The Lip Out That Did Me In

The scars from this one are still fresh
Ed Snead, lip out, Masters
Ed Snead, who came this close to a Masters championship in 1979, knows the pain of a seemingly unexplainable miss. Photo by Leonard Kamsler/Popperfoto via Getty Images

Nobody remembers the lip ins. Yet we can recall every excruciating detail when things go the other way. I’m pretty sure I lipped in twice in the last three holes during the state championship in high school, but I can still see the lip out in regionals the following year. Lipped out so hard one time on an uphill 5-footer at Springfield Country Club in Ohio that it boomeranged around the hole, rolled 20 feet off the green, then proceeded to trundle 30 yards down the fairway.

I’m still recovering from one last year that made me question just about everything in golf. Not sure if they’re related, but I’ve recently begun playing left-handed. (That’s a column for a future issue.)

I was playing a high-stakes (for us) match with my colleague and occasional friend, D.J. Piehowski, at another Donald Ross design, the resplendent Wilmington Municipal Golf Course in North Carolina. After trailing early, I clawed back to get it to all square—come at me, USGA—after nearly holing a chip on the 16th. The 17th at Wilmington is a straightforward par 4 measuring just 340 yards. After butchering my drive, I pulled things together and had a downhill 15-footer to save par. Fairly simple read: Line it up a cup out to the right and strike it with conviction.

Committed to the line, I stood over the putt and gave it a solid knock. The ball rolled on the intended path with a bit more force than planned, but not so much that I was concerned; it was going in. It stayed straighter than I wanted through the halfway point, but finally began to break according to my read. Never a doubt it would approach the hole on the high side and catch enough of it that any result other than going in seemed impossible.

The ball hit the hole and began disappearing. I’d done it. Forced my smart-mouthed opponent to make his tricky 8-footer for par to halve. In that instant, I began thinking about how to attack the 18th with a 1-up lead. Then, somehow, the ball reemerged after a 270-degree horseshoe and was rudely deposited 3 inches back toward me. I was floored. Disbelief, denial, bargaining, guilt, anger and sadness all followed in short order.

My hippie-ass opponent, surely buoyed by what he’d just witnessed, made his par putt look easy. We headed to the 18th, and I tried to shake off the devastation. I stuffed my approach to 6 feet, but the ghosts of the previous green followed me. I missed the sidewinding putt so badly that it didn’t even sniff the low side of the hole. I’d hit a perfect putt and couldn’t even make it on 17. What chance did I have there?

In the ensuing months, I haven’t put much thought into the 6-footer on the final hole. It never had a prayer, so there wasn’t an opportunity to go through the full range of emotions. And that cuts to the heart of the lip out: You’d rather it have a chance to go in, even if it hurts that much worse after it doesn’t. Those are the scars that make the eventual triumphs that much sweeter. At least that’s what I keep telling myself.

Todd Schuster is better known as Tron Carter from the No Laying Up collective. His opinions on wine might be spicier than his takes on golf.