Golf’s Greatest Shot?
Updated: Sep 22, 2021
There is no plaque to commemorate probably the best shot ever hit in the Ryder Cup, arguably the greatest shot in golf. No television footage exists to reveal the sheer audacity with which Seve Ballesteros pulled off what seemed impossible in the 1983 Ryder Cup.
Thirty-eight years ago, a handful of people witnessed Ballesteros hit a shot out of a fairway bunker on the 18th hole at PGA National Resort & Spa to earn a half with Fuzzy Zoeller as Europe came within a point of winning Samuel Ryder’s chalice.
Ballesteros was level with Zoeller when he reached the 578-yard, par-5, 18th tee. He hit what he called one of the worst tee shots of his life, a duck hook into deep rough. All he could do for his second was try to hack the ball back to the fairway. He only advanced it 20 yards into a bunker 250 yards from the flag. Worse, it was on the upslope of the bunker.
Everyone concluded Seve only had one option: get the ball back on the fairway. Seve had other ideas. He pulled 3-wood. Here’s how the late Dai Davies, golf writer for The Guardian, described the shot.
“Standing no more than 15 yards away, I was at a loss to see what he was doing. The ball was halfway up the face of the bunker and would obviously have to be knocked out with a short iron. Seve took his stance and it dawned that he was actually going to play the shot with a 3-wood. It seemed suicidal, a total waste of time, almost signalling that he was fed up with the whole affair.”
“He swung, he hit, he gave the ball that incredible Seve stare and it flew miles and miles right to the fringe of the green. It was an impossible shot, and it was greeted firstly with a stunned silence, and then by incredulous laughter that greets something that is out with the experience of the watcher. It was, in the literal sense of the word, fantastic.”
Ken Brown was a member of the 1983 Ryder Cup team. He defeated Ray Floyd 4&3 that day. Brown told me this for my biography of Seve:
“The shot he played was superhuman because it was miles and miles for a wooden club out of sand in those days. Most of us couldn’t carry 240 yards with a 3-wood even if you put it on a tee, but to hit it out of sand and get it up in the air quickly and then hit to a narrow green like that was almost unthinkable. At the time, no one else could have played such a shot. It was a combination of the outrageousness of the shot and the fact that it was almost physically impossible that makes it one of the best shots ever hit.”
Brown is right to call it “one of the best shots ever hit,” just as I used the adverbial qualifiers “probably” and “arguably” in my opening paragraph, and tagged a question mark onto the headline. In an age when the term “greatest” is bandied about as if previous history doesn’t matter, I’m all too aware of the dangers of over egging the pudding. For all we know, greater shots have been played but have been lost in the mists of time, or were played in the days when Ryder Cup galleries, especially in America, often consisted of one man and his dog.
However, it's hard to believe anyone has made a greater stroke in the biennial match when Jack Nicklaus is on record calling it “the greatest shot I ever saw.” And if you don’t believe me, then the caddie on the scene that day, Nick de Paul, describes it brilliantly in this short video. Imagine having a front row seat to watch genius at work?
A tweet from respected TV commentator Peter Kostis inspired today’s blog. That tweet also highlights just how good Seve’s shot was, especially when Kostis goes out of his way to compare it to great shots from the player many feel is the best golfer who ever lived.
I went directly to the 18th hole the first time I visited PGA National Resort & Spa. I was severely disappointed. There was no plaque, and the hole configuration appears to have changed since Seve’s day. I couldn’t find the bunker Seve is supposed to have played out of. I think it has been removed in the intervening years.
As for television footage, oh how I’d love to see the shot that made the normally taciturn Dai Davies laugh incredulously.
#JustSaying: “In a world of golfing draughtsmen, Seve draws free hand.” Eddie Birchenough