Muskegon pro flirts with 'perfect game' in golf, shoots 17-under 55!

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

In 2012, Andrew Ruthkoski set the course record at Oak Ridge Golf Club in Muskegon, with an 11-under 61.

On Sunday evening, while playing a casual twilight round at his home course with his twin stepdaughters, he matched the 11 under — through nine holes. By the time he was done, Ruthkoski had shot the most unthinkable of scores: a 17-under 55.

Seriously. There were four witnesses.

"Yeah," Ruthkoski said with a laugh over the phone this week, "it was a good time."

Muskegon golf pro Andrew Ruthkoski recently flirted with golf perfection.

Ruthkoski, 39, a golf pro from Muskegon who shot the 55 between a solid showing at the Michigan Open and this week's pre-qualifier for the PGA Tour's John Deere Classic, took The News through the round, hole-by-hole, which included four eagles (on the front nine alone) and nine birdies on a course that was playing slightly over 6,000 yards from the back tees.

►Hole 1, 488 yards, par 5 (made 3): Ruthkoski hit his second shot just short of the green and chipped in.

►Hole 2, 117 yards, par 3 (2): Ruthkoski almost aced it, stopping a foot to the right of the hole.

►Hole 3, 369 yards, par 4 (3): He hit his approach to the fringe and made a 15-footer. "How's that for a start," Ruthkoski told his group, after opening 4 under through three holes. If he only knew what was to come.

►Hole 4, 526 yards, par 5 (3): Ruthkoski hit a 5 iron from 211 yards on his approach, directly into the sun. He knew it was good, but couldn't tell, till he got up to the green and the ball was 5 feet short of the cup.

►Hole 5, 345 yards, par 4 (2): He said the hole was playing more like 330 yards, and on an 80-degree night with no wind, he smacked his drive just short. It bounced up to 7 feet away, and, well, you know the rest.

►Hole 6, 326 yards, par 4 (3): In a competitive round, he'd hit 5 wood off the tee on the narrow driving hole, but he hit driver Sunday. It landed just short left of the green, he chipped to 5 feet and made the birdie.

At this point, it was closing in on 8:45 p.m., which is what time the clubhouse asks the carts be returned (standard practice, so employees aren't sitting around waiting all night for a couple stragglers).

So Ruthkoski's stepdaughters, Emma and Riann Fri, 19, and Emma's boyfriend, Max Price, agreed to call it a night and return the carts. But Ruthkoski's friend, Dave Buck, who has a house on Oak Ridge as well as his own golf cart, didn't want Ruthkoski to have to quit in what was shaping up to be a historic round. So he offered to drive him the rest of the way.

"Man," Price told Ruthkoski, "you can't stop playing."

And, so he didn't.

►Hole 7, 326 yards, par 4 (4), and Hole 8, 190 yards, par 3 (3): He parred both of those holes. Slacker.

►Hole 9, 304 yards, par 4 (2): Ruthkoski drove another par-4 green, to about 20 feet, and made the putt to make the turn at 11-under-par. He shot a 25. That's a decent putt-putt score. And an epic scramble nine. Ruthkoski, however, was a one-man show.

Andrew Ruthkoski's front nine.

Ruthkoski opened the back nine with a birdie at the 325-yard, par-4 10th hole, then parred the next two holes, 370- and 300-yard par 4s, before arriving at the 531-yard, par-5 13th.

It was on that hole that Ruthkoski said he started to feel the nerves for the first time, knowing that the next birdie would put him in position to break 60 — the Holy Grail of golf.

His tee shot was a bit off line on the 13th, and he had some limb and tree issues, forcing him to punch a 4 iron. He pulled that off, advanced it to 30 yards short of the green and chipped close to get to 13 under.

"I was a tiny bit nervous there," Ruthkoski said.

Ruthkoski still had to avoid bogeys to get into the house under 60, and that wasn't a concern for long. At the 128-yard, par-3 14th, he stuffed a 9 iron to 4 feet for birdie, then made another birdie at the 324-yard, par-4 15th, nearly jarring the 30-yard chip for another eagle.

After parring the 209-yard, par-3 16th hole, he hit the flagstick on his approach to the 327-yard, par-4 17th, making the 4-footer for birdie.

Then came the 18th, a 504-yard par 5. Left off the tee is dead, out of bounds, while the driving range is right, but not out of bounds. So Ruthkoski, not wanting to derail an epic round of golf, aimed toward the range and drove it there. He still had a good look at the pin, and hit a 5 iron from 210, to about 15 short of the hole.

He didn't want to be aggressive with the putt and leave himself a tricky downhiller coming back, so he lagged it up to a foot short and tapped in.

For a 55.

Consider this: A "perfect" game of golf is 54 on a par 72. Like with a perfect NCAA Tournament bracket, as far as we know, it's never been done, at any level. On the PGA Tour, the record is Jim Furyk's 58.

"No, it's like a scramble score," Ruthkoski said. "With five guys, we can shoot 18 under. We play a scramble out here for the City of Muskegon, it supports Mona Shores High School, that's the big one that's out at that course. And guys are texting me, 'You're gonna be a one-man scramble team this year!'"

Andrew Ruthkoski's back nine.

Ruthkoski, with Buck as his escort, played the back nine in about an hour, finishing up just before 10 p.m. — taking advantage of the time of year (June 19, third-most sunlight of the year) and playing on the sunset coast of Michigan, where locals know they get an extra 20 or 30 minutes of daylight than us inland folk.

Ruthkoski posted the scorecard on Facebook, as well as multiple videos, in case you want to see history.

"Speechless," wrote one friend, Josh Vokal, "absolutely speechless!"

"That's a dirty dirty number," wrote another, Bobby DeVoursney.

Talking to The News, Ruthkoski was pretty laid-back about the whole experience. He acknowledged the course, which he's played so much he could've probably played in darkness anyway, is short. So what.

Over the years, he's birdied every hole out there at some point, and eagled probably half of them.

"So, why not in one round?" he said, with a laugh.

Now, it's back to the grind of the golf business for Ruthkoski, who was flying Wednesday for Thursday's pre-qualifier for the John Deere Classic, in East Moline, Illinois. Next month, he'll take his shot at qualifiers for the 3M Open in Minnesota and the Rocket Mortgage Classic in Detroit. He still takes his shots on the Korn Ferry Tour, too, just missing out on a spot recently, falling in a playoff. 

Earlier this month, he finished 21st at the Michigan Open in northern Michigan.

A Michigan State alum, Ruthkoski won the Michigan Open in 2007, and won back-to-back Michigan Tournament of Champions titles, in 2013 and 2014.

The resume is long and impressive, but such is the case with many of the state's top golfers.

None of whom, however, has shot — or ever will shoot — a 55.

In sandals, no less.

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Twitter: @tonypaul1984