Golf: The 25 Greatest Shots in History
What does it mean to be great?
That is a question I struggled with for a long time in coming up with this list. Is it producing a result that few, if any, can match? Is it the mastery of a pressure-filled moment? A combination of the two?
We as fans love sports because they give us the chance to witness the impossible—to watch our heroes reach new levels of performance and to achieve, even if only for a moment, perfection.
Luckily golf has given us many such moments. Jack at the '86 Masters. Tiger at the 2000 U.S. Open. Sunday at the 1999 Ryder Cup. These moments will live on forever.
But which is the greatest?
Making a list like this is a little like sticking your head in the lion's mouth. There is no metric by which to quantitatively analyze greatness (I checked just to be sure) and I know many of you will disagree with my choices. That's ok.
The list that follows is my contribution to the discussion. I hope you enjoy it.
Here now are the 25 greatest shots in the history of golf:
Note: If you're reading this Greg Norman, please don't go any further. You won't like it.
25. Tiger Woods—2000 Canadian Open
The scene: 2000 Canadian Open, final round, 18th hole.
Skip to 1:31 to watch the shot.
I still can’t even believe Tiger attempted this shot.
I mean a 213-yard six-iron, out of a bunker, over water, to a pin that is perched on the tiniest corner of the green?
Oh yeah, and that shot won him the tournament.
That’s why he’s Tiger.
24. Sergio Garcia—1999 PGA Championship
The scene: 1999 PGA Championship, final round, 16th hole.
Whenever I think of Sergio Garcia, I think of this shot.
I don’t know how he pulled it off—with his eyes closed—but the moment Garcia hit that shot he became a star. His game never really lived up to the promise he showed that year at Medinah, but this is one of the most clutch (and craziest) shots I’ve ever seen.
23. Tiger Woods—1997 Phoenix Open
The scene: 1997 Phoenix Open, 16th hole
Most exciting new golfer in the history of golf? Check.
Craziest hole on the PGA Tour? Check.
Loudest shot reaction ever? Check and mate.
22. Tiger Woods—2000 ATT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am
The scene: 2000 ATT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, final round, 15th hole.
Skip to 1:13 to watch the shot.
I promise this isn’t going to turn into a Tiger Woods love fest.
Once again, Tiger proves he has a flair for the dramatic. Four shots down with four to play—and looking to extend his PGA Tour winning streak to six—he needed to come up with something special.
You know the rest.
He went on to win the tournament.
21. Paul Azinger—1993 Memorial
The scene: 1993 Memorial, final round, 18th hole.
Skip to 2:03 to watch the shot.
Azinger said he didn’t hit very many good bunker shots that week at The Memorial.
His last bunker shot wasn’t good either. It was great.
The hole out gave Azinger a one-shot victory over Corey Pavin and is one of the greatest finishes in the history of the PGA Tour.
20. Phil Mickelson—2010 Masters
The scene: 2010 Masters, final round, 13th hole.
No. 13 at Augusta National is one of the best risk/reward holes in golf. With a good drive it’s easily reachable in two and offers a great chance at birdie, or even eagle.
A bad drive usually forces a lay-up on the second shot and a missed opportunity.
As usual, Mickelson didn’t get the memo.
Behind a tree, off the pine straw, Mickelson only has one gear.
19. Robert Gamez—1990 Nestle Intivational
The scene: 1990 Nestle Invitational (at Bay Hill), final round, 18th hole
Skip to 2:19 to watch the shot.
With one swing, it was over.
Gamez holed out from 176 yards on the final hole to give him a one-shot victory over Greg Norman.
Gamez was a feast or famine golfer throughout the nineties. He won PGA Tour rookie of the year in 1990, then disappeared and didn’t win again until 2005.
As for Greg Norman, let’s just say this won’t be the last time he lands on the wrong side of a shot on this list.
18. Craig Parry—2004 Ford Championship at Doral
The scene: 2004 Ford Championship at Doral, playoff, 18th hole.
Skip to :58 to watch the shot.
On arguably the toughest hole on the PGA Tour, Craig Parry decided that he had seen enough.
Scott Verplank could only watch helplessly as Parry made the shot of the year to win the tournament.
With that swing, I doubt I could hit the ball past the ladies tees, but Parry made it work.
He loses style points here though due to his extremely nerdy celebration. Come on Craig, it's moves like that which make it so hard to get women when I tell them I'm a golfer.
17. Isao Aoki—1983 Hawaiian Open
The scene: 1983 Hawaiian Open, final round, 18th hole.
Skip to 4:44 to watch the shot.
My favorite all-time hole out. Aoki is famously known for his strange putting style, but became the first Japanese player ever to win on the PGA Tour with that one swing.
