Shot Heard Round Barton Creek
Bob Sowards relives the miraculous shot at Fazio Foothills’ final hole that carried U.S. Team to PGA Cup title last September
Perhaps it wasn’t the shot heard ’round the world, but it was definitely the shot of the 2019 PGA Cup. It was the shot that put Ohio PGA Professional Bob Sowards and Omni Barton Creek Resort & Spa in Austin, Texas, on ESPN SportCenter’s Top 10 plays and became an instant YouTube sensation last September.
It provided a shot of adrenaline for a United States Team that entered the PGA Cup singles matches down 10-6 to Great Britain & Ireland, and struggling mightily to secure some momentum after losing seven of eight matches the previous day in the Ryder Cup-format.
An Impossible Shot?
“I’m not sure of the odds, but I know it was a big, big longshot for me to make it,” admits Sowards.
On a scale of 1 to 10 on the “improbable” meter, Sowards’ shot was a 13 or 14. It was tantamount to Tom Watson chipping in on the 71st hole of the 1982 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach for birdie from the fescue to fend off Jack Nicklaus. It was Bubba Watson wedging it out of the woods and pine straw on the 10th hole at Augusta National to miraculously defeat Louis Oosthuizen on the second playoff hole to win the 2012 Masters.
Like those memorable shots, it was not just tough. It was extraordinarily difficult. And when Sowards pulled it off, it was equal parts amazing, astounding and astonishing – with a little luck added to the mix for good measure.
“That was one of the greatest shots I’ve ever seen under pressure, especially given the importance of the situation,” recalls Derek Sprague, the former PGA President who was serving as Captain of the U.S. PGA Cup Team. “It was off the charts – one of those shots for the ages. Those shots never go in, but this time it did.”
Setting Up the Shot
How did “The Sowards Shot” unfold? Let’s set the table.
Sowards is the 2004 PGA Professional Champion and was the oldest player on the 2019 U.S. PGA Cup Team at 51. Sowards was the U.S. leadoff hitter in the PGA Cup singles matches and arrived at the 18th hole of Omni Barton Creek’s Fazio Foothills Course all square with Scotland’s Alastair Forsyth, the No. 1 GB&I player and Great Britain’s reigning PGA Professional Champion. It was widely conceded that the winner of this heavyweight bout would carry his team to triumph.
Sowards appeared to be in trouble when he pushed his second shot on the par-5 18th to the right, with the ball hitting a cart path and bounding well above the green just beyond pin high. He had a good lie, but Sowards faced a blind, downhill pitch of about 20 yards over an outcropping of rocks to a front hole location. He knew he couldn’t land his ball on the green and get it anywhere close to the hole.
With Forsyth already on the green with a 20-foot eagle putt, Sowards knew he needed a magic wand.
“It wasn’t an easy shot by any stretch, but I knew it could inspire the rest of the team if I could put a red win on the scoreboard in my singles match against their No. 1 player,” recalls Sowards. “I built a 2-up lead through 13, so I had accomplished my goal of being up in the match, but he birdied 14 and 16 to square the match.
“The 18th is a very difficult tee ball for me, and I hit the best drive of the week there in singles. It ended up in the right rough, and I watched him hit his second shot from the fairway,” he continues. “I heard the crowd reaction and knew I was forced to also go for the green, because I figured he was close. I had a good lie, but I had to guess where the pin and green were as my vision was blocked by the trees. When I hit it, I knew I got it over the trees in front of me, but thought it was eight or 10 yards right of the green.
“When I got to my ball, I heard that it was quite a bit farther right and hit the cart path and went over and 20 yards right of green,” remembers Sowards. “In my mind, it was good news because I had a great lie. It was sitting up, so I knew I could hit it as high as I wanted. It was also bad news because I could only see the top one-third of the flagstick and knew I couldn’t land it on the green. My goal was to hit a soft shot that landed in the middle of the hill and released toward the flag.”
The Immaculate Pitch Shot
The earth stood still for a moment as Sowards contemplated all aspects of his seemingly impossible shot. Then, everything shifted to slow motion as the 2018 and ’19 OMEGA PGA Senior Professional Player of the Year drew back his lob wedge and sent his ball into the air. The ball hit in the rough and tumbled toward the green. It reached the putting surface rolling gently — directly toward the hole.
“I hit what I thought was a perfect shot, so I walked forward so I could see the hole,” remembers
Sowards. “I saw the ball about three feet from the hole and rolling softly. When it went in, I was in shock, and I think Alastair was also. I heard my wife cheer and pointed at her in surprise and disbelief.
“Once Alastair was getting ready to hit his putt, I started to get emotional because I knew I had secured at least half a point. Looking at the scoreboard coming off of 17 green, I thought if I got my half point, then we really had a great chance to win the Cup by how the rest of the matches looked.”
When Forsyth missed his 20-foot putt, Sowards’ miraculous eagle pitch-in gave him the hole and the 1-up victory. It also provided the impetus for the biggest comeback in PGA Cup history, with the U.S. Team rallying to a 14-12 triumph.
An emotional Sowards realized the significance of the improbable chip-in on the final hole.
“When he (Forsyth) missed and I had secured my full point, the emotion of the entire week came out,” recalls Sowards. “Playing for your team and your country is as good as it gets.”
When Sowards returned to the Fazio Foothills Course at Omni Barton Creek barely a week later to compete in the Senior PGA Professional Championship, his “Shot Heard ‘Round Barton Creek” was still being talked about.
“With the pressure of the whole week and the circumstances, it was definitely the best shot that I have ever hit,” reflects Sowards. “That is one shot I will remember the rest of my life, and I will keep that video forever.”