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Toledo Getting By as a Fringe Player, but It's Been Rough

SPORTS WEEKEND | GOLF / THOMAS BONK

January 29, 1999|THOMAS BONK

About an hour before David Duval eagled the last hole to end his historic and record-tying round of 59 at the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic in front of a gallery of thousands and a television audience of millions, 36-year-old Esteban Toledo of Mexicali, Mexico, signed his scorecard for a 68 in front of his caddie and the woman who kept his score.

Duval finished first and won $540,000; Toledo finished tied for 28th and won $20,850.

If Duval was happy, Toledo was ecstatic. It's a matter of objectives, probably. Duval is trying to be the player of the year, and Toledo is trying to make enough money to keep his PGA Tour card for next year.

That's the way it goes in pro golf. For every David Duval, there are many more Esteban Toledos trying to stay around, hoping for a good week and praying for a chance to make it big.

Toledo signed for his 68.

"I'm tired," he said.

It's not easy for all the tour pros, and it definitely hasn't been easy for Toledo. Born on a farm in Mexicali, he found a golf club one day and started hitting rocks. When he was 8, he hid in the trees on a golf course in Mexicali, then would climb down and fish golf balls out of a pond with his toes. He sold the balls back to members of the country club.

Sometimes Toledo waded across a creek to the course, found the seven-iron he had hidden under a bush and sneaked onto the practice range until somebody chased him away.

He had jobs at the driving range and as a professional boxer before he decided to make golf his career. Toledo, naturalized as a U.S. citizen in 1984, has made 12 trips to the finals of the PGA Tour qualifying school and made it twice. In 1998, he won $254,359 on the tour and kept his card for this year.

So far, it has been a struggle, but he won't complain.

"A lot of people think it's going to be easy, but it's not," he said. "I have to work twice as hard as I did last year. I want to prove I belong up here. I'm really happy for any success . . . not because of the money, but because of the dream. You work your whole life to get here."

Peter Jacobsen, who has taken Toledo under his wing to help him adjust to tour life, said Toledo represents a true success story.

"The tour needs stories like Esteban Toledo," Jacobsen said. "We have enough country club guys, like me. He's like a poster child for anyone who wants to make it."

Toledo lives in Irvine and he and his wife are expecting their first child in six weeks. All he wants to do is to be able to support his family by playing golf. He has all year to do it.

"I appreciate everything I have now," he said. "I am the same person on the golf course and off of it. It is because I came from the bottom. For me, this is wonderful. This is like being in heaven. I can't wait every single morning to get up."

59 PLUS 1

All right, so the Hope wasn't a major tournament and the Palmer Course at PGA West isn't exactly Cherry Hills or Oakmont, but an argument can be made that Duval's 59 was the greatest round of golf in history.

It wasn't Johnny Miller's 63 at Oakmont in the 1973 U.S. Open or Arnold Palmer's 65 that won the 1960 U.S. Open at Cherry Hills or Ben Hogan's 67 that won the 1951 U.S. Open at Oakland Hills when only one other player broke 70 the entire tournament.

But a 59 is still a 59. Compared to the other 59s in PGA Tour history, Duval's is unparalleled. When Al Geiberger shot his 59 in 1977, winter rules were in effect, so he played lift, clean and place. Chip Beck's 59 in 1991 was played at the questionable Sunrise Golf Club in Las Vegas.

Beck made a 40-foot birdie putt on No. 1 and had two other putts of at least 20 feet. Geiberger began his round with a 40-foot birdie putt and after making the turn, holed a wedge from 30 yards for an eagle.

* The combined distance of the putts Duval made for 11 birdies and one eagle was 52 feet.

* Duval had putts for birdie or eagle on 17 holes.

* Only four of those putts were longer than 10 feet.

59 PLUS 2

The other players who finished in the top 10 at the Hope averaged 67.5 for the last round, meaning Duval beat his closest competitors by 8.5 shots.

59 PLUS 3

Geiberger happened to be in the desert Sunday and watched Duval finish his round while having lunch with his teacher, Jim Blakely, the pro at Desert Horizons.

Said Geiberger, after seeing Duval stand over a six-foot putt for eagle at No. 18: "At least I knew he wasn't going to shoot 58."

59 PLUS 4

It was noted in some news reports of Duval's 59 that he is not particularly long . . . OK, OK, I wrote it. As it turns out, I was not particularly right.

Duval ranked sixth in driving distance last year, averaging 286.8 yards.

The reason is he's stronger. Duval said he has bulked up a bit, back from 178 pounds to 195. That's still down from the 200-plus he carried around in 1995, his first full year on the PGA Tour.

59 PLUS 5

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