Top 10 Biggest Flameouts in Golf History

Kevin CaseyContributor ISeptember 15, 2012

Top 10 Biggest Flameouts in Golf History

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    As the race for the FedEx Cup comes to a temporary halt this week, there's no question who has taken control of the PGA Tour's annual fall classic and the world of golf.

    The usurper is of course the precocious Rory McIlroy, who, at the age of 23, is leaving no doubts about  whence golf's next force will come.

    The fast-learning Northern Irishman had already put together quite a golfing resume heading into August of 2012, notching a total of five wins (including three on the PGA Tour) and romping to a U.S. Open title in his early pro years.

    In the past month, though, McIlroy's vast potential has really exploded into reality. A second eight-shot major championship win at the PGA and back-to-back victories at the Deutsche Bank and BMW Championships (events definitely not lacking in star power) have made up as impressive a stretch by a golfer since you know who, and effectively ended the jostling for World No. 1.

    The bright star who first shone (for the general golfing public) five years ago at the Open Championship is on track to fulfill (if not surpass) the high expectations dropped on his shoulders.

    However, don't think this success story is the norm.

    There is little buffer for those burdened by hopes of superstardom. Sure, endorsements are there, but with no big performance contracts for financial security, no coaches for guidance during play and no teammates to fall back on, failure is always around the corner for a young golfing phenom.

    McIlroy has managed to avoid the trap so far (granted, he did go through quite a slump this past summer, but his overall record speaks for itself), yet many have not been so fortunate.

    Appropriately for a game that is associated with so much anguish, golf has humbled many once-upon-a-time-can't-miss-kids.

    Here are 10 such cautionary tales of great young golfers who were crushed by expectations.

10. Sergio Garcia

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    At first glance, including Sergio Garcia on this list may seem rather unfair.

    After all, the fiery Spaniard has put together quite a nice career, notching a total of 18 victories on the PGA and European Tours and climbing as high as No. 2 in the world golf rankings.

    He has contended for major championships over the years quite frequently and has become a legendary figure in the sport's most pressure-packed arena, The Ryder Cup.

    Honestly, probably not even a dozen players could say they've been better than Sergio since he came onto the golfing stage in 1999.

    So, why so negative on a 32-year-old who has put forth a solid career?

    One word sums it up: expectations.

    In 1999, a time that seems about 100 years ago, considering what has transpired since, Garcia was the next "It" in golf. He had won the previous year's British Amateur and flashed big time in his maiden year as a pro.

    He won his first European tour event in July, but in August he really turned up the heat.

    Unfazed by finishing DFL (Dead Freakin' Last) at the previous month's Open Championship, Garcia brought out his best at the PGA.

    He found himself five shots off of Tiger Woods' lead heading into the final nine holes of the tournament, only to charge to within one, partly due to a dazzling shot from the base of a tree.

    The 19-year-old fell one stroke short of his first major title, but it appeared a rivalry had been born. Woods, the game's preeminent star, was to have many battles in the future with this cheeky teenager.

    For years to come, prognosticators envisioned, Woods and Garcia would wage a furious fight for the top spot in the game.

    Such a forecast never came remotely true. The "Old World charm" that Garcia had used to captivate media and fans alike at the PGA was a mask for the petulant child that lay beneath.

    If you wanted somebody to spit in your cup, slice one of your microphones in half, throw your shoe (just one of them) into a large crowd for no apparent reason, whip your club with stunning force into the water (seriously, he chucked that puppy a long way) or beat your local golf course's most pesky bunker half to death, Sergio was your guy.

    But a man who could fiercely challenge the best player in the game and bring home the major championship hardware, he was not.

    Garcia would get his fair share of chances in majors, but something always seemed to stop him short. Whether it be a final-round meltdown (which usually happened when he was in the final pairing with Woods), a series of misfortunes perpetrated by some abstract outside force, or simply a fall to the freight train that was Padraig Harrington in his prime, the talented Spaniard could not close the door once in the majors.

    Luckily, the man nicknamed "El Niño" can still storm his way into the record books. He clearly still has immense talent and is far more mature than the days of yesteryear, but has enough scar tissue built up for him to ever reach even close to his potential?

    The answer will come soon enough, but for now Garcia remains one of golf's greatest underachievers.

9. John Jacobs

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    The younger brother of Tour-winner Tommy Jacobs, John Jacobs appeared to have the tools for thriving in the professional circuit.

