Rick Baird, a 53-year-old IT manager at Brady Distributing in Charlotte, N.C., recently accomplished a feat seen only twice in 52 years (and not once since 1979): a perfect round of Putt-Putt golf -- 18 holes, 18 shots.
Baird oversees network and computing issues for Brady, which sells video games, pool tables, vending machines and jukeboxes. He's been a member of the Professional Putters Association since 1971 and won the PPA national championship in 2007. His perfect game was noted in the May 9 issue of Sports Illustrated. We chatted by email.
Pardon the layman's question, but what do we call your sport?
Putt-Putt is the name of the franchised courses we play at. Most people call it miniature golf but there is a difference to us. We have no pirate ships or animal figures on the playing surface. All the holes at a Putt-Putt are designed to be able to make a hole in one if you can execute the correct shot. And all our holes are par 2, like regulation golf is designed.
There is much more skill involved in Putt-Putt than miniature golf. And the beauty of our game is that age, size and gender don't matter - if you can hit a golf ball where you aim, you can compete.
Walk us through the perfect game. When did you sense something special was happening?
It was the second of three rounds in a Virginia state tournament (April 9) in Richmond. That is one of the better playing courses in the country and has a history of low scores. Both of my playing partners had shot a 19 on the course in the past. I had made holes 17 and 18 to finish the first round and felt I had gotten my speed down; it was a little cold and the carpets do change speed with the temperatures.
I was really thinking about just making one shot at a time and not thinking about making all 18 until I got to the 16th hole. By then the others in the tournament knew what was going on and they started watching. When I made it, I could feel the buzz in the air.
When I teed it up on 17 everybody was gathered around and pulling for me since it is such a hard hole, but I do play it better than most and felt confident in my shot. When it went in the place was going crazy because there was a chance for the perfect score and none of us had ever seen one.
When I got ready to play 18 everybody was still gathering around to watch. I had to back off once since people were moving and I did not want there to be any distractions, and I needed a deep breath to calm down. I could feel everybody pulling for me to make it and hit it perfectly. As it went in everybody started clapping and coming over to congratulate me. That was the best part - to get all the support and respect from my peers.
How would you compare your perfect game with accomplishments in other individual sports, say, a 300 game in bowling?
There have been three perfect 18's since Putt-Putt started having tournaments in 1959. One in 1973 and one in 1979. There are millions of rounds played each year by regular customers and tens of thousands of rounds played in tournaments by very good players. And for there to only have been three - that is fewer than perfect games in baseball. There are 300 games rolled in bowling every day (and that is only 12 shots).
Is there anything at all about being an IT professional that prepares one for high-level Putt-Putt competition?
Actually it worked the other way for me. I have been playing since I was a little kid and playing in tournaments since I was 13. So I am used to pressure situations and having to do what I need to do with people watching and expecting me to get the job done. Working long hours at my job and working long hours practicing my hobby go hand in hand.
What was the reaction at work to your perfect game?
Best word I can think of is amazement. They have all played some form of (miniature golf) somewhere in their lives and had a hole in one or two during a round. And they all know I play and have had success at it, but it is hard to comprehend how hard it is to make lots of aces.
You're an IT guy for a company that sells arcade games and you're a professional putter, so it might seem to some as though you've simply refused to let go of childhood. Fair?
I absolutely do enjoy my life. I do work hard both at putting and at Brady's when the situation calls for it and we have fun at both when the situation allows it. I worked at the course through high school and college. And I got my job here because they had video games at the course and I helped out fixing them.
Do you ever hustle unsuspecting putters?
No, that would be just plain unfair. But I have had people challenge me and find out that they're not quite as good as they thought.
Is there gambling in Putt-Putt?
Some tournament players do bet against each other but we all know each so well and know that over time it just matters who is having the better day.
Is there crying?
When I won the National Championship, I did. It was my ultimate goal and when it finally sunk in - I had a few moments.
Now that you've recorded a perfect game, what's left to accomplish?
Do it again! Win more tournaments. Have lots of fun with my friends.