- Doug Williams
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After bogeying his first-ever Masters hole Thursday, 22-year-old British Amateur champion Alan Dunbar approached the second tee with a chance to regain his confidence.
Instead, things got ugly.
His tee shot on the par-5, 575-yard hole hooked left into the trees. When he found his ball, it was unplayable. On his penalty drop the ball hit a branch and rolled into another bad spot, and by the time Dunbar reached the fairway he had taken 5 strokes en route to a triple-bogey 8.
Suddenly, the rising star from Northern Ireland was 4 over after two holes en route to a 10-over front nine, his tournament dreams squashed.
“You don’t wish that on anyone, but we all have our bad days when nothing goes right,” fellow Northern Irishman Graeme McDowell told reporters. In the same round, former Masters champ Craig Stadler took an 8 on the par-4 10th, and in Round 2 Ben Crenshaw, another former winner, scored a 7 on the par-3 fourth -- taking three shots to escape a bunker -- and Japan’s Hiroyuki Fujita had a 9 on the par-5 13th.
As bad as those blow-ups were, however, they’re just cherry bombs in comparison with some of the nuclear explosions in the history of the PGA Tour and golf’s four majors.
Since 1983, when the tour began recording double-digit single-hole scores, there have been 367 of 10 or more strokes*.
*For years, the worst of all has been reported to be a 23 made by the great Tommy Armour in the second round of the 1927 Shawnee Open in Pennsylvania. There, a week after winning the U.S. Open, Armour was said to have been 18 over par on No. 17, a par-5.
But a report in PGA Magazine from July of that year provided by PGA Philadelphia Section historian Pete Trenham says the Silver Scot made only a sextuple bogey.
Here are the best of the worst on the PGA Tour and major stages, holes on which one bad shot begat another, and another and another.
Ray Ainsley (19)
When/where: 1938 U.S. Open, Cherry Hills Country Club, Denver
Hole: No. 16, par 4, 397 yards
What happened: Ainsley was a club pro from Ojai, Calif., who shot a 76 in the first round. In the second, his approach to the green on 16 faded into a creek bordering the green. According to an account of the incident in the Cherry Hills Country Club history, Ainsley decided to play the submerged ball. Each time he took a swing, it moved downstream in the current. Eventually, by one account, he punched far past the hole and behind a tree, from where he chipped onto the green and finally putted in for a 19 (en route to a 96). Some in the gallery -- who abandoned Gene Sarazen on an adjacent hole to watch Ainsley, according to a Sports Illustrated story years later -- disputed the score and said he’d made a 21 or 23.
Quotable: “He was hitting the ball like a wild man,” recounted Bud McKinney, who was playing with Ainsley, after the round. “He was hitting and hitting the ball and it would occasionally jump like a fish and land on the bank, only to roll back in. That ball would jump up on the bank and you’d hear the crowd scream: ‘There it is! There it is!’ And then it would roll back in the water.”
Final word: When Ainsley was asked by a rules official why he didn’t simply take a drop, he said: “I thought I had to play the ball as it lay all the time.”
Hans Merrell (19)
When/where: 1959 Bing Crosby Pro-Am, Pebble Beach, Calif.
Hole: No. 16 at Cypress Point, par 3, 222 yards
What happened: The club pro from Ohio was thoroughly beaten by one of golf’s most demanding holes, which features a long tee shot over the ocean. Yet Merrell never hit a ball into the water. His tee shot fell short, landing on a beach about 75 feet below the green. He skulled his second shot into ice plant. According to the Associated Press account, he moved the ball a foot on his third shot, then took four more swings in the ice plant until the ball was buried and declared unplayable. He took a drop back on the beach, hit it back into the ice plant, took several more swipes at it, took another drop on the sand and finally reached the green. He then narrowly missed a 20-foot putt for 18.
Quotable: Merrell wasn’t quoted in newspaper accounts of his feat the next day, but in a book called “Firsts, Facts, Feats & Failures in the World of Golf,” author Ken Janke came to his defense, saying of the “dreaded ice plants” that they “look so innocent but are impossible to play out of.”
