When asked to recall the scariest golf shot I've ever hit, my mind races to the Irish Open Pro-Am at Royal Portrush in 2012. I was paired with John Daly, actor Aiden Quinn and goalkeeping legend Pat Jennings. The first tee grandstands were packed and spectators lined the fairway. In the group ahead, I watched a very steady golf writer I'd played with all week succumb to nerves and skull a line drive dead left into a crowd of spectators no more than 30 yards away.
Minutes later, I heard my name announced and the faint smattering of applause from onlookers who were no doubt wondering who this random schlep was paired with three stars. I felt out of body and tried to make some semblance of a smooth swing. I looked up on my follow through to watch my ball airborne sailing through the gray Irish sky. Hallelujah!
So what if the ball sailed right and trickled OB right by a couple feet. I'd made contact and didn't draw any blood.
Nerves are part of the game of golf. So is slaying past demons over and over. Our swings all have scar tissue at this point: matches we've lost because of a missed putt or career rounds going that find quicksand on the back nine. On any given round we play, there are going to be at least a handful of shots that bring bad memories racing back and a little spike in blood pressure.
That's why there are beverage carts.
But when we're able to conquer a nemesis shot under pressure it's what makes this hard game so great.
In the spirit of Halloween 2020 here are seven types of golf shots that continue to spook me. They give me the most butterflies when I encounter them during a match or when I've got a good score going. Hit me and your fellow golfers with your scariest shots in the comments below!
The 40-yard bunker shot
Even the pros can struggle with the 40-yard bunker shot. This is one of those eternally mysterious shots that, upon failure to execute, typically puts you in a worse spot than you were. A fat shot puts you up against the bunker lip and a skull sails you over the green and possibly off the golf course. | Watch on GolfPass: Sean Foley on playing bunker shots of varying distance
The slicer's wind
When I'm on the tee, for this right-hander, a little breeze off the right is like a warm security blanket. I can swing freely knowing if I don't turn my hands over the wind will still keep it in the ballpark.
Conversely, when I feel the wind at my back, all hell breaks loose. The weight in my feet shifts forward, my stance is different, my tempo quickens and my swing plane turns into knots. I used to sail tee shots in this wind dead-right. Now the regular miss is a line-drive double cross that barely makes it off the ground. If we're playing a match together and we come to a hole with this wind, it's a good time to press.
The downwind, short par 3
What's more frustrating on a breezy day than playing a 420-yard brute of a par 4 dead into the teeth of the wind, only to turn around and play a 130-yard chip-shot with it at your back? Thanks for nothing! This delicate shot requires the fleeting combination of touch and commitment. In a recent round, I faced this shot and chunked my sand wedge about 30 yards. I was stewing the rest of the day.
The pitch shot with water behind the green
Here's a surefire recipe to hit a chunky pitch shot out of rough: just put some water on the other side of the green. Are you still going to open the face up and take a big, flop-shot swing?
The diagonal green
Many of the toughest approach shots in golf, even for the pros, are the result of diagonal greens (think: Muirfield Village or The Bear Trap at PGA National). Suddenly there's no chunky section of the green to hit. You could get the approach yardage completely right but miss your line and end up dreadfully short-sided. The diagonal green requires both the right number and line (and sometimes even shape).
The downhill lie to elevated green
Elevated greens frequently cause amateurs to subliminally try and lift the ball at impact, resulting often times in a scoopy chunk. It all compounds coupled with a downhill lie. This is when you really need to trust that hitting down on an iron does, in fact, make the ball go up. Martin Hall: How to play off a downhill lie
The four-footer to win the match
I've been on both sides of the 4-footer to win the match. I've watched opponents blow it and so have I. A $5 bet suddenly turned into the US Open. No one expects an amateur to make anything longer than 6 feet. Strokes gained data suggests amateurs make this putt 65-80% of the time - certainly no gimmie. It's the short ones that put the pressure on. I've always struggled with how to get my mind right for these moments. Embrace the pressure (even if said "pressure" is literally a $5 bet that probably goes unpaid), or act nonchalant like it doesn't matter? Is anybody on here a sports psychologist?