The thought of seeing Wadkins on the course again brought to mind some of the greatest shots he’s hit over the years. I asked him to take us through his personal top 10.
No. 10, Missed putt in the second round of the 1991 Masters.
“I was first off in the opening round, played in 2 hours, 40 minutes, shot 65 and was leading. The next day, I’m in the last group with Jeff Sluman and it took two and a half hours just to play the first nine. It was like all my adrenaline went away. I was a very fast player and I was used to dealing with slow play, but that day the pace got to me.
“At 9, I just missed a four-footer for par. I casually reached across left handed to bat it in, and missed it for a double bogey. It didn’t cost me the Masters, it actually woke me up. It was the slap in the face I needed. I shot 33 on the back nine and got back into contention. I finished third, my highest Masters finish. It was disappointing, though, because that was a Masters I really could’ve won.”
No. 9, Eagle at the 14th hole on Sunday at the 1994 Masters.
“I wasn’t having a good tournament, so when I went teed off at 14, a
couple of friends who were walking with me (Kent Feddeman and Mike
Bylen) went to the concession tent to get something to eat. Bylen said
they heard a massive roar from the 14th green while they were still in
there and Feddeman looks at him and says, who do you think that was?
Bylen says, ‘It has to be Lanny. We follow him for two and a half days
and he hasn’t hit a shot yet. It figures that the one shot we miss, he
holes out.’ They let me hear about that later. They still do.
Sometimes, I’m just out there to provide comic relief for my buddies.”
No. 8, Five-iron at the 37th hole of the 1988 British Open.
“The first hole at Royal Lytham [& St. Annes] is a par 3 and my first swing of the day, a five iron, goes in for an ace. I was really excited because it was the British, so excited, in fact, that I think I drove it out of bounds on the second hole. I got such an adrenaline rush from the ace, it was such a shock, that I didn’t play well the rest of the day and shot 76. I’ve made other aces that didn’t affect me but this one did.”
No. 7, 54th hole of the 1970 U.S. Amateur.
“I was in the next-to-last group and Kite had me by five shots going to the 18th, then I hole this 70-yard shot for eagle. Kite makes bogey there, and I pick up three shots. That eagle turned the whole thing around and gave me a chance. I played that par-5 hole in seven strokes over the last two days. That’s the kind of stuff you do when you win.”
No. 6, Three-iron on the 9th hole of the 1979 Players Championship.
“We were still playing Sawgrass Country Club, where nobody had ever broken par for 72 holes. I shot 76 in the third round and retained a three-shot lead, that’s how hard the wind was blowing. The ninth hole was a really tough par 4 with water front and right. The pin was back right, the wind was coming from the right, 30 to 35 mph. I saw Weiskopf before the round and he told me, don’t let indecision affect you, just make up your mind and hit it. So that’s what I did. I whistled a three iron out over the water, I mean I really hammered it, and the wind moved it back and it stopped six feet behind the hole. It was so windy, I backed off the putt three times before I made it. I shot 72 for the day, won by five over Watson and was the first to break par for 72 holes. That was as fine a three iron as I probably ever hit.”
No. 5, Drive on the 9th hole of the 1977 World Series of Golf.
“I was in the last group Sunday with [Tom] Weiskopf. I’ve got him by five shots. We used to play a lot of money games, Arnie and Tom versus me and Bert Yancey. On the first tee Sunday, being a smartass, I said, What are we playing for, big boy? Tom says, ‘One hundred thousand dollars.’ He’s dead serious. That was what first prize paid and it was the biggest paycheck in golf at that time. Then birdied something like six of the first eight holes. I was two or three under, playing pretty damn good, but he caught me or got within a shot.
“Tom routinely drove it by me 20, 30 yards. On the ninth hole, he hammers a drive down the left center and it disappears over the hill. It’s perfect. He looks at me and grins. I hit a bullet that also disappears over the hill. Down the fairway, there’s one ball 30 yards past the other. Weiskopf strolls right by the first one, doesn’t even look at it. I check it out. It’s a MacGregor Tourney, Tom’s ball. I call out to him — Oh, boy — and point at the ball. He looks at me and says, ‘Bulls–t.’ He checks the other ball, then comes marching back and grumbles, ‘There must be something wrong with that ball, I’m going to declare it unfit for play.’
“I had seven iron in on a hole I normally hit four iron to the green. So that was a pretty unusual drive. I birdied that hole, then birdied 10 and 12, too, and suddenly had a four-shot lead by the 13th. Tom and I both shot 65, that’s how good the golf was. That drive at the ninth was a turning point.”
No. 4, Wedge on the 72nd hole of the 1977 PGA Championship.
“I was four or five back at the start of the day. In the 18th fairway, I’m still two shots behind [Gene] Littler. There was a big scoreboard behind the green there. I was about to hit my third shot and they changed Littler’s score. He dropped a stroke so now I’m only one back. I was pretty excited because I thought my chances were gone when I didn’t birdie 17. I laid up at 18 with four iron and after they changed the leaderboard, hit this sand wedge to 18 inches. I was playing with Leonard Thompson and Don January. I almost didn’t make the putt — it was not hit very well. As I walked off the green, Leonard said, ‘That’s the worst putt I’ve ever seen that went in.’ That’s my pal, Leonard.”
No. 3, 15-footer on the first playoff hole of the 1977 PGA Championship.
“After I birdied 18 and tied Litt [Gene Littler], we went back to Pebble Beach’s first hole. I hit a three-quarter eight iron to the green, I should’ve hit a nine. I flagged it right over the pin, right over the green, and I was dead because the hole was front left-center and on a slick slope. I hit a great pitch. One more roll, it would’ve trickled down close, but it stopped 15 feet short. The putt was almost impossible. Gene left his uphill birdie putt short and had a sure par. Then I holed my putt, right in the middle. You just don’t hole putts like that. I’m sure Litt was in shock going to the next tee.
“Gene and I both birdied the par-5 second hole-I just missed an eagle putt. I won on the third hole with a six-footer, but it was the putt on No. 1 that gave me the chance.”
No. 2, 25-footer on the 72nd hole 1970 U.S. Amateur.
“[Tom] Kite and I were in the last group, nobody else was close. I had just taken the lead after the 15th, and carried it to 18, a par 5. I had a 25-foot birdie putt after an eight iron shot from the left rough. Kite hit it to six feet. He didn’t miss anything inside 15 feet then, much less six feet. It was a given I had to make mine. I absolutely buried it. I mean, it would’ve gone in a thimble.”
No. 1. Sand wedge on the final hole of the 1983 Ryder Cup singles.
“There were two singles matches on the course and we needed a tie and a win. Tom Watson was 2 up on Bernard Gallacher in the other match and in 1983, Tom Watson doesn’t lose when he’s 2 up. I was 1 down to Jose Maria Canizares going to 18, a par 5. Jose went first and hit 3-wood across the lake. I hit 3-wood, too, and Curtis Strange immediately starts yelling, ‘Get up, get up!’ I said, ‘Don’t worry, Curtis, it’s solid.’
“Canizares hit his wedge a little fat-left it on the front edge of the green. I hit a driving little sand wedge in there, it skips once and stops a foot from the hole. Walking up to the green, Tom Kite slaps me on the back. I went to say something and nothing came out. First time I was ever speechless.
“This shot is the one I always looked back on when I was in a tough spot. If I could hit this shot, I felt I was able to handle any amount of pressure. In a lot of ways, it was the most important shot I ever played.”