The real story behind why Mike Reasor shot the highest score in PGA Tour history

Mike Reasor
Photos courtesy of the Reasor family
At the 1974 Tallahassee Open, Mike Reasor shot what is believed to be the two highest scores in PGA Tour history -- a 123 and a 114... after making the cut. There's a lot more to his story than those two scores.
By T.J. Auclair
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Series: Golf Buzz

Published: Thursday, April 27, 2017 | 8:00 a.m.

Mike Reasor was a PGA Tour pro.

He’d beat you or me 10 out of 10 times. Forty-three years ago this week he made the cut at the 1974 Tallahassee Open. That should be the end of this story except this isn’t a usual story.

Reasor shot 123 on Saturday and 114 on Sunday. Let us repeat that: an accomplished PGA Tour professional went 123-114 on the weekend. 

Why? Because the man had no quit in him. He had the kind of drive it took to survive as a journeyman on the PGA Tour in the 1970s. It was an era when the bank account of a Tour professional depended on how well he played each week. The more you learn about Mike Reasor, the more you wonder if those two rounds were in some way the two finest he ever played.

“People never forget meeting him for the first time,” said Caron Reasor, Mike’s wife of nearly 35 years. “He was honest, had charisma and people loved him. They respected him. He was known as a hard worker on the Tour. He practiced a lot. When I wasn’t out there with him, he focused even more. He didn’t drink, didn’t party. Just worked hard.”

PGA professional Bill Tindall counted Reasor as his closest friend. The two played junior golf with one another and shared countless rounds throughout their lives.

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“He was the best,” Tindall said. “Loved to compete and if you’re out there at PGA West, he’d bet you he could run to top of the mountain and back in 30 minutes or less. Stupid things like that. He loved to eat, too. We traveled the only year I played on Tour together. He’d get two breakfasts and two dinners. But he was in such good shape, you’d never know he ate so much. He prided himself on staying in good shape. He was a fabulous husband to wife Caron and their two children. He sacrificed a lot for his children, I know that. He was a good role model for all of us.”

Tindall chuckled, thinking back, “We didn’t have ATM machines back then, but we didn’t need one. Mike was the ATM machine for our group of guys that played together. We’d take money off him all the time, but he’d always say it was a good investment because it made him work harder. I don’t think anyone around my group worked any harder than he did. His hands were calloused all the time. He was a very, very optimistic person. Good for him. Not everyone is like that. The average golfer is optimistic – lousy one day, then come back. Mike was truly optimistic. He hung in for a long time."

John Abendroth, a PGA Professional from San Francisco who hosts the radio show “Hooked on Golf,” played several practice rounds and qualifying rounds on the PGA Tour between 1975-77.

“I remember Mike as one of these really positive, engaging, energetic guys,” Abendroth said. “Almost a Peter Jacobsen-like attitude to compare him to someone today. Mike was almost like… a lot of us didn’t have gurus like Butch Harmon to follow the Tour back then… we instructed each other. I had two brothers from South Carolina that I traveled with. We’d hang out on the range, take photos and give each other tips. Mike helped with a that too. He wasn’t the eccentric that Mac O’Grady is, but darn close. He was really intent on knowing about the swing and I remember that most about Mike. A hard worker.”

Reasor played on the PGA Tour from 1969 to 1978. He never won, but recorded 10 top 10s, highlighted by two fifth-place finishes. In 241 career starts, he made the cut 102 times and his career earnings equaled $95,568.

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He wasn’t the best player out there, but he was one of the few good enough to make a living for 10 years.

That’s something.

But to get paid, you had to make starts. You had to finish tournaments. Even if it meant shooting 114 on a Sunday.

Today, a top-10 finish on the PGA Tour earns a player a spot in the field for the following week’s event (provided it isn’t a major or other invitational, in which case they have a spot for the next regular event).

In the 1970s, Abendroth told us, things were different.

“If you made cut, you got in the next week,” Abendroth said. “If you were in the top-25, you got in the next week and you were exempt for that tournament the following year. That was an important part. Back then the top 60 players were exempt unlike the top 125 today. So making the cut then was more important than today. For guys like Mike and myself that struggled to make it, he made a third or half of his cuts every year, it was really important to get in the next event.”

