10 Golfers Who Overcame Terrible Choke Jobs
If there's ever a time to sympathize, it's when a golfer in complete control suddenly takes a nosedive.
For 68 holes at this year's Open Championship, Adam Scott was brilliant. He found the sweet spot on the club face with regularity, and even holed a few putts with his long wand.
However, a golf tournament is comprised of 72 holes, and Scott couldn't get it done there. Four final holes, four bogeys and Ernie Els was the Open champion.
It was an excruciating defeat for Scott, an über-talented Aussie who's just coming into his own in the majors. Considering the brutality of his collapse, it could take Scott precious years of his prime to recover.
In fact, the 32-year-old may never rebound, ending his career as one of the best players never to win a major.
Not so fast.
Golf is a game where resiliency is rewarded, and an elephant's memory will almost certainly be a player's doom. Many players over the years have experienced the same crushing defeat, and while some have never redeemed themselves, others have in grand fashion.
So, Scott can have the comfort of knowing that a number of players in his position have gone on to succeed.
Ten players in particular come in to mind, names big and small, and they've all put aside painful memories to continue towards bigger and better things in their golfing careers.
A child who perfected his swing by bashing balls into a basement tarp at an age where learning his times tables was seen a great accomplishment, Johnny Miller was destined to be a force in golf from a young age.
The prodigy with the looks of a California golden boy, and the single-mindedness of a future world beater, appeared ready to ascend to the top.
Miller won the U.S. Junior Amateur at age 17. Just two years later, he burst onto the pro golfing scene with a highly impressive eighth-place finish in his maiden appearance at the U.S. Open.
It was there that Lee Trevino said the 19-year-old possessed such great talent and confidence that it seemed as if “his forehead was stamped 'Can’t miss.'”
The blessings of a 7-time major champion notwithstanding, Miller didn’t quite live up to the hype at first.
Indeed, by the age of 25, Miller had just two PGA Tour victories, and had shown on a couple of occasions that he didn’t have the insides of a champion.
First was his Masters collapse in 1971. In his classic hot-and-cold fashion, he played the first 14 holes of the final round in six-under par to move two strokes clear of the field. However, he staggered down the stretch with two bogeys in his final three holes, forfeiting his chances at a green jacket.
Second was later that year, when in a battle with Jack Nicklaus at Pebble Beach, Miller shanked his approach shot on 16, leading to a bogey and his eventual demise. The terrible swipe was a moment that would hang in the back of Miller’s mind for the rest of his career.
Despite those early disappointments, and his capacity for remembering negative strokes, Miller soon put everything together.
At the 1973 U.S. Open, two years after his struggles, Miller carded a Sunday 63, moving from six shots behind into the major championship winners’ circle for the first time.
More was to follow. Miller would win 10 times on the PGA Tour between January 1974 and January 1975 (including margins of victory like eight, nine and 14), and added a second major championship to his resume with a six-shot triumph at the 1976 Open Championship.
Between 1973 and 1976 Miller produced one of the greatest four-year stretches in recent memory, pulling in 16 PGA Tour victories and two majors in that span.
This victory machine was quite a turnaround from the man who previously fell short when a W was on the line.
For those four years, Miller was the seminal golfer that his upbringing predicted he’d be. He didn’t become the greatest, but he had resilience, and that was enough to put him in the Hall of Fame.
Tom Watson was the consummate golfing champion.
Over his career, he gathered 39 victories on the PGA Tour, eight major championships and the knowledge that in the biggest situations he could take down none other than the great Jack Nicklaus.
It’s the story of a TW from Stanford (sound familiar?) who found his way to superstardom, and a place among the greats of golf.
But that’s not always how the script had gone.
In fact, like Miller, Watson suffered a series of calamities early on in his career.
In 1974, after three years on tour without a victory, it looked like Watson might get that coveted first win, and at a major championship no less.
At that year's U.S. Open, played at the fabled and brutally difficult Winged Foot, Watson posted rounds of 73, 71 and 69 to carry a one-stroke lead heading into the final 18 holes.
With all the makings of a career breakthrough, Watson appeared flummoxed in the Sunday heat, posting a devastating 79 (they didn't call it the "Massacre at Winged Foot" for nothing) that left him out of the winners' circle.
Resilient, Watson actually won his first PGA Tour event two weeks later, and his first major the following year at the Open Championship, but more Sunday meltdowns were to come.
Watson won two tournaments early in 1977, but would became media fodder when he blew a two-shot lead over the final nine holes at The Players' Championship, and a four-shot lead over the final 18 at the Heritage Classic in the following months.
