Golf is the cruelest game, because eventually it will drag you out in front of the whole school, take your lunch money and slap you around. – Rick Reilly, “Master Strokes,” Sports Illustrated
Unfortunately, I do know a little about choking. If you’ve ever taken the game of golf semi-seriously then you probably know about it too.
I used to use a standard length putter, before I finally put it away for good, I had the yips so bad that in one tournament I advanced a downhill 18-inch putt about six inches. That was the low point.
It happens to the big boys too. Here are some memorable low points in the history of the game -
1928 U.S. Open: Roland Hancock needs bogey-par finish to win, but takes double bogey on 17th and bogey on 18th to miss the playoff between winner Johnny Farrell and Bobby Jones.
1939 U.S. Open: Sam Snead, thinking he needs birdie on the last hole, plays aggressively and winds up with an 8. He finishes two strokes out of the playoff between winner Byron Nelson, Craig Wood and Denny Shute.
1946 Masters: Ben Hogan three-putts for bogey on 18th at Augusta; Herman Keiser wins by one stroke.
1946 U.S. Open: Hogan has another three-putt bogey on 18th, which costs him a spot in the playoff between winner Lloyd Mangrum, Vic Ghezzi and Nelson.
1947 U.S. Open: Snead and Lew Worsham are tied on the final hole of their playoff. Snead misses a 30-inch putt on 18; Worsham makes his 30-incher.
1961 Masters: Needing par on 18th to win his second straight Masters, Arnold Palmer finds the bunker and takes double bogey - to finish one behind Gary Player.
1966 U.S. Open: Palmer leads by seven with nine holes to play at The Olympic Club and takes aim at Hogan’s scoring record. Instead, he makes four bogeys and falls into playoff with Billy Casper, who defeats Palmer the next day.
1970 British Open: Doug Sanders has birdie putt on final hole to win, but three-putts, pushing off 2-foot par putt. Bogey leads to playoff against Jack Nicklaus, who beats Sanders by one at St. Andrews.
1993 PGA Championship: Greg Norman has 15-foot birdie putt to win sudden-death playoff. He lips out, then misses 4-footer coming back as Paul Azinger wins.
1996 Masters: Norman has six-stroke lead going into final round against Nick Faldo, but closes with 78 and loses by five strokes.
1999 British Open: Jean Van de Velde needs only double bogey on 18th at Carnoustie. He hits driver into right rough. His 2-iron clangs off grandstand and shoots back over Barry Burn. He chunks wedge into burn. He hits into bunker and needs 8-foot par to make playoff. Paul Lawrie wins four-hole playoff over Van de Velde and Justin Leonard.
2001 U.S. Open: Retief Goosen needs two-putt par from 12 feet on the 18th at Southern Hills. He hits first one 2 feet by, and misses coming back to drop into playoff with Mark Brooks. Stewart Cink, tied with Goosen at the time, misses 15-foot par putt, then misses 18-inch bogey putt as he tries to clear the stage for Goosen. That putt winds up costing him playoff spot.
2006 U.S. Open: Mickelson looks like a lock with three holes to play, but on the 72nd hole he needs par to win and bogey to tie. He makes double, and is still “Phil the Thrill.”
It’s moments like these that make us amateurs want to watch. The late great sportswriter Jim Murray probably said it best - “Golf without mistakes is like watching haircuts; or having dinner without wine.”