Final word: Merrell’s 19 erased the previous worst tournament score on the hole, a 16 taken by Ed “Porky” Oliver in the 1954 Bing Crosby. Crosby, by the way, once aced the hole.
John Daly (18)
When/where: 1998 Bay Hill Invitational, Bay Hill, Fla.
Hole: No. 6, par 5, 543 yards
What happened: Daly was over 2 over for the day when he came to the hole that features a dogleg left around a lake. He decided to go over the water to the green, about 320 yards -- a shot he had pulled off earlier in the week. But his drive fell short into the water. He then moved closer to the lake, took a drop and hit a 3-wood toward the green that also splashed. He hit four more into the water with his 3-wood from the same spot before finally clearing the lake, but found his ball stuck in the muck and had to take another drop. Then came an approach that bounced off rocks into a bunker en route to his 18.
Quotable: “At that point there was no way I could stop,” Daly told reporters after his first 3-wood approach got wet.
Final word: “After the fifth or sixth time, I just lost track,” Paul Goydos, who was keeping Daly’s score, told the Orlando Sentinel. “He just kept going. The crowd started yelling, ‘Tin Cup, Tin Cup.’ … It was fun. It wasn’t as if he wasn’t trying.”
Gary McCord (16)
When/where: 1986 FedEx St. Jude Classic, Memphis, Tenn.
Hole: No. 16, par 5, 512 yards
What happened: McCord first hit a tree, then faced 209 yards over water to the green at Colonial Country Club. After he selected a 4-iron, McCord’s next shot splashed. He then swung four more times -- same result. With only one ball left in his bag, McCord switched to a 3-iron, made the green and sank a 25-foot putt for 16. After returning to the clubhouse after his 16 in a round of 87, McCord at first sent out a message to the media that he didn’t want to talk about it, telling the Memphis Commercial-Appeal, “Just say I cut my wrist and bled to death, so I can’t talk,” but then spoke to reporters later.
Quotable: “I suddenly realized then that I was using the wrong club,” he said of his 4-iron approaches and why he didn’t use a 3-iron. “But it was a matter of principle.”
Final word: “I’m looking right between the eyes at a 17 if I don’t make that putt,” McCord said of his final shot. “I was determined to make it.”
Kevin Na (16)
When/where: 2011 Texas Valero Open, San Antonio, Texas
Hole: No. 9, par 4, 474 yards
What happened: Na happened to be wearing a microphone during his round and was heard telling his caddie after putting in, “How are we going to count all those strokes?” The answer: video, which he and his caddie watched before Na finally signed his scorecard. His ordeal began with a wayward drive into the woods. Na found his ball, but he called it unplayable and went back to the tee to hit again. That shot went into the woods, too. His next shot hit a tree, bounced off his leg (for a penalty) and landed behind him in a spot that he also declared unplayable. When Na finally cleared the woods into the rough, he had taken 12 shots, including a left-handed whiff. He eventually one-putted for his 16, the worst par-4 score ever on the PGA Tour, a “duodecuple” bogey. He was 4 under on the other 17 holes.
Quotable: “I think I made somewhere between a 10 and 15, but I think it’s closer to a 15,” Na said, before making an official count.
Final word: Na returned to the same woods to clear some of the obstacles with a chainsaw before the 2012 tournament. “It was a lot of fun,” he told reporters. “That chainsaw had a pretty good kick to it.”
John Daly (14)
When/where: 2000 U.S. Open, Pebble Beach Golf Links
Hole: No. 18, par 5, 543 yards
What happened: Daly was 3 over for the first round when he came to 18. His drive drifted right and rolled under a fence into the back yard of a home. Daly then went back to the tee and hooked two consecutive shots into the Pacific before hitting a 5-iron into the fairway. Another iron shot put him just 115 yards to the hole. His approach flew into the ocean. He followed with a drop into a bunker that nestled into a position that required a left-handed swing before holing out. After signing for an 83, he withdrew and then said he’d never play another U.S. Open because, “The USGA loves to embarrass guys who play in their tournaments.”
Quotable: “It was fun through 16 or 17 holes,” Daly’s caddie, former NHL player Dan Quinn, told reporters. “He was playing good. He just got all beat up at the end. One little swing and it was like, ‘Oh, my God.’”