Watching this video reminds me of this scene from The Simpsons. Like Ralph Wiggum, you can literally pin point the second that Jack Renner's heart shatters.
That's a tough way to lose.
16. Jonathan Byrd—2010 Shriners Open
The scene: 2010 Shriners Open, playoff, 17th hole.
I almost don't even feel bad for Martin Laird and Cameron Percy (who lost the playoff). Sure, it's a tough way to lose a tournament, but you just have to take your hat off and smile for Byrd.
He's a class act on the PGA Tour, and I think hitting a hole-in-one on the fourth playoff hole is worthy of a smile even from his competitors.
That is a hell of a way to win a golf tournament.
15. Tiger Woods—2008 U.S. Open
The scene: 2008 U.S. Open, final round, 18th hole.
The announcer said it best. "Expect anything different?!"
That's how we all used to talk about Tiger.
The 2008 U.S. Open was perhaps the finest performance of Tiger's career.
And he did it on one leg.
He would go on to beat Rocco Mediate the following day in an 18-hole playoff, but that putt was the last great moment that we've seen from Tiger. Hopefully there will be more.
14. Corey Pavin—1995 U.S. Open
The scene: 1995 U.S. Open, final round, 18th hole.
This was one of the first tournaments I vividly remember watching on television. My dad was pulling hard for Pavin, while I really wanted Greg Norman to win.
You can probably figure out where this is going.
When Pavin hit that now famous 4-wood on No. 18 at Shinnecock to seal the U.S. Open championship, Greg Norman was once again on the receiving end of a crushing defeat in a major.
I wish I could say this is as bad as it gets for The Shark, but it's not.
13. Constantino Rocca—1995 British Open
The scene: 1995 British Open, final round, 18th hole.
Constantino Rocca came to the 72nd hole at St. Andrews needing a birdie to force a playoff with John Daly. After driving it just short of the green, Rocca chunked his pitch shot into the "valley of sin" just in front of the green, all but extinguishing his hopes to tie.
Then, like catching lightning in a bottle, Rocca made a putt of nearly 100 feet for birdie to send the Open Championship into a playoff.
(Cut to John Daly)
"Are you $#@&*!% kidding me?"
Ok, maybe he didn't actually say that, but he was thinking it.
Daly regrouped and won the playoff, but not after one of the all-time great saves in golf history.
12. Shaun Micheel—2003 PGA Championship
The scene: 2003 PGA Championship, final round, 18th hole.
When I watched Shaun Micheel hit this shot, I remember thinking, "This guy is going to be a great player." It stood to reason that anyone who could pull off a shot like that under the pressure of a major championship in their first time contending must have nerves of steel.
I guess I called that one wrong.
At this point it's safe to call Micheel a one hit wonder (this is his only PGA Tour win), but what a hit it was.
11. Arnold Palmer—1960 Masters
The scene: 1960 Masters, final round, 18th hole.
Skip to 4:08 to watch the shot.
Locked in an epic duel with Ken Venturi, Palmer birdied No. 17 to pull even and set up a signature Arnie moment.
His great six-iron to six feet on No. 18 set up the winning birdie, giving Arnie his second green jacket.
As an aside, watching this video makes me long for 60's fashion in golf. It's like watching Don Draper everywhere you look.
I hope Rickie Fowler sees this and thinks twice the next time he decides to dress like a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle for a tournament.
10. Jack Nicklaus—1972 U.S. Open
The scene: 1972 U.S. Open, final round, 17th hole.
Another brilliant Nicklaus moment. His one-iron off the flagstick to gimmie range put an end to his battle with Arnold Palmer and sealed the championship.
Have you ever tried to hit a one-iron?
Unfortunately, I have. My first college golf coach was a masochist who thought that everyone should have to practice with a one-iron to "find out if they are really swinging it well."
Problem is, even when I swung it great, I still couldn't hit it well. It's impossible.
That Jack hit that shot under that amount of pressure shows how dialed in he really was.
9. Birdie Kim—2005 U.S. Women's Open
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
The scene: 2005 U.S. Women's Open, final round, 18th hole.
Watch the video here: Birdie's Birdie.
The first—and only—shot by a woman to land on this list is one of my all-time favorites.
Birdie Kim, an all but unknown women's golfer from South Korea found herself tied for the lead on the 72nd hole of the U.S. Open. After hitting her second shot into the green side bunker, Kim holed out for birdie with co-leader Morgan Pressel watching from the fairway, sealing victory.
We oftentimes forget, but the heart of a champion can be found even in the most unusual places. That's why golf is such a great sport. Anyone can rise to meet the occasion.
8. Ben Hogan—1950 U.S. Open
The scene: 1950 U.S. Open, final round, 18th hole.
Let's call this "the pose."
