While all eyes and attention focused heavily on Tiger Woods at yesterday's opening round of the 112th US Open, fellow-American Nick Watney struck a 5-iron from 190 yards on the 17th hole that found the hole for the third albatross in US Open history. Perhaps more amazingly, it was the second albatross in back-to-back major championship rounds after Louis Oosthuizen's 4-iron at Augusta's 2nd hole of the final round.
As much as I wanted to enjoy the moment and its historical significance, I found myself frustrated at the continuous use of the term "double-eagle" by the American commentators and media.
Like most people I learnt at a young age that double means twice the number of something. Later, I discovered that an eagle in golf meant you scored two-under on a particular hole. Therefore, I have come to the conclusion that a double-eagle is surely not three-under on a hole.
A Google search this morning for "double-eagle" plus "Nick Watney" produces 95 news articles praising the 31-year old on his historic double-eagle. But why "double-eagle"?
The term "albatross" followed the pattern of terms set out for describing holes scored in under-par. According to golfing folklore, the term "birdie" dates back to 1899 at Atlantic City Country Club in New Jersey when George Crump made a score of one-under par after hitting a bird in flight. His playing partner described it as a "bird" of a shot, and thus the name was coined.
Staying with the bird-theme, an "eagle" become the name for a hole played in two-under par, an "albatross" for three-under and a "condor" for a hole played in four-under (i.e. a hole-in-one on a par-5). And before you ask, no I haven't come close.
Perhaps the most famous albatross in golf history came at the 1935 Masters tournament, when Gene Sarazen holed his 4-wood shot from approximately 235 yards on the par-5 15th hole. Coined by journalists at the time as the "shot heard around the world", Sarazen actually described the shot as a "dodo". Much like that ill-fated bird, the name didn't stick around.
Regardless of the history and decades of use, an "albatross" is referred to by many as a "double-eagle". Who first came up with this classification error is unknown, but what is known is that Americans love the phrase. Likewise, British golfers and journalists love to debate its validity.
So the next time you hole out from 240 on a par-5 for a two, or ace a par-4, take a moment to decide on what phrase you will use when bragging in the bar.
On behalf on my sanity and mathematicians everywhere, if you hear someone declare, "Hey guys, I just made a double-eagle!", please take a moment to correct them, with or without the force of a sharply-grinded sand-wedge.