11 other matches (both real and imagined) we’d have happily paid to see

November 27, 2018

The Match is in the books, and while Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson failed to play their best golf, their head-to-head showdown at Shadow Creek had a few memorable moments, like Tiger’s chip-in and fist-pump on the 17th hole, biting commentary from the booth and an entertaining — if goofy — conclusion on a makeshift par 3 under the lights. There were worse ways to drop 20 bucks.

Of course, as we learned soon afterward, no one will have to shell out $19.99 — paying customers were refunded after the pay-per-view malfunctioned and fans streamed it online for free. Despite the hiccups, this head-to-head golf franchise may stick around for a while. If it’s rebooted next fall, expect some new wrinkles, and participants, to be introduced. But would any combination of today’s players make you reach for your credit card? It’s a shame they can’t just reboot some of the best rivalries in golf history, because there are numerous dream matchups that would be worth the price of admission (or online streaming). Here are 11 other matches, both real and slightly imagined, we’d have happily paid money to see.

1989 Ryder Cup - Seve Ballesteros, Paul Azinger
Azinger got the best of Seve in Ryder Cup singles in 1989.

11. Seve Ballesteros vs. Paul Azinger, c. 1989: Seve is forever remembered as one of golf’s most ruthless competitors and a black belt in the art of gamesmanship. Azinger was the heart and soul of U.S. Ryder Cup teams in the late 80s and early 90s, and served as Seve’s foil. They faced off a few times at Ryder Cup team matches, and met once in Sunday singles — at the 1989 event at the Belfry. Azinger won that one 1 up, but Seve’s Euros still kept the Cup. There was no love lost between these two. Put them on TV with microphones on, and you’d get a great show.

Lorena Ochoa, Annika Sorenstam
Ochoa and Sorenstam are two of the greatest players ever on the LPGA Tour.

10. Annika Sorenstam vs. Lorena Ochoa, c. 2005: Two titans of the sport, Annika won 72 LPGA events, including 10 majors, while Ochoa claimed 27 titles and two majors. Lorena was the heir apparent to Sorenstam as the Tour’s headliner, and she carried the mantle until she retired in 2010. They crossed paths a fair amount back in their respective heydays, as Annika finished runner-up to Ochoa three times, including one major (the ’08 Kraft Nabisco). At the 2005 Safeway, they were tied after 72 holes and went to sudden death, but Sorenstam ended that one quickly with a par on the first hole. It would be fun to see them go at it for a full 18.

9. Tiger Woods vs. Bob May vs. Steve Scott, c. 2001: With all due respect to Mickelson, Woods really didn’t have a true rival in his prime. But Tiger was famously pushed to the limit in two head-to-head showdowns early in his career. Scott, then a junior at the University of Florida, took Woods to 38 holes at the 1996 U.S. Am. And the unheralded May fell to Woods in a playoff at the epic 2000 PGA Championship at Valhalla. We’re not sure how this three-way match would work, but it could’ve been a blast to give two guys who came up … just … short one more crack at Woods.

8. Jack Nicklaus vs. Arnold Palmer vs. Gary Player, c. 1960s: If we’re going to play the match as a three-ball, might as well also run it with golf’s Big Three, right? The trio combined to win 34 majors and would make for must-see TV in any era.

7. Gene Sarazen vs. Walter Hagen, c. 1923: The Squire won three PGAs, and as a 21-year-old upstart he took down Hagen in the 1923 final in 38 holes. That event is remembered for being heated, (Example: “Hole it!” Sarazen angrily told Hagen, who had a one-foot putt. “I’ll be giving you nothing but hell all day.”) Needless to say, this match is a lock for better trash talk than Tiger and Phil. Sadly, television was still several generations away.

Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Turnberry, Duel in the Sun
Watson clipped Nicklaus in the 1977 “Duel in the Sun” at Turnberry.

6. Jack Nicklaus vs. Tom Watson, c. 1977: The “Duel in the Sun” at the ’77 Open at Turnberry is still regarded as one of the greatest majors ever (Tom and Jack finished 10 and 11 shots ahead of third place), and they also went head-to-head at the ’82 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, where Watson famously chipped in from behind the green at 17. A third, made-for-TV showdown would’ve been huge.

5. Byron Nelson vs. Sam Snead, c. 1940: They’re two stars from their era and also two of the greatest match-play golfers ever. Snead won three PGAs, which were then contested as match play, and went 10-2-1 at the Ryder Cup. Nelson won two PGAs, including a 1-up win over Snead in the final in 1940. If they could somehow air a tape of that showdown with everyone mic’d up, I’d pay quadruple the price of Woods-Mickelson.

Bobby Jones, 1st tee, 1935 Masters
Bobby Jones tees off on No. 1 at the 1935 Masters, as, left to right, Tommy Armour, Walter Hagen and Gene Sarazen look on.

4. Bobby Jones vs. Walter Hagen, c. 1926: The Haig won five PGA Championships, including four straight from 1924-27. At that same time, Jones dominated amateur golf, winning five of seven U.S. Ams from 1924-30. They’re two of the best ever, and the intrigue around the top amateur facing the top pro added juice. They did meet for a 72-hole exhibition in 1926 that was promoted as “The Battle of the Century,” but Hagen thumped Jones 12 and 11. Doesn’t sound like great TV…but I’d absolutely watch it. For even bigger money, a rematch would’ve been nice at a little track in Augusta that Jones would open in the ‘30s.

3. Old Tom Morris vs. Young Tom Morris, c. 1868: The father-son duo dominated golf in their era, as they combined for eight British Open titles from 1861-72. When Young Tom won his first, in 1868, he became the youngest major champion ever … at age 17. (Old Tom finished runner-up.) They often teamed up to take on other players in “challenge matches.” Wouldn’t it be fascinating to see how the father and son interacted on the links? We don’t have pay-per-view television, but last year the movie Tommy’s Honour gave fans a look at their complicated relationship.

2. Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson vs. Ken Venturi and Harvie Ward, c. 1956: Golf historians know that golf’s original version of “The Match” was staged at Cypress Point on Jan. 10, 1956. The foursome combined for 27 birdies and an eagle; Hogan shot 63, Venturi fired 65 and their partners each carded 67s. A few hundred lucky spectators witnessed Hogan and Nelson’s 1-up win, and it’s been memorialized in books, not to mention golf lore. (They even tried to recreate it six years ago.) But, oh, if only there were cameras around to capture the original. And how wild would the real-time betting have been for this one?

Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus at the 1962 U.S. Open at Oakmont
Arnie and Jack at the ’62 U.S. Open at Oakmont.

1. Jack Nicklaus vs. Arnold Palmer c. 1962: The two biggest stars in golf history and the ultimate clash of contrasting styles. For a time, they were also a contrast in fan popularity, as galleries didn’t embrace Nicklaus early in his career. It was never more evident than at the 1962 U.S. Open at Oakmont, where Jack defeated Arnie in an 18-hole playoff as the crowd pulled hard for Palmer, a local hero. Nicklaus won it by three shots, and it would’ve been an incredible event for pay-per-view. Heck, these two might’ve outdrawn Woods and Mickelson if they’d staged their own event in Las Vegas just a few years ago, before Palmer passed away in the fall of 2016. For our money, that’s still the greatest made-for-TV matchup golf could ever deliver. At least we have the highlights.