In time for Halloween, the writers at The A Position—plus an intimidating celebrity guest (shown above; his golf fears are at the end of this list)—dig into their bag of tricks for the 13 most frightening things in the game. Forget skulls, blades, and hacking: These experiences will make any golfer’s blood run colder than your opponent’s stare when you drain a 40-footer.
When on assignment, it’s hoped that golf writers will actually play the course they plan to write about. This is usually a pleasure, as the courses are usually nice, someone else is usually paying, and you’re generally paid for your story. This pleasant idyll has been destroyed on several occasions by six words: “You’ll be playing with our pro.” This is not to say that golf pros are an odious lot. It is to say that I’m an incompetent golfer and watching the resident pro bomb his drive 310 yards only magnifies the shame I feel at my 165-yard duck hook, subsequent scuff out of the rough, and skulled wedge that flies the green. I spend the next 17 holes peppering him with questions, trying to convince him that I have in fact played golf before. By the round’s end, I must walk the course again so I can actually assess the experience.
—Chris Santella, chrissantella.net
It amounts to dread as much as fear—the gut-squeeze I get picturing collisions, spinouts, and plunges by golfers riding carts. One wet afternoon I walked down a slick fairway beside a friend in a golf cart. He was telling a story so he held the vehicle at crawl speed, even as the ground sloped downward. Then the slow spin began—one revolution, two, three. By then he had swan-dived to the turf, landing unharmed. The cart slid and rolled another 150 yards. Carts have gone over cliffs, resulting in death. Guys have crushed their friends into walls and drowned in ponds. Buggies are a little too much fun to take seriously, but they’re motor vehicles and some people pound beers as they drive them. As a habitual walker, I cringe at how unnecessary riding is for most people. It makes the prospect of meeting one’s end in a golf cart mishap particularly macabre.
—Dave Gould, davidlgould.com
There’s a reason the unspeakable “S” word is pluralized: not “the shank” but an implied limitless unfolding of embarrassments called “the shanks.” No surprise that it also sounds like something you’d want to see a physician for—as if you’ve contracted a bad case of the measles, mumps, shingles, shakes, runs, or clap. My point is that the scariest shot in golf is the one that you hit after first shanking an easy shot into the shrubbery: bearing down upon you at that moment is a confluence of every insult ever hurled your way, every rancorous moment in which something made you doubt your own self-worth, every instance that someone questioned your skills, judgment, goodness, intelligence, value, talent, etc., combined with fears that you’ll die early, lose your hair, and be unable to perform sexually at the one moment in your lifetime that a drunk supermodel throws herself upon you at a party that you know you don’t belong at in the first place. Despite how easy it is to hit a short pitch shot to the fat part of a green, the fear of the final “s” in shanks alighting upon you with no known cure is scarier then looking out your window to discover that your new mailman is Christopher Walken.
—Jeff Wallach, jeffwallach.com
It all started rather innocently enough. My wife wanted to play golf so we could spend more time together. Once I got her a set of clubs—no easy task, she’s a lefty—I ran through the basics and off we went. By the third time out, she was able to hit her 3-wood in the air and was smart enough to pick up when she’d had enough. She occasionally sank a putt, which delighted her and me. Then one day she decided to take lessons at a local resort to “get some things figured out so I know what I’m doing.” Scary is watching your wife, who previously had a nice, rhythmical swing, go into a deep squat at address, slowly lift the club off the ground, abruptly cock her wrists, check those wrists at the top, and then gradually, in stages, deliver the club to the ball from way outside the swing path, producing a smothered dribbler. Here’s the really scary part: She thinks she’s making progress.
—Brian McCallen, brianmccallen.com
You have just murdered the best drive of your life. You shrieked it right over the dense arbors framing the acute corner of a sharp dogleg and are thinking, “That might be on!” Then it happens. A burly-armed, red-eyed troll furiously wrenching a putter that looks like a hunk of angry scrap metal on the end of a stick is storming around the canine shank with a welt on his back and mayhem on his mind. You are frozen in your guilt-laden tracks, having gone from ecstatic elation to mindless bed-wetting paroxysm. Fear is not an option. Fear is the only option. Run, Forrest, run.
—Casey Alexander, caseyalexandergolf.com
You know what’s scary? The galleries I see—or rather, fail to see—at televised golf events. Unless it’s a Ryder Cup or Tour Championship or a major, they are almost non-existent. If it’s the LPGA, it’s got to be a U.S. Women’s Open (or an event on foreign soil) to see fans along the fairways. If it’s a stop on the Senior Tour (oops, Champions Tour), it’s as if the event has been staged exclusively for television; save the marshalls, no one is there. Much has been written about the overall health of golf as an industry. For years we decried the inability to build on the number of U.S. golfers, routinely pegged at 25 million. Well, The Tiger Effect proved ineffectual vis a vis participation, and now the number of tour events appears to greatly outstrip interest in attending said events. If I were Tim Finchem, I’d be frightened.
