I’ll bet you a truckload of Titleists that if you head out to the big golf tournament at Firestone Country Club during the next three days, you won’t see a shot anything like the one Sergio Garcia took earlier this season at the Arnold Palmer Invitational in Florida.
Garcia’s tee shot landed in a huge tree and came to rest in a crook between two branches. Using a golf cart as a stepladder, he climbed onto the lower branches and made his way up about 12 feet.
After examining the situation and trying different stances for a couple of minutes, he finally grabbed a club from his caddy, stood with his back to the fairway and knocked the ball backward with one hand — right into the middle of the fairway.
Little wonder a YouTube video of that stunt has been viewed more than 7.6 million times.
The Vegas line on a repeat performance at Firestone: 4 bajillion to 1.
However, the odds are excellent you’ll see at least a few wacky attempts to redirect a misdirected ball back onto the short grass, because even the best players on the planet occasionally wind up in the kinds of places frequented by people like you and me.
I talked to a bunch of the pros earlier this week as they tuned up for the $8.75 million Bridgestone Invitational and asked them to recall the goofiest shot they had attempted in competition.
One of the more bizarre pokes belongs to last year’s Bridgestone runner-up, Jim Furyk.
At the 2006 British Open at Royal Liverpool Golf Club, Furyk found himself in one of those deadly pot bunkers Britain is known for.
His ball “was up against the back lip,” he recalled while standing on Firestone’s 10th tee during a practice round. “The way the sod wall was constructed, it looked like the bank of a racetrack. So I hit it really hard and rode the bank up and around the corner and got it up on top.”
“With a putter!” chimed in his caddie, Mike “Fluff” Cowan.
“With a putter,” Furyk continued. “I couldn’t make a swing. The only way I could hit it out of the bunker was to hit it backward and to the right, and then there was another pot bunker between me and the pin. So I decided the best way was to try to ride this ridge.
“It ran about 180 degrees around this bunker before it came out. I figured if it wrapped around and stayed in, I [still] would have been better off there.
“It came out of the bunker exactly where we were hoping it would. It missed that other bunker by about 6 inches and trickled down over the ridge.”
He drilled his next shot to within 8 feet of the cup and sunk the putt for par.
“Probably the best up-and-down of my life,” he said with a grin.
Things didn’t end nearly as well for Rory McIlroy after he executed the goofiest shot of his pro career at this year’s U.S. Open.
“I hit the fairway [with my drive], but the ball finished like a foot from the bunker on the left side of the fairway,” he said. “So I didn’t have a stance from the right-handed side, so I had to turn the club over and hit it left handed.”
His left-handed poke was reasonably successful, given the circumstances. The ball went forward about 25 yards and stayed in the fairway. But then his wheels fell off. McIlroy’s next shot landed in a greenside bunker and he staggered to a double-bogey 6.
Do you ever practice those kinds of weird shots?
“Not really,” McIlroy said. “Most of the guys out here have good hand-eye coordination, so you just kind of turn it around. But hopefully you don’t have to do it too often because that means we’re in trouble.”
Graeme McDowell found himself in a world of trouble awhile back at a Scottish Open at Castle Stuart.
“I tried to backhand it out of a bush,” he said.
His ball wasn’t under a bush, mind you, but in a bush, almost floating in the air.
“I hit a lobber or a pitching wedge or something, just trying to get it back in play. I couldn’t really get a stance, and ended up getting a 9 — whilst being in contention to win in the last round.”
Some situations are virtually impossible to foresee, so “sometimes you’ve got to improvise,” McDowell said.
But “we do practice weird things in bunkers. At Muirfield [site of this year’s British Open], I’m sure you saw a lot of convoluted stunts, improvised stunts. And you’ve got to experiment with those shots, because you’ve got to understand what goes wrong when they do go wrong.
“So you practice a little bit with plugged lies and nasty lies. But you just kind of hope and pray that you don’t see them too often.”
Perhaps the most bizarre shot attempt in the long annals of Firestone tournament history took place when today’s tournament director, Don Padgett III, was a kid. He was a spectator on the third hole, which is guarded by a pond.
Japanese golfer Tsuneyuki “Tommy” Nakajima found himself under a tree with no clear path to the green. So “he purposely skipped it over the water,” Padgett says. “It hit once … twice … and it went up on the green.
“I thought that was one of the coolest shots I had ever seen. I had never seen anyone hit the water on purpose and still have it be dry.”
Balls frequently wind up in the water by mistake, of course, and that can lead to some interesting action.
Just one day before Sergio’s legendary tree shot, Nicholas Thompson (who didn’t qualify for Firestone) plunked his ball into a lake at the side of a green. Instead of taking a drop, he took off his shoes and socks, rolled his pants up past his knees and waded into the muddy lake bed.
He blasted out a miraculous 90-foot chip that stopped less than a foot from the cup. Apparently enamored with his new style of play, he putted out barefoot.
Others who have attempted to mix water and metal have been considerably less successful.
Boo Weekley remembered an aquatic disaster that befell him years ago while he was playing on the Nationwide Tour.
“I reckon I climbed down in the water and hit one out of a water hole — knowing I didn’t think I could hit it. We had to try it because we were so far out of the lead it didn’t matter.”
And? “Didn’t pan out too well. I got wet.”
The ball stayed wet.
“I finally picked it up and threw it out on the fairway.”
As for Garcia’s miracle, the slim Spaniard said Tuesday he wasn’t in the market for 7.6 million YouTube hits; he was just trying to exercise what he viewed as his best option.
If he had taken a drop, like most golfers would have, “my drop wasn’t going to leave me in a good spot,” he said. “So I figured I could hit it out in the fairway like I did and hopefully salvage par.”
He didn’t. He chunked the next shot and ended up writing down a double-bogey 6.
Maybe he was tired from his climb.
Bob Dyer can be reached at 330-996-3580 or firstname.lastname@example.org.