The Ten Greatest Professional Shots of my Lifetime

The picturesque celebration of shot making that is Valderrama has provided me with some inspiration for my next piece: the ten greatest shots that I have had the privilege to observe. Many may not agree with my selections, but I have compiled this list based on the strong emotions I felt whilst being privy to such miraculous displays of golfing genius. Rose tinted spectacles at the ready…

10.)    Sergio Garcia’s shot from under a tree, 1999 PGA Championship

A fresh faced, nineteen year old Sergio Garcia is battling it out with Tiger Woods to be crowned the 1999 PGA Champion. He is two behind on the sixteenth tee, and his drive settles next to a root of a large tree. It seems an impossible shot, and one that perhaps only an exuberant and  confident young man would take on. Garcia plays for an enormous fade, and makes perfect contact, despite having both his eyes shut at impact. His ball inexplicably finds the putting surface, and Woods makes bogey to lose his two shot lead. No one that watched that shot will ever forget the image of Sergio sprinting up the fairway, and jumping at precisely the right moment to see his phenomenal shot somehow land on the green. A wonderful moment and one that encapsulates the excitement of major championship golf.

9.)    Luke Donald’s putt, 15th hole, 2011 Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals Classic

All the hype coming into the final event of the PGA Tour fall series was on Webb Simpson and Luke Donald. Rarely have two players been the focus of such undivided attention. Simpson, taking second place the week before at the McGladrey Classic, possessed a commanding lead in the money rankings, with Donald needing no worse that a three way tie for second to have any chance of taking the title. After nine holes on Sunday, Donald’s chances appear to be over. He starts with two birdies, but makes no further progress towards a 62 that he felt he needed for victory. An up and down at the 10th hole starts a simply stunning run, and he has made five in a row and is seven under for his round coming to the 15th tee. He hits a slightly fat tee shot, and finds the putting surface, just over 40 feet short of the hole. Donald is the best putter in the game, but no one expects him to knock in a lengthy birdie putt for six in a row, especially given his tendency to struggle under pressure. He strikes a nice putt which is tracking all the way, before it falls into middle of the cup at perfect speed. A glorious birdie two and, in my view, the most important birdie of his career.

8.)    Justin Leonard’s monster putt, 1999 Ryder Cup

As much as it dismays me as an Englishman and European, Leonard’s putt to win the 1999 Ryder Cup has to be included. Context also makes his putt even more special. The U.S. trailed 10-6 after the first two days, leaving a deficit that had never been overcome on Sunday in Ryder Cup history. The U.S. fought back brilliantly, but a bogey from Mark O’Meara on the 18th led to defeat by Padraig Harrington, meaning Leonard needed a half against Jose Maria Olazabal to win the Ryder Cup. Both find the putting surface in two on the par 4 17th hole, and Leonard is to putt first; a tricky 45 foot, uphill double breaker, through the shadows, for the most improbable of victories. He strikes it perfectly; it climbs a slight ridge and goes straight in the middle of the hole. Pandemonium ensues. There has never been a more opportune moment to hole a putt of such magnitude.

7.)    Tiger Wood’s approach to the 18th, 2002 U.S. Open

According to David Feherty, Tiger’s approach to the 18th at Bethpage Black, from 210 yards out of a fairway bunker, was the “most remarkable piece of athleticism I’ve ever seen on a golf course.” Surely no one can dispute such a claim. Tiger’s drive has finished in the left hand side of the bunker, severely restricting his stance. He has a hanging lie, an uphill, 210 yard second, and a 30mph left to right wind to contend with.  Somehow, he manages to mould himself to the slope, create hook spin and land the ball fifteen feet from the pin. “The best part about it”, proclaims Tiger, “is that I made the putt,” a putt that gave him a three shot victory. A remarkable golf shot that very few, if any, would have attempted, let alone pulled off and turned into a birdie three.

6.)    Craig Parry’s holed second at the 18th hole, 2004 Ford Championship at Doral

The hardest hole on a course called the ‘Blue Monster’ is enough to fill anyone with dread. Not only that, but in 2004, it was the toughest hole on tour, with a scoring average of 4.48, comprised, in part, by the 125 bogeys, 53 double bogeys, and four ‘others’ that were recorded during the Ford Championship. With some parallels to the 18th at Firestone, there is water all the way down the left, and if you happen to find the fairway, you are left with a lengthy approach to a green surrounded by water, sand and heavy rough. In 2004, Craig Parry and Scott Verplank are tied for the lead after 72 holes. Both find the fairway on the first play-off hole, and Parry is set to play first. He is talked out of hitting a five iron by his brother and caddy, and casually strikes a perfect six iron, lands it six feet short of the pin, and listens to the crowd tell him that it has ended up in the cup. Even Verplank is forced into a smile, and concedes: “I guess he was supposed to win.”

5.)    Shaun Micheel’s approach to the 18th, 2003 PGA Championship

“One of the greatest shots you will see under major championship pressure.” Shaun Micheel, appearing in only his third major, and coming off a bogey at the 71st hole, finds the primary rough with his playing partner, Chad Campbell, one behind at the time, splitting the fairway with his drive. Micheel pulls out a seven iron, makes a great swing, and stares down the ball as his caddy shouts ‘be right.’ Under the circumstances, right does not come close to doing the shot justice. It pitches fifteen feet short of the pin and runs up, settling two inches away from the cup. Micheel, who has no idea how close he is, takes off his cap and waves it around in triumph as his ball and the flag become brilliantly visible. A stunning shot and example of how to deal with pressure, and a major championship for a man that didn’t pick up any shots on the par 5’s over the course of the week; a man who confessed after the round that he would have been happy to make the cut.

