In a few weeks, Margaret Howard will turn 79 years young. She will, in all likelihood, celebrate by playing a round of golf on her home course at Lake Hefner Golf Club.
If the golfing gods are smiling down on her, as they have done so often for almost six decades, Howard just might record another hole-in-one. Not that the Oklahoma City resident has her heart set on accomplishing such a feat " then again, she really wasn't expecting any of the other 14 aces she's made since 1968, either.
That's right: 14.
According to a 1999 Golf Digest article, the odds for an amateur player making a hole-in-one are estimated to be 1 in 12,750. Over the course of that same golfer's lifetime " provided he or she plays 25-60 rounds annually " there is approximately a 20 percent chance ever to record a single ace.
Howard, obviously, has been defying those particular odds for much of her adult life. While she doesn't have a secret recipe for success or a profound explanation for her incredible good fortune, there is something undeniably magical about her relationship with the game.
One can hear it in her voice when she, well, waxes poetic about her No. 1 passion in life.
"I love the rhythm and the timing involved in the game. To me, the golf swing is like a form of art," she said. "It's a game that allows you to improvise and be creative. The possibilities are endless. After all, you have 14 different clubs in your bag and so many different situations you can find yourself in out on the golf course."
Once upon a time, she dreamed about playing golf for a living.
Shortly after enrolling in a golf class as a sophomore at the University of Oklahoma in 1952, she made a trip south to Ardmore's Dornick Hills Golf & Country Club to watch an exhibition featuring LPGA stars Babe Zaharias and Patty Berg. Howard admittedly fell in love with the game that afternoon, and felt getting paid to play would be a great life.
"When I initially got into the golf class at OU, I really had no clue. It just seemed like something I would enjoy," she said. "Then going to see Babe Zaharias play that day was an amazing experience. It was definitely inspiring where my golf was concerned, but I also realized how difficult it must have been for those women playing on the LPGA back then."
Howard graduated from OU in 1956 with a degree in health and physical education, and eventually accepted a teaching position in Colorado.
But the weather there wasn't exactly conducive where her favorite hobby was concerned, so she took a job in North Carolina the following year.
That's when her game really took off, and she began to play competitively in and around the Winston-Salem area. During the 1960s, Howard captured the city championship title in Winston-Salem and later produced a runner-up finish in the North Carolina state women's championship.
In 1968, she made her first hole-in-one, thus opening the flood gates for the 13 that have since followed.
"I realize it's pretty amazing to have that many, and it's hard to explain why. Part of it is luck. Part of it is that I've always hit a straight ball. I've played golf for 58 years, so I know strange things happen in this game," said Howard, who has recorded aces each of the last three years, including her most recent hole-in-one on May 24 at Twin Hills Country Club during the annual Bridget Brewer Memorial Scholarship Fund Tournament.
Speaking of strange happenings "¦
That particular morning, Howard was part of a team that included Robin Meyers, senior minister at Mayflower Congregational UCC Church. Still recovering from a recent surgery, Howard admittedly was not ready to play 18 holes. So she sat out the front nine.
Her first real swing of the day came at the par-3 11th hole, where she used a driver to cover the 130 yards from tee to green. However, her shot sailed wide left and struck the edge of the cart path, bounced right and began rolling across the putting surface.
"I didn't think it had a chance to be on the green, so I turned and walked away," said Howard. "Suddenly, everyone is telling me it went in. I wasn't sure what to think. Honestly, I was pretty floored about the whole deal."
She was floored even more when she discovered ace No. 14 earned her $4,000 cash.
"It was fantastic. Could not have happen to a sweeter lady, and on her very first shot of the day," said Meyers, recounting the moment at the post-morning-round luncheon that day.
Not that Howard needed any additional incentive to continue her amateur golfing career, but adding another ace to her résumé no doubt provided motivation to get fully healthy again soon.
"The golf course has always been such a special place for me. I have to ride (a cart) now, but as long as I can get around and swing a club, I'll play," she said. "I can't wait to play some more soon, especially here in the Oklahoma City area. We have more first-rate quality public courses here than anywhere I've ever been. That's pretty special."
photo Margaret Howard has sunk 14 holes-in-one in 58 years of playing golf. Photo/Adam Kemp