One (Actually Three) for the Ages

A generational tale of a family that can’t stop dropping holes-in-one

Golf stories are like calendar pages: There’s one for every day of the year, and we’ve all heard our share. With this particular whopper, if I didn’t know these people personally, I would say there was a healthy dose of Irish storytelling involved. What happened seems about as likely as getting struck by lightning while clutching a winning lottery ticket as the Cleveland Browns win the Super Bowl. But this is no pub fiction. 

It’s important to state upfront that this story of statistical absurdity happened in a quiet little town in western Wisconsin named Luck, on a track appropriately named Luck Golf Course. The course is a little 18-hole gem with twisting, hilly, tree-lined fairways sitting just outside of town. As good a place as any to align the cosmos and let things get weird.

The hole-in-one is golf’s holy grail, such that when one happens it transcends the game and immediately becomes a tattooed moment in the golfer’s personal history. It’s a gift that you are allowed to overshare at almost every opportunity for the rest of your life. It’s better than baby pictures and much better than grandbaby pictures; it outshines big-fish tales and even puts to shame the story about that one touchdown you scored back in high school.

Photo by Stephen Denton

So what if three generations of the same family each had a hole-in-one? Pretty cool, right? I’m guessing it has happened more than once, but probably not more than 100 times. Well, what if those holes-in-one came to a grandfather, father and son over a 30-year period? You would nod, no doubt impressed, and say, “Very cool.” But what if all three of those showpieces happened at the same course? You would then say it’s time to get the calculator out and look at the odds. But wait—one more variable to punch in: What if all three of those aces were sunk on the same hole? 

And there it is. There’s your bazillion-to-one scenario, where probability approaches zero. The best I can come up with is you’re looking at a staggering 10,000,000,000:1 odds. It’s the point where we should take a look at some supernatural intervention combined with unthinkable karma and a rusty horseshoe thrown in for good measure. Or perhaps, as members of the O’Keefe family will wink and tell you, it’s simply a new category in the luck of the Irish.

The O’Keefes are a big family, so that certainly helped their odds. And they love to bet on golf almost as much as they like to play. The O’Keefe betting rules are written in pencil, depending on the day and hole. The key takeaway is that you always pay an O’Keefe—that is chiseled into the Blarney Stone—but they are a fun bunch.

My connection to the family is through Mike O’Keefe. His father, Daniel, logged the first of the three aces back in 1989 at the spry age of 67. (He played well into his 80s.) Daniel was a tall, steady linksman with a smooth backswing and 13 children. I can only imagine what four hours of quiet “me time” must have felt like to him. He deserved a hole-in-one just for keeping the social-security system from collapsing on us baby boomers.

The family isn’t 100% sure which club Grandpa O’Keefe used on No. 12, an uphill 170-yard tester of a par 3, which, by the way, lands onto a tabletop green with precious little bail-out room. (This story is not about me, but I can report it is very much a bogey hole for most, even the O’Keefes.) Because the family is so large, we are able to get a proper sample size, and the general consensus is that Grandpa was swinging a 5-iron that day. Pretty impressive for a man in his late 60s. The “No. 1” trophy in honor of the shot has sat proudly on the family’s cabin fireplace mantle for years.

Hole-in-one No. 2 came along in 2010. I must have played 100 rounds with Mike over the years; I’ve had the pleasure of losing money to him at countless courses across the Midwest. I’ve also taken in a few rounds with his brothers, who are similarly focused on the currency-exchange portion of the game. Those greenies, flaggies and closest-to-the-pin contests rarely seem to go my way, and I’m fine with that, but I wish I would have seen Mike’s bull’s-eye. His ace was clubbed with a 6-iron into a 15-mph side wind; the ball reportedly had no business hitting the green, let alone rolling into the cup, but it did. The O’Keefes celebrated with a round of cold beers in the old clubhouse and finished off the day by wondering just what the odds of having a father and son drop aces on the same hole could be? They couldn’t settle on a number, but knew it was rare air. They decided to order another round.

Look it up….I personally have better things to do than fact-check three generations of immediate family scoring holes-in-one on the same hole.

Rhett Arens

Grandpa O’Keefe, as his 38 grandkids and 36 great-grandkids kindly called him, was a casual golfer and a family man. He also may be a bit of a meddler in the afterlife. Was it his hand that reached down and helped his grandson’s tee shot trickle across that 12th green at Luck in 2019, just for giggles? Do you have a better explanation? I’ve heard that sort of thing is a good answer for happenings that can’t be explained any other way. (Bigfoot, I’m looking at you.)

Hole-in-one No. 3 came from the outer branches of the O’Keefe family tree, in the form of 30-year-old David, Mike’s middle son—a quiet oak of a guy who would rather cast bass lures than perfect his wedge play. Don’t get me wrong, the young man can crush a driver, just not often in the direction he is aiming. So, naturally, he pulls a 7-iron on No. 12 just to remind everyone in his foursome how old they really are. The ball, with a beautiful arcing flight, hits the deck with a thump and rolls out toward the back-left pin. What happens next is what lawyers refer to as the principle of impossibility, sometimes called force majeure. That is the rule whereby impossibility happens, which then proves there isn’t such a thing as impossibility. Are you following me? I’m sure some diligent law intern with a solid GPA built his thesis on this axiom, but that is irrelevant to the fact that this dude, David (who, by the way, is an engineer), made history. Look it up. Good luck finding anything. I personally have better things to do than fact-check three generations of immediate family scoring holes-in-one on the same hole. Sorry, Siri, you’re out of your depth.

You can be certain that when I’m bellied up in that cozy pub somewhere along the dune-strewn shores of the Irish motherland after a round of drizzle, wind and bogeys, I will unfold this tale of family fortune to whoever will listen. Hopefully it will make everyone smile and feel a bit luckier to have heard it. Not that the Irish need any more of that. And, not for nothing, I hear through the grapevine that David’s young daughter has a pretty sweet swing.