From the transformation of Bryson DeChambeau as he bashed his way to his first major championship at the U.S. Open, to Dustin Johnson wiping away tears after slipping his arms into the green jacket at the Masters, 2020 provided many indelible moments in golf that won’t soon escape us.
In a year unlike any other—global pandemic, season interrupted—there were plenty of unforgettable shots, too. Collin Morikawa hitting driver to seven feet on the par-4 16th at TPC Harding Park on his way to capturing the PGA Championship would sit at the top of the list. There’s also an assortment of worst shots, but no need to highlight those; it’s been a tough enough year already.
Different from both, however, lie these: the costliest shots of year. There are many ways to define costly (financial, psychological, etc.), and they’re not all the result of bad execution—sometimes they’re the product of just bad luck. Most tie back to a singular resolution of (frustrating) significance resulting in an outcome ranging between disappointing to rage-inducing. From a lost tournament, to a missed cut, here are the shots that turned out to be the most maddening in 2020.
Xander Schauffele’s close calls
It’s hard to imagine that come January it will be two years since Xander Schauffele raised a trophy on the PGA Tour. Indeed, it feels like the 27-year-old has won more recently. Perhaps that’s because most figured he had the title at the Sentry Tournament of Champions last January locked up before a three-putt from a little more than 40 feet on the 72nd hole sent him instead into a playoff he’d bow out of on the first sudden-death hole. Then in June, a brutal power-lip out from three feet on the 71st hole cost him a chance at winning the Charles Schwab Challenge. And in September, he shot the lowest score of the week (by three) at the Tour Championship, but it was Dustin Johnson (given a lead before the tournament began) who walked away with the tournament title, the FedEx Cup trophy and $15 million.
Hawaii wasn’t paradise for Ryan Palmer (or Brendan Steele)
Trailing by a stroke and standing in a fairway bunker on the final hole of regulation at the Sony Open in Hawaii last January, tour veteran Ryan Palmer naturally went for the green in two on the par 5, only to send his 3-wood approach sailing right and off the top of a scoreboard. Rather than hitting a provisional, Palmer searched fruitlessly for his ball, only to be forced to return to the sand to play his fourth shot when it was never found. He’d go on to make bogey—costing him nearly $200,000 compared to what he would have earned had he made a par.
But one could theorize the sequence of events, which took more than 15 minutes to unfold, were even more costly to Brendan Steele. Clinging to a one-shot lead and in the group behind Palmer, Steele waited and waited (arms crossed) before finally getting to play. When he did, he hooked his 2-iron approach to the 18th green so badly that it landed on the other side of a hospitality tent, opening the door for Cam Smith, playing in the same group as Steele, to force a playoff with a birdie. Smith then beat Steele in overtime. Of the wait, Steele said, “Yeah, wasn’t helpful.”
A short drive on Riviera’s short 10th hole
Riviera Country Club was playing particularly tricky on Sunday at February’s Genesis Invitational, but that doesn’t necessarily explain what happened to Harold Varner III on the famed drivable par-4 10th. In contention to win his first PGA Tour event, Varner chunked (topped?) his 3-wood off the tee, the ball traveling a meager 129 yards. “I missed the ball,” Varner acknowledged after the round. “I couldn’t tell you what exactly happened. I just know that I hit the dirt before the ball.” Varner doubled the hole and never recovered, making three more bogeys down the stretch to tumble to T-13.
Tommy Fleetwood’s first PGA Tour win has to wait
Having to birdie the final hole of a tournament—even a par 5—to force a playoff is no small task. That was the scenario facing Tommy Fleetwood at the Honda Classic in March, when the five-time European Tour winner was also trying for his first PGA Tour victory (something Paul Azinger and the NBC broadcast team made sure everyone was well aware). With his drive landing in the middle of the fairway, Fleetwood proceeded to over-cut a 5-wood from 230 yards to the one place on PGA National’s 18th that he couldn’t afford to—the water down the right of the home hole—thus handing the trophy to Sungjae Im. Fleetwood ended the year without a win on any tour.
Sunday scaries for Rory McIlroy
Remember when Rory McIlroy was No. 1 in the world and contending every week? The last time we saw that version of the Northern Irishman was at the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March, where he entered the final round just a shot off the lead. Then came a Sunday implosion that included a front-nine 40 low-lighted by a chunked bunker shot on the fifth hole (bogey) and a badly thinned wedge from a fairway bunker that ended up in the rocks behind the sixth (double bogey). A few holes later, a tee shot nearly out of bounds resulted in another double. McIlroy didn’t contend again the rest of the 2019-’20 season.
A tee shot Justin Thomas would like back
A lot went right for Justin Thomas in 2020, a year in which he won twice and again reached No. 1 in the world. But he ended it still burning over what might have been, particularly at the Workday Charity Open at Muirfield Village in July. Thomas led by three with three to play, only to fall into a playoff with Collin Morikawa and lose on the second extra hole. The final dagger for Thomas was more bad break than bad shot, but costly nonetheless—his tee ball on the 10th hole in sudden death ended up in the rough and behind a lone tree that was less than a foot wide. Stymied, Thomas had no choice but to pitch out, and he eventually missed a 15-footer for par that would have extended the playoff.
You’d be doing a disservice to have a list of anything golf in 2020 without Bryson DeChambeau on it, no matter the premise. Enter the second round of the Memorial, where DeChambeau turned de shambles, making a 10 on the par-5 15th. Safely inside the cut line when he arrived at the hole, he quickly exited after driving into a water hazard, hitting off a cart path and nearly into the water again before eventually tapping in for a quintuple bogey. The icing on the calamity was when along the way he argued (unsuccessfully) for a drop from a fence after being told—from two different rules officials—that his ball was indeed out of bounds. DeChambeau went from one over to six over for his first weekend off on the PGA Tour since the 2019 Open Championship.
Bad timing for Rickie Fowler
All the strokes count the same no matter when they happen, of course. But Rickie Fowler missing—and nearly whiffing—a six-inch tap-in to miss the cut at the PGA Championship was apropos of 2020.
Harris English’s major frustration
The good news for Harris English: His fourth-place finish at this year’s U.S. Open was easily the best of his career in a major. The bad: It should have been even better, and it was little fault of his own. On the fringe of contention in a tie for fourth, five strokes off the lead, when he teed off in the final round at Winged Foot, English mildly tugged his drive left and watched as his ball ricocheted off a tree and down into the rough on the par-4 first. It wasn’t how he wanted to start his round, but he figured it would be easy to find. Yet with no fans on site and no one able to locate it, English eventually had to declare the ball lost (see some of the futile search below) and head back to the tee to hit his third. He’d make double bogey. Oof. And what if he’d instead made par on the hole? He would have leapfrogged Louis Oosthuizen for solo third and picked up nearly an additional $250,000.
A tough end to a tough year for Brooks Koepka
Coincidence or serendipity, the final PGA Tour event of the year, the Mayakoba Golf Classic in December, would end with Brooks Koepka—the four-time major champion and former World No. 1 who has since tumbled outside the top 10—missing the cut in the most 2020 of ways. Hovering near the cut line in Mexico, he missed a 10-footer for birdie on his 14th hole of the day, the par-5 fifth, and then lipped out the 1½-foot comebacker on his way to a bogey.
An ace or a double bogey?
Even when there wasn’t any professional golf being played because of the COVID-19 pandemic, some guys just couldn’t catch a break. Jordan Spieth, pegging it up in a charity event in Carrollton, Texas, nearly aced the 17th hole at his home course, Maridoe Golf Club, only to see the ball hit the foam spacer inside the cup and bounce into a water hazard.
Good riddance to you, too, 2020.