The picture of Hogan's one-iron shot on the 18th hole at Merion is the most famous picture in golf history.
Hogan's swing is (at least in my mind) the greatest in golf history and his one-iron in 1950 helped him make par and force a Monday playoff, which he won decisively.
Like Tiger in 2008, he also won hobbling around on bad legs.
The real moral of the last few slides? Unless your names is Ben Hogan or Jack Nicklaus, put the one-iron away!
7. Tiger Woods—2005 Masters
The scene: 2005 Masters, final round, 16th hole.
Does this shot need an introduction?
I don't think so, either.
Tiger, we miss you.
6. Jack Nicklaus—1986 Masters
The scene: 1986 Masters, final round, 16th hole.
How do you know when you're the best? When you hit a shot and don't even have to watch it.
You just know.
Jack gave us the most memorable comeback in golf history that year at Augusta, and this is the best shot he hit all day.
I'll never get sick of watching him pick that tee up and casually walk over to his son and smile.
The great ones always just know.
5. Gene Sarazen—1935 Masters
The scene: 1935 Masters, final round, 15th hole.
I truly wish there was video of this shot. Sarazen, trailing by three shots, made double eagle on No. 15, propelling him into a playoff and eventual victory at The Masters.
The best part? He did it with a fairway wood.
I can't even comprehend hitting a wood into No. 15. Players these days can reach with a mid-iron, meaning a much higher and softer ball flight. Sarazen's shot was no doubt hit much lower and with far less spin, meaning his margin of error was razor thin.
Amazing. If only there was video of it happening...
4. Bob Tway—1986 PGA Championship
The scene: 1986 PGA Championship, final round, 18th hole.
Skip to 1:05 to watch the shot.
Shark bitten again.
Tied with Norman on the 72nd hole, Tway went from deep rough to deep green side bunker, and his hope for a championship seemed to be evaporating.
With Norman watching, Tway knocked his bunker shot in for a birdie, leaving The Shark once again burned by defeat.
The bunker was so deep that you could barely see Bob Tway when he hit the shot, and with little green to work with, I doubt he could make that shot again if he tried 1,000 times.
That's just how bad Greg Norman's luck was.
3. Tom Watson—1982 U.S. Open
The scene: 1982 U.S. Open, final round, 17th hole.
With Jack Nicklaus already in the clubhouse, he watched Watson play No. 17 with growing excitement.
After hitting his tee shot at the par-3 in the gnarly green side rough, Watson famously told his caddie that he was going to make the chip for birdie.
Obviously, he delivered.
I know a few people who have played Pebble Beach, and many of them tried to replicate that shot from the rough at 17.
None of them succeeded.
One of my former college golf teammates said that not only did he not make the shot, but he couldn't even get the ball to the green. The rough is that thick.
Sometimes, however, the moment just has to be seized.
2. Larry Mize—1987 Masters
The scene: 1987 Masters, playoff, 11th hole.
I don't know what Greg Norman did in a past life, but it must have been bad.
Larry Mize's chip is surely the greatest in golf history. This chip is so hard, in fact, that it makes Watson's at Pebble Beach look ordinary by comparison.
No. 11 at Augusta is my favorite hole at The Masters. It's so visually intimidating. Most players bail out to the right on their second shot (as both Mize and Norman did), leaving them a terrifying chip back towards the water.
If Mize hits that shot any harder and it doesn't go in the cup, it goes in the water.
If he carries it a yard less, it gets hung up in the fringe and doesn't make it anywhere near the hole.
That shot had to be perfect.
1. Justin Leonard—1999 Ryder Cup
The scene: 1999 Ryder Cup, Sunday singles matches, 17th hole.
Skip to 4:13 to watch the shot.
It's fitting that the greatest shot in the history of golf came on the most exciting day in the history of golf.
There really aren't enough superlatives in the English language to give this shot, and that day, its due.
Ahead 10-6 heading into Sunday's singles matches, the European squad needed only four points in 12 matches to retain the cup. No team had ever overcome more than a two-point deficit on Sunday. Victory was all but assured.
But there was something magical in the air that day.
Following an impassioned speech from captain Ben Crenshaw, the American squad came out with guns blazing on Sunday, building huge leads and winning the first seven matches of the day.
The cup eventually came down to the final two matches: Justin Leonard vs. Jose Maria Olazabal and Payne Stewart vs. Colin Montgomerie. Both were all square, and both were playing the 17th hole.
Leonard's eventual cup-clinching putt set off a jubilant celebration that is perhaps the most infamous moment in Ryder Cup history, but I don't think you can blame the US team.
They had just capped off the greatest day in golf history in stunning fashion.
So there you have it, folks. The 25 greatest shots in golf history. Let the disagreement begin.