Source: Golf Digest