    The man exhibited prodigious length, escaped from the rough like few others and had the belief of Arnold Palmer, who thought the young man had the most raw talent he had ever seen.

    The key word, though, was raw.

    Jacobs certainly had game, but he had to hone it in order to find success at the next level. Much practice was needed before Jacobs could even think about outshining big brother Tommy.

    Indeed, Jacobs would practice a lot...of partying that is. Searching for such a provocative lifestyle, while great in college, was not a way to find success on the PGA Tour.

    Accordingly, Jacobs' game suffered dearly. In his 14 years on the Tour, from 1967 to 1980, he did not record a single victory. Nor a single finish in the top-80 on the money list.

    Knowing what he wasted, Jacobs mellowed out later in life. The man who once played on a broken leg just to obtain a $2,500 bonus left his hard-partying ways and settled down with a teetotal wife.

    The stability clearly helped, as Jacobs shined on the Champions Tour, with five wins in his first six seasons, including a Senior PGA title.

    It didn't nearly make up for his wasted opportunity on the big tour, but at least Jacobs proved that when he was focused, he could play with the best of them.

8. Bobby Cole

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    Over the past half century, South Africa has produced a stunning list of champion golfers. From Bobby Locke to Gary Player to Ernie Els to Retief Goosen to Trevor Immelman to Louis Oosthuizen to Charl Schwartzel, the country has molded one major champion after another.

    Quite a list it is, but if a man named Bobby Cole could've lived up to his great promise, it might be twice as impressive.

    Yes, that name, Bobby Cole, may not be in a modern golfing fan's lexicon, but in the mid-1960s, he was almost impossible to miss. As Gary Player built his Hall of Fame career, Cole was staking his claim as South Africa's next great golfing hero.

    In 1966, at just 18 years of age, Cole won the British Amateur, making him the tournament's youngest winner at the time (a record that stood all the way until Matteo Manassero won it at the age of 16 in 2009).

    He also became the youngest player to ever make the Masters cut a year later, and it was a record that, again, stood for 43 years before Manassero broke it.

    For good measure, Cole then not only survived PGA Tour's Qualifying School, he won the whole event! As a 19-year-old.

    Talk about quick development, if this man could accomplish so much as a teenager, what could he do by the time he reached 30?

    Surprisingly, not much. The magic the game brought the South African in his early years faded as he grew into adulthood. Cole won just 11 times in his professional career and just once on the PGA Tour.

    He rarely contended in majors, posting only three career top-10s in the events that at one time he seemed destined to win a number of.

    His failure came full circle when he returned to PGA Tour Q-School in 1993, the same tournament that launched his name into the spotlight 26 years earlier.

    In a career full of disappointments, it was fitting that Cole didn't survive qualifying school this time around.

    For all of the booms South Africa has made in golf, this one was a gigantic bust.

7. Ricky Barnes

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    For young Ricky Barnes, it wasn't victory that propelled him onto the scene, but a jarring performance in his first major.

    The three-time All-American at the University of Arizona had won the U.S. Amateur in 2002, and while that win gave him a bit of notoriety, his play in the following year's Masters would be his true opening salvo.

    Due to his Amateur victory, Barnes would be playing his first two rounds at Augusta with the defending Masters champion, who was none other than Tiger Woods.

    An exciting pairing indeed for a college kid such as Barnes, but he wasn't expected to compete with his much more venerable playing partner. It would be two days for Barnes to watch and learn from one of the game's masters, and exit stage left on Friday night after getting his clock cleaned.

    But the enterprising young lad had other ideas. Woods, actually the two-time defending champion, shockingly fell apart on Day 1 with a 76 that left him needing a near miracle to capture a third straight Green Jacket.

    With that, Barnes pounced. An opening-round 69 placed him a full seven shots ahead of the World No. 1 and near the top of the leader board. When Woods failed to show much form on Friday (only managing a mediocre 73) and Barnes failed to buckle (with an average, but not awful 74), the 21-year-old had clipped the eight-time major champion by a full six shots.

    Barnes actually was in the penultimate grouping on Saturday and although he struggled on the weekend (eventually finishing 21st), he had made a big mark that week.

    His beat down of Woods had media members salivating at the young Amateur champion's vast potential. Barnes was charismatic, handsome and, above all, driven to be the best.

    He was to be a fierce competitor in the years to come.

