When ‘America’s Worst Avid Golfer’ Made A 66 On TPC Sawgrass 17th Hole

Angelo Spagnolo shot 66 on the 17th during a Golf Digest contest to find "America's Worst Avid Golfer" in 1985

The 17th hole at TPC Sawgrass with an inset of Angelo Spagnolo taking a shot at it
Angelo Spagnolo found fame for his efforts in 1985 on the 17th at TPC Sawgrass
(Image credit: Getty/YouTube @Skratch)

The 17th hole at TPC Sawgrass is one of the most notorious in the game, with over a million balls said to have found the water from hapless players hoping to reach the island green since the venue opened in 1980.

Professionals also regularly come a cropper there, with hundreds more balls ending up at the bottom of the lake rather than the green over the years at The Players Championship. However, surely no one can fare worse than Angelo Spagnolo, who found fame in 1985 after his efforts at the 17th led to him being crowned "America’s Worst Avid Golfer."

The contest was introduced when Golf Digest tried to find the worst golfer in the country who legitimately loved the game. Per Peter Andrews for Golf Digest, criteria included needing an established USGA handicap of at least 36, while competitors needed to be in the habit of playing more than 21 rounds a year. 

After an advert went out, over 600 nominations came in before a final four was chosen to take part in a round at the venue from the championship tees.

In the end, there was a clear winner, with grocery store manager Spagnolo completing a 185-over round of 257 - 49 shots more than his nearest opponent, and it was largely thanks to his now legendary efforts on the 17th.

As Spagnolo approached the hole, he was locked with fellow competitor Jack Pulford at 104 over, but things were about to get far worse, with his swing the obvious culprit. 

He had a habit of launching the ball straight into the air with his woods, while struggling to gain any meaningful height with his irons, neither of which were conducive to either clearing the water or giving the ball the chance to remain on the green if it landed there.

Even then, though, it would have been hard to imagine just how challenging the hole became for Spagnolo. After hitting the water several times to begin with, he eventually found the green only to see the ball roll straight back off - something that happened six more times as his ordeal drew on.

Desperate times called for desperate measures and, after finding the water a total of 27 times in pursuit of the island (which is actually a peninsula with a path leading to it), Spagnolo changed his tactics.

By now using range balls, he took out his putter and began hitting down the cartpath and over the path leading to the green. There, he three-putted to make a 63-over 66 for the hole, some 40 minutes after initially reaching the tee box.

While Spagnolo was far from a genius on the course, he proved a master of the understatement off it, commenting afterwards: “The wheels came off a little.”

Still, he recovered, of sorts, completing his mammoth round with a mere 22 on the 18th as he went on to take both the title of America's Worst Avid Golfer and his unique place in the TPC Sawgrass history books.

Mike Hall
News Writer

Mike has over 25 years of experience in journalism, including writing on a range of sports throughout that time, such as golf, football and cricket. Now a freelance staff writer for Golf Monthly, he is dedicated to covering the game's most newsworthy stories. 

He has written hundreds of articles on the game, from features offering insights into how members of the public can play some of the world's most revered courses, to breaking news stories affecting everything from the PGA Tour and LIV Golf to developmental Tours and the amateur game. 

Mike grew up in East Yorkshire and began his career in journalism in 1997. He then moved to London in 2003 as his career flourished, and nowadays resides in New Brunswick, Canada, where he and his wife raise their young family less than a mile from his local course. 

Kevin Cook’s acclaimed 2007 biography, Tommy’s Honour, about golf’s founding father and son, remains one of his all-time favourite sports books.