4.)    Tiger Woods’ holed chip, 16th hole, 2005 Masters

“In your life have you ever seen anything like that?” screams a frankly overwhelmed commentator. He is referring, of course, to Tiger Woods’ miraculous chip-in from the back of the 16th green at Augusta National, one of the most memorable shots in the history of golf. His tee shot must have looked perfect in the air, but the adrenalin of being in the lead of a major championship translated into extra distance. His ball ends up inches short of the second cut of rough, making his chip shot even more difficult. He could easily have left it short of the slope, or over hit it and left himself an undulating, fifteen footer for par. Extreme precision was required, and extreme precision was delivered. His ball lands just on the green, spins on the second bounce, and starts to trundle down the slope towards the hole. Silence quickly changes to animation as the crowd realise what might come to fruition. His ball seemingly stops agonisingly short of the hole, but rotates one last time, provides a wonderfully fortuitous advert for Nike, teeters on the edge of the hole and creeps into the cup. The subsequent celebration of Woods and Williams says it all.

3.)    Graeme McDowell’s albatross, 17th hole, Valderrama, 2007

Of all the holes to make albatross, and McDowell chooses the 17th at Valderrama. Not only that, but he does it on Sunday afternoon to catapult himself into a tie for the lead. The perils of the 17th at Valderrama need no further explanation, and one can only imagine its difficulty when coupled with the added pressure of being in contention at the final event of the calendar year. McDowell hits a good drive to the left primary rough, to leave a long iron to the treacherous green.  A perfect connection and he lands the ball in the fringe: five yards short and he ends up in the water, five yards long and he faces the prospect of a hideously difficult, downhill bunker shot, with water looming behind the pin. His ball gets a perfect bounce, runs up the green, hits the pin, disappears into the cup, and rapturous celebrations ensue (never mind the fact that he double bogeys the 18th to finish in a tie for fourth!). In 2010, he describes the 17th as “one of my favourite holes on tour”, but concedes that he may be a touch “biased.” Who can blame him?

1.)    Mickelson’s shot out of the pine straw, 13th hole, 2010 Masters

When we saw the lie and the gap, we hoped he would take it on. We knew that there was a chance, given the way Mickelson plays the game; we  knew that, if he attempted it, he had the skill to pull it off, but, despite everything, we couldn’t believe that he’d go for it on the 67th hole  of a Major Championship. Perhaps this is why Mickelson is so popular: he plays the game for himself, and refuses to play the percentage. As soon as it was confirmed that the gap was big enough, we all hoped that Mickelson would reject the advice of Bones to leave it short of the stream. And how. He produces an astonishing six iron to six feet, but misses the putt, the irony being that, given his short game, if he had laid up, he probably would have made the same score. A microcosmical example of why we love Phil Mickelson.

1.)    Y.E.Yang’s astonishing approach to the 18th at the 2009 PGA Championship

I must echo the sentiments of Rob Lee, who proclaimed that Yang’s approach was “the best shot I’ve ever seen.” What an astonishing finish to an astonishing battle. Yang’s chip in at the 14th during the very same round arguably warrants a place on the list, but that was so much more  straightforward. Yang had to contend with trees, a tiny zone in which he could feasibly have landed the ball, the pressure exerted by Tiger Woods, and the pressure exerted by the prospect of being the first ever Asian to win a Major Championship. No matter. Yang hits a beautiful rescue club, almost lands it in the hole, and knocks in a ten footer to take the title. Quite remarkable.

The subjective nature of this article should hopefully stimulate discussion. Please comment if you don’t agree with the list, or think there are others that warrant a place in the top 10.

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6 Comments

  1. Good list. Where does Tiger’s fairway bunker shot on #18 at the 2000 Canadian Open rate? I’ve heard several announcers refer to that as the greatest shot they’ve ever seen. Also #7 was at Hazeltine, no? Thanks!

    • Right you are, a momentary lapse in concentration meant I wrote PGA instead of U.S. Open! Was considered, but I just couldn’t find room for it. Was an incredible shot, but, much like trying to pick out the ten most successful players over the next ten years, 10 spaces simply isn’t enough!

  2. Great stuff. Always like a list. I’d have to put in a vote for Padraig Harrington’s second shot to the 17th at Birkdale in the final round of the 2008 Open champs. That was one of the bravest and most precise wood shots I’ve seen.

    From that same competition, the best shot I’ve ever seen played live was by Greg Norman – conditions were brutal and I’d wandered out to watch him – on the 5th he hit a 5-iron from 120 yards, straight into the teeth of the gale, it never got above head height but stopped almost dead as soon as it hit the putting surface, about 8 feet from the cup – awesome!

    • Agreed, that was one brave and fantastically executed shot, so nearly made the list, along with Tiger’s fairway bunker shot at the 2000 Canadian Open. I’m gutted that I’ve never had the chance to watch Norman in the flesh, but that sounds like a shot that very few people would have been able to pull off. Wish I’d been there. Question is, did he make the putt?!

  3. ks-man

    I’d have to go with Phil Mickelson’s putt on 18 to win the 2004 Masters. While the putt probably wasn’t any more than 15 feet, there was arguably more pressure on Phil to make that putt than any golfer in memory. Had he missed it and lost to Ernie in the playoff, who knows if Phil would still be stuck on 0.

    Was it the most talented shot ever, of course not. But if Donald’s putt and Tiger’s chip are on the list than comparing contexts, Mickelson’s putt in my mind was the greatest.

    • Very good point. Clutch. But Mickleson still had a very good chance in the play-off, and it is impossible to say whether that missed putt would lead to future problems in the majors. Had it been in the play-off that he made the putt, and had it been a 30-footer instead of a fifteen footer, then perhaps it would have made the list. A wonderful moment for golf nonetheless.

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