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Deep breaths

The 20 most nerve-wracking moments in golf, ranked

January 24, 2023
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A variety of emotions create nerves on the course. Excitement, fear, expectation and embarrassment can all spike the heart rate and make us question golf’s supposed reputation as a relaxing activity.

With that, we offer our ranking of the 20 most nerve-wracking moments in golf. You don’t need to play on TV for millions of dollars to have your hands sweating over an important shot.

Sure, a ranking of an emotional response is inherently subjective, but this writer has experienced each of these situations, and we’re guessing you have, too. So read on to see if we got it right, or if your golf anxiety is tipped off by something else.

20. Looking through your bag and not seeing the wedge you left behind two holes ago

The reality sets in: Either take the golfer’s walk of shame to go retrieve your missing club, or wait until after the round to see if a good Samaritan picked it up.

19. Seeing a group searching for a ball right where you just picked up a brand new Pro V1

Turns out, it was too good to be true, and now you’re faced with a moral dilemma. Do you confess your crime or keep the $5 ball that was lying just off the fairway?

18. A three-foot putt on the first green in competition

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Somchai Sookkasem

What is normally a scoop-it-up and move-on situation is now suddenly a palm-shaking test to see if you really have what it takes to play in competition.

17. First tee shot after a terrible warm-up

Right, left, chunk, thin. There’s no harm at the range, but when you’re forced to take the shaky swing to the course, the anxiety sets in.

16. When you’re the last to putt a six-footer in a scramble

If you want any chance at snagging that pro-shop credit in your company outing, you can’t be missing six-footers in your four-person scramble. You’re the last line of defense.

15. Seeing water on THAT side of the hole

Sure, many of us battle a two-way miss, but we all have that one direction we dread seeing trouble on.

14. Opening tee shot at a bucket list course

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Alexander Jung

The Old Course. Pebble. Bandon Dunes. Knowing you might only have one chance to play these sacred tracks puts some added nerves into the first tee shot.

13. Having a three-footer to avoid a four-putt

You’re angry, but you can live with anger. It’s the shame and embarrassment you crucially need to avoid with this knee-knocker. Three-putts happen. Four-putts shake your identity as a competent golfer.

12. Playing from the wrong fairway as another group watches on

Play it cool or admit you block-sliced it 60 yards right? Either way, you’re on another group’s hole, and yes, they’re going to be eagerly watching you follow up your Fore, right! tee ball.

11. Down to your last golf ball

Another anger and shame situation. Yes, you’re angry you’ve lost six balls in 10 holes, but you’re risking shame should you snap-hook the last pellet and be forced to turn to your partners for relief.

10. Not finding your ball in the rough in a match

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Sergei Kozak

You’re sure the ball was just off the fairway, but it’s nestled down and the clock is ticking. In competition, there’s no reprieve should you not find it.

9. Hitting a bunker shot after you bladed the last one

You’ve just recovered from the embarrassment of walking 40 yards over the green to find your thinned ball and now, a couple holes later, you’re back in the sand.

8. Re-teeing after hitting one out-of-bounds

One bad shot can be an anomaly. Two? That’s user-error. Whether a big number becomes a BIG number rests on this one swing.

7. Stepping into a five-footer for your first eagle

You don’t know when you’ll get this opportunity again, and your trembling hands seem to know that, too.

6. Walking up to a group you accidently hit into

You made a mistake, and you’re about to find out the price you’ll pay. If you’re lucky, you’ll get off with a “No worries, it missed us!” but you may just as easily find yourself profusely apologizing to an unforgiving foursome.

5. Next shot after a shank

Shanks come in one of two forms: the rare one-off or the patterned type that comes and doesn’t leave. Standing over your next shot, you’re about to find out which one you’re dealing with.

4. Playing through a group

You know you need to quickly get out of the way, and you have to do it with four curious on-lookers. Heart-racing stuff.

3. Standing on the first tee in a competitive round

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Dave and Les Jacobs

Sure, it’s a little bland, but anyone who has teed it up with a scorecard in their back pocket knows the concoction of expectation, fear and excitement that create this anxiety.

2. Playing the 18th hole when you’re on the verge of shooting a career low

You’re on the cusp of breaking through the barrier that has dominated your golfing mind for so long. Your sense of fulfillment as a golfer rests on this crucial 15 minutes as you try and close out the round of your life.

1. Hitting your opening tee shot with a crowd looking on … when you haven’t warmed up

This gets the top spot for a couple reasons. You haven’t hit any balls on the range, so you have no idea what to expect. Most importantly, though, your image around the club will be irrationally influenced by how well (or poorly) you hit it. Nothing fuels the chatter among your intoxicated peers like a snap-hook. Or worse, a striped drive may ignite debate over your sandbagger status.