Local linkster enters exclusive ace club

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WALLA WALLA - Dave Vargas is a bonafide duffer.

His handicap at the Walla Walla Country Club since taking up the game of golf 16 years ago while still in his mid-50s has ranged from the low teens to the mid-20s. He's currently listed as a 21, although he prefers to use his handicap index (the baseline used to compute a player's handicap at other courses) of 19.0.

Dave's predictable 18-hole round will include a few pars, a few bogies and the occasional double-bogey that drives all of us to distraction. But he's also capable of stringing together the kind of shots that will produce a birdie every now and then. And like most of us, that's good enough to keep him coming back.

But there's more to Dave Vargas' golf game than meets the eye. To say that it's unorthodox is to say that the sky is blue or the grass is green.

If you've played golf with Dave lately, you can't help but notice that he hits shots from the tee and the fairway (and occasionally from the rough) as a right-hander. But when he gets to the green, he putts lefty.

You might think this odd. But for Dave, not so much.

Dave is naturally left-handed. And when he first took up the game, that's how he played it - southpaw. But twice during those first five years, he switched over to the right side.

"I also play tennis," Dave explained. "And as a tennis player, the strongest part of my game is the backhand. And basically, golf is hitting it down the line as a backhand shot.

"So I got some right-handed clubs, swung them and felt just as good as a right-hander as I did left. There probably isn't anything else that I do right-handed."

Nevertheless, he kept going back to his natural side.

"I probably hit better shots right-handed - not so much of a slice," he said. "But I hit it a lot farther left-handed."

And everyone knows that farther is almost always better in golf, right?

Then there was the year Dave came upon the idea of carrying a mixed bag of clubs.

"For three months one year, I had seven left and seven right in my bag," Dave recalled. "And I had a putter that I could putt left or right, so I would switch back and forth depending on which way the ball would break.

"It just got me more confused," he admitted. "And everybody thought I was a little nuts."

Finally, an assistant golf pro at the club offered some advice that Dave took to heart.

"Mike Combs was the one who told me I needed to change one way or the other," Dave recalled. "So I decided to putt left-handed and hit all of the other shots right-handed."

But here is the remarkable truth about Dave Vargas' golf game. He has accomplished what few others in the history of one of this world's oldest games has ever achieved.

Back in 1996, when he was still caught up in that left-right experiment, Dave made a hole-in-one on the par-3 No. 4 hole at the club. He used a 7-iron on the 135-yard shot, and it was witnessed by Bud Waggoner, Dave Dilts and Lee Ballard.

"It was lucky," Dave recalled. "It was not a very good shot. It hit the right side of the hill between the sand trap and the green, kicked to the left and went in. Bud said it was an ugly shot."

And he hit it left-handed.

Flash forward to a couple of weeks ago. Dave was playing in a foursome with Dave LeFore, Tom Tate and Don Bush when they came to the par-3, 200-yard 17th hole. Dave knocked his tee shot into the cup with a 3-wood.

"It was what I would call a sweet draw, which I don't hit very often," Dave said. "None of us saw it go in because we are all senior citizens. We were all looking for the ball, and Dave LeFore looked in the hole and there it was."

It was also a right-handed shot, which gave him an ace from each side.

Now, holes-in-one come in all shapes and sizes. According to Golf Digest, between 38,000 and 42,000 are reported yearly.

One golfer, according to the United States Golf Register, has been credited with 59 aces - four of them in one year. According to the same source, a golfer in Denver holed out a 517-yard par-5. And in Florida, a 101-year-old golfer aced a 108-yard par-3 using a 4-iron.

In a 1996 Sports Illustrated story, Jack McCallum wrote of a 12-year-old boy who made eight aces in a single year; of PGA star Nick Faldo's famous "called shot" hole-in-one at the 1993 Ryder Cup; and of the 1989 U.S. Open at Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, N.Y., when Doug Weaver, Mark Weibe, Jerry Pate and Nick Price all aced the 167-yard par-3 sixth hole within a three-hour span during the second round.

And then there was the miracle shot by 56-year-old Neville Rowlandson on the first hole at the Felixstowe Ferry Golf Course in Suffolk, England. Rowlandson skulled his tee shot, it struck a marker in front of the tee, caromed to the right, traveled 25 yards, struck the pin on the 18th green and dropped into the cup.

Golf World described that one as a "course in one."

However, my research uncovered only one other player who was ambidexterous enough or skilled enough or lucky enough to make a hole-in-one both left- and right-handed. Ed Platzer of Bowling Green, Ohio, a natural lefty who learned to play right-handed when he couldn't find any left-handed clubs, is credited with turning the trick.

Platzer made his ace from the left side in June of 2009, 15 years after his right-handed ace. That's about the same time gap as Dave's two aces, although in reverse order.

Local golf professionals Lisa Hyland of the country club, Doug Newmann of Veterans Memorial and John Thorsnes of Wine Valley are in agreement that Dave's achievement is among the rarest of the rare.

Neither Hyland nor Thorsnes had ever heard of a player accomplishing such a feat. Newmann recalls a player during his college days at Central Oregon Community College in Bend who was a scratch player from both sides and talked of making holes-in-one both right and left, though Newmann never witnessed them.

This was back in the 1970s, and Newmann couldn't recollect the player's name or where he was from.

Who knows, there could be others out there as well who can make the same claim to fame?

But no matter how you cut it, Dave Vargas' left-right double whammy is an extraordinary achievement that sets him apart from just about every other golfer who has ever lined up a tee shot and wondered if this just might be his or her lucky day.

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