When Jack Nicklaus made a spirited charge at Watson on Sunday at the Masters it seemed another gag job was imminent for the man who was 10 years Nicklaus' junior.
But this was the day that charted Watson on a course to dominance.
He matched Nicklaus birdie for birdie over the first 16 holes. When Watson curled in a hooking 15-foot birdie putt on 17 he took the outright lead, and the wind out of Nicklaus' sails.
His triumph over the game's most clutch performer only begot more winning.
Watson would win an astounding 33 Tour events over the following eight years, including seven major championships, three of which he robbed Nicklaus of victory with incredible bursts of play over the closing holes.
Early mistakes may have proven too devastating to overcome for a lesser player (See: Garcia, Sergio), but for Watson it only made his resolve stronger.
The once Sunday washout would become the undisputed best player in the game for years to come.
It was quite a turnaround.
For Rory McIlroy, 2011 was a year in which even a roller coaster ride would make a poor analogy.
The 21-year-old experienced what one could only describe as a golfing hell, followed by the breakthrough he had been waiting for, his "Hello world" moment if you will.
Even a confident, gregarious young man like McIlroy would be stunned by the three months of April-June 2011, and it wasn't difficult to understand why.
Looking to improve on his third place showing at the previous year's PGA Championship, McIlroy appeared very capable of doing so over the first 54 holes at the Masters.
In fact, the Northern Irishman held a share of the lead after an opening-round 65, and only increased it over the following two days. A Friday 69 pushed his lead to two heading into the weekend, and a third-round 70, steered him four shots clear of the field with 18 holes to go.
Sunday was to be merely a coronation day where McIlroy, much like Tiger 14 years earlier, was to announce his presence emphatically with a dominating performance at Augusta (minus any cultural significance that is).
Only, formalities careened drastically off course.
McIlroy lost three strokes of his four-shot lead on the front nine. When he sent a menacing duck hook off the tee at 10 (a swing tip Jim Furyk followed to perfection at this year's U.S. Open), the young phenom's chances evaporated.
A triple-bogey would result, as would three more dropped shots over the next two holes and a tee shot on 13 into the creak that left McIlroy nearly in tears.
His final-round 80 moved him from four ahead to a full 10 shots back.
The boy wonder was suddenly a head case who would need ample time before he could return from his epic collapse at Augusta.
It only took one major.
Sticking to his aggressive play and the philosophy that no lead is ever big enough, McIlroy pounced at the U.S. Open.
His opening-day cushion was three shots, his 36-hole margin six, his 54-hole margin eight. No 80 would great him on Sunday. Instead, a 69 left him eight shots ahead of his nearest competition.
It was a highly impressive response to the Masters round that was still fresh.
It remains to be seen what McIlroy can do with the rest of his career, but his 2011 experience was definitely a good start.
If there's one man's name on this list you haven't heard, this is the culprit.
Gay Brewer wasn't the Nicklaus of his time, just a solid player who won an event from time to time.
That's why when he reached the 72nd tee of the 1966 Masters with a one-shot lead he knew the opportunity that lay before him.
This was his chance to etch his name alongside the pantheon of major champions, regardless of whether it was a fluke.
The tee shot betrayed no sign of trouble. Brewer whacked his ball right through Augusta's 18th hole chute (which was decidedly wider in those days), and left himself in perfect position from the fairway.
His Green Jacket dream fell apart from there.
A loose approach left him 40 feet from the cup. A poor lag left him a full five feet for par. When the comebacker tumbled over the left edge, Brewer had shockingly bogeyed the final hole and fallen into a playoff.
He wouldn't redeem himself the next day, finishing with a 78 in the playoff and walking away empty-handed.
For players like that, those types of chances seldom appear. With Brewer's gaffe on the 72nd hole, it seemed that he fumbled away his best, and likely only, chance at a major.
But Brewer would not suffer the same fate that would later befall the likes of Ed Sneed, Scott Hoch and Kenny Perry
At the Masters the very next year, Brewer put himself in the exact same position, a one-shot lead heading up the 18th with one arm in the Green Jacket.
This time, Brewer got the second arm around.
His approach didn't take off this time, landing a harmless 15 feet below the cup. Brewer two-putted from there, and captured the Green Jacket that he had squandered the year before.
Brewer had gotten his major, and with it, a lifetime exemption to the Masters.
He had to wait a long, painful year to get it, but a Masters title for Brewer was thoroughly satisfying.
The man known as "The Hawk" didn't always have an impenetrable stare.
Hogan, a player later immortalized for his superior control of the golf ball, actually struggled with a nasty hook early on in his career.
