Of all ball sports, golf seems like the least likely candidate to end in a tie, yet it does happen, and the tied parties must continue, playing sudden-death golf until one contestant slips up.
Much like the English sport of cricket, hypothetically, a golf competition could go on forever ad infinitum if the tied players kept hitting identical scores on every playoff hole, which sounds unlikely, but you’d be surprised just how long these sudden death showdowns can run on.
Let’s take a closer look at seven of the longest-ever playoffs in PGA history.
1949 Motor City Open: 11 Holes
The record for the longest playoff in the history of the PGA Tour belongs to golfing Hall of Famers Cary Middlecroff and Lloyd Mangrum, both of whom went toe to toe for 11 straight sudden-death holes in the 1994 Motor City Open, neither flinching under the pressure.
Yep, you read that correctly — These two absolute legends of the game somehow managed to mirror one another’s score for a further 11 holes after every other competitor had hit the bricks.
So, who won? Well, once they wrapped up that 11th hole in fading light on the fourth day of the Detroit tournament and still had identical scores of 11-under 273 scores, officials decided enough was enough and crowned them co-champions.
And let’s face it, at that point, they’d both clearly achieved excellence and deserved the W.
Besides, it’s not like they wouldn’t taste a solo Motor City Open victory eventually, as the very next year, Lloyd Mangrum clinched it, and Middlecroff secured the championship in two nonconsecutive years not too long after.
1965 Azalea Open: 8 Holes
Chronologically, the next longest playoff in golf history took place at the 1965 Azalea open in which Phil Rodgers and Dick Hart engaged in 8 furious sudden death holes in Wilmington, North Carolina.
The first four of the total eight holes in the playoffs ended with both combatants making par, neither one of them refusing to give up the ghost.
Rodgers thought he had it in the bag when Hart bogeyed the fifth but ended up playing a mirror image hole, prolonging the contest of attrition.
The next two holes saw a return to form as both players made par, but on the eighth hole, the tables turned, with Rodgers drawing a bogey, a slip that would cost him the tournament, as Hart seized his opportunity and claimed the win.
This (his 6th PGA Tour) would be Dick Hart’s first and last PGA Tour victory, earning him the grand prize of $3850.
1978 Greater Milwaukee Open: 8 Holes
In 78, we saw another mammoth 8-holer, this time between the two Lees, Lee Elder and Lee Trevino.
This one went on for so long that Trevino started to worry that he would miss his flight to the British Open, a worry that may have had something to do with his eventual defeat when they reached that fateful 8th hole.
The funny thing was that as the initial contest reached its natural conclusion, it seemed to be a runaway victory for Trevino who had secured a 54-hole lead, but Elder managed to claw his way back into the game with a miraculous birdie from 14 feet, thereby triggering the playoff.
Elder proceeded to match Trevino’s par all the way to the eighth hole during which Trevino found himself stuck in the bunker and Elder brought it home with two nice, easy puts on the green.
But, seeing that the crowd was chanting “Go Lee!” regardless of who they were supporting, perhaps it still felt like something of a victory to Trevino.
1981 Quad Cities Open: 8 Holes
The 1981 Quad Cities Open playoff was a very special event, as it wasn’t just two players laying it all out on the course for glory, but five! Yep, that’s right, FIVE! David Barr, Woody Blackburn, Dan Halldorson, Frank Conner, and Victor Regalado were all neck and neck after the last standard hole.
What’s even more bizarre about this competition is that, along with Frank Conner, the tournament’s 54-hole leader, Victor Regalado, was knocked out on the introductory playoff hole.
And along the way to that final 8th hole, Dan Halldorson also bit the dust, leaving only Barr and Blackburn left to compete.
Unfortunately for Blackburn, he wound up on the beach, finishing up for a bogey, and Barr, who was actually lagging significantly behind on the eighth hole managed to capitalize on Blackburn’s mistake by catching up, two-putting for a birdie, thus earning his first PGA Tour win.
1983 Phoenix Open: 8 Holes
This was another multi-player 8-hole showdown, featuring Bob Gilder, Rex Caldwell, Johnny Miller, and Mark O’Meara.
In the end, it was Gilder’s day, sinking a birdie on the final hole and pocketing the $63,000 prize.
It was a trying week for poor Rex Caldwell, collecting his second runner-up medal in two weeks having lost in the closing rounds of the Bob Hope Desert Classic playoffs mere days prior.
Considering he managed to pull off a 30-foot putt on the very last regulation hole to secure his place in the 4-way playoff, it’s pretty tragic he couldn’t go all the way.
Mark O’Meara and Johnny Miller put up a good fight but were knocked out after two holes, while the two remaining golfers continued to test each other, culminating in a 7-foot birdie for Gilder that Caldwell couldn’t match from 17 feet.
2012 Mayakoba Golf Classic: 8 Holes
When Robert Allenby allowed his lead to slip away on the final hole of the 2012 Mayakoba Golf Classic, he left the door ajar for John Hue to trigger a playoff, something Allenby would come to regret, as Hue took the title on the eighth hole.
2021 Travelers Championship: 8 Holes
Neither Harris English nor Kramer Hickok would relent in this furious 2021 playoff in a tournament that saw a record amount of birdie plays (263), but come the eighth hole, English pipped Hickok for the win — His fourth PGA victory.
There you have it — Golf may not be considered the most high-octane sport in the world, but it sure can get wild when players go toe to toe during extended playoffs.
11 holes is the record thus far, with 8 being a common close second, but there’s no doubt we’ll see even longer playoffs in the future.