    Only, the script veered off course. Barnes turned pro later in 2003 and proceeded to make just two of 13 cuts on the PGA Tour in the next two years. The promising player floundered on the Web.com Tour for a number of years, and only gained his PGA Tour card in 2009.

    Since then, he has steadied himself a bit, finishing inside the top 125 on the PGA Tour money list in four consecutive seasons. He also showed a flash of his once highly sought after talent when he surged six shots ahead of the field early in the third round of the 2009 U.S. Open, only to falter to a second-place finish in the closing 32 holes.

    Still, such a plodding path isn't nearly what anyone had hoped for from Barnes when he turned pro in 2003. He's still pretty young in golfing terms, so his story isn't over yet.

    A decade in his career, though, his actual play has not even begun to approach the hype.

6. Eddie Pearce

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    As far as golfing flops go, Eddie Pearce's name is certainly one of the most obscure.

    Not that anonymity has always been a concern for the fast-living man from Florida.

    In fact, Pearce could not have avoided the spotlight if he had tried in his younger years.

    A child prodigy of the highest order, Pearce won his age division in the Florida Boys Junior Championship three years running and more than doubled that win total in his age division at the "Future Masters" Tournament, where he claimed victory seven straight years.

    He was the leading component of possibly the greatest high school golf team to ever play (although Johnny Miller and his Abraham Lincoln High squad might beg to differ).

    And he won the U.S. Junior Amateur at the age of 16 in 1968.

    Add to that a scholarship to Wake Forest (the same school that produced Arnold Palmer) and two All-America selections, and it makes sense why reporters couldn't resist calling Pearce the "Next Nicklaus" when he opted for life on the PGA Tour after his sophomore season.

    From there, Pearce's career went down the drain.

    Loving life as a pro, Pearce became one of the Tour's most notorious partiers, and on the course his lack of drive showed.

    Not only was Pearce not the next Nicklaus, he wasn't even the next Orville Moody. Into the Tour in 1972 and out of it by 1980 without a single victory, Pearce bombed in spectacular fashion.

    Pearce made an impressive comeback to survive Q-School in 1992, but nothing came about from his PGA Tour season in 1993.

    It was a last-ditch effort to salvage anything out of a lost career, and when it failed, Pearce officially was the first "Next Nicklaus" bust.

5. John McDermott

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    Ever wonder who the first American to win the U.S. Open was?

    The stock answer for the average golf fan is probably Bobby Jones, the amateur great of the 1920s and 30s (or just 1930). He may have won the tournament four times, but he wasn't the first.

    For slightly more avid fans, they might point to Francis Ouimet, the man who spurred America's first big boom in golf thanks to his stunning triumph at the 1913 edition of the Open.

    But, Ouimet, however influential he became, was in fact the second American to win the Open.

    The first was a young Philadelphia boy named John McDermott.

    It's not a name commonly known today, but before Ouimet came from nowhere, McDermott was the great American hope.

    No, he wasn't a man that sent people to the game in droves like Ouimet. He was a man notorious for his confrontational attitude and he didn't live across the street from a golf course only to conquer it years later at a U.S. Open.

    No Disney story in that.

    He was simply a guy who won, taking home the U.S. Open crown in 1911 after 16 years of dominance from men overseas. McDermott was also the youngest winner of the Open (still is), and when he defended his title successfully in 1912, the sky appeared the limit for the young American.

    If you've seen The Greatest Game Ever Played, you know just how cocky McDermott was in his prime (best exemplified by his speech denouncing Harry Vardon and Ted Ray's chances at the Open in what appears to be a highly xenophobic rage).

    The film doesn't make note of McDermott's happenings in the coming years though. The 22-year-old of course did not three-peat at the 1913 Open, but besides the speech incident (which did actually happen and got McDermott in major trouble with the USGA), not too much went wrong.

    That wasn't the problem though. Money was, as bad investments in the stock market left McDermott in desperate need of income in 1914. When he arrived too late to qualify for the 1914 Open Championship (a chance for some nice money), it was another misfortune. And when, on the voyage home, his ship crashed into another and sent passengers scrambling into lifeboats, it seemed the stressful events were putting McDermott near his wits end.

    Indeed, just four months later, McDermott blacked out while walking into the golf shop at Atlantic City Country Club (where he was head pro). By December he resigned his post and, due to his clear mental illness, by 1916 he was put in the Pennsylvania State Hospital for the Insane, a place he would remain for the next half century.

