What’s the worst shot ever to lose a major?

Each week we ask our panel of writers, PGA members and golf industry experts to weigh in with their views on the hot topics of the day.

Anna Nordqvist won her third major on Sunday at the AIG Women’s Open after playing partner Nanna Koerstz Madsen, who was tied for the lead, shanked her bunker shot on the 72nd hole and eventually made a double bogey. There are obvious comparisons to Jean Van de Velde, who also had issues on the 72nd hole at Carnoustie in 1999. What’s the worst shot you can recall that led to someone losing a major? 

Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): Well, it has to be the Van de Velde bizarro you mentioned.   But Doug Sanders missing a two-footer to win the Open Championship in 1970 ranks right up there.  Cameron Smith’s banana ball off the tee in the playoff at the Northern Trust on Monday was pretty bad, too.  Then there was the series of bad shots that lost the 1996 Masters for Greg Norman.  I’m sure there are several other good examples, but they all tend to blur over the years.

Michael Schurman, Master Professional / Hall of Fame Member, PGA of Canada: The worst has to be Hale Irwin missing a 3″ putt on the 72nd hole in the British Open that would have earned him a playoff spot.

Craig Loughry, Golf Ontario (@craigloughry): Anna played splendidly coming home and finished like a Champion. Nanna on the other hand, well she almost shanked her second shot, which went into the bunker (way right), and the bunker shot, well I have no doubt she was feeling the pressure. I hope she can learn from it for the next time she is in that position. Worst shot I’ve seen in a Major leading to a loss? There are so many. Other than Van de Velde, its probably Scott Hoch at the 1989 Masters. Doh! He missed that treacherous little downhiller on the 10th hole (had to be less than 2 feet) to win in a playoff. Instead, Faldo beat him on the next hole. Similarly, Doug Sanders on Nicklaus at The Open. Worth a mention: Rory, 10th hole fiasco, snap hooked driver off the cabins! Lorena Ochoa, at her peak at the 2005 US Open, absolutely butchering the last hole at Cherry Hills. Mickelson at Winged Foot, what a disaster, he persevered though. As I said, so many, its in part why we watch though, we would rather see excellence, but we can’t look away when we see implosion.

Hal Quinn, Freelance Writer, Vancouver: It’s gotta be Scott Hoch inspiring the headlines and the chants — Hoch as in Choke — missing that very short putt (2 feet!) to open the door for Faldo (before he was a knight of the realm) to win the 1989 Masters playoff on the next hole. Often forgotten is that Hoch first had to run 11-footer two feet past to set up the infamous miss.

Peter Mumford, Fairways Magazine (@FairwaysMag): Majors bring another level of pressure entirely, so it’s not unusual to see someone do the unexpected when they’re in contention. Sometimes it’s a bad decision, more often than not it’s also poor execution. Greg Norman had a chance to force a playoff against Jack Nicklaus in the 1986 Masters but chose the wrong club for his approach on the final hole, then mis-hit it too. Phil Mickelson’s errant drive on the 72nd hole at Winged Foot in 2006 displayed a complete meltdown. The tournament was his to win and he blew it. For pure choking, I.K. Kim’s missed one footer on the final hole at the Kraft Nabisco Championship in 2012, might be the worst I’ve ever seen.

On the PGA Tour, Tony Finau won the Northern Trust in a Monday playoff over Australian Cameron Smith. It was just Finau’s second Tour victory and came five years after his first win at the Puerto Rico Open and numerous Top 10’s and runner-up finishes in between. What’s the upside for Finau’s career? Do you see majors and a Hall of Fame in his future or is he just another pretty good Tour player?

Deeks: I’d love to predict great things for Finau, but right now I’d say he’s just a pretty good Tour player.  Kind of like a Flavour of the Month that has staying power.  Like Rocky Road ice cream.

Loughry: I think Finau is very talented, but where do I see this leading? About status quo, I think he’ll be consistently one of the top 20 players for the next 10 years, but with few wins, and not likely a Major. There are too many other players who are simply better, and particularly better at putting than Tony. If he figures out that short stick, he would be deadly, because his ball striking is exceptional, tee to green not many better.

Schurman: I thought he would have won a lot more by now. Maybe this will be a breakthrough for him. I hope so. Nothing establishes or defines a career more than winning early but Finau has all the ingredients.

Quinn: Recording the tourneys allows me to fast forward past the stunningly numerous ads, the networks’ slavish devotion to showing Zach Johnson no matter how far off the lead, and Finau. Showing no emotion, no flair, nothing to indicate that this is a game after all, Finau is a no risk boring guy using the Tour as an ATM machine and nothing more. He’ll stick to that dull script until the Seniors’ Tour beckons. Anyway, it wasn’t about Finau winning for the first time in a long time, it was about Smith losing the tourney.

Mumford: I have him in my pool this week so I should say nice things about him. Maybe Tony just took longer to develop into a winner and this latest win will translate into others, perhaps many others. However, one has to wonder what held him back for five years and if some of those issues don’t linger. I’ll need a lot more convincing before I can add him to any list of those expected to win any given week.

Captain’s picks for the Solheim Cup were made this week and Ryder Cup teams will also be rounded out shortly. In order to qualify for either team (and the Presidents Cup too) players accumulate points based on medal play but then revert to match play for the competitions. Do you believe that more weight should be given to players with match play success, even if they don’t meet all of the other criteria for selection?

Deeks: No, I don’t think so… mainly because there’s not a lot of evidence of match play success for those who haven’t played in the Ryder or Presidents Cup previously.  I think the selection system is about as good as it can be: predominantly the players who have earned their status through good play over a stretch of several months, plus a handful of Captain’s picks that may or may not be based on other criteria, such as previous match play success, as you suggest.

Loughry: I’ll admit that match play deploys a slightly different strategy than stroke play depending on your opponents play (good or bad). BUT, ultimately its still golf, and you still have to execute shots, and the best players in the world generally do that. If I have a true Captain’s pick, I might consider a players team experience or match play record, but that’s as far as it goes for me. I’ll consider it, but I don’t need bonus points awarded for the few times a year (by the few players actually participate in match play) to help me pick my team.

Schurman: This subject might be the difference in favour of the Euros. I’m not anti-American but I do cheer for the European team so anything the USA does to reduce their chances is OK with me.

Quinn: It’s a real temptation for the captains but it’s such a tough spot looking past players who barely missed qualifying to guys who are off form but have good match play records. Guys should be rewarded for their play over the qualifying period and given a chance to test their mettle in match play.

Mumford: Points are for losers. Lots of players have become very wealthy by racking up Top 10’s and finishing each season near the top of the points list – often without ever winning. That’s nice for them and their family but when it comes to match play, I want guys who know how to win. There’s a different mind-set to match play. Too much weight is given to world rankings and various points lists when making these team selections. Let’s face it, there’s not much to distinguish anybody in the Top 100 except their wins, so going deep on the points list to find a better match play competitor isn’t wrong, even though many will make it out to be risky. I’d look for previous match play success at any level, the player’s record in head-to-head playoffs on the Tour and even their reputation in Tuesday money games. Some guys just hate to lose. Those are the guys I’d want on my team.


The Round Table
The Round Table is a panel of golf writers, PGA members and industry experts.

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