Once in a while the card-carrying members of the PGA Tour provide proof that they are just like us. In the final round at last month’s Canadian Open, Kevin Chappell, who began his round one stroke off the lead, took a restricted swing from near a bush and failed to make contact with his ball.
That part is familiar to high-handicappers everywhere. The next part, perhaps not so much: “That was a whiff,” Chappell said to his caddie, Joe Greiner, immediately clearing up any possible confusion about whether it had been a practice swing or an actual attempt.
Chappell’s club during his takeaway broke a branch, altering its path, which caused him to miss the ball.
Chappell, a 10th-year pro out of Buchanan High, described the whiff as “a little piece of humble pie” that might have helped him hone his focus. He birdied three of the next four holes to finish tied for eighth, four strokes out of a playoff.
“I can’t think of another time where I’ve whiffed,” Chappell said as he began play at the Bridgestone Invitational. “But then my wife remembered one.”
Whiffs are rarer than double eagles in professional golf. But they happen.
At the British Open at Royal Birkdale, also last month, Justin Thomas played his second round in heavy rain. He was at even-par for the tournament when he arrived at the par-4 sixth. His 5-iron approach landed in the fescue. On his third shot, the club squirted out of his hands like soap in a shower, without touching the ball.
“It just completely came out of my hands on the way down,” Thomas said. “On the follow-through I had nothing in my hands.”
After the whiff, Thomas hit the ball backward and then plugged a shot in fescue, setting up his quintuple bogey 9. He went on to miss the cut by two strokes.
“It’s more embarrassing and upsetting than anything else,” Thomas said.
While Thomas quickly tried to put the mishap behind him, his sixth-hole fiasco stuck with Jordan Spieth’s caddie, Michael Greller, who watched Thomas’ woes unfold on television. Spieth said it was one of the first images that popped into Greller’s head after Spieth hit his now-famous wayward drive into the thick grass on the 13th in the final round.
“He thought I was wanting to play that ball on 13,” Spieth said, “and he had visions of what happened to Justin.”
Spieth, who went on to win the British Open, said he intended from the start to take a one-stroke penalty for an unplayable lie. He has failed enough times at trying recovery shots from inconvenient spots to recognize a hopeless lie when his ball comes to rest in one.
“I’ve definitely tried to play it out of junk and whiffed,” said Spieth, who got just a piece of the ball on a 7-iron shot during the first round of last year’s Bridgestone.
He said that he was less mortified by a whiff than, say, a shank. “On the whiff you’re just like, well, the stuff got in the way,” Spieth said.
Jon Rahm, a Spaniard who has two global victories in his first full season as a pro, said: “It’s not a good feeling when you whiff, but the good news is you know what the yardage is for your next shot.”
Before Brooks Koepka played virtually mistake-free golf to win U.S. Open in June, he struggled for a few months. His nadir came in February at the Honda Classic, his hometown tournament in the Palm Beach, Florida, area. He hit one of the poorest shots he could remember on the way to missing the cut.
From the rough on a par-4, Koepka hit his approach sideways and the ball plopped down about a foot to the right of where he hit it. It was not technically a whiff, but it was close enough.
He remembered thinking as he stared at the ball, “What just happened?”
Koepka was snapped out of his shock by the voice of his caddie calmly saying, “You’ve still got 156 yards to the hole.”