This Open Golf choke is disputed. Not that it was not a choke, but just exactly what happened on the final green when Leo Diegel went to make a short putt
Worst Open Golf Choke #4: Leo Diegel, Royal Liverpool, 1930
Leo Diegel began caddying aged ten and, aged 17, in 1916, won the Michigan Open. In 1920 he first played in his first US Open and finished runner up.
He won two Majors in a career cut short by a shoulder injury. Both of these were in matchplay tournaments – the 1928 and 1929 USPGA Championship.
Eight times he finished the top 10 of the US Open or The Open, the only two strokeplay Majors during most of his career. In the USPGA he was once losing finalist, once losing quarter-finalist.
Leo Diegel was an excellent striker of the ball, but he could struggle on the green. After some experimenting, he developed a way of putting which dampened his chance of calamity.
He used an extra-long putter, a forerunner of the belly putter, which he pressed to his waist during the stroke. When he putted he crouched over the ball, with his elbows jutting out so that his forearms pointed in a straight line parallel to the target line.
His style caused much comment, but it had a much to recommend it. He crouched so low that he looked straight down on the ball, and a twist of head meant he looked straight down the target line. When the stroke was played with a pendulum motion, it is hard to twist the putter face out of perpendicular during the stroke.
As a result, this method briefly caught on and this style of putting was known as ‘diegeling’.
Diegel’s Open golf choke came in the 1930 tournament. On the final green he has a tiddler to knock in for par and a share of the lead.
Bernard Darwin described what happened as: “Finally he laid his putt apparently stone-dead in three at the ‘Home’ hole and missed the putt by the widest possible margin”.
Later, the notion took hold that Diegel has missed the ball altogether, that an attack of the yips caused him to whiff the ball, that is, play an air shot. These days there would be definite proof by way of television pictures; then there was just eye-witness accounts, reportage and anecdote.
In Golf Between Two Wars, Darwin said that Leo had utterly failed to hit it, which was interpreted that Diegel had actually missed the ball, a horrendous case of the yips if so. But, of course it could just mean that Diegel had not committed to the shot, and badly miss- or under-hit it.
Air shots at The Open are not unknowns, Hale Irwin missed a tap in from 3in in the 1983 Open, This cannot be classified as a Open Golf choke for our list however, as it was in the second round, and a result of carelessness.
Why Irwin’s is so well remembered, is that it cost him his chance of the title as he finished one shot behind winner Tom Watson, Had he made that 3in tap in two days earlier he would have been in a play-off with Watson.