ICONIC SPORTING MOMENTS

GOLF

Next up in Fixture Calendar’s Iconic Sporting Moments Series is Golf. Often described as the perfect sport, golf has provided sports fans with some of the most memorable moments in sporting history. From the thrill of a hole in one, to a miraculous underdog story, greatness is always just around the corner in this great game.

As the popularity of the sport continues to soar in this testing global climate, let us inspire you with ten of the sport’s most iconic moments – ten reasons why people fell in love with golf.

Seve cements legacy with second Open success at St. Andrew’s, 1984The Old Clubhouse on The Old Course, St. Andrew's

Described in his own words as: “the happiest moment of my whole sporting life”, in 1984 fan favourite Seve Ballesteros left it late to lift his second Claret Jug after a gruelling three-man tussle on the back nine. On the 18th green at St. Andrew’s Old Course, Seve caressed a 12-footer, dropping the ball into the cup on its very last revolution, sending the patrons into raptures, whilst a smiling Seve candidly posed for one of the sport’s most iconic photographs.

Jack Nicklaus at the 2006 Masters Par 3Jack Nicklaus’ 18th Major, 1986

An inspiration to a generation... before Tiger Woods came Jack Nicklaus. Nicknamed ‘The Golden Bear’, Nicklaus recorded a staggering 18 major wins between 1962 and 1986, with his swan song coming at the ’86 Masters on the hallowed Augusta turf. Heading into the tournament, a 46-year-old Nicklaus hadn’t tasted major success in almost six years, and many had written him off, owing to ongoing injury problems and a growing sense he had passed his prime. Even heading into the final round of the weekend, Nicklaus was far from favourite to take home the green jacket as he found himself four shots off the pace and tied ninth. However, a back nine for the ages saw ‘The Golden Bear’ shoot 30, recording five birdies and one eagle which was ultimately enough to secure Jack’s historic 18th major. Nicklaus picked up a winner’s cheque worth $144,000, seven times more than he won in 1962. Earlier this year, Hideki Matsuyama pocketed $2.1 million for winning the very same competition!

Even 35 years on, no golfer has come close to matching Nicklaus’ tally of 18 majors, with the Hall of Famer also holding the record for most Masters wins with six.

Greg Norman’s meltdown at the Masters, 1996Greg Norman at the 2008 Open

Despite claiming 20 wins on the PGA Tour and 14 on the European Tour, Greg Norman is arguably best known for his disastrous capitulation at the 1996 Masters. The one-time PGA Player of the Year held the lead heading into the final round at a major as many as nine times, but only got over the line on two occasions, with both major wins coming at The Open in ’86 and ’93. Though forgoing leads was an unfortunate hallmark of his career, the most famous example came in 1996 when, heading into the final round at Augusta, Norman held a six-shot lead over his closest rival Nick Faldo. However, an historic final day saw an 11-shot swing as Norman carded five bogeys and two doubles, whilst Faldo seized the initiative to shoot five under and win the Masters by five strokes. Even with Norman scoring three bogeys on the front nine, he remained in the driving seat right up until the 12th hole, when a costly double bogey was enough to allow Faldo in, as the Englishman held on to claim a third green jacket.

Se Ri Pak at the 2007 LPGA ChampionshipSe Ri Pak’s puts South Korea on the LPGA map, 1998

Se Ri Pak joined the LPGA in 1998 as the only South Korean woman to feature on Tour. In her debut season, the 20-year-old picked up two major titles in the shape of the U.S. Women’s Open and LPGA Championship, sparking an influx of female Korean players into the sport of golf. Fast forward 23 years, four of the world’s top five ranked LPGA Tour players are South Korean, with the country boasting 32 players in the top 100, many of whom reference Se Ri Pak as their inspiration.  

Tiger Woods completes the unprecedented ‘Tiger Slam’, 2000/01

There’ll be no surprises to see Tiger Woods’ name on a list detailing golf’s defining moments, with the 15-time major winner capable of filling this 1-10 all on his own. However, what is unquestionably one of the most salient accomplishments in the great man’s career came in 2001, when Tiger won the Masters to make it four major wins in a row. Whilst no player has yet recorded golf’s coveted ‘grand slam’ by winning all four modern majors in the same calendar year, Tiger is the only man to have achieved the next best thing, holding all four majors simultaneously by winning the final three majors in 2000, and the first in 2001. 

If becoming the youngest Masters winner in 1997 didn’t announce Tiger’s arrival as golf’s greatest disrupter, then the 2000/01 ‘Tiger Slam’ certainly did, propelling Woods on to nine more major wins throughout his illustrious career.

The Miracle at Medinah, 2012

There will be few arguments in European golfing circles that the 2012 Ryder Cup will go down as one of the great comebacks of all time. Draped in the navy and white colours made famous by the late Seve Ballesteros, who passed away just 16 months earlier, Team Europe overturned a 10-4 deficit to win eight of Sunday’s 12 matchups and claim a fifth Ryder Cup in six editions.

The stunning victory was dedicated to the late Ballesteros by winning captain and fellow Spaniard Jose Maria Olazabal, who was understandably emotional after witnessing his team’s stoic efforts. Olazabal featured in Europe’s Ryder Cup team on seven occasions, forming a formidable twosome with Seve, becoming the most successful European partnership, winning 12 points from 15 matches together. With Olazabal captaining the 2012 side, Europe needed a new hero, so up stepped Ian Poulter, a man with a storied love affair with this competition. The Englishman recorded a 100% record at the 2012 edition, winning all four of his matches to help his side on their way to retaining the coveted title.