    The first American winner of the U.S. Open became largely forgotten, failing to attain a whisper of the fame of Ouimet or Jones.

    It's by far the saddest story on this list and a reminder that when people say this game will drive you insane, they aren't entirely kidding.

4. John Daly

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    No list of golfing flameouts would be complete without the sport's most famous "every man" John Daly.

    Of course, going through all the life and times of John Daly would be exhausting (he did make a book about them), so we'll keep it simple.

    Daly's story obviously begins at the 1991 PGA Championship, where he, famously, got in the tournament as a ninth alternate and used his booming drives and surprisingly deft touch on the greens to take home the Wanamaker Trophy.

    The previously unknown Arkansas boy was suddenly thrust into the spotlight and receiving the highest of praises, with some even saying he could become the best there ever was.

    Those predictions proved to be as premature as Daly was immature. The 25-year-old had never really grown up and was not going to change once under the spotlight. He had enough talent in his reserve to win four more times on the PGA Tour including a second major at the 1995 Open Championship, but the vast majority was wasted.

    Serious problems with alcohol and gambling (from which Daly claims to have lost $50 million to $60 million) seriously stunted Daly's golfing growth, as did his four contentious marriages, which all ended in divorce.

    Even a recent change that has him looking like a Victoria's Secret model compared to his old blubbery build and wearing clothes that even Rickie Fowler would find too outrageous hasn't changed his fortunes.

    More than two decades after winning that PGA, Daly is struggling mightily with his game and is in constant need of sponsors' exemptions to play (and considering his stunning affinity for withdrawing, they won't last forever).

    Five PGA Tour wins and two major championships is more than many Tour pros will ever accomplish, but it can't be too satisfying for a man who has the otherworldly golfing skills of John Daly.

    In one interesting encounter years ago, Daly asked Tiger why he went to the gym so much. According to Daly, Tiger responded, "If I had your talent, John, I wouldn't have to work out."

    Considering those words come out of the mouth of a 14-time major champion, it's easy to see that Daly's career consisted of a few dazzling moments engulfed by the waste of his vast potential.

3. Tom Weiskopf

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    Bobby Jones once noted that the five and a half inches between your ears is the most important space in golf, and for Tom Weiskopf that couldn't have been more true.

    Growing up in Ohio, Weiskopf attempted to follow in the colossal footsteps of Jack Nicklaus, and it appeared he was doing just that.

    Actually, Weiskopf impressed enough at the high school level to receive a golf scholarship at Ohio State and a spot on the same golf team as Nicklaus. And after the Golden Bear finished his college career, Weiskopf took over the role as the team's star player.

    Weiskopf, it appeared, was every bit of Nicklaus' equal. He grew up in the same state, was the star of the same golf team, had just as much (if not more) power than the long-bombing Nicklaus and looked as if he had the desire to be the best.

    Yet there was one big difference between Nicklaus and Weiskopf: mental stability.

    Nicklaus had the peace of mind needed to flourish when his game was faltering or a tournament was on the line, but Weiskopf certainly did not.

    In reality, his temper was off the charts, earning him the nicknames "Tempermental Tommy" and "The Towering Inferno" as his career progressed. His boiling hot anger was really a coverup for the insecurity that lay beneath, and uncertainty in golf is deadly.

    For Weiskopf, it made bad stretches of golf last longer and, more importantly, left him out of the winners' circle much more often than not when he was in contention.

    This criticism may sound harsh for a guy who accrued 16 PGA Tour wins and a major championship along the way at the 1973 Open Championship, but it is indeed necessary.

    In 1968, Golf Digest, after all, had a cover story of Weiskopf entitled "The Man to Succeed Arnold Palmer". This came out when the gangly Ohio lad had put together just two Tour wins and no majors.

    When Weiskopf did capture that long-awaited major title five years later, the hype machine was re-fueled. With an attitude that appeared less tempestuous and more in the mold of Nicklaus' flat-line demeanor, Weiskopf once again had the media believing that maybe he would become as good as Nicklaus, or better.

    But Weiskopf's attitude adjustment was short-lived, and his fortunes didn't change. When Nicklaus was preparing for his tee shot on the 70th hole of the 1986 Masters in search of major No. 18, the man calling the action was none other than Weiskopf, who by that time had largely given up his playing days on the PGA Tour and still had just one major win to his name.

