Moon golf: How Astronaut Alan Shepard cheated NASA
The ingenious journey in which Astronaut Alan Shepard had to take to sneaking a golf club and golf balls, in space and on the moon.
When you think of golf, legendary players like Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Tiger Woods and Bobby Jones may come to mind. None of these legends, but become perhaps the most legendary shot in history. That distinction belongs to a NASA astronaut.
Apollo 14 commander Alan B. Shepard hit two golf balls on the surface of the Moon on Feb. 6, 1971. Shepard said the United States Golf Association (USGA) about that infamous photo. “I shanked the first; he rolled into a crater about 40 metres way,” said Shepard. “The second, I kept my head down. I hit it flush and it went at least 200 metres.”
What is little known about the famous shots is that they almost didn’t happen.
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Shepard’s Apollo 14 mission came directly after the ill-fated Apollo 13 mission where an oxygen tank exploded leaving the astronauts to scramble to return safely to the Earth. Maggie Lagle, a historian of the USGA, told Fox News that NASA does not have a sense of humor after Apollo 13, and would not have let Shepard take a golf club on the mission, so that Shepard secretly a club and balls in the room with him. “It was quite a big deal for him to sneak the club-head and golf balls in space!” said Lagle.
How he managed to get them in the space was an ingenious affair.
According to Lagle, the only two men who knew a lot about the club were Shepard and Jack Harden, a golf pro at River Oaks Country Club in Houston.
Harden helped Shepard to modify a standard 6-iron head of a Wilson golf club. The men confirmed to be a versatile tool that astronauts use to scoop soil and rock samples from the surface of the Moon. Shepard hid two golf balls in a sock and put the club head in his spacesuit.
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As Shepard and Astronaut Edgar D. Mitchell were exploring the lunar surface, Shepard took his chance and confirmed the club head of the tool and struck with his two balls. Shepard described his shots as a “one-handed chili dips”, because he did not have a large range of motion in his space suit to perform a full swing.
The journey of Shepard’s improvised club does not end on the Moon.
Singer Bing Crosby helped convince Shepard to donate for his club to the USGA museum in New Jersey. “Alan was a very avid golfer, and he would actually take part in the Bing Crosby golf tournament,” said Lagle. “Since the USGA had a really good relationship with Crosby, he had actually had a few conversations with Shepard, and it was determined that the club would come here to us.”
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There is a replica of Shepard’s club at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.
Shepard’s authentic 6-iron club head that associated with the space tool can be found at the USGA’s Golf Museum in Far Hills, New Jersey.
Emily DeCiccio is a video producer and writer for Fox Digital Originals. Follow her on Twitter @EmilyDeCiccio