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Golfer’s hole-in-one worth $1 million

Copyright © 2013 Albuquerque Journal

Jeff Barton visited Albuquerque last week as a favor for a friend.

Turns out, he was the one to receive the favor – a life-changing one.

“It’s crazy,” the 46-year-old Bostonian told the Journal of the reaction to his hole-in-one – for which he won $1 million – at Paa-Ko Ridge Golf Club last Thursday.

“It’s taken on a life of its own. It’s incredible and exciting for myself, and for the folks who were part of it. To see go it go viral on YouTube and become one of the lead stories on Yahoo(.com). I appreciate the kid who captured the moment.”

That kid is East Mountain High School senior Mitch Lopez, who was shooting video of the event.

Using a rental-club 8-iron, Barton lifted the shot from the fairway of the par 3 ninth hole from 150 yards out during Corley’s Albuquerque Lincoln Volvo Million Dollar Shootout. It was part of a tournament to raise funds for East Mountain High.

His ball hit the front of the green, made a beeline towards the cup and didn’t stop until it dropped.

“I was just thinking, ‘OK, you’re the last one, come on, hit and we get to go home after working 10 hours,’ ” said Paa-Ko’s first assistant pro, David Muttitt. He had to hang around because the Hole In One International insurance company, which pays the $1 million, requires a PGA member to be at the tee box during such a contest.

“The first thing I thought (when the shot went in) was, ‘Oh, my God. We’re going to be here another 2½ hours,” Muttitt added with a laugh. “I’m really happy for him, but if he had just missed, we’d all be living our lives as normal right now.”

Instead, the shot has sent Muttitt and a number of folks scrambling to get affidavits signed, speak to investigators and even “take polygraph tests,” he said.

Tournament director Missy Bishop said she has 10 days to get all the documents squared away. Assistant tournament director Lori Webster was also required to shoot a video, which must be sent to the insurance company located in Reno, Nev.

President Mark Gilmartin said his Hole In One International, formed in 1991, insures “about 15,000” events a year, including field-goal kicking contests, half-court basketball shots and the like.

The company pays out hundreds of prizes a year, but this is only “the sixth or seventh time” it’s had a $1 million winner. He says it’s still to be determined how Barton will receive the money, which could come in the form of a $50,000 annuity for 20 years or a cash settlement.

Barton said he and his wife of seven years, Leah, aren’t sure how they will take it, and the experience “still hasn’t sunk in.”

Leah was bathing their kids, 4-year-old Samantha and son Alex – who turned 2 on Sunday – when he called.

This was the third time Barton attended the event, which his company – MobilexUSA – helps sponsor. As part of the package, MobilexUSA (a provider of X-rays and ultrasounds), gets a four-player team in the field.

None of the sponsors pays any part of the $1 million prize or the $1,500 insurance policy. The latter was purchased by the tournament.

Barton said he chose to play in the event because “I used to work with Peter Nyland, whose kids go to East Mountain High School, and he is on the school’s (foundation) board. He moved to Albuquerque (in 2002), and Peter is a wonderful friend.

“I’ve participated the last couple of years for him and for the school. It’s always an enjoyable experience playing at Paa-Ko Ridge.”

Webster said the event raised about $35,000 through entry fees ($125 per player) and sponsorships, and was part of a week’s festivities that include a gala, auction and raffle. In all, she said the school has raised about $110,000 this year.

During the tournament, nine players won entries for the Shootout – five for the $1 million and four for a chance at a new car. They qualified based on performances in other contests – longest drive, longest putt, closest to pin, etc.

Three contestants in the 130-player field were then chosen in a blind draw – two to shoot for the car from 140 yards and one for the million from 150 yards. Barton’s name was picked for the chance at the $1 million.

Only 10 were still around by the time the contest started around 7 p.m. Barton was the last guy to swing – and then it was time to pop the champagne.

“We’ve been saving a magnum more than 14 years for a special occasion,” said Nyland, whose sons, P.J. (senior) and Quinter (junior), attend East Mountain. “(Wife) Valerie and I thought this was the right occasion.”