Top 10 Biggest Chokes In Golf History

Even the best of the very best in professional sports feel the pressure of a major championship. Greg Norman, Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth have cracked under the strain of the spotlight. However, the biggest collapse in golf history belongs to Jean Van De Velde (obviously).


No one wants to be on a list like this. However, sometimes pressure gets to the best of players, even those that you’ll see at the top of this year’s U.S. Open odds. Here is a look at the top 10 chokes in golf history. It makes sense that nine of the top 10 are from major championships, where the lights are brightest and the pressure is the highest. The lone outcast comes from the Ryder Cup.

A fun fact before we get into it—in seven of these 10 collapses, the player that would go on to win the tournament.

Jean Van De Velde – British Open at Carnoustie, 1999

Van De Velde won two events on the European Tour in his career. However, he is solely remembered for his stunning collapse at the Open Championship at Carnoustie in 1999. Standing on the 18th tee, Van De Velde needed a double-bogey to secure the win. A terrible drive off the tee managed to stay safe, but well off target. Instead of the safe shot, Van De Velde decided to go for the green. He hit a grandstand, and bounced off the Barry Burn wall into some nasty rough.

His third shot went into the Barry Burn, which is a water hazard. There, we got the everlasting image of Van De Velde, shoeless with rolled-up pants, deciding whether or not to hit out of the Burn. He took a drop and his fifth shot went into a bunker. He managed to get up and down for a triple bogey, which knocked him out of a playoff that was ultimately won by Paul Lawrie.

Don’t believe us? See for yourself and hear from the man himself.

Greg Norman – The Masters at Augusta National, 1996

Norman managed to win two majors, the 1986 and 1993 Open Championships. However, on a Sunday in 1996 in Augusta, Georgia, he managed to set a record that has yet to be broken. Norman started the round with a six-shot lead over Nick Faldo. He even led by four shots with 11 holes to go.

However, Norman started the second nine with three straight bogeys, then put a ball in Rae’s Creek at the 12th hole. He got two strokes back on the par-5s at the 13th and 15th holes, but another ball in the water at the 16th hole dashed his hopes. Faldo won by five strokes. It’s still the largest lead to ever be lost in a PGA tournament, much less a major. It was one of nine top-six finishes for Norman at the Masters.

Phil Mickelson – U.S. Open at Winged Foot, 2006

Mickelson has done it all in professional golf. He has three Green Jackets from the Masters, he won the PGA Championship in 2005 and then won an unlikely Open Championship in 2013. However, Mickelson has six runner-up finishes at the U.S. Open, and the one that most remember came at 2006 at Winged Foot. Like Van De Velde, Mickelson didn’t need a driver off the tee, but it’s Phil, so he took a driver off the tee.

That tee shot went way left by a hospitality tent. He went for the green, but Mickelson hit a tree and the ball only went 25 yards. His third went in a bunker, his fourth went to the other side of the green and he missed the bogey ship. Mickelson would putt out for double bogey; a par would have won him the title and a bogey would have gotten him into a playoff. Instead, Geoff Ogilvy won with a +5 score. However, Mickelson’s “I’m such an idiot” quote was the star of the show.


Dustin Johnson – U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, 2010

Johnson is the world’s #1 player, defending Masters champion and of course, atop the Masters odds for this tournament. He also won the U.S. Open in 2016 and also lost the 2010 PGA Championship because of a controversial bunker rule. However, Pebble Beach was a nightmare for Johnson, which shows the power of nerves as Johnson had won the last two PGA events held there.

He went into the round with a three-shot lead over Graeme McDowell. However, Johnson triple-bogeyed the second hole and then hit a double-bogey on the third hole. A final-round 82 relegated Johnson to T-8, while McDowell hung on to win the tournament.

Jordan Spieth – The Masters at Augusta National, 2016

Spieth has surged up the Masters odds with a recent surge in form. However, at the 2016 Masters, Spieth was the best player in the world and the defending Masters champion with a five-shot lead going into the second nine.

However, the bottom fell out quickly for Spieth, who bogeyed the 10th and 11th holes, then put two balls in Rae’s Creek at the 12th hole. Spieth got a couple strokes back, but would finish T-2 to Danny Willett. It was up there with Norman’s collapse, said Faldo, who was in the booth watching Spieth.

Rory McIlroy – The Masters at Augusta National, 2011 

Going into the 2011 Masters, McIlroy was touted as the next bing thing. He turned professional in September 2007 as a floppy-haired 18-year-old,and he finished T20 in his first Augusta appearance in 2009. He then won his first pro tournament at the 2010 Quail Hollow Championship (now the Wells Fargo Championship), and a T3 at the PGA Championship took him into his first Ryder Cup, where McIlroy went 1-1-2 and got a big half-point in his singles’ match with Stewart Cink as Europe won 14.5-13.5. Expectations were high for McIlroy going into Augusta and he obliged with a 65 on Thursday, which he followed with a 69 on Friday. McIlroy stretched his lead to four strokes in the third round with a 70, and the stage was set for a coronation.

