Sports Illustrated’s Joe Posnanski has ranked the 32 most painful finishes in sports history. Two finishes from pro golf made the list. The first, checking in at No. 6, is Greg Norman’s historic meltdown in the final round of the 1996 Masters. Posnanski writes:
When Greg Norman played the Masters in 1996, I was a columnist for an afternoon paper, the Cincinnati Post. This only matters because we did not have a Sunday edition. This had a positive and negative effect. The negative effect is easy: I couldn’t write live about Saturday events, and you might know that Saturday is kind of a key day in sports. I couldn’t write live on Ohio State-Michigan or on big Kentucky basketball games or on important baseball games played on Saturdays. There were no blogs then, either.
The positive is easy, too: I couldn’t write about Saturday events. So when I went to various sporting events Saturday was, in a sense, a forced day off. We would call them Boast Saturdays (Boast for Post — long story) and we would enjoy watching our fellow writers working on NFL preview stories or deadline college football games and shrug. Sorry. Can’t write.
But I was so inspired by Greg Norman’s first three days at the Masters that, essentially, I reached the person who ran the Scripps Howard News wire (the Post was owned by Scripps Howard) and asked for a chance to write. I didn’t even care if anyone ran it. I just thought I had something to say.
Permission was granted — funny, nobody ever turns down requests to do more work — and I wrote an entire column about how they should shut down the Masters, not even bother to play on Sunday because Norman (who was ahead by five shots) had already won the thing. The rest, I wrote, was guaranteed to be anticlimax.
So, yeah, I was an itty-bitty bit off there. Norman’s ludicrous collapse (combined with Nick Faldo’s masterful 67) turned Augusta Sunday into a very lush psychiatrist’s couch. Even Faldo clearly felt bad for the guy. Norman came into the press tent afterward and, with great class, went through his emotions. He had wanted very badly to win a Masters. He never did.
At No.2 on the list is Jean Van de Velde’s epic collapse at the 1999 British Open. Here’s Posnanski:
This was my first British Open and I have to tell you … it could not have been more boring. The tournament was played at Carnoustie — I went because that was where Tom Watson had won his first British Open, and he suggested to me that he had the game to make another run (he did have the game … but his amazing British Open run wouldn’t happen for another decade). But Watson was dreadful. Well, it fit. Everyone was dreadful.
Someone named Rod Pampling was leading after Day 1 — he had managed even par.
Someone named Jean Van de Velde was leading after Day 2 — he was one over par.
That someone named Jean Van de Velde had a five-shot lead after Day 3. It could not have been more boring.
And Sunday played out just as boring — Van de Velde played well enough that had a three-shot lead going into the 18th hole. A double-bogey and he won. He could hit nothing but putters and make double-bogey (he really could — later he tried it just for fun and got his double-bogey). Instead, he whacked his driver to the dismay of anyone with a working brain and the ball sailed way right into the rough.
Only he caught the strangest sort of bad break — when he got there, he saw that he had a PERFECT LIE. Why was this a bad break? Because the lie was so good that it inspired Van de Velde to go for the green. Had it been in the rough he might have tried to chop the ball back into play, limped up to the flag and left with the Claret Jug. Instead, he went for the great shot — like Billy Conn, he went for the knockout — and he hit it into grandstand, where it bounced back into thick rough. He then hit the ball out of the rough into Barry Burn, the water that runs in front of the green. Van de Velde took off his socks and shoes, rolled up his pants, leading the BBC announcer to say something like: “This poor man has lost his mind.”
Eventually he decided not to try and hit the ball out of the water. He chipped into the bunker, then pitched to seven feet and then, in what can only be attributed to muscle memory, he made the putt for the triple-bogey that at least got him in the playoff. Of course he wasn’t going to win the thing — and he didn’t. But it has always amazed me that after all that, he still made that triple-bogey putt. And it was the most painful ending I’ve ever watched in sports.
Van de Velde became a media star afterward. He was impossibly funny as he went over his round. “I talk about everything except 18, OK?” he asked as he walked into his press conference. Then he talked about 18 and pain and how life goes on.
Those were the only two examples from golf that cracked Posnanski’s list of all-time agonies of defeat. What do you think? What other meltdowns should be included? Leave your answer in the comments below.