Billy Horschel’s animated reaction after holing his birdie putt on the last hole to win the Zurich Classic of New Orleans was something to see. It must instantly go into the list of most excitable reactions to a golf shot. Some others come to mind. The dramatic reactions reflect the degree to which golfers contain their emotions while playing, and show that when the lids come off, they really come off. Horschel was exuberant, and that’s putting it mildly.
Let’s look at some reactions. We’ll start with Jack Nicklaus’s response after he holed a 40-foot birdie putt on the 16th hole the last round of the 1975 Masters, which propelled him to a one-shot win over Tom Weiskopf and Johnny Miller. The putt looked good all the way. When it fell, Nicklaus jumped, raised his left arm and started running back and then to his right. Nicklaus in the air, arm and putter held high, became the logo for his Golden Bear Company.
Dan Jenkins in Sports Illustrated caught the moment perfectly. Jenkins wrote that Nicklaus’s spontaneous reaction made him and his caddie Willie Peterson “resemble Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.” Exactly. Such a moment can turn golfers into dancers, making moves they didn’t know they had. Here’s a clip of Nicklaus’s putt and reaction; the sequence starts 37 seconds into the clip. The BBC’s towering analyst Henry Longhurst is describing the memorable moment.
That wasn’t the first time Nicklaus took a great leap upward in response to a timely putt in a major. Here’s the clip of the birdie putt he made on the last green at the Old Course in St. Andrews to win the playoff against Doug Sanders for the 1970 Open Championship. This time Nicklaus in his excitement didn’t manage to hold on to his putter.
Then there’s David Duval’s reaction after holing a birdie putt on the last hole to shoot 59 and win the 1999 Bob Hope Desert Classic in La Quinta, Calif. Duval wasn’t one to show his emotions, but they poured out of him at this singular moment.
Nick Price also burst forth in glorious excitement on a particularly memorable occasion. He was on the 17th green the last day of the 1994 Open Championship at Turnberry, and two shots behind Jesper Parnevik, who was playing in the group ahead. Price needed to hole his 50’ eagle putt to have any chance of winning the Open. He made it and won the championship when he parred the 18th after Parnevik had made bogey there. Here’s Price’s reaction to his eagle putt. The snaking putt is a beauty, and so is Price’s reaction.
It’s not surprising that a player’s first win – Horschel in New Orleans – or any major, should produce powerful, instinctive reactions. Phil Mickelson had been chasing his first major for years before his moment came on the 72nd green of the 2004 Masters. He too leaped when his birdie putt to win fell. His reaction comes at 2:37 of this recap. It was an exhalation of exaltation.
Tiger Woods, of course, has had his demonstrative moments, and many of them. One of the most exuberant has to be his reaction to the pitch shot that he holed from behind the 16th green the final round of the 2005 Masters. It’s one of those shots that never get old in the watching. Woods was playing with Chris DiMarco and went on to beat him in their playoff.
Then there was Woods’s reaction to holing a tiny putt, the tap-in on the last green that gave him the 2006 Open Championship at Hoylake in Liverpool, England. Watch as Woods all but collapses into the arms of his then-caddie Steve Williams and starts to cry. As the estimable Renton Laidlaw points out, Woods felt the win was for his late father Earl, who had passed away two and a half months before. Woods then missed the cut at the U.S. Open. But he returned to form and won the Open at Hoylake.
“The human side of Tiger Woods,” Laidlaw says in his commentary. It was his human side indeed. Horschel showed that side in high-definition after holing his winning birdie putt in New Orleans. The players mentioned here, and others throughout the history of the game, have also shown that side.
Their reactions are deeply human, and unforgettable.
RELATED LINK: More blogs from Lorne Rubenstein
Lorne Rubenstein has written a golf column for The Globe and Mail since 1980. He has played golf since the early 1960s and was the Royal Canadian Golf Association’s first curator of its museum and library at the Glen Abbey Golf Club in Oakville, Ontario and the first editor of Score, Canada’s Golf Magazine, where he continues to write a column and features. He has won four first-place awards from the Golf Writers Association of America, one National Magazine Award in Canada, and he won the award for the best feature in 2009 from the Golf Journalists Association of Canada. Lorne has written 12 books, including Mike Weir: The Road to the Masters (2003); A Disorderly Compendium of Golf, with Jeff Neuman (2006); This Round’s on Me (2009); and the latest Moe & Me: Encounters with Moe Norman, Golf’s Mysterious Genius (2012). He is a member of the Ontario Golf Hall of Fame and the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame. Lorne can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can now follow him on Twitter @lornerubenstein