Pro explains distraction that preceded shocking playoff water ball

Denny McCarthy hits his third shot in the water at the Valero Texas Open.

Denny McCarthy lost a playoff after this waterball.

Getty Images/NBC Sports

Denny McCarthy was doing just about everything he could to get his first PGA Tour title.

But ultimately, he said, the tiniest of distractions may have contributed to his downfall.

McCarthy was on a tear Sunday at the Valero Texas Open. He started the day four back of Ahskay Bhatia and had fallen six back at the turn despite going out with no bogeys.

Then he caught fire on the back nine, starting with a make on the 10th hole from 17 feet. After a par at 11, he birdied the final seven holes in a row, which included a 252-yard 5-iron on the par-3 13th that left him just four feet; a chip-in at the 15th; and an up-and-down from 67 yards to put the pressure on his 22-year-old opponent to tie him.

In all, McCarthy took just eight putts on the side, leading to a PGA Tour record-tying 92 for a 72-hole event. But when Bhatia drilled a 12-footer to match him, he had to play another hole if he wanted to win.

“I just was trying to stack shots together,” he said of the run. “I was just trying to kind of continue what I have been doing all week and just strung together a lot of really good shots, a lot of good putts. They were falling. I kind of just got in my own little world out there, got in the zone and was able to put a little pressure on him on the back.”

The playoff went back to the 18th tee and McCarthy’s first two swings were similar to his first two shots on the hole moments earlier in regulation. He pushed his drive just a bit into the rough and didn’t have a good enough lie to go for the green, just like the first go-around. He laid up again, leaving his ball in the right of the two fairways that lead to TPC San Antonio’s final green. The difference was that this time, he had 32 yards farther in with 99 yards to the pin.

Akshay Bhatia hits a shot at the Valero Texas Open.
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Although McCarthy probably didn’t know it, the NBC broadcast team was wondering if his first layup in regulation left him too close to get the proper spin on his approach. His third shot on the 72nd hole landed past the spin on a slope and spun down to 13 feet, but the analysts guessed if he was farther, he might have been able to roll his ball back, closer to the cup.

Bhatia was in a similar position, having laid up as well, but he was a touch closer at 85 yards after playing first in regulation. Good thing, too, because he wasn’t eager to hit.

Bhatai, who needed to win to get an invite to next week’s Masters, injured his shoulder while celebrating his birdie putt on the 72nd that got him into the playoff.

By the time both Bhatia and McCarhty had reached their third shots, Bhatia’s trainer arrived to administer some treatment to the injured shoulder and he pulled the player aside to tape him up.

While that was going on, McCarthy decided to play on.

He knew right away. The divots went flying and McCarthy quickly looked back at the massive scar he had just left in the turf.

“He’s caught this one a bit heavy,” said NBC’s Curt Byrum.


Akshay Bhatia celebrates after making a putt.
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The analysts were shocked as the ball found the creek guarding the front of the green after traveling only 80 yards.

“Oh my goodness!” exclaimed two of them at once.

McCarthy’s body language went from oozing confidence to straight dejection. He mumbled to his caddie.

Bhatia returned from treatment and stuffed his wedge shot to five feet to put the tournament on ice. But McCarthy will go on to rue his approach shot. He explained the distraction that may have caused it to reporters afterward.

“Wish I could have had that wedge shot back there,” McCarthy said. “I backed off a couple times. There was a bug on my ball and some noise in the stands and a bug jumped back on my ball. I probably should have backed away again, but I thought I could kind of not let it distract me and maybe it did a little.”

Was it the bug that cost McCarthy the $1.656 million first-place prize (he still takes home more than $1 million for runner-up)? Who’s to say for sure?

Will McCarthy back off the next time a bug flies on his ball? Most likely.

“Maybe a learning experience for me,” he said.

Jack Hirsh Editor

Jack Hirsh is an assistant editor at GOLF. A Pennsylvania native, Jack is a 2020 graduate of Penn State University, earning degrees in broadcast journalism and political science. He was captain of his high school golf team and recently returned to the program to serve as head coach. Jack also still *tries* to remain competitive in local amateurs. Before joining GOLF, Jack spent two years working at a TV station in Bend, Oregon, primarily as a Multimedia Journalist/reporter, but also producing, anchoring and even presenting the weather. He can be reached at