However, it was not to be. McIlroy shot +1 on the first nine while Charl Schwartzel, Jason Day and Tiger Woods were making a charge. The wheels came off on #10, where McIlroy snap-hooked his drive to the left in between cabins that we, as TV viewers, never even get to see. He took a triple-bogey there, and then came a bogey #11, and a four-putt double bogey at #12. His tee shot on #13 went into the creek and the image of McIlroy dropping his head almost in tears is one that will live on in Masters history. McIlroy did steady the ship coming down the stretch, but a final-round 80 left him with a T15. The young McIlroy was clearly nervous, but he shed those nerves in the next major, the U.S. Open at Congressional, where McIlroy won by eight strokes. McIlroy has since gone on to win the 2012 and 2014 PGA Championships, as well as the 2014 British Open. However, despite seven top-10s at Augusta (including a solo second in 2022), McIlroy is still looking for a Green Jacket to complete his Grand Slam.

Lorena Ochoa – U.S. Women’s Open at Cherry Hills, 2005

Annika Sorenstam was still running the show on the LPGA Tour in 2005, but Ochoa was on the ascent, and she had won the Wegmans LPGA event the week ahead of the U.S. Women’s Open at Cherry Hills in Colorado. Ochoa started out slow with a 74, but got back into contention with a second-round 68 to go into the weekend two strokes back of Nicole Perrot, who dropped out of the running over the weekend by shooting 78-78. Ochoa herself shot a 77 on Saturday, but four birdies on the back nine propelled her into the lead going into the final hole.

But nerves got the best of Ochoa, who was then in her third year on the LPGA Tour. She hit a three-wood into the water, drove her next shot into the rough and wound up with a quadruple-bogey eight on her card to finish T8. Her +1 for the day was still one of the best scores in a tough closing round, while the event was won by Birdie Kim. Ochoa would go on to win the 2007 Women’s British Open and the 2008 Kraft Nabisco Championship.

Tom Watson – British Open at Turnberry, 2009

This one hurts, as Watson is one of the absolute greatest players golf has ever seen. He is a two-time Masters champion, as well as a U.S. Open winner and a five-time British Open champion. However, his biggest failing came on the stage he dominated as Watson shocked the world at 59 years old. At Turnberry, where Watson won in 1972 over Jack Nicklaus in what is known as “The Duel In The Sun”, Watson shot 65-70 to go into the weekend tied with Steve Marino. Watson would shoot a 71 on a tough day at Turnberry to take a one-shot lead into the final day.

There, Watson as steady as always, but Stewart Cink was charging hard. On the 72nd hole, Watson needed a par, but his approach bounced off the green and over. His chip (well, with a putter) came up 10 feet short, and his par putt also came up short. Watson and Cink would go to a four-hole playoff in which Cink won handily, but even he seemed disappointed to have beaten Watson, who would have been 60 in two months.

Mark Calcavecchia – Ryder Cup at Kiawah Island, 1991

Calcavecchia is probably best known to modern golf fans as a great friend of Tiger Woods, but he was a 13-time winner on the PGA Tour and won the 1989 British Open. He was also on four Ryder Cup teams, but of course, the one he’s most remembered for is the “War On The Shore” at Kiawah Island.

Calcavecchia was 4-UP with four to play against Colin Montgomerie, so obviously, all he needs to win or halve (tie) one of the final four holes and he would have won. However, Montgomerie won the 15th and 16th holes, and then the par-13 17th was a disaster. Montgomerie went into the water, so Calcavecchia just needed to find dry land. He did not find dry land, and to make matters worse, he still had a two-footer for double bogey for a half-point, and he missed that as well. Ultimately, it didn’t matter as the United States won 14.5-13.5, but it wasn’t one of Calcavecchia’s best moments.

Arnold Palmer – U.S. Open at Olympic Club, 1966

When you’re talking about the greats of golf, you’re probably going Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods and Arnold Palmer and as far as charisma goes, no one had more than “Arnie”. Of course, the late Palmer is a four-time Masters champion, a two-time British Open winner and he won the U.S. Open in 1960. He was cruising to another U.S. Open title in 1966 at Olympic Club, starting off with a 71, then shooting to the top of the leaderboard with a 66. In the third round, Palmer shot a 70 to take a three-shot lead over Billy Casper.

The front nine went great for Palmer, who was up by seven strokes over Casper at the turn. But bogeys at #10, #13 and #15 cut the deficit to three shots, and then Palmer bogeyed the next two holes. A difficult up-and-down for par was necessary just for Palmer to get into a playoff with Casper. In the 18-hole playoff the next day, Casper finished -1 to +3 for Palmer, who wouldn’t win another major in his career. However, Palmer’s legacy is well and secure.



Joseph Ellison

Joseph is a dedicated journalist and horse racing fanatic who has been writing about sports and casinos for over a decade. He has worked with some of the UK's top bookmakers and provides Premier League soccer tips on a regular basis. You'll likely find him watching horse racing or rugby when he isn't writing about sport.

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