Consequently, nothing on the Tour came easy. At times, Hogan skirmished with quitting the pro golfing circuit altogether, as his debilitating hook left him barely scraping together enough cash to live.
Hogan did get on track a bit, but he didn't win a Tour event until the age of 27, and was still major-less at the beginning of 1946 (when he was 33 years old).
It looked like that might change in April of 1946 though.
Four years after a disappointing playoff loss to Byron Nelson, Hogan was in the thick of Masters contention again.
Starting five strokes behind Herman Keiser heading into the final round, Hogan put the heat on the leader, marching to within one of the lead late in the round.
Keiser then three-putted the 18th green for a bogey. When Hogan landed his approach 12 feet from the cup on the same hole, he had a birdie putt to win.
With the door now open in Hogan's favor, he swung it back shut. His birdie attempt ran two feet by the cup. When the little comebacker didn't drop, Hogan had bogeyed and lost the tournament.
The shocking gaffe was a brutal moment for the ascending star, but he soon recovered.
He won his first major later that year (at the PGA Championship), and sparked a run that even an untimely meeting with a Greyhound bus couldn't stop.
His final major count would be nine, and he would be revered as one of the all-time greats.
And to think this was a man who botched a simple two-footer to lose a tournament.
While the infamous 1991 Ryder Cup is known for Bernhard Langer's missed six-footer that gave the Americans the trophy, there was a much greater train wreck just hours earlier.
In a seemingly innocuous match between Mark Calcavecchia and Colin Montgomerie, the pressure and sadistic excitement of the Ryder Cup soon became strikingly evident.
Calcavecchia, who was 4-up with four to play, had the match under control as he stood in the 15th fairway, but two quick bogeys and two lost holes made matters a bit interesting as the match reached the 17th.
But Montgomerie was still behind the eight-ball, and when he failed to carry the nearly 200 yards of water from the tee to the par-three green, the match was all but over.
Calcavecchia needed to just find dry land, make his par or bogey and get the full point he received for winning the match.
Even with an Open Championship to his name, Calc felt the heat of the moment. He popped out a low-liner (darn near a shank) that plunked into the water a good 30 yards short of the putting surface.
Despite the unbelievable error, Calc still only needed a two-footer to drop to halve the hole and win his match. One badly pulled putt later and the match was headed to 18. There, Calc would lose his fourth consecutive hole and would be reduced to a halve (and later tears).
Luckily for the 31-year-old American the team still won, but his miserable finish could've haunted him for years to come.
However, the easy going Calcavecchia moved on from it rather swiftly. In less than four months, he picked up his first PGA tour win in three years, posting a five-shot victory at the Phoenix Open.
The rest of his career continued on track as well. Calc would win seven of his 13 career Tour titles after his Ryder Cup screw up.
In an event high in emotion and pressure, he let the moment get to him. But it was just that, a moment, and Calc did not let it fester in the coming months and years.
A rising star in recent years, Nick Watney was temporarily halted at the 2010 PGA Championship.
There, Watney surged into the lead after three rounds, standing two shots clear of the field with 18 holes to go. It was looking like Sunday might be the day for major No. 1.
Well, it wasn't. A double bogey at the first spelled trouble early on, and when Watney pushed his tee shot into the water on seven (resulting in a triple bogey), he washed away his chances.
His final-round 81 dropped him 17 spots on the leader board, a truly precipitous fall.
How would the 29-year-old respond to the touch of failure? A breakout season in 2011 was the answer.
Watney learned from his PGA experience, and developed a putting game that would make him immune to Sunday pressure.
First up was his triumph at Doral, where he shot a terrific final-round 67 to outlast Dustin Johnson. Watney made a key 30-footer for par on 15 to stay in the lead, and nailed a 15-footer for birdie on 18 to take a two-shot lead over Johnson (who was standing in the fairway).
His second big Sunday came at the AT&T National where clutch putting once again gave him a round in the mid-60s (this time a 66) and the title.
While Watney didn't win a major in 2011, his final-round spectaculars in two big events showed that his meltdown at Whistling Straits was a thing of the past
Watney moved to the next level in 2011, and should be ready the next time he feels the heat of major championship Sunday.
If McIlroy's road to recovery was remarkably quick, Kyle Stanley's moved along at light speed.
The 24-year-old long-bomber made his talent known to the PGA Tour at the beginning of 2012 when he rocketed ahead at the Farmers Insurance Open.
Over the first three days, Stanley torched the Torrey Pines set-up, posting rounds of 62, 68 and 68 to enter the final-round with a comfortable five-shot lead.
