10 Best Moments from the Skins Game
By Gary Van Sickle
What we now call the Silly Season, an endless parade of made-for-TV golf events, began with one not-so-silly event. That was the Skins Game in 1983, pitting the games greatest legends Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Tom Watson against each other for what was then big money. And it was played on Thanksgiving weekend, a time normally reserved for football.
Imitation and inflation have done the rest. While the Skins Game has lost much of its appeal, it remains a guilty pleasure for golf addicts. Here, then, are the 10 most memorable Skins Game moments.
10. Rocky Six: The 1990 Skins game at PGA West came down to a tense, four-hole playoff between former U.S. Open playoff adversaries Curtis Strange and Nick Faldo. At No. 10, the first playoff hole, Strange hit an errant drive to the edge of a lake. To play his risky 125-yard approach shot, Strange removed his shoes and socks and balanced on the rocks, hitting a wedge shot that deflected off a large rock at impact but nonetheless landed on the green, six feet from the cup. Faldo sank a birdie putt from 12 feet and Strange sank his unlikely birdie putt for a halve. On the fourth extra hole, Faldo pulled his iron shot into the water and Strange claimed the final $70,000 with a routine par.
2 of 10Steve Grayson/WireImage.com
2. She is Woman, Hear Her Roar: In 2003 and six months after she'd become the first woman to play in an official PGA Tour event in 58 years, Annika Sorenstam became the first woman to tee it up in the Skins Game. Playing against Phil Mickelson, Fred Couples and Mark O'Meara, she left an indelible mark in the opening round.
The sixth, seventh and eighth holes were halved, making the ninth hole worth $175,000. On the par-5 ninth, Sorenstam looked to be in the worst position, in the bunker on the far side of the green, 39-yards from the pin. She nipped her sand shot cleanly and watched her ball skip a few times on the green, and then role into the cup for an eagle and four skins. "What an eagle," Couples said. "You have to be in that bunker to understand how hard that shot is. You could be down there until tomorrow's 8 o'clock tee time and not hole it."
Said Mickelson, "I thought it was pretty cool. It would have been even more cool if it were me."
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3. Dress for Success. Fred Funk made his Skins Game debut in 2005. Funk, who is popular with crowds because he wears his emotions on his sleeve, turned into a Skins Game king. He won 15 of 18 skins and racked up a record haul of $925,000. But Funk's contribution to Skins Game history was more than his stellar golf. A short hitter, Funk had a bet with Annika Sorenstam that if she outdrove him on any hole, he'd put on a skirt.
When ABC reporter Andy North noted in the third fairway that Sorenstam had the edge, Funk pulled a flowery pink skirt out of his bag and put it on, leading to hysterics among the other players and gallery and ensuring his spot in Skins Game lore. The pinnacle moment came at the green when Tiger Woods slyly walked over to help Funk line up his putt. "What do you think, Tiger?" Funk asked. Woods, barely able to contain his laughter, answered, "Two balls out."
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4. All Jacked Up. In 1984, the Skins Game was still at its best featuring the Big Three Plus One Palmer, Player, Nicklaus and Tom Watson. Watson mopped up on the opening nine but the legends gamely battled it out on the back. No skins were won, making the 18th a carryover hole worth $240,000. Nicklaus won it all plus the event's title when he sank a 10-foot putt on the final green. How big a moment was it? Jack was so excited that he tossed his putter into the air, something he did only one other time when he edged Doug Sanders in the British Open at St. Andrews.
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5. Right Said Fred: After 18 holes at Bighorn in 1995, Fred Couples hadn't won a cent. Luckily, no one else won the last hole, either, so a playoff began. Couples dodged bullets and stayed alive for four playoff holes, then sank a 10-footer for birdie on the 18th hole, the third time that hole had been played. That birdie earned him $270,000 and lifted him past his competitors Corey Pavin, Tom Watson and Peter Jacobsen for his first Skins Game victory.
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6. Lip Service: Fuzzy Zoeller not only provided the comedy for the 1985 Skins Game, he supplied some of its best golf. Zoeller made his Skins debut memorable. Despite being shut out in the opening round, he won three skins worth $255,000 and captured the title on the back nine. Zoeller rolled in a 15-foot birdie putt at the 12th hole with $150,000 on the line. It figured to be a halve, however, because Jack Nicklaus had a short putt for birdie to tie him. Nicklaus missed and Zoeller walked over and planted a wet kiss on Jack's cheek (although Zoeller sneaked the back of his hand between his lips and Jack's cheek). Even a stunned Nicklaus had to laugh.
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7. Cashing In: There were two big moments when the Skins Game debuted in 1983 at Desert Highlands with golf's Big Three duking it out and playing for big money (at the time) and creating a TV franchise. Call it a tie, then, between the moment at the 12th hole, where crowd favorite Arnold Palmer won a $100,000 skin with a 40-foot birdie putt, and at the 17th hole when Gary Player nervously shoveled home a four-foot putt to win a skin worth $150,000.
"That was more money than Gary had ever won in a year on tour," Skins Game founder Don Ohlmeyer told Arizona Golf last year. "He was hyperventilating so bad on the 18th tee that he could hardly take the club back. He could not believe he'd won that much money."
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8. Pass the Chips, Please: The 1989 Skins Game served as atonement for Curtis Strange. The '88 U.S. Open champion got skunked in his Skins debut the previous year. After winning the '89 U.S. Open, Strange dominated the Skins Game, winning 11 skins worth $265,000. The big shot came at the 13th after four carryover holes. Strange chipped in from 35 feet to claim a dramatic $135,000 skin.
9 of 10Mark J. Terrill/AP
9. Shark Attack: The Skins Game tried out a new format in 2001 that required validating a win. In other words, any player who won a hole didn't get the skin unless he made sure nobody beat him on the next hole. This bad idea meant that through 16 holes, no player had won a skin. Greg Norman finally won the 17th hole and then halved the 18th to validate his skin, suddenly worth $800,000. The last hole, worth another $200,000, also went to Norman in a playoff.
10 of 10Matthew Thayer/AP
1. One of a Kind: There is only one greatest moment in Skins Game history and everybody knows it. It happened in 1987 when Lee Trevino, one of the game's most colorful characters, holed a 6-iron from 167 yards for an ace on the island-green, par-3 17th at PGA West.
After the shot disappeared into the cup, there was a moment of stunned silence. "He was speechless," Jack Nicklaus joked later. "I think that's the first time in my life I've heard him shut up."
The gallery erupted in cheers and Trevino bounced around the tee box and waved his cap a few times before jumping into the arms of his good friend and long-time caddie, Herman Mitchell, who is a large man. The hole-in-one earned Trevino $175,000 and was part of his sweep of all the skins ($285,000 worth) over the last nine holes.
Of course, the talkative Trevino didn't remain silent. Asked about the shot later, he said, "It looked like a Rembrandt."
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