Jim Furyk driving on the PGA tourJim Furyk shoots record low score on PGA Tour, 2016

Ever dreamed of scoring under par? Or even breaking 100? Well, in 2016, Jim Furyk tore up the record books to achieve a score that mere mortals can only dream of, as he set the new scoring record on the PGA Tour of 58. The then 46-year-old achieved the feat during the final round of the 2016 Travelers Championship at the revered TPC River Highlands. Wondering what the secret is? Furyk found 14/14 fairways and all 18 greens in regulation, carded 10 birdies and one eagle, and was eight-under par with a score of 27 after just nine holes. What makes this achievement far more incredible is the fact that Furyk played the last 6 holes a mediocre one-under par, with all of the damage having been done in the early stages.

Incredibly, just 1,059 days earlier, the former U.S. Open champ scored 59 at the 2013 BMW Championship to equal the previous record – a score which has now been hit 10 times on Tour.

Major #15 for Tiger, 2019

Much like Nicklaus in ’86, many had written off Tiger’s chances of ever winning another major when after the Hall of Famer went through four back surgeries andTiger Woods driving plenty of off-the-course issues. Since winning the U.S. Open in 2008, Woods teed it up at 28 subsequent majors before finally getting over the line in 2019 at Augusta National. For much of the weekend, Woods was treading water, lingering within the top ten without truly threatening the pace-setters. However, after shooting an impressive 67 on Saturday, Tiger went into the final round tied second, ready to pounce on any slip-ups by tournament leader Francesco Molinari.

The Italian duly opened the door to the chasing pack, recording two double bogeys on the 12th and 15th, allowing Tiger Woods to hit the front with three birdies on the last six holes which was enough to secure the fifth green jacket for the American.

Covid takes its toll on golf’s showpiece event, 2020

The pandemic’s impact on the sport of golf was more apparent than ever at the 2020 Masters which, after being postponed earlier in the year, was contested in mid-November for the first time in tournament history. With no patrons in attendance, the new-look Augusta produced an unprecedented tournament, with record scoring seeing Dustin Johnson run away with the green jacket. The world number one posted a 72-hole score of 268, two shots fewer than the previous record low shared by Tiger Woods and Jordan Spieth. DJ wasn’t the only player to thrive in the unfamiliar conditions, with Australian Cameron Smith becoming the first man to shoot four rounds in the 60’s in Masters history.

If you thought a November Masters was strange enough, wait until you hear what Tiger Woods did on the back nine on Sunday. Having played over 23,000 holes on the PGA Tour, Tiger recorded his first double digit score… and on a par 3 no less! If the 10 shots on the 12th hole shocked his loyal fanbase, what happened next came as no surprise. The defending Masters champ played the final six holes with complete poise and elegance, carding five birdies to remind us why he is one of our generation’s true sporting greats.

‘Phil the Thrill’ becomes oldest major winner, 2021

Golfing fairy tales hardly come much more enchanting than the one written by a 50-year-old Phil Mickelson at the 2021 PGA Championship. On the magical-sounding Kiawah Island, Mickelson etched his names into golfing annals, going six-under-par to record the sixth major win of his career but more significantly, earning the honour of becoming the oldest major championship winner, surpassing Julian Boros who won the same competition in 1968 aged 48.

Mickelson was drastically suffering from a loss of form in the lead-up to the Championship, having not won on Tour in over two years and failed to record a top 20 finish in almost nine months. Furthermore, with his last major win coming way back in 2013, many commentators feared one of the sport’s great icons would never return to the zenith of the game. As the competition played out, it wasn’t Mickelson’s famed genius around the greens that propelled him to the top of the tree, but instead his untiring ability to effectively wield the big stick, as he outdrove playing partner Brooks Koepka head-to-head, and even bested Bryson DeChambeau on a number of holes.  

What makes an iconic moment in golf? An iconic moment can come from a shot that defies both logic and physics, such as Justin Rose's hole-in-one in his first round at the 2016 Summer Olympics, which is considered to be the first in Olympic history. It’s not always the flashy holes-in-one that open the iconic golf shots highlight reels, with a moment of genius in and around the greens often just as awe-inspiring, such as with Tiger’s legendary chip on the 10th at Augusta en route to his fourth green jacket. The careers of golfing icons can also be defined by the most improbable of comebacks, like Arnold Palmer who overturned a seven-shot deficit heading into the final round of the 1960 U.S. Open to come out on top in his only ever win at the competition. Iconic moments can also arise from the darker side of golf, which often comes to the fore at Ryder Cups when fan heckling provides a prickly backdrop for one of golf’s most compelling tournaments. Fan interaction most famously spilled over at the 1999 Ryder Cup, when a torrent of vile abuse was directed at players on both sides, with 2002 Ryder Cup-winning captain Sam Torrance branding it “the most disgraceful and disgusting day in the history of professional golf.” For many, the sport’s favourite character goes by the name of John Daly, who has built up a cult following thanks to his sartorial garishness, ridiculously long hitting and often relatable personal life which sets him apart as a mere mortal in an arena filled with sporting deities.

To track all the golf events from around the world, head to the Fixture Calendar.

Written in July 2021

Photos by J W Wagner, pocketwiley, Steven Newton, Keith Allison, Keith Allison, Keith Allison

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