Jean Van De Velde and the 9 Other Worst Chokes in Pro Golf History
Every golfer has an off day—a slice here and there, a chunked shot or a putt that is gagged.
However, the most this costs us is some wounded pride or a $5 Nassau. For professionals, who in many cases are vying for a major championship, these very public mistakes are magnified to a blinding level.
While any list is subjective, the following 10 worst chokes in pro golf history will go down in infamy.
Retief Goosen, 2005 U.S. Open
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Goosen entered the final round at Pinehurst leading the U.S. Open by three strokes.
He then played perhaps the worst round of his otherwise illustrious career. Goosen ballooned to a score of 81 and ended up finishing 11th.
After the round, Goosen said, “I messed up badly. I obviously threw this one away.”
Scott Hoch, 1989 Masters
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Scott Hoch was a respected grinder on the PGA tour, but he threw away his best chance at winning the Masters in 1989.
While Hoch had missed a par putt at the 17th and was forced into a playoff, that was not the choke—the first playoff hole provided that.
On the hole, Nick Faldo made a bogey five. Hoch, meanwhile, had a birdie putt to win. He could two-putt and STILL win.
Of course he three-putted, failing to convert a three-foot putt for the win.
Faldo went on to win at the next hole.
Lorena Ochoa, 2005 U.S. Women’s Open
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Needing a par on the 18th hole at Cherry Hills to make a playoff, Lorena Ochoa's first order of business was to put her drive in the fairway.
Unfortunately her nerves got the best of her, and she snap-hooked her drive into the lake left of the fairway.
She ended up making a quadruple-bogey and finished, you guessed it, four strokes back.
Ed Sneed, 1979 Masters
Ed Sneed was a solid player who never won a major. He would rue his collapse at the 1979 Masters.
He started the final round with a five-stroke lead. With three holes to play, he was still ahead by three.
With the Green Jacket within his grasp, Sneed proceeded to bogey the 16th, 17th and 18th holes.
He fell into a playoff, where to no one’s surprise he lost to Fuzzy Zoeller.
Phil Mickelson, 2006 U.S. Open
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Phil Mickelson is famous for his all-or-nothing approach. It has led him to great heights, but it also led to this horrendous choke.
Mickelson had a one-stroke lead standing on the 18th tee, an amazing fact considering he had hit only two fairways all day using his driver.
For some insane reason, he grabbed his driver again and sliced his drive to the left.
Rather than punching the ball out to the fairway, where he might make par the hard way, or at worst bogey, Mickelson decided to hit a huge slice around a tree.
It didn't work.
He ended up with a double-bogey, finishing one shot out of a playoff.
"I am such an idiot," he said afterward.
Greg Norman, 1996 Masters
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Someone must have had a Greg Norman voodoo doll that they enjoyed sticking pins into. No other golfer has had his combination of bad luck and bad playing in critical situations.
Norman entered the final round with a six-shot lead over Nick Faldo (that man again) in the tournament Norman most wanted to win.
However Norman’s collar got tighter and tighter as the round wore on, and Faldo kept applying the pressure.
When it was over, Norman had shot a 78 to Faldo's 67, turning his six-shot lead into a five-stroke defeat.
Norman would never again seriously contend at Augusta.
Doug Sanders, 1970 British Open
Another very good PGA player (he won 20 times) who never won a major. The 1970 British Open was his best chance.
In the final pairing with Jack Nicklaus, Sanders led by one when they both reached the 18th green.
Faced with a 30-foot putt above the hole, Sanders only needed to two-putt to win.
His lag putt stopped less than three feet from the hole, but Sanders got sidetracked by what he thought was a grain of sand in his line.
He bent down to pick it up, realized it was just a piece of grass, stood back up and without backing off the putt, struck the ball.
He missed, falling into a tie with Nicklaus, who won the 18-hole playoff the next day by a stroke.
Arnold Palmer, 1966 U.S. Open
Perhaps the player who was the forerunner to Phil Mickelson, Arnold Palmer played with reckless abandon.
In 1966 at Olympic Club, Palmer made the turn in the final round with a seven-stroke lead over Billy Casper.
But Palmer began giving up strokes while Casper went on a tear. Even so, Palmer had a five-stroke lead with four holes to play.
Palmer was leaking oil. By the end of the round, the two were tied. Casper won the playoff the next day and the U.S. Open crown.
Roberto Di Vicenzo, 1968 Masters
This choke did not happen on the golf course but in the scorer’s area.
According to the Rules of Golf (some would use the word archaic) a competitor’s playing partner kept his opponent’s score.
After the round, players would exchange scorecards to double check the scores written down. After doing this, a player would sign his scorecard, making it official.
On the 17th hole, Di Vicenzo made a birdie three, but playing partner Tommy Aaron accidentally wrote a four on the scorecard.
When the round was over, Di Vicenzo, without checking, signed this incorrect card.
According to the Rules of Golf, the higher score had to stand and be counted. If not for this mistake, Di Vicenzo would have tied for first place and been in an 18-hole playoff the next day.
His legendary quote afterwards was "What a stupid I am!"
Jean Van De Velde, 1999 British Open
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Jean Van de Velde was a journeyman player who had a chance at history at the 1999 British Open.
Standing on the tee on number 18 at Carnoustie, Van de Velde had a three-stroke lead. The tournament was already over, it seemed.
Faced with a dilemma every golfer has thought about, Van de Velde pulled out his driver. He could have hit three straight seven irons to reach the green and three-putted, and he still would have won the tournament.
Instead, his drive rolled into the rough and Van de Velde decided to go for the green instead of laying up. Unfortunately his shot bounced off the grandstands into the thick, rough short of the Barry Burn water hazard.
Van de Velde hacked his ball out, but it plopped down into the Burn.
Finally, using a little portion of his brain he took a drop but put his next shot into the green side bunker, where he blasted out and sank his putt for the most infamous triple-bogey in golf history.
He completed this historic meltdown by losing the playoff to Paul Lawrie.