    Considering 57 PGA Tour titles and 17 major championships separate these two men of virtually equal physical talent, the five and a half inches Jones talked about sure do mean a lot.

2. Bobby Clampett

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    When Rory McIlroy blew a four-shot lead in disastrous fashion at the 2011 Masters, some were worried that the experience could prove too big a scar to overcome.

    While maybe a bit over-reactionary, especially considering McIlroy's U.S. Open win three months later, the premise wasn't without precedent.

    Three decades before, a curly-headed American named Bobby Clampett was a star of the future in the game. By the age of 22, he had two California state Amateurs, a Western Amateur, three All-America selections and two Collegiate Golfer of the Year awards to his name.

    Not that it was that impressive to him.

    The BYU grad who used a book called "The Golfing Machine" to develop a highly technical approach to his swing, always had a thirst to get better. That could explain why that, even with a seven-shot lead early in the third round of the 1982 Open Championship, Clampett still wasn't willing to remain complacent.

    The 22-year-old, perhaps naively, continued his aggressive and ruthless assault on the Troon layout, and the course soon fought back.

    A drive into the fairway bunker on the par-five sixth hole, while a setback, would've been relatively harmless if Clampett had pitched out and taken anything above a bogey six out of the equation. Instead, he stayed aggressive, hoping to get the ball far enough down the hole to reach the green in three.

    That strategy backfired, as Clampett's ball hit the bunker's lip and landed in another sand trap nearby. Another aggressive swipe and another ball left in the bunker (this time the same one) and Clampett was in serious trouble.

    His third attempt to escape the sand was successful, but the damage had been done. A triple-bogey 8 followed, as did rounds of 78 and 77 and a 10th-place finish.

    Unfortunately, Clampett's collapse was a sign of things to come. While his insatiable drive to improve was a quality many of the game's greats have had, Clampett took it to the extreme.

    In fact, it was an obsession. Clampett would listen to any and all advice about the swing, and the resulting information overload turned his technically brilliant motion into a hodgepodge of disjointed swing thoughts.

    Soon enough, the bottom fell out. Clampett had captured a PGA Tour title in 1982, but it would be his only one. His career spanned a long time; after all, he did compete in 395 PGA Tour events, and he did win a good amount of money, almost $1.5 million on the PGA Tour alone, but for a player so dominant in his early 20s, this was a startlingly unimpressive record.

    If he had held on to win his first major title back in '82, maybe things would've turned out drastically different. But, he lost, and the record he gives us shows a hot young star who fell well short of the hype.

1. Ty Tryon

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    If you need any proof that trying to compete on the PGA Tour can be a grueling and heartbreaking process, Ty Tryon provides ample evidence.

    Indeed, this North Carolina product once had great promise. At age 16, he made his first PGA Tour cut and added another just four months later (this time as a 17-year-old).

    Everyone took notice, and when Tryon turned pro later in 2001 and secured his card for the following season after passing through Q-school, the hype machine went full throttle.

    There was hardly a higher golfing stock on the planet. Tryon was going to be the next big thing in the game and companies lined up to invest, handing over a cool $8 million in endorsement deals to a 17-year-old who had yet to play a full season on the Tour.

    Tryon looked to be on a similar path in golf that fellow North Carolina native Michael Jordan followed in basketball. He would be a transcendent force in the game, leaving the rest of his peers in his wake.

    However, the public soon learned that it made a serious error in judgement.

    The young phenom had smartly employed a crack team around him (including famous swing coach David Leadbetter), but no amount of outside guidance could prepare a boy still of high school age for the rigors of PGA Tour life.

    Alone on the course, Tryon was a train wreck. The boy wonder fell flat on his face in 2002, missing six of seven cuts and generally looking like a piece of raw meat being thrown to the wolves.

    The next year was even worse. He made just four cuts in 21 events, and with that, two years after coming in with a bang, Tryon left the PGA Tour with a fizzle.

    The numbers are stark. In those two years, the teenage phenom missed 23 of 28 cuts and could muster only a single top-10. The once star-in-waiting was washed up by age 20.

    Tryon, to his credit, has fought to get back on tour in recent years and even qualified for the 2010 and 2011 U.S. Opens.

    But with the chances of a career resurgence looking slight, Tryon's early foray into the pro game registers as golf's greatest flop.