Which brings us back to those scores of 123 and 114.

There was one little rub about that “making the cut and being exempt the next week” – you had to complete the tournament.

That meant a disqualification or withdrawal due to illness or injury after making the cut was about as good as not making the cut at all and not just for the player’s bank account. Players’ pockets weren’t nearly as deep as they are today, so you didn’t want to dig into them to cover expenses and head to the next stop knowing you were in the hole.

Following a 1-under 71 in the second round of the 1974 Tallahassee Open, early in the day, Reasor went with a friend to go horseback riding.

The horse Reasor was riding, "Bandy," got spooked by something and went into a full gallop. When Bandy then slipped on a bed of pine needles, Reasor went flying off the horse. The fall resulted in a separated left shoulder for Reasor, damaged knee ligaments and two cracked ribs.

On today's PGA Tour, an incident like that would logically lead to a player's withdrawal from the tournament.

But not in 1974.

At that time, only the top 60 on the PGA Tour's money list were were exempt. Reasor wasn't one of those. In order to play the next tournament without a separate qualifier, players had to make the cut and finish the tournament.

How he finished the tournament is like nothing we'll ever see on the PGA Tour again -- he did it playing with one arm.

“I was in Seattle,” Caron Reasor said. “He called and told me about it and said he thought he could play. There’s no rule that you have to play with both hands!”

Using a 5-iron for most of the last 36 holes -- a club he could hit 120 yards with one arm -- Reasor tucked his left arm against the side of his body and used just his right arm to swing. From there he used just two wedges and a putter.

"At least I made a 10 on only one hole," Reasor joked to Florida Times-Union reporter Garry Smits in a 2002 interview.

“It was one year before I was out on Tour," Abendroth said. "My reaction, I would understand it. Some would say, ‘isn’t this ridiculous?’ I bet half would say, ‘you’re bugging me and shouldn’t be here.’ And that’s why the story becomes a story. He was grasping for his career and didn’t want to miss an opportunity and I get that.”

“On the last three holes on Saturday, word had gotten around the course what this crazy fool was doing,” Reasor told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer in an interview years later. “We had more people watching us than the leaders.”

Here's how Jim Barber, one of Reasor's playing partner's for the 123 in Round 3, remembered the day.

"When I showed up to the course that morning, everybody was talking about Reasor and I knew I was playing with him that day," said Barber, a Lifetime PGA Member. "My best comment about it would probably be this -- he slowed us down enough to pay attention rather than play too fast. Because of that, both Bob Stanton (the third player in the group) and I played well."

They sure did. Barber shot a 70, while Stanton shot 67... or, combined, a 137 -- 14 shots higher than Reasor.

"You know, I was more sympathetic about the situation than anything else," Barber said. "Mike was playing just in case there was any chance he could play the following week. That was life on Tour as a non-exempt player in those days and that's the same boat I was in. He wouldn't have played if he was positive he wouldn't have been able to play the following week. Maybe the exempt guys wouldn't have been as sympathetic, but I didn't hear anything."

Barber remembered that while there was nothing stopping Reasor from playing -- rules-wise -- he was told that the threesome would have to keep up with the pace of play.

"We moved around quick enough and he did fine in that regard," Barber said. "He wasn't taking any time over the ball as his scores kind of indicate.

"He wasn't trying to reach back and get any extra," Barber continued. "He was just trying to limp in. He couldn't do much. It wasn't a real wind up. He could hit it, but it was more of a pitch. It was like a 10-yard wedge effort into the green. It took a while to get down there. He was hitting it on the run, wasn't worrying about yardages or a preshot routine. He just walked up and polo-ed it down there. He was just trying to limp in and finish."  

“He had character. He was honest. He just decided he was doing that (play despite the injuries),” Caron Reasor said. “Nobody would have done that. He wasn’t embarrassed about those scores. He looked at it as, ‘I’ve got to do what I’ve got to do.’ He did it and then came home Monday and he was in bad shape.” 

