Regrets? They've had a few

Golf's biggest names + personalities open up about the mulligans they'd love to have

June 2012

Remember that time on the first hole when, in front of a crowd of onlookers, you dribbled it off the tee? Or that inexplicable shank into the bushes that wrecked your card? Or that pitiful missed tap-in on the last hole that would have brought you all the glory? Off the course, too. So many poor choices. The big investment you made that tanked. The nightmare you dated--or married. The dumb or hurtful thing that you said or did. The bad advice you took, the good advice you ignored, that moment you were in the wrong place at just the wrong time. If only you could do it again. Take a mulligan. Hit the rewind button. Live life better.

Well, you can't. Screw-ups are part of the game. We're human, so we forgive ourselves, we forgive others, and then we move on. But if we never reflect on our mistakes, we can't learn from them, in which case we risk making them all over again. So, in the spirit of catharsis, we asked all kinds of people in golf the simple question: If you could have a mulligan, what would it be? Some had specific shots from long ago that they would love to take another swing at. Some told us deeply personal mistakes that they'd made away from the golf course. Some offered great insight and wisdom. Some just didn't want to go there and walked away. Tiger Woods stayed silent. What follows is a collection of the best mulligans.

It's the most infamous miss in golf: Sanders had a three-footer to win the 1970 British Open at St. Andrews.

It feels like it happened yesterday. Missing that putt cost me $200 million, maybe more. I could have had the biggest clothing line in the world. I could have designed golf courses.

Because I missed, I wound up in a playoff with [Jack] Nicklaus, which I lost. The problem with the putt was, I didn't get set. I was playing with Trevino and had lagged it up inside Lee and couldn't decide whether to finish or let him putt. I decided to putt, but I have Lee's putt in the back of my mind. Then, standing over the ball, I see what looks like a speck of dirt on my line. I bend over for a closer look, and it's only a piece of burned-out grass. So now I'm distracted. I didn't step away like I should have.

Like I say, I think about it every day. Sometimes five times a day. If it had gone in, I would have been set for life instead of still trying to make a living.

Doug Sanders

Two of the most-infamous collapses in major-championship history occurred at the British Open: Doug Sanders at St. Andrews in 1970 (above), and Jean Van de Velde at Carnoustie in 1999 (below).
Photo: Bob Thomas/Getty Images

The 57-year-old Aussie, a two-time British Open winner, spent much of his playing career as World No. 1 before enjoying success with a variety of businesses. Regrets? Hitting driver on the last playoff hole in the 1989 British Open at Troon? Marrying Chris Evert? Or, more likely, those crushing near-misses in the Masters: 23 appearances, eight top 5s, no wins.

Second shot into 18 Sunday, 1986 Masters. I tried to back off a 4-iron instead of hitting a hard 5. I think my yardage was 187. I was swinging so well and so aggressively through the ball all day, but on this shot my weight was back, and I stayed on my right side and fanned it out. I knew just before impact. You try to make the correction with your hands, but it's too late. [Norman finished one shot back of Jack Nicklaus, who won his sixth Masters at age 46.]

Jean van de Velde

Photo: Gerry Penny/AFP/Getty Images

The Frenchman had a three-shot lead with a hole to play in the 1999 British Open at Carnoustie. He made a 7--we all remember him standing barefoot in the Barry Burn, his pants rolled up, hands on hips--and lost in a playoff.

I'd like to play my third shot again on the last hole of the 1999 Open at Carnoustie. I was unlucky with my second shot. Johnny Miller said it was the first time a grandstand had cost a player a championship. [The ball ricocheted backward into thick rough.] Ten yards right of the green was not such a bad place, so I have no regrets about that shot. But the third shot I'd replay. I wouldn't try to go forward; I'd instead play sideways to the fairway. That would have been difficult but easier than trying to do what I did. [Van de Velde hit his third shot into the Barry Burn, took a drop, pitched into a greenside bunker and got up and down to make the playoff.] Even if I had missed the fairway playing sideways, I was likely to have a better lie and angle for my next shot. Things were going very quickly, and I wish I could go back and think about it again.

Now a TV announcer, Strange was one of the best players in the world in the late 1980s when he topped the PGA Tour money list three times and won back-to-back U.S. Opens.

We all make mistakes in life. We all wish we could take some of them back. You do what you think is the right thing at the time. The mistakes are likely emotionally driven and too quickly made. Knowing what I know now, and seeing what I've seen doing TV, I would try harder with fans. I would try harder on the golf course, smile a little more. Could I have done it? I don't know, but I certainly could have tried. Be more patient with people and smile, not for my image, but for them and the game. For the right reasons. That would be it. I've admitted it.

Wee Woosie from Wales, the 54-year-old former World No. 1 and 1991 Masters champion, has one moment that still really hurts. It was when his caddie uttered these words: "You're going to go ballistic."

I don't even have to think about that. I'd take a look in my bag before the last round of the 2001 Open at Royal Lytham. If I'd done that, I'd have seen the extra driver. It was unfortunate that the first hole is a par 3, and I didn't need my driver off the tee. But that's how it goes. [Woosnam had been trying two drivers on the range, and both ended up in his bag. His caddie, Miles Byrne, didn't notice until the second tee. Woosie incurred a two-stroke penalty and finished T-3, four shots behind David Duval.]

The 63-year-old won three times on the PGA Tour and 13 times on the Champions Tour. He spent a year in prison from 2010 to 2011 for failure to pay $1.6 million in taxes.

Everyone wants a mulligan in life. I'm no different. There are areas I'd like to change--like trusting people I shouldn't have trusted or not spending more quality time with family. The difference as I see it now is that I wouldn't take the mulligan. Though it seems life would've turned out better if I'd done something different, I'd certainly have lost the lessons gained from my mistakes. In casual play, mulligans are allowed only on the first tee, and you get just one a round. Life is no different. My life journey has allowed me to refocus and prioritize. I now realize how important my wife and family are to me and how life lessons tend to shape our destiny. So I wouldn't take a mulligan. We learn from our experiences so we can become better people.

Golf's best-ever player, with 18 professional majors, turned 72 in January.

Tom Watson's chip-in on the 17th at Pebble in 1982, I want a mulligan on that one--for Tom! Can we give him a mulligan? Seriously, the only thing I wish I had finished but didn't was college. Not getting my degree at Ohio State didn't have a significant effect on my life; it was more in my head than anything. In the end I had enough hours, but not enough hours in my major.

As it relates to golf, I find a few regrets, but nothing I'd really want a mulligan on. The mistakes I made, I learned from them. The short putt I missed at the 1960 U.S. Open because of a ball mark on my line, that was disappointing, but in the long run it was better to have lost and learned than won and learned nothing. At the 1963 British Open at Lytham & St. Annes, I bogeyed the last two holes to miss the Bob Charles-Phil Rodgers playoff by a shot. I was probably better off not winning, again, because of the learning experience. Those bogeys were useful for me in my career.

Subscribe to Golf Digest
Subscribe today