Veteran PGA Tour pro Mark Calcavecchia set the Tour record of nine straight birdies at the recently completed RBC Canadian Open. Calc was aided by wet course conditions that allowed lift-clean and place from the fairway and the soft greens made firing at pins like throwing darts. Calcavecchia did just that with none of his birdie putts exceeding 12 feet. That is a great accomplishment for Calcavecchia, but let’s face it, he is no Rick Sigda.
Who? Almost 30 years ago to the day, in July 1979, then 29 year old amateur Rick Sigda, playing in the Greenfield Open at The Country Club of Greenfield (Mass) ran off nine straight birdies setting the amateur world record at the time which stood for many years thereafter.
To say that Rick was an unlikely candidate for this would be an understatement but not as much as one might think. He had played golf his entire life, having learned the game from his father, a former club champion at Country Club of Greenfield. At the time of his round that day, Rick was carrying a 7 handicap.
Playing with fellow members Jack Varner, Earl Cash and Nick Powlovich, Sigda’s round started out innocently enough and similar to many other rounds he had played. He scrambled to make par at the par 4 first, made a routine par on the par 3 second and then bogeyed holes 3, 4 and 5. He started his streak at the par 5 sixth hole with three shots to six feet and rolled in the putt. Another stiff approach shot birdie at the short par 4 seventh. Three shots to reach the par 5 eighth, ten feet-birdie. Fairway, approach to 3 feet on nine for his fourth bird. Driver, six iron to ten feet on 10, bang. Ripped a 5 iron to eight feet on the long par 3 11th, rolled that one in. Again, three shots to reach the par 5 12th- two feet, bingo, for his seventh consecutive birdie.
“I really started to think about it on the 13th tee” said Sigda. “Since I knew all these guys well, there was a lot of bantering going on; this wasn’t like some guy pitching a no-hitter in baseball where no one talked. They were all great, very encouraging.” They may have been encouraging but fellow competitor Powlovich was in the midst of shooting an even 100 that day. The bet here is that Calcavecchia didn’t have to endure that during his streak. “He missed them quick” said Rick
The short par 4 13th yielded yet another birdie for Sigda. By the time he crossed the railroad tracks to the 14th tee he could feel the pressure, “I didn’t know that this was potentially some sort of record. All I knew was that I was in some kind of zone unlike anything I have ever experienced and I started to get nervous about it, a little uncomfortable, out of my element.”
Overprotecting against going out-of-bounds left, Sigda blocked his tee shot right into the trees on the par 5 14th. After having to chip out to the fairway, he still had 200 yards in and nailed a 4 wood to the front on the green. With the pin back and Varner tending, Sigda rolled in a 30 footer for his ninth consecutive birdie. Varner just shook his head and Sigda just looked upwards to the heavens.
After hitting his tee shot to 12 feet on the difficult uphill par 3 15th he had a makeable putt for ten in a row on one of the few level spots on that green. He read it two inches out right and it stayed straight. The streak was over. Did he feel a letdown? “Oh, yeah, I limped in after that making a stupid bogey on 17.” His 67 was good enough to win the Greenfield Open by three shots. The score card is now framed on a plaque engraved with the inscription “World Record” and is hanging on the wall in the Country Club of Greenfield’s clubhouse. He even made the Faces in the Crowd section in Sports Illustrated.
So where did this come from? Sigda, a self described “mediocre putter”, credits having just finished reading a book written by Timothy Galley called “Inner Tennis” which was the first book ever written on the mental aspect of sports competition. “It just let me focus better, I guess”
Rick Sigda went on to play well the rest of the summer but has never approached his streak from that July day 30 years ago. In the intervening years Earl Cash and Nick Powlovich have passed on to the hereafter but Rick Sigda, now 59, is still a member at Greenfield, still operates a flower shop over on High Street with his bride Sue, still enjoys friendly and competitive games with his friend Jack Varner and sometimes thinks back to the time when was allowed by the Golf Gods to briefly inhabit The Zone, and still wonders why it ever happened to him.