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$1m ace at Fiesta Bowl contest

Former Dunedin man Ray Mills remembers feeling numb as the crowd on the green in Phoenix, Arizona went quiet and his $US1 million hole-in-one golf shot rolled in.

It was a million-to-one shot, as the prize money suggested, but he nailed it yesterday and walked away with one of the biggest prizes in golf.

He phoned his wife Barbara but she didn't believe him. He didn't quite believe it himself until they handed him the cheque.

"I was numb. You know you're shooting for a million dollars but you don't quiet believe it," he said from Arizona yesterday.

The 58-year-old is the first person in the 18-year history of Arizona's Fiesta Bowl hole-in-one contest to actually get the ball in the cup and claim the top prize.

The five-handicapper, who grew up in Dunedin and moved to the United States in 1982, had no expectations of qualifying for the final when he paid his $US20 to hit 20 balls in the fundraiser.

Held as part of build-up to the January 3 Fiesta Bowl American Football game in Phoenix, Arizona, the contest is a pretty good earner.

This year 80,000 balls were hit to the tune of $US80,000 for charity, with an insurance company being paid to accept liability for the $US1 million.

In the qualifying round, Mr Mills struck lucky on his 12th attempt, using a nine iron to sink the first hole-in-one of his life on a specially laid out 115m hole.

"It was just kind of like, `Well, I can't do it on the real golf course, but I can do it here.' It was quite amusing."

Thirty five golfers qualified for the final shoot-out at Bilmore Country Club in front of 150 spectators.

The 144m par three hole looked quite challenging: "There was a consolation prize of a trip for two to Hawaii for whoever got nearest to the hole. That's what I was aiming for."

When he swung his seven iron it felt good and he thought maybe he had booked air tickets for his wife Barbara and himself.

"I knew it was hit well and it would go pretty close.

"There was a lot of noise when the ball was in the air but then the volume increased when it landed on the green. Then when it went in everyone went silent."

When the numbness wore off, Mr Mills, a project manager for a computer company, phoned his wife to tell her he had completed his second hole-in-one in 46 years of golf, and this one was kind of special.

"She didn't believe me. I had to get one of the organisers to explain to her that it was true."

Mr Mills said it was too early to say how the prize money, to be paid in instalments, would affect their lives.

"It's a pretty interesting situation," he said.

One thing is for certain. A trip home is being planned.

His father, former Otago cricketer George Mills, has passed away but his mother Dorothy still lives in Dunedin.

"I come back fairly regularly," he said.

But it is a long flight and he admitted this time he might just be tempted to go first class.


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