Golf is full of miracles
When I was a kid, around seven years old, my parents had a coffee table book that I loved to look through, one that I realize today had a lasting effect on my life, for many reasons. It was mainly a picture book, as coffee table volumes usually are, and it had been published by Life magazine. Your parents may well have had a copy of it, too; it may even have been a bonus gift for Life subscribers, I dunno.
It was called Days of Our Lives, and it was a photo review of the years 1945-55. Nothing particularly memorable about the book or its presentation. But flipping through it fairly often over the years taught me a lot about recent history, the big stories and many small, as Life magazine itself did every week in those years.
There was a three-photo sequence in Days of Our Lives that particularly interested me, and has stuck with me ever since…
I had already started to play golf by 1956, and was fairly obsessed with the game. The three photos in the book were what today would be called “screen grabs” – frames from the CBS-TV coverage of a long wedge shot that journeyman Tour pro Lew Worsham made from the fairway, to an elevated green. It was the 18th hole of the 1953 World Championship of Golf, in Chicago, the richest tournament on the Tour at the time. Worsham couldn’t see the green, just the top of the flag, but his shot went straight into the hole. A whopping $25,000 went straight into his pocket for winning the tournament with that eagle 2… this was about eight times the average annual salary for an American back then. It was, I believe, the first live network telecast of a golf tournament ever. What a debut!
I was reminded of this amazing hole-out this past Sunday, as I watched Jordan Spieth sink his bunker shot on the first playoff hole of the Travelers Championship. He still had to wait for Daniel Berger to miss his subsequent putt from off the green, but nonetheless, Spieth’s amazing shot won the event. I wouldn’t call it a miracle, because Spieth himself won his first PGA Tour event four years ago by holing-out from a trap at the John Deere Classic.
And because, by now, we’ve all seen quite a few “miracle” shots, many of which have won tournaments for the players who made them. So that word is becoming a bit redundant. But let’s recall a few of them…
Larry Mize’s chip shot on the second playoff hole in the 1987 Masters certainly comes to mind instantly. That shot, from 140 feet off the side of the 11th green, stuck a dagger in the heart of Greg Norman, who was standing waiting to make a 30-footer, which, of course, he didn’t. Larry Mize never really contended for anything “major” before or after that one shot. Greg Norman never won the Masters, either, despite finishing in the top 5 at Augusta seven times in his career.
Japanese golfer Isao Aoki recorded his only PGA Tour win in 1983 when his main opponent, Jack Renner, lipped out for eagle on the 18th hole at the Hawaiian Open. Aoki was lying two in the fairway, needed to get up and down for birdie to tie. Aoki’s wedge shot, from the rough, took one bounce and pounced into the hole for eagle, and victory.
Tiger Woods’s 50-foot chip-in on the 16th hole of the final round of the 2005 Masters didn’t technically win the tournament for him (he won in a playoff over Chris DeMarco), but could be said to have stuck a dagger in DeMarco’s composure, ultimately forcing the playoff. It’s still one of the most amazing shots any of us have ever seen, considering the circumstances, and the fact that Tiger aimed the ball 25 feet above the hole, planning for a 90-degree turn.
There are others, of course. Tom Watson’s chip-in from the rough on 17 at Pebble Beach in the ’82 US Open, sealing a win over Jack Nicklaus. Bob Tway’s hole-out from a bunker on the final hole at ’86 PGA Championship rattled Greg Norman enough to ensure victory, and Tway’s only career major. Paul Azinger’s holed bunker shot to win the ’93 Memorial. Or going way back, Gene Sarazen’s double-eagle on the par-5 15th hole at Augusta, that put him in a playoff that he won the next day.
Of course, for us mere mortals, a hole-in-one, anytime, is pretty much our definition of a miracle shot. I’ve seen a few of those in my life, including three of my own. A hole-out from the fairway is even rarer.
Roughly 50 years ago, my friend Paul Bushnell and I went out to play one evening at Muskoka Lakes. Paul brought along his super-8 camera, so we could shoot some film of each other’s swings. We both hit good drives on the first hole, then Paul stood behind me for my 7-iron into the green, and said, “tell me if it’s on line and I’ll zoom in on the green.” I hit the ball and said, “yup, it’s good”. Paul zoomed in and recorded the ball going into the hole on the fly, and the flagstick bending to a 45-degree angle. The ball then popped out of the hole, d’oh! Almost a Lew Worsham for Jim!
I’ve often thought about that shot, and wondered how awesome it would’ve been if it’d happened on the 18th at Augusta, on a Sunday afternoon in early April. It didn’t, but now at least I got to write about it!