Playoffs in any sport are the epitome of excitement. It’s when heroes are made, redemption is within grasp, winners bask in the glory of victory, and losers taste bitter defeat. However, golf just might have an argument as the best playoff sport of them all. If you’ve wondered “what are the most playoff holes in golf” — learn more about the memorable moments, playoff formats, and everything you’ve wanted to know about golf playoffs here.
A playoff hole in golf is used when two or more golfers are tied at the end of a tournament. On the PGA tour, this would be a tie after 72 holes; LIV golf has a 54-hole, team-based format, so playoffs would commence if teams were tied after three rounds.
In some professional and amateur tournaments, a playoff hole in golf follows a sudden-death format. This format dictates that the first golfer to shoot a lower score on a hole wins the hole and the tournament. If the players tie on the hole, they continue on to the next hole.
In sudden-death playoff scenarios that have more than two finalists, the same format continues. However, if one golfer has a higher score on a hole, they are automatically eliminated. For example, let’s say that four golfers are in a sudden death playoff. Three of the players shoot par while the fourth player hits a bogey. In this case, the three golfers would advance while the fourth would be eliminated.
Another example would be if four golfers were in a sudden-death playoff and shot three different scores. If one golfer shot a par, one shot a bogey, and two shot a birdie, the golfers that shot par or bogey would both be eliminated.
Sudden-death playoff holes can continue indefinitely until one golfer emerges triumphant. However, some tournaments switch to different holes after each sudden-death hole while others continue to replay the same hole.
While the sudden-death format has become more popular over time among both amateur and professional tournaments and friendly matches, most playoff holes in golf are actually played in the aggregate format. Unlike a sudden death playoff hole, an aggregate playoff requires finalists to play multiple holes. The golfer with the lower score after these aggregate holes is the winner. If there’s no winner after the aggregate, most tournaments that use an aggregate playoff simply switch over to a sudden death playoff to determine the winner.
Unsurprisingly, most playoff holes in golf occur in the aggregate format, especially in tournaments prior to the 1970s and 1980s, when aggregate playoffs were used almost exclusively.
While an aggregate playoff isn’t necessarily better than sudden-death, many advocates state that it’s a fairer way of determining a winner. An aggregate playoff is much more forgiving, a single shot won’t kill your chances of winning, and you have more opportunities to break even should you fall behind early.
Professional golf playoff formats have varied greatly over time. For almost the entire existence of the PGA, nearly all tour events used an 18-hole aggregate playoff format, which was always completed the day following the tie. This format led to some of the most playoff holes in golf history. Eventually, the lengthy format went by the wayside in favor of shorter aggregate or sudden-death playoffs that were completed right after the conclusion of the tournament.
Today, both men’s and women’s professional golf tournaments use the aggregate or sudden-death format depending on the tournament. Others start with an aggregate and then switch to sudden death in the spirit of a quicker finish.
Here are the playoff formats for some of the top tournaments on both the PGA and LPGA tours.
Since the founding of the PGA in 1929, numerous tournaments have had memorable playoff holes and moments. While most playoff holes in golf are exciting, some are even a bit more special than others. Here are a few of the best.
The most playoff holes in golf occurred at the 1931 U.S. Open at the Inverness Club in Toledo, Ohio. Following a tie after 72 holes, Billy Burke and George Von Elm squared off in two 36-hole aggregate playoff rounds until Burke finally won his first and only major. The 72-hole playoff remains the most playoff holes in golf — a record unlikely to ever be broken due to the recent changes in playoff formats.
In the inaugural Motor City Open, two future hall-of-famers squared off in the longest sudden-death playoff in PGA history. Tied after 72 holes, Cary Middlecoff and Lloyd Mangrum continued the tournament right afterward for 11 holes — the most playoff holes in golf for a sudden-death format. Interestingly, as darkness approached, tournament officials — with the consent of both golfers — declared the two co-winners, giving an anticlimactic yet justified ending to this epic battle.
John Huh may not be a household name, but he had one heck of a day taking home the 2012 Mayakoba Golf Classic title. Making up seven strokes in the final round, Huh forced a sudden-death playoff against Robert Allenby. Huh outlasted Allenby, eventually winning with a par on the 8th playoff hole. To date, it’s the second most playoff holes in PGA tournament history.
Bob Gilder took home the 1983 Phoenix Open championship in one of the most epic PGA tournaments of all time. Tied after 72 holes, Gilder along with Johnny Miller, Rex Caldwell, and a young Mark O’Meara played eight sudden-death playoff holes, with Gilder eventually prevailing. This tournament is tied for the most playoff holes in golf with four or more golfers.
Now known as the John Deere Classic, the 1981 Quad Cities Open is the other eight-hole playoff involving four or more golfers. With Victor Regalado, Dan Halldorson, Frank Conner, Woody Blackburn, and Dave Barr duking it out after 72 holes, Barr eventually emerged victorious after eight holes — the most playoff holes in golf history for a PGA fivesome.
In only the third sudden-death playoff in U.S. Open history, the 2008 event saw Tiger Woods defeat Rocco Mediate, despite a back-and-forth affair in regulation between the two linksmen. On the par-4 7th hole, Woods tapped in a putt for par, while Mediate’s shot from the bunker to save par fell short. It was the third U.S. Open and 14th major for Woods at the time.
The 2005 Masters is one of the most famous golf moments of all time. After sinking a playoff birdie putt at Augusta to defeat Chris DiMarco in the first sudden-death playoff hole, Tiger Woods triumphantly pumped his fist. It’s still one of the most iconic moments of the legendary tournament.
The 2021 Travelers Championship featured Harris English knocking off Kramer Hickok in one of the longest sudden-death matchups in PGA Tour history. After playing eight holes at TPC River Highlands Country Club in Cromwell, Connecticut, English — including six on the 18th and two on the 17th — Harris sank a birdie putt to seal the epic win.
Playoff holes in golf are full of excitement — at least if you’re the one watching. But if you’re playing, it’s unnecessary stress, even if it’s just a friendly game. As a result, the best plan is always to win in regulation and skip the late-game heroics if possible, which is easier said than done.
So whether you need to add a Texas wedge to your golf game, improve your drive, or hone your short game with an office putting set, it’s all about practice. Hopefully, the only playoff hole you’ll be playing is one to decide who’s going to buy the beer.