David Cannon: Capturing golf's major moments

Updated 0710 GMT (1510 HKT) July 22, 2022
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Snapping over 700 tournaments and almost 200 men and women's majors, photographer David Cannon has captured some of golf's greatest moments -- from Seve Ballesteros' iconic fist pump celebration at the Open in 1984 to the remarkable return of Tiger Woods at the Masters in May 2022 (pictured). In 2014, on the eve of his 100th men's major coverage, Cannon sat down with CNN to pick out his favorite shots from the previous 99 events. David Cannon / Getty Images
Seve Ballesteros holes his final putt to win the 1984 British Open on the Old Course at St. Andrews, Scotland. "If I had to choose a moment in my 100 majors that still sends shivers down my spine, every time I look at the picture, this would be it," Cannon reflected. "The roar of the crowd went on and on.

"The British crowds and I adored Seve," Cannon said of the Spaniard, who won five majors before his death from brain cancer in May 2011. "He was, for sure, the catalyst for the growth of European golf and all that we have witnessed in the past 30 years.
"I miss him every day, and to think this moment was captured 30 years ago this year -- it just seems like yesterday."
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This image from the 1984 captures Gene Sarazen -- a winner of seven majors between 1922 and 1935 who Cannon credits with effectively inventing the sand iron. He was playing in the annual par-three contest at Augusta, which takes place each year and acts as a curtain raiser for the Masters.

"(The nine-hole exhibition) was a great tradition at Augusta that preceded the current tradition of Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Arnold Palmer hitting the ceremonial tee shots from the first tee to start the tournament each year," Cannon said.

"I loved the idea of nine holes, watching legends of the game -- a pity this is not the case with Nicklaus, Player and Palmer. How much fun that would be?"
David Cannon/Getty Images
Cannon describes the par-three competition on the short course at Augusta National as one of the most spectacular events to photograph.

"This picture was (the result of) having such a perfect sky on one of the stillest afternoons," he said.

"I was able to capture the almost perfect 'mirror' effect of the eighth and ninth greens, surrounded by thousands of 'patrons,' as the spectators are known at Augusta."
David Cannon/ Getty Images
This picture captures an iconic moment in Jack Nicklaus' career -- the putt on the 17th green during the final round of the 1986 Masters that effectively sealed the last of his 18 major wins.

Cannon had been following the leader Ballesteros, who was on the nearby 15th hole.

Once he realized Nicklaus could win, however, he decided to hop across to the 17th to follow him through the final two holes, suspecting something special was about to happen.

"This was one of those decisions that was a combination of luck and, I suppose, knowledge of the game," Cannon explained.
David Cannon/Getty Images
This snap of Nicklaus practicing at the 1986 Masters, where he won his sixth and final green jacket, was "a really lucky picture to get because of the way the sand exploded during the shot."

"In 33 years of photographing golf, I have never seen an 'explosion' as perfect as this," said Cannon. "To capture this shot in the same week as he won his final major was a great thrill."
David Cannon/Getty Images
The greatest meets the greatest.

This image of Nicklaus and Muhammad Ali, two legends of golf and boxing respectively, was taken nearly 20 years ago at Valhalla.

"It was just a fantastic treat to witness this moment," Cannon said.

"Ali, a native of Louisville, came out to meet Jack at Valhalla. It's funny how my 100th major will be at Valhalla 20 years after this moment."
David Cannon/Getty Images/File
Few would've guessed what was to follow for Rory McIlroy at the start of his infamous final round at the 2011 Masters.

Then 21, the Northern Irishman held a four-shot lead heading into the final day as he sought his first major title, but would soon fall way out of contention with a disastrous round of eight-over-par 80.

"On the second hole, he drove into this bunker and I captured the moment his shot just clipped the face of the hazard," Cannon recalled.

"He escaped with a par on a hole that he should birdie almost every time he plays it. Worse was to follow, but this was a great image that helped tell the story of his day."
David Cannon/Getty Images
Here we see McIlroy teeing off from the 10th hole during the final round of the 2011 U.S. Open at the Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Maryland.

A short time later, the 21-year-old Northern Irishman would stand on the 18th green and triumphantly lift his first major title.

The win was all the more meaningful to McIlroy as it followed on from his final-day collapse at the Masters just a couple of months earlier.

"He hit this shot literally inches from the hole," Cannon said. "I love the way the whole crowd is following his ball, apart from the poor policeman and marshals doing their duties, that is."
David Cannon/Getty Images/File
McIlroy won his third major championship at the 2014 British Open Championship, posing for a "selfie" in front of the roaring members of the Royal Liverpool Club.