He was in such bad shape that the grit and determination was for naught. He had to withdraw from the Byron Nelson Golf Classic, which began four days later.

“I think he got home and realized what bad shape he was in,” Caron Reasor said. “Nothing was broken, but there was just a lot of bruising. They can’t do much for ribs.”

The injuries eventually healed and Reasor turned in his best finish in a major championship a little over two months later, finishing tied for 15th in the 1974 U.S. Open at Winged Foot – you know… the one dubbed “The Massacre at Winged Foot.”

One of the most difficult golf tournaments ever played, Hale Irwin won at 7-over 287 by two shots over runner-up Forest Fezler. A score that high hasn’t won the U.S. Open since.

That was one of two U.S. Opens Barber played in. He missed the cut with rounds of 79-84.

"It was so hot that week," Barber said. "The course wasn't tricked up, it was just hard. I lived a foot off the fairway and that's where the lushest of rough was. I remember in the first round, I finished with six straight double bogeys. The funny thing is, I didn't miss a single shot."

Reasor’s T15 with Tom Weiskopf and Raymond Floyd at 16-over 296 earned him an invitation to his only Masters in 1975. He missed the cut by one shot with rounds of 74-75 for a 5-over 149.

“Finishing high in a U.S. Open and making the Masters were highlights of Michael’s career, for sure,” Caron Reasor said. "The fact we were on Tour for 10 years and made a living, I think was amazing. It doesn’t compare then to now. But we made enough to survive and live. That was, I think, a tribute to his hard work. And perseverance. It’s tough. We tried to wait for a win, but it didn’t happen.”

Golf was engrained in Reasor.

Caron Reasor laughed recalling how Mike, prior to their marriage, would often remind her, “Golf comes first and you come second.”

Harsh? Maybe. But deep down, Caron knew she was Mike’s queen.

“I told him he was so special, I could take being second to golf,” Caron Reasor said. “I was smart enough to know what I had. I had the best. I was in for the long haul. Years later, as we matured, we laughed about that. At the end, I knew how crazy he was about me. I was it. All the people on Tour would comment about how he talked about me all the time. I was the one. I’ve been dating a long time. It took a while and I’ve been trying for 5 years. I’d like to get married again, but I’m having a hard time. People say I’m trying to find my husband, but I’m not. He’s not out there. He was one of a kind.”

Nagging injuries forced Reasor off the PGA Tour, but he made a second career as an instructor at The Members Club at Aldarra in Fall City, Washington, and a competitor in PGA of America Section events.

On Sept. 19, 2002, Reasor recorded a 3-over-par 75 in the PGA Pacific Northwest Senior PGA Championship in Bend, Oregon. That was the last round he ever played.

“I was at home teaching school, so I wasn’t at this event,” Caron Reasor said. “Mike called me the night before and explained that he was feeling funny.”

After the round, Reasor, 60, had plans to meet up with Tindall and Tindall’s wife for lunch in the clubhouse, but never showed up.

“It was the strangest thing,” Tindall said, “we watched him putt out on 18 and then waited for a bit and he never came up. I asked the man Mike played with where he went and he said Mike wasn’t feeling well. He said Mike went to take a couple of antacids and left the course to lay down.”

He died after suffering a heart attack that afternoon, leaving behind Caron, his wife of 35 years, and their two adopted, adult children. 

Caron Reasor, as one might imagine, was devastated. Just like that, her world was turned upside down.

“We thought we had our lives ahead of us,” she said. “We had just enjoyed the most incredible summer together.”

That incredible, final summer came 28 years after Reasor’s 123-114 weekend at the 1974 Tallahassee Open.

He finished with a 93-over 381, 85 strokes behind the next player and 107 shots behind winner Allen Miller. It’s believed to be the two highest rounds ever shot in a PGA Tour event. And who can doubt any have been worse? Those two scores might not tell you everything you need to know about Mike Reasor.

Or do they? 

T.J. Auclair is a Senior Interactive Producer for and has covered professional golf since 1998, traveling to over 60 major championships. You can follow him on Twitter, @tjauclair.