Stanley even started out the final round strong, posting a pair of early birdies to up his lead to seven and seemingly put the tournament to rest.
Indeed, the cushion was still three as he hit his wedge approach shot into the par-five 18th green.
Then, chaos ensued.
Stanley spun his third shot right back into the water, knocked his fifth 45 feet from the pin, lagged his sixth four feet from the cup and agonizingly pulled stroke seven (the winning stroke) past the cup.
It was a triple-bogey 8 and Stanley was in a playoff, which he would lose when he flinched on another short putt.
For any golf fan this was both exciting and depressing at the same time. On the one hand, who could keep their eyes away from the TV with this train wreck going on? On the other, who could really feel satisfied when a young player with his first Tour win in his grasp let it all go down the drain in a matter of minutes?
Even for a fast healer like McIlroy, it took two months to overcome such a mortal blow.
It took Kyle Stanley just one week.
One Sunday after his debacle at Torrey Pines, Stanley moved in the opposite direction, coming from eight shots down to take the win at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. Yet again, Stanley was faced with a four-footer on 18 to secure a win, and this time around he drained it.
People always say that golfers need to have a short memory, but that kind of amnesia was stunning.
Just seven days after a brutal fall, Stanley had the confidence to come alive when he needed it the most and snatched his first Tour victory.
Quite a two weeks for a guy who had hardly been heard from before.
Going into the 1998 U.S. Open, Payne Stewart wasn't especially adept at dealing with pressure, and he proved as much that week at Olympic.
In search of his second Open title, Stewart shot out in front, opening up a four-shot cushion with just 18 holes to go.
However, as his first name would suggest, only suffering was to come. Stewart methodically blew his lead, coming to the 18th one stroke back and in desperate search of a birdie.
Pure desire wasn't enough though, as Stewart's 25-foot attempt curled left of the cup at the last second. With that, Lee Janzen was the champion.
The defeat deeply wounded Stewart, but surprisingly he held the 54-hole lead at the Open the very next year.
This time he would take care of business.
Down one to Phil Mickelson, Stewart drained an incredible double-breaking 30-footer for par. Mickelson missed his much shorter par effort, and the pair were tied.
On the penultimate hole, Stewart stuffed his tee shot and drained the putt to move one ahead. A poor drive on 18 threatened to push him back into a tie (and a playoff), but Stewart produced another moment of magic.
Facing a 15-foot par putt to win, Stewart seized the opportunity by holing the putt and celebrating with great fan fare afterward.
Stewart would tragically die in a plane crash a few months later, but his 1999 U.S. Open victory was a great event in his last year on Earth.
And doing it after his stumble a year earlier only made the win that much sweeter.
The final name on this list is indeed Arnold Palmer.
Despite being nicknamed "The King," Palmer was made to look the part of the court jester from time to time in his career. The dashing risk-taker would take his share of punches but also produce a bunch of knockouts.
This style of play that left Palmer the goat on some occasions, and an overwhelming hero on others, was exemplified by his Masters appearances in 1961 and 1962.
In that first year, Palmer was coming off a 1960 where he stormed to the finish to capture both the Masters and the U.S. Open. It looked like he was well on his way to doing the same in 1961 when he stood in the 72nd fairway at Augusta only needing par to secure a victory.
It was going to be simple, but Palmer lofted his approach right into a green side bunker. No problem, easy up-and-down from there.
Palmer then plopped his bunker shot back over the putting surface. He could still hole it from there, and besides, a bogey still meant a playoff.
Palmer chipped 15 feet by the cup. The resulting putt didn't drop meaning Palmer had lost the tournament with a debilitating double bogey six.
A horrific loss that may have given others recurring nightmares didn't seem to affect Palmer though.
Later that year, he would win the Open Championship, and at the following year's Masters he would get his revenge.
In the 1962 edition of the tournament, Palmer actually looked like he would suffer another crushing defeat. Leading by two at the beginning of the final round, Palmer had fallen two behind with a five-over-par score over the first 15 holes. He was likely to fall four behind with two to play as he faced a chip that would be nearly impossible to get up and down for par while leader Gary Player was 10 feet away for birdie.
In dire straits, Palmer holed his birdie chip. The incredible shot was followed by Player missing his putt, playing Chris DiMarco to Palmer's Tiger Woods, and the King was back to within one.
Palmer would force a playoff two holes later, and emerge victorious the next day.
It was a stirring contrast from the year before, Palmer was back to charging rather than fading.
If only the same were true at the 1966 U.S. Open, he would've avoided the greatest collapse of his career.