Final word: Daly has had scores of 10 or more 15 times on the PGA Tour or in majors, including three 11s, two 12s, a 13, this 14 and the aforementioned 18.
Ed Dougherty (14)
When/where: 1990 AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am
Hole: No. 17 at Cypress Point, par 4, 393 yards
What happened: In Cypress Point's last year with the tournament, Dougherty was blown out by winds reported at 40 mph. Dougherty reached the green in three shots, but then took 11 putts to hole out. Jim Langley, the head pro at Cypress Point who was watching, told reporters Dougherty kept putting the ball toward the hole and the wind kept pushing it right back. Lon Hinkle scored a 13 on the hole that day, and scores of 10 and 11 were also recorded.
Quotable: “The last four holes at Cypress were the hardest holes I’ve ever played in my life,” said Rocco Mediate, who managed to shoot a 73 that day at Cypress. “That sums it up. Basically it was the best round I’ve ever played in my life considering the conditions.”
Final word: Sports Illustrated’s Gary Van Sickle, who covered the tournament, wrote recently that if players missed a putt that day, “the ball blew completely off the green.”
Billy Casper (14)
When/where: 2005 Masters, Augusta National Golf Club
Hole: No. 16, par 3, 170 yards
What happened: Officially, nothing. At the age of 73, the former Masters champ shot a 105 (originally reported as a 106) in the first round but did not turn in his scorecard, meaning his final tally and his 11-over total on the hole called “Redbud” weren’t entered in the record book. Casper’s tee shot hooked into the water, and then his next four from a drop zone also splashed.
Quotable: “You could have covered them with a napkin,” Casper said afterward of all the balls that hit the pond in nearly the same spot. “I was wondering whether I would have enough golf balls. I originally left the locker room with just six, but then went back and got another half dozen before I started.”
Final word: Casper said he had no regrets, because he wanted to play one more time in front of his children and grandchildren. “I had to play,” he said. “I wanted to do it one more time before I got to be too old. Now I’m satisfied.”
Tom Weiskopf (13)
When/where: 1980 Masters, Augusta National Golf Club
Hole: No. 12, par 3, 155 yards
What happened: One of his era's best players hit five shots into Rae’s Creek in front of the small green. His 7-iron tee shot cleared the creek but spun in. He then went to the drop area and plopped four more shots before finally clearing the green, then holing out in two strokes. He shot 85 in Round 1.
Quotable: “I’m extremely embarrassed,” he told reporters. “I’ve never been so disappointed.”
Final word: “I didn’t know this until after the fact,” Weiskopf said in 2000, “but my wife, Jeanne, was back near the tee in tears. Just to pick her up a little, one of my best friends, Tom Culver, hugged her and said, ‘Jeanne, you don’t think Tom is using new balls, do you?’”
Tommy Nakajima (13)
When/where: 1978 Masters, Augusta National Golf Club
Hole: No. 13, par 5, 510 yards
What happened: Nakajima would gain notoriety later in 1978 for a 9 at St. Andrews' famous Road Hole that was dubbed “the Sands of Nakajima" (as the tournament’s co-leader, he took four strokes to escape a bunker). But his performance at the Masters was even worse. He hooked his drive into a creek left of the fairway, took a penalty drop and hit an iron into the fairway. But his next went into the greenside creek. According to the Augusta Chronicle, Nakajima tried to play it out of the water “but the ball bounced off his shoe, costing him a two-shot penalty.” When he then tried to hand his club to his caddie, it touched the water, resulting in another two-shot penalty. He hit the next shot over the green but finally made it home.
Quotable: “Lost count,” said Nakajima, through an interpreter, when he was asked what he thought he made on the hole.
Final word: In 1986, Nakajima made an eagle on No. 13 and said of the hole, “It is my friend now. I feel I have more than redeemed myself for that bad day.”
(Final) final word: Weiskopf and Nakajima aren’t alone with 13s -- seven others have made the number on the PGA Tour since 1983 -- but they are the only ones to hit the unlucky number in a major.