David Cannon: The one-million-to-one man
David Cannon recounts Bob Taylor’s famous story
If you think that Claudio Ranieri’s Leicester City winning the Premier League was possibly the sporting miracle of the last 150 years then I am going to try and persuade you that you are wrong.
I have now been playing and photographing golf for almost 50 years and this tale is without doubt the most impossible golfing fairytale. By chance I was one of the lucky few actually to witness this story in the flesh.
The date was May 30, 1974. I was a member of the 10-man Leicestershire and Rutland County golf team heading to Hunstanton, in Norfolk, for the Eastern Counties Foursomes.
This was an annual gathering of nine counties to be played over the weekend in four sessions of sixsomes golf. For the confused, and I am sure there are many of you who will be spluttering into your Glenmorangies trying to understand the concept, it is quite simple really.
Each county pair play two foursomes matches at the same time so you actually played two counties at once in three balls – hence the term sixsomes.
Over the weekend, in four sessions, you played against each of the other eight counties. The afternoon of Friday May 30 saw the majority of us heading out for a practice round. Normal procedure was to play your own ball, get used to the links and most of all the legendarily fast greens.
Late in the afternoon, news filtered through that one of the Leicestershire squad had managed a hole-in-one at the 16th. Bob Taylor, after his three playing partners had in his words ‘ballooned their 4-woods short’, got out his 2-iron that he had bent to the loft of a 1-iron and punched it into the stiff easterly breeze.
Landing on the apron at the front, it scampered up the green and into the hole. Such events are rare so naturally a celebration followed and we all, well most of us, eventually headed merrily to an early bed with 36 holes to follow on the next two days.
Saturday June 1 saw the links shimmering in high-summer sunshine. When the morning matches concluded we headed for a brief lunch. Naturally we interrogated Bob as to how he had played the 16th hole that morning.
He told us that as the wind had changed completely he had used his 6-iron and that his ball had again landed on the apron and actually caused great excitement as it shaved the hole and finished at the back of the green.
I could not imagine how excited I would have been watching my ball heading straight for the pin again after an ace the afternoon before. Well, it was not to be. Or should I say that it was not to be until late on that Saturday afternoon.
Bob again teed it up on the 16th with his trusty 6-iron. The same swing, the same shot, the same landing point on the apron, then – wonders of all wonders – the ball disappeared into the hole for his second hole-in-one on the 16th hole: twice in two days – beyond belief!
The whole afternoon and evening turned into a whirl of congratulations, incredulous disbelief and fantastic realisation that we had indeed witnessed one of golf’s most amazing hole-in-one achievements.
One of the Leicestershire team at dinner wagered Bob at odds of a 1,000,000-1 on a penny that he would not be able repeat his feat for a third day in a row – a tidy £10,000 wager.
After much derision from us all around the table at the paltry ‘penny’ wager they shook hands on 25p at a million to one. I don’t imagine either of them lost any sleep that night over the potential of that bet ever having to be settled.
Then again, I cannot imagine any of the bookies or fans who engaged in bets on Leicester City winning last season’s Premier League title at 5,000-1 lost any sleep until at least Christmas.
In fact, I am sure the bookies, if pushed, would probably have offered 10,000-1. I made a call to Paddy Power himself and put the scenario to him: a low handicap player had two holes-in-one on the same hole at Hunstanton at a championship links course, on the 189-yard, par-3 16th on consecutive days.
Given the huge odds of that achievement on its own, what odds would you give me for a third hole-in-one on the Sunday? It would mean only two more attempts on this really rather tough short hole.
I was met with a rather stunned silence followed by an adding up of the chances. Bookies as a rule give 10,000-1 on an ace – he said it was almost impossible to equate but he would have been totally happy to have taken at least 100,000-1 and would probably have been pushed higher.
So Sunday dawned and Bob and his partner Bill Ridgeway did not spoil the party (how could they). It was decided that, quite naturally, Bob should again take the tee shots on the even holes. How could Bob possibly turn down the chance of a quarter of a million pounds?
In the morning matches their games were still alive as they reached the 16th hole. A not insignificant gallery had gathered to see his shot sail right of the green and our man on the million-to-one bet was breathing
easily still as we gathered for a quick lunch.
The afternoon matches saw Bob and his partner standing on the 16th tee yet again. Bill advised Bob that a half would be enough to see them win their match against Suffolk.
So our hero Bob stood on the tee facing that tee shot for the fifth time in 48 hours, with again a not insignificant gathering of interested spectators.
One hundred and eighty-nine yards downwind, smooth swing, lovely strike, pitch on the apron, a couple of decent bounces, an almost unerring roll towards the hole and the next thing we knew Bob and Bill were shaking hands with the Suffolk pair on the tee as his ball had found the hole again. Three times, five shots, three days and three aces on the same hole.
The yells and clapping could probably be heard for miles around, and the celebrations continued long into the night. We had witnessed the greatest hole-in-one feat of all time, probably one of the greatest golfing stories of all time. For me personally it is one of my favourite stories to tell, and I have seen golf in all parts of the world.
Whenever I recount this story no-one can believe that it happened.
I remember telling Gary Player this story after dinner at his farm in South Africa and one of the greatest story-tellers in golf was lost for words and made me go through the details again.
It shows miracles do happen, and luckily enough I was a member of that Leicestershire team and did actually witness one of the shots from the 17th tee in the match in front – a moment I will treasure always.
Leicester City won the Premier League at 5,000-1. Bob Taylor, a Leicestershire County player, holed in one three days in a row on the same hole with odds of at least 100,000-1 and he is still owed every penny of the £250,000 from his bet that Saturday night.
His only treasure from that momentous feat was a dozen Titleist balls from the president of the Cambridge Golf Union who also happened to be the chairman of Acushnet in the UK, some silver from his home club Scraptoft in Leicester and the wonderful stone memorial on the tee at Hunstanton.
To me though he has left us all with a truly fantastic story: The Fantastic Fox has joined the Fantastic Foxes in giving Leicester two of the world’s greatest sporting miracles.
I can only imagine what the world may have thought of this story if it had happened this summer in the modern digital age and not 42 years ago when there was no such thing as a mobile phone or the internet.