Perhaps it's a platitude to say that it happens to the best of us. Maybe, it's nothing more than the cruelty of Murphy's Law in action, but it seems that The Shot From Hell is always poised to show its ugly face whenever a golfer gains any serious momentum. Really, it has many faces, some more gruesome than others, but all disheartening in their own particular ways.
There are degrees of course. The "massacred bunker shot," when pathetically executed by the touring professional will only marginally resemble the same effort by the 20 handicapper. However the effect is the same. As, amidst a tremendous explosion of sand, the golf ball fails to exit the bunker and rolls comically back to the golfer's feet, the slumped shoulders and misery (and the desire to bury one's head in the sand below) are quite universal.
There are bad shots, to be sure, which show up in the middle of an otherwise decent round: the push, the pull, even the slightly fat or thin shot, but none of these have the completely demoralizing character of The Shot From Hell.
Most often, it seems, the Shot, will appear in an otherwise innocuous or opportune setting. For example, you might hit three inches behind the ball on your second shot from the fairway on a par 5 where you were only attempting a layup. The divot, a veritable strip steak, flies 20 yards, the ball goes half that distance and you are still in no position to go for the green.
If I had approached you prior to your setup to this calamitous masterpiece of a golf shot and warned of the impending result, offering that if you were to simply add a stroke to your final tally at the end of the round, I would ensure, with my supernatural powers and ability to stave off the demons, that the layup come off as planned, what would you do? Speaking for myself, I can say that I would surely accept such an offer. Here's why.
The Shot From Hell absolutely shatters the golfer's fragile confidence for an indeterminate period of time.
Delving into the bank of clichés once again, the psyche of a golfer is highly combustible, ready to burst into flames with the slightest provocation, difficult to restructure and rebuild, an enigma, a thing to be coddled, but often to no avail.
Consider the scenario that follows. You've just made birdie on the long opening par five of your local course. It's wasn't necessarily pretty, but you got up and down for a four. One under through one - what could be better than this? You step on to the tee of the second hole, a short par four which doglegs to the left. The tee shot is relatively open but there's this one tree a little to the left of start of the fairway, maybe thirty yards out. It's not particularly tall, but it's enough to catch your eye. Definitely shouldn't be in play with a draw, and a fade (to cut the dog leg) should carry well over this non-obstacle. Besides, you tell yourself, good players don't see the hazards, much less worry about them.
You set up for a high cut, starting the ball just left of the tree, visualizing your ball clearing the tree by a good twenty yards peeling gently off to the right and landing softly in the left center of the fairway. Setting up over the ball, you try not to get too technical, simply feeling the shot in the club, seeing it in your mind's eye.
You take the club back, everything's good so far. Smooth transition to the down swing. It's about here that something goes terribly wrong. Your next sensation is that of hearing the ball smack into the aforementioned tree, plopping to the ground (undoubtedly right behind the same tree) after a pathetic smother hook.
And there it is, The Shot From Hell.
The Shot From Hell makes the golfer the laughingstock of his audience for an indeterminate period of time.
And again, you don't often play for money (you know you shouldn't) but your game has been pretty solid as of late and your putting has really been top notch. So, you consent to a game of Nassau with your buddies. Things haven't gone so well on the front, but you've been incredible on the back and have a short up and down for the low back nine score.
Since it's an important shot, you've paced it off. It's 18 yards to the pin, 10 yards to the front edge. A straightforward pitch onto the relatively uphill green with minimal spin landing at about 15 yards in front of you ought to get the job done, leaving you a putt of a foot or two. Following this, glory at the 19th hole will be yours.
You set up, try not to grip the club too tightly, feet slightly open shoulders square - you aren't trying to get cute here or create awe inspiring backspin. One or two looks and you settle for a second over the ball. Weight slightly on the front foot, you take the club back and… mutilate the ball with the sole of the club, skulling it through the back of the green.
You haven't hit a pitch this poorly since you were nine. Alas, there it is again, The Shot From Hell.
The Shot From Hell makes the golfer seriously consider giving up the game or at least starting over, left-handed, for an indeterminate period of time.
Beyond all this, The Shot From Hell confirms our worst suspicions about entropy, chaos, and evil in the universe. This is hyperbole, to be sure, but the idea that as we make our way through our organized, controlled, relatively understandable days, there is something completely unforeseen and unpredictable waiting to happen is a disturbing one.
Losing one's keys, a power outage, unexplained credit card charges, hell, even a bad hair day… all these negative karmic retributions are coming for us, sooner or later, and so are fat shots, topped shots, shanks, slices, flubs, and snap hooks. Be warned.