CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA – Seve’s famous escape from a bunker during the 1983 Ryder Cup? The shot he played with a 3 wood scarcely touching any sand on the 18th hole of his match against Fuzzy Zoeller? I saw that. I was standing right behind it, perhaps 50 feet away, and the hairs on the back of my neck stood up when Nick De Paul, Seve’s caddie, handed him a 3 wood.
Tiger’s chip in on the 16th at Augusta in 2005? Saw that too, though this time via television. I remember clearly how the TV camera swooped in on his ball, showing clearly the Nike logo, before it fell into the hole.
Mickelson’s 6 iron from between the trees on the 13th at Augusta in 2010? Watched that on television. In commentary, Sir Nick Faldo called it the shot of Mickelson’s life. I saw – again on TV – Bubba Watson’s recovery shot from among trees to the right of the 10th hole in the playoff in 2013. And talking of playoffs, I was there, deep in the crowd, when Larry Mize chipped in on the 11th green to snatch the 1987 Masters from Greg Norman.
But I didn’t see Rory McIlroy’s 80-yard pitch and run up a cart path to get his par on the 10th hole at Quail Hollow at the start of his second round in the 2017 PGA. It didn’t win him a tournament but it earned the shot a place in the pantheon of extraordinary golf shots.
— PGA of America (@PGA) August 11, 2017
After a long but rather wild second shot, McIlroy was green-high at the bottom of a hill adjoining a cart path in a scruffy lie. He couldn’t go over the trees because he was too close to them. Rather like Jordan Spieth on the 13th at Birkdale during this year’s Open – who saw an escape route that no one else did – McIlroy was not fazed.
He decided he would hit his ball up the cart path and hope it would bobble to somewhere near the green.
For an ordinary golfer, such a gamble certainly would not have come off but when you can hit the ball as straight as McIlroy, such antics are not beyond you. Using a 6 iron he fashioned a low shot that did indeed make its way up towards the green – bounce, bounce, bounce – through a bunker and ended on the edge of the putting surface. A chip and putt later and McIlroy nonchalantly walked off the green muttering: “Just an ordinary par.”
I am often asked how good the best players are. These shots are as articulate an answer as it is possible to give. The golfers who hit them are not just good or very good. They are truly exceptional.