Greatest golf shot ever? I saw it

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Greatest shot in the history of golf? Let’s discuss …

Gene Sarazen’s double eagle deuce on the 15th hole at Augusta National in 1935 has to be on anyone’s list. It supposedly put The Masters on the map is all it did. “The shot heard round the world,” they called it.

Tiger Woods’ chip shot on No. 16 at Augusta to help him win the 2005 Masters might be the most famous shot in golf history, if not the greatest. It surely will get Nike’s vote.

Bob Tway holed a shot from the sand on the 72nd hole to break Greg Norman’s heart and win the 1986 PGA Championship at Inverness.

I once saw the great Tom Watson, before he became famous, make a deuce on the difficult, par-4 fifth hole at the Hattiesburg Country Club in the old Magnolia Classic. Watson knocked in a 190-yard 5-iron from the left rough. He approached the green, looking all around for the ball. “Check the hole,” I told him. He did and then jumped for joy.

Great shots all. But not the best I ever heard of. Not even the best I ever saw.

The best would have been in 1967 at “The Ranch,” which is what we called the B.O. Van Hook Golf Course in Hattiesburg. The Ranch was short for “Goat Ranch,” because we believed only a goat would eat the grass and weeds that grew on our course.

Melanie Thortis

Rick Cleveland

The Ranch’s fourth, when played from the back tee, was only the most hellishly difficult par-3 on this planet. It measured 210 yards to a tiny green that was as hard as asphalt. A few feet to the right of the green was out-of-bounds. A few feet behind the green was out-of-bounds. Just to the left of the green was 50 feet of dry land sloping steeply downhill into a pond.

The right side of the fairway was guarded by tall pine trees, which prevented skilled, right-handed golfers from hitting their usual right-to-left “draw” into the green. If you wanted to hit a fade, your ball had to carry over the water and just miss some tall pine trees that guarded the left edge of the green.

Playing the fourth at The Ranch was like walking a tight rope. It was harder than advanced calculus, a quadruple bogey waiting to happen. Some guys would just hit two wedges to the green, take their bogey, and be done with it.

Yes, and the greatest shot I ever saw was executed there.

Brother Bobby and I took Andy Burkett, our baseball teammate, out for his first round of golf. We laughed our way through the first three holes. Andy made 10 on the par-4 first, 10 on the par-5 second and 12 on the par-5 third. He was headed for a record.

We stepped to the tee on the dreaded fourth. Andy, using borrowed clubs, took out a 3-wood. This was back when woods were really wooden. The binding just above the scuffed-up clubhead was loose and was flying this way and that as he took a couple of practice swings.

His backswing looked fairly normal until he got to the top, and then he kind of whirly-birded it around. Some golfers have a “loop” in their swing. Andy had a helicopter.

So, Andy addressed his ball, drew the club back and looped his swing with the binding flailing all around. Somehow or another, his 3-wood connected with the ball. The ball headed far right of the green, high above the pine trees, seemingly headed for Oak Grove.

I thought it was gone forever, and then the damnedest thing happened. It hooked back above the trees and toward the green. All these 50 years later, it seems a dream.

That ball landed on the fringe of the green, bounced once, rolled a few feet and, yes, dropped into the cup.

Bobby and I started hollering. Andy just stood there as if he didn’t understand what all the fuss was about. He stared back at us and if his stare could have talked it would have said, “Well, isn’t that what you are supposed to do?”

Well, yes. Andy then followed his ace with a 10 on the par-4 fifth. No matter. He had already achieved immortality in my mind.

Gene Sarazen? Tiger Woods? They should have seen Andy Burkett.

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Rick Cleveland, Mississippi Today’s sports columnist, this year was named Mississippi Sportswriter of the Year — an honor he achieved for the 10th time — by the National Sports Media Foundation. Read his previous columns and his Sports Daily blog. Reach Rick at rcleveland@mississippitoday.org.

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