—Hal Phillips, halphillips.net
To me the scariest thing that could happen on the golf course would be holing my second tee shot on a par-3 after hitting my first out of play. It would be like God spitting in my face. Fortunately this situation does not arise too often, but a couple of times I have pured that second tee shot and found myself in the unusual position of screaming for the ball to get away from the hole. To have it go in would be the ultimate indignity in a game full of bad bounces and impossibly unfortunate breaks. The very notion of my first “ace” being for a three is so terrifying that I have already vowed to quit playing golf permanently if it ever happens.
—Larry Olmsted, larrygolfstheworld.com
Playing the famed Old Head Golf Links in Kinsale, Ireland, I was one stroke ahead of my opponent in a head-to-head medal-play event with three holes remaining. Having honors, I nervously pegged my tee shot at the par-three, 163- yard 16th hole, where the green sits precariously next to a bluff overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. Adding to my angst was a fierce two-club wind coming off the ocean. Sizing up the shot, I knew the only way to find the putting surface was to go “all in” and aim out over the water and rocks. For golfers, it’s counter-intuitive to take “dead aim” at such unforgiving hazards, but my inner Irish caddie whispered to me, “Be brave and bold, son.” I took my stance and lined up some 30 yards right of the green. Hitting the shot solidly, my ball sailed straight toward the watery void. But then it met the full force of the winds, turning its rigid trajectory into a quickly curving line heading back toward the green. To my utter relief, the ball landed 15 feet from the flagstick where I would later two-putt for a safe and most grateful par. My opponent was not as fortunate as he tried to negotiate the same shot but ended up on the rocks leading to a ruinous triple-bogey. While winning the match, I never have forgotten that par-three, a windswept and haunted hole of horrors.
—Terry Moore, teemoore.com
The Vincent Prices of golf instruction are everywhere, doling out bad advice to golfers like candy on Halloween. Horrifying utterances one would never hear at a Tour event are omnipresent at public driving ranges. Merely putting them into words makes me shiver. “Keep your head down.” The terrifying truth is most things in the wild that keep their heads down get eaten or shot. Instead, let your eyes follow the ball and your body will rotate and shift its weight toward the target. “Keep your left arm straight.” Watch soon-to-be world number-one Lee Westwood swing and you’ll see no straight left arm there, not even at impact! Keep your arms light and loose like ropes; they will swing faster and stay extended. “You ‘deceled.’ Accelerate the club on short shots.” There’s only one thing worse than deceleration—over acceleration. Let gravity and momentum accelerate the club through the ball while deriving your “horsepower” from the backswing.
—Chris Smith, christophersmithgolf.com
Fear settles in. Scores of jealous and hungry competitors ring the peninsular 18th green glued to the action, which is you and a shot that always closes your throat. 70 yards over water. Bare, clipped lie to a tight pin. The 52-degree wedge momentarily is not your friend and suddenly neither are the other members of your scramble foursome who’ve dumped their pitches into the drink. (You want a drink but likely could not swallow it at the moment.) Thoughts of chili-dips, chunks, and Casey at the Bat float through your mind despite stellar efforts to recall the Teachings of Rotella. Get this on the green and the Calcutta and Nassaus are yours; drown it and, well, you’re the goat. As you take the clubhead back, you manage to snag the single lump of barely-there grass. And then….
—Janina Jacobs, janinajacobs.com
Goblins and ghouls fail to frighten me. Shanks, snap-hooks, doubles and three-putts? Let’s just say I grew all-too accustomed to their cruel form of evil long ago. I’ll tell you what makes my blood run cold: Alternate-shot format. Remember some of the Jeffrey Dahmer-esque looks Tiger Woods shot Phil Mickelson during their disastrous foursomes pairing at the 2004 Ryder Cup? If that wasn’t the personification of evil incarnate, I don’t know what is. My introduction to golf’s version of the meat grinder took place in the most un-frightening of places, Hawaii, during a Writer’s Cup that pitted a team of American golf writers versus a team of Japanese. My partner in the first foursomes match ripped a perfect 235-yard drive down the middle of the short opening hole, leaving me a wedge in—which I proceeded to bury in the lip of a greenside bunker. One unplayable and 12 holes of slow torture later, the match was over. My game—and my psyche—have never been the same.
—Brad King, bradkingwrites.com
It is said that the greatest fear among adults is speaking in public. Ha! For serious sphincter shrinking, try hitting your first tee shot in a pro-am. With luck your pro will be a virtual unknown and your tee time early enough that no fans are present. Or… Three days after the U.S. team won soccer’s Women’s World Cup in 1999, I was in the pro-am of the now defunct Big Apple Classic, an LPGA event held 15 miles north of New York City. I don’t remember who the pro was, but the other two players in my foursome were Julie Foudy and Brandi Chastain, two heroes of America’s first World Cup victory. (Mia Hamm was in the group ahead of us.) Lining the tee box, fairway, green, and every path were thousands of pre-teenage girls shrieking and clamoring for autographs (no, not mine). Standing on the first tee, I had visions of hitting a smother hook or low slap slice and wiping out a generation of budding American womanhood. I don’t remember exactly what happened, but women’s soccer continues to boom and babies are still being born.
—James A. Frank, jimgolfrank.com
I haven’t played in 10 years, so the scariest possible thing is playing again!
—Steven Van Zandt, who played Silvio Dante on “The Sopranos” and is also guitarist with Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band