"As a member of the club myself, this picture means so much to me in more ways than one," Cannon said.

"I have been lucky enough to have known Rory since he was 15 years old and have seen his incredible talent develop into one of the game's great players. Who knows what lies ahead for him?

"All I know is that this moment is one I will treasure forever."
David Cannon/Getty Images
An emotional Payne Stewart celebrates sinking the winning putt at a rainy Pinehurst in 1999 to claim the U.S. Open, his third and final major title.

Stewart would tragically lose his life in a plane crash just months later.

"To have taken this image is very poignant and the phrase 'every picture tells a story' is so true as it brings back great memories of one of the truly, brilliantly nice people in golf," reflected Cannon.
David Cannon/Getty Images
How about that?

Stewart sinks the putt that wins the 1989 U.S. PGA Championship at Kemper Lakes in Illinois, the first of his major titles.

"This is a great moment in the career of one of golf's most colorful stars," said Cannon of the snap.

See David Cannon give a photography lesson to CNN's Living Golf.
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This postcard picture on the eighth hole of the Pebble Beach course in Monterey, California, captured 1992 U.S. Open winner Tom Kite during the tournament's final round.

Cannon is a scratch golfer himself so has more than a fair idea of what is going on in the minds of his subjects.

"The eighth hole (at Pebble Beach) runs above and beside the stunning beach," he said. "Kite hit his tee shot into the perfect spot for me to capture this unique image.

"Nowadays, the modern professionals very rarely leave their tee shots in this position as they hit the ball much further, so it is probably a picture that will be really tough to get again."
David Cannon/Getty Images/File
One of the more remarkable golfing performances of recent years was Tom Watson's charge for the British Open at Turnberry, Scotland in 2009.

The 59-year-old had won the title five times previously, although the last occasion was in 1983 as a 33-year-old.

However, one unlucky bounce at the 18th enabled Stewart Cink (left) to finish level with Watson at two under par and eventually triumph in a four-hole playoff.

"I completely respect the character of Tom in this picture," Cannon said. "How he could be smiling at Stewart Cink, who to me is looking at the Claret Jug?

"I suspect (Cink) might be thinking, 'This should have been Tom Watson where my name is.'"

Watson later admitted to being distraught after that late slice of bad luck prevented him from becoming the oldest winner of golf's oldest major.
David Cannon/Getty Images/file
This photo captures the spectacular natural amphitheater that surrounds the final green at The Olympic Club in San Francisco.

The historic course is now almost a century old and was host of the 1987 U.S. Open -- where this image was taken.

"The U.S. PGA only had to construct one small stand as everywhere else spectators were sitting on the natural slopes," Cannon said.
David Cannon/Getty Images/File
An ecstatic Bob Tway finds the cup with a bunker shot on the last hole at the 1986 U.S. PGA Championship at the Inverness Club in Toledo, Ohio.

"This moment is tinged with sadness as it was the moment Tway denied Greg Norman the U.S. PGA Championship," Cannon said of one his favorite players missing out on glory. "But a brilliant picture of a brilliant shot and wonderful joy."
David Cannon/Getty Images
American Lee Trevino peaks out from amidst the trees on his way to glory at 1984 U.S. PGA Championship in Alabama, the sixth and final major success of his illustrious career.

"I love the quiet moment of decision," said Cannon.

"This is one very rare, quiet moment in the life of one of golf's truly great characters on his way to his final major championship."
David Cannon/Getty Images
A grimacing Tiger Woods summons all of his strength to battle his way out of the deep rough on a weather-battered Carnoustie course at the 1999 British Open.

"Tiger has been enormously influential for all of us working in golf. It is impossible to evaluate his contribution to the game," said Cannon.

"For me, apart from Seve and Greg Norman, he is my ultimate 'subject.' Every single day I go out to follow him, like Seve and Greg, he makes a picture wherever or whatever he is doing on the course at the time.

"This moment summed up the week at Carnoustie where the rough was the fiercest I have ever seen, and Tiger found plenty of it."
David Cannon/Gety Images
A pumped-up Tiger Woods holes a crucial putt during the 2000 U.S. PGA Championship playoff against Bob May at Valhalla.

"This picture captured Tiger Woods at his absolute peak," Cannon said.

"I never get tired of seeing Tiger will the ball into the hole, and this picture captures the way he almost appears to tell his ball what to do."
David Cannon/Getty Images