RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. A hole in one can bring exhilaration to a round of golf. Jacqueline Gagne has discovered that 14 holes in one in four months can actually make the game a little stressful.
"I'm not a serious golfer, but I've had to become a serious golfer," said Gagne, the Rancho Mirage, Calif., resident who gained international fame for scoring 14 aces between January and May. "I play for the fun, to go out and have a great time. But after all of these holes in one happened, you kind of have to get a little more serious about your game and play every shot."
Gagne's incredible run of aces, starting Jan. 23 and extending most recently to May 25, has caught the imagination of golfers and media from London to Australia. Having played for only four years, Gagne's claimed aces dwarf the numbers of even accomplished players and produced staggering odds of septillions to 1 against. By comparison, one ace in a single round of golf rates 5,000 to 1, according to Golf Digest.
But along with the praise and amazement of those who embrace the story have come the snorts and the outright scorn of those who can't believe Gagne's claim, even with witnesses and verification seemingly plentiful.
"She has the proof. She does have a whole bunch of people that are saying, 'I saw it,"' said Robert Barnes, director of golf at Mission Hills Country Club the site of nine of Gagne's aces. "And we have nobody who is saying, 'Well, I was there and it didn't happen."'
The demands of the sudden celebrity status that sparked dozens of television, radio, magazine and newspaper interviews as well as the barbs of the doubters and critics has been so difficult at times that Gagne admits to going underground for a while to avoid the spotlight.
"You get caught up in defending yourself, and I really got caught up in that," Gagne said. "Finally, I just said to myself, you know, it speaks for itself. I can't be chasing down all these fires."
Gagne's saga began with a story in The (Palm Springs, Calif.) Desert Sun on April 28 when her total had reached seven aces and an odds-against of 113.5 quadrillion to 1. Within a week, she made another ace, and two more followed quickly. Her story was picked up by national publications such as the Wall Street Journal and Golf World magazine.
As the aces continued to roll in, Gagne did national television, radio and print interviews that appeared as far away as The Times of London. A 10-minute feature on Gagne now exists on YouTube.
"It exploded. It was crazy, the phone calls coming in," Gagne said. "I had to get a (public relations) person just to kind of filter through the crazies."
But mixed in with the amazement were the scoffs of people who were convinced she was lying about at least some of the aces.
"I was so worried about doing the wrong thing or saying the wrong thing that I got caught up in worrying about speaking to anybody," Gagne said. "So I just took a few days and kind of went into hiding, just to rest."
A turning point, both good and bad, seemed to be when Gagne made an the ace while being filmed for a story by local ABC affiliate KESQ on May 22. Gagne felt she had evidence of her claims now, even though it didn't come in an official round of golf.
"After it was caught on tape, it got really nuts," said Gagne, who never claimed the taped ace as a true hole in one. "It's funny to kind of filter through some of the calls that come into my house. People just want you to be really careful, especially the pros here at Mission Hills, really careful about what the media is calling a hole in one."
Some of the criticism and charges amused Gagne, like when commentators on The Golf Channel's "The 19th Hole" show ripped her story.
"I started getting e-mails from Mission Hills, the members, saying we're going to e-mail (the show), they are never going to watch them again," Gagne said. "They compared me to some dictator (North Korea's Kim Jong-Il) who used to go out and say he had a hole in one every day.
"I said, 'You know what, it's OK,"' Gagne said. "That's what they are about. They rip everybody apart. So I said if it doesn't bother me, don't get upset about it." Gagne says she now has an official routine she has followed on the last few aces, and for any aces that come from now on. She'll never take the ball out of the cup herself and she'll immediately contact the pro shop of whatever course she's playing.
She's accepted the idea that people now watch her more closely than they did before the aces started piling up.
Barnes, who has never witnessed one of the aces but has interviewed the witnesses at the club, continues to believe Gagne's claims.
"I have no reason to doubt it whatsoever. I know that there are actually I think it was 26 different names at the last count of people who have seen this happen," Barnes said. "I have no doubt in my mind that this is true."