The 7 scariest shots in golf

Downhill lies to elevated greens under pressure? Sounds spooky.

When asked to recall the scariest golf shot I've ever hit, my mind races to the Irish Open Pro-Am at Royal Portrush in 2012. I was paired with John Daly, actor Aiden Quinn and goalkeeping legend Pat Jennings. The first tee grandstands were packed and spectators lined the fairway. In the group ahead, I watched a very steady golf writer I'd played with all week succumb to nerves and skull a line drive dead left into a crowd of spectators no more than 30 yards away.

Minutes later, I heard my name announced and the faint smattering of applause from onlookers who were no doubt wondering who this random schlep was paired with three stars. I felt out of body and tried to make some semblance of a smooth swing. I looked up on my follow through to watch my ball airborne sailing through the gray Irish sky. Hallelujah!

So what if the ball sailed right and trickled OB right by a couple feet. I'd made contact and didn't draw any blood.

Nerves are part of the game of golf. So is slaying past demons over and over. Our swings all have scar tissue at this point: matches we've lost because of a missed putt or career rounds going that find quicksand on the back nine. On any given round we play, there are going to be at least a handful of shots that bring bad memories racing back and a little spike in blood pressure.

That's why there are beverage carts.

But when we're able to conquer a nemesis shot under pressure it's what makes this hard game so great.

In the spirit of Halloween 2020 here are seven types of golf shots that continue to spook me. They give me the most butterflies when I encounter them during a match or when I've got a good score going. Hit me and your fellow golfers with your scariest shots in the comments below!

  1. The 40-yard bunker shot

    Even the pros can struggle with the 40-yard bunker shot. This is one of those eternally mysterious shots that, upon failure to execute, typically puts you in a worse spot than you were. A fat shot puts you up against the bunker lip and a skull sails you over the green and possibly off the golf course. | Watch on GolfPass: Sean Foley on playing bunker shots of varying distance

  2. The slicer's wind

    When I'm on the tee, for this right-hander, a little breeze off the right is like a warm security blanket. I can swing freely knowing if I don't turn my hands over the wind will still keep it in the ballpark.

    Conversely, when I feel the wind at my back, all hell breaks loose. The weight in my feet shifts forward, my stance is different, my tempo quickens and my swing plane turns into knots. I used to sail tee shots in this wind dead-right. Now the regular miss is a line-drive double cross that barely makes it off the ground. If we're playing a match together and we come to a hole with this wind, it's a good time to press.

  3. The downwind, short par 3

    What's more frustrating on a breezy day than playing a 420-yard brute of a par 4 dead into the teeth of the wind, only to turn around and play a 130-yard chip-shot with it at your back? Thanks for nothing! This delicate shot requires the fleeting combination of touch and commitment. In a recent round, I faced this shot and chunked my sand wedge about 30 yards. I was stewing the rest of the day.

  4. The pitch shot with water behind the green

    Here's a surefire recipe to hit a chunky pitch shot out of rough: just put some water on the other side of the green. Are you still going to open the face up and take a big, flop-shot swing?

  5. The diagonal green
    A course scenic of the 15th hole during a practice round prior to The Honda Classic at PGA National Resort and Spa.

    Many of the toughest approach shots in golf, even for the pros, are the result of diagonal greens (think: Muirfield Village or The Bear Trap at PGA National). Suddenly there's no chunky section of the green to hit. You could get the approach yardage completely right but miss your line and end up dreadfully short-sided. The diagonal green requires both the right number and line (and sometimes even shape).

  6. The downhill lie to elevated green

    Elevated greens frequently cause amateurs to subliminally try and lift the ball at impact, resulting often times in a scoopy chunk. It all compounds coupled with a downhill lie. This is when you really need to trust that hitting down on an iron does, in fact, make the ball go up. Martin Hall: How to play off a downhill lie

  7. The four-footer to win the match
    There's no worse feeling than missing a four-footer under pressure.

    I've been on both sides of the 4-footer to win the match. I've watched opponents blow it and so have I. A $5 bet suddenly turned into the US Open. No one expects an amateur to make anything longer than 6 feet. Strokes gained data suggests amateurs make this putt 65-80% of the time - certainly no gimmie. It's the short ones that put the pressure on. I've always struggled with how to get my mind right for these moments. Embrace the pressure (even if said "pressure" is literally a $5 bet that probably goes unpaid), or act nonchalant like it doesn't matter? Is anybody on here a sports psychologist?

    Watch Martin Hall's new series, Build a Better Putting Game, Exclusive to GolfPass members.

Brandon Tucker is the Sr. Managing Editor for GolfPass and was the founding editor of Golf Advisor in 2014, he was the managing editor for Golf Channel Digital's Courses & Travel. To date, his golf travels have taken him to over two dozen countries and nearly 600 golf courses worldwide. While he's played some of the most prestigious courses in the world, Tucker's favorite way to play the game is on a great muni in under three hours. Follow Brandon on Twitter at @BrandonTucker and on Instagram at @btuck34.
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The downwind short par 3! Not quite the same, but as an example, I once played a par 5 with a well hit driver, a well hit 3 wood and a well hit 5 iron and was 10 yards short of the green. Once turned around, I played the next par 5 with a driver and a choked down 9 iron.......20 yards through the back, that winds a killer!

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Martin Hall's 'How to Play a Downhill Lie' reinforced my technique. Thanks.

It's the downhiller OVER WATER to the green that brings out my and my golf buddies' swing glitches every time.

BTW, Seve Ballesteros taught to close the stance on this shot to keep it from going R

Jim R

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My scariest shot is the one the members in my group expect me to make.

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40-50 yards from a bunker is easy. It is the placement of the iron head relative to from/back foot, choice of right club, speed+power of swing. Same combo to jump over a barrier of 11 feet at the bunker.

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A downhill shot of any kind, either to the green or down the fairway, makes me nervous. I understand in theory how to make the shot, but it definitely makes me over think it!

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8. Any shot after you've asked to play through.

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Exactly! I would upvote you if it was possible.

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Ha! definitely

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The shot immediately after a sh#@k....

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Brandon, you are a most entertaining writer ! I actually laughed out loud as you describe situations in which I have been, although not in places where I have been. I would read your articles any time.
You have a new fan after I have read only one of your missives!
Here's to playin , those great munis, wherever they may be. In our travels we have played in Sweden, Monte Carlo and Puerto Vallarta, all great munis and therefor playable for those of us in the 20+ handicap range. Love the game! We are currently looking for a good muni in or near Paris. Know of one? Write some more!!!

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Teeing off on #1 in front of a group of 30+ regulars as the newbie that only plays with them about once a month....and the range was closed

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I thought this was going to be literally the 7 scariest shots in golf, ie the 2nd shot at Pebble Beach #8 etc

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Me too. I started writing that and pivoted. next year ok?

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The 7 scariest shots in golf