Golf is such a tricky sport to play and picking the best golf players of all-time is just as knotty.
When it comes to listing the top golfers of all-time, there are a lot of factors to consider like PGA Tour victories, world rankings, longevity and of course, Major tournaments won. Now to pick the best of the best, one can’t just look at one aspect of a golfer. Like in any other sport, the greatest of all-time must have the most significant overall impact in the game.
Having said that, here are our Top 10 golfers of all-time
10. Byron Nelson
Who could forget Byron Nelson’s incredible year in 1945? The man known as Lord Byron won 11 consecutive tournaments that year and finished 1945 with 18 victories in 35 total tournaments. As if that wasn’t good enough, Nelson placed 2nd in seven of the 17 tournaments he didn’t win. Nelson won the only Major played that year- The PGA Championships as the other three were unplayed due to World War 2. But 1945 isn’t the only reason why Nelson makes our list.
After winning the Masters in 1937 and 1942, , Nelson placed in the Top 10 of the Masters tournament six times from 1947-1955. Nelson had a total of 52 career PGA Tour victories and he won 5 Majors. He retired early, at the age of 34, to become a rancher. He later lent his name to the HP Byron Nelson Championship, which is the first PGA Tour event to be named after a professional golfer.
The United States Golf Association gave Nelson the Bob Jones Award in 1974, the highest honor recognizing distinguished sportsmanship in golf. Nelson received the Old Tom Morris Award from the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America in 1994. In 1997, he also became the second recipient of the PGA Lifetime Achievement Award.
9. Tom Watson
Here’s one golfer whose longevity is second to none. Tom Watson placed second to Stewart Cink in the 2009 Open Championships 34 years after he won the 1975 Open Championships via an 18-hole playoff. At 34 years and 6 days, that is a record for the longest time span lapsed between first and last playoffs in the PGA Tour. Watson also captained the United States to a win in the 1993 Ryder Cup. He was captain again in 2014 although the American team lost.
Watson was one of the top players of the 70’s and 80’s. He won a total of 39 PGA Tour events and 8 Major titles. Five of his Major titles were Open Championships. His 8 Major titles are the 6th most by any golfer in history. His rivalry with Jack Nicklaus increased the popularity of the sport during their time. Watson owns several victories over Nicklaus, the man he displaced as world number one. These include the 1977 Masters, 1977 Open Championships and the 1982 U.S. Open. Watson was the top golfer in the world from 1978 to 1982.
Tom Watson was PGA Player of the Year six times, including four in a row from 1977 to 1980. He was a recipient of the Bob Jones award in 1987 and the Old Tom Morris award in 1992.
8. Gene Sarazen
He is credited for inventing the modern day sand wedge. It was in 1932 at the Open Championships at Prince’s Golf Club when Gene Sarazen first used the club which he called the sand iron. Sarazen won that tournament.
Sarazen was a seven-time Majors winner but his victory at the 1935 Masters stood out. It was there where he hit the ‘shot heard ‘round the world’, a rare double eagle ( only four players have ever achieved that at the Masters ) on the par 5 15th hole in the final round of play. The shot immediately made up for a three shot deficit and helped Sarazen win the tournament, the only Masters win in his resume. Sarazen had the longest endorsement contract ever in the history of professional sports. He was was a Wilson Sports endorser for 73 years or from 1923 up to his death.
At age 71, Sarazen made a hole-in-one at the Open Championships in 1973. He was the recipient of the Bob Jones Award in 1992.
7. Sam Snead
Many consider Sam Snead to be the owner of the ‘perfect golf swing’. Even then, the U.S. Open Tournament eluded him during his illustrious career. Snead finished second in the U.S. Open four times and it was the only Major lacking in his trophy case to make him a Grand Slam winner.
Sam Snead won a record 82 PGA Tour events, including seven Majors. He holds the record for being the Tour’s oldest winner. Snead won the Greater Greensboro Open in 1965 at the age of 52 years, 10 months and 8 days. He is also the oldest player to make the cut at a Major tournament, accomplishing the feat during the 1979 PGA Championship at age 67 years, 2 months and 7 days. Interestingly, Snead is also the first golfer to shoot his age. He made 67 at age 67 during the second round of the Quad Cities Open in 1979.
Snead is the only player to have a Top-10 finish in a Major tournament for five different decades. He was inducted to the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1974 and was the recipient of the PGA Lifetime Achievement Award in 1988.
6. Gary Player
Gary Player’s 24 PGA Tour victories only rank 25th overall. But Player also won a record 82 tournaments in Africa’s Sunshine Tour. Overall, Gary Player has won 165 tournaments in six continents in over six decades of golf. That’s pretty spectacular.
Player won 9 Major tournaments during his career. At the age of 29, he became the first non-American to win all four Majors after winning the 1965 U.S. Open. Nicknamed the Black Knight, Player also has three Senior British Open wins in the European Tour and six Champions Tour victories. He became only the third player to accomplish the Grand Slam after Ben Hogan and Gene Sarazen and only Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods have recorded the feat after Player.
Player is also a prolific author with 36 books written. He has also designed 325 golf courses in five continents. Player was inducted to the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1974.
5. Ben Hogan
1953 was a memorable season for Ben Hogan. Not only did he complete his grand slam with a victory at the 1953 Open Championships, he also won five of six tournaments entered during that year. Three of those were Majors, hence the ‘Triple Crown’ season of 1953 happened. If not for the overlapping schedule of the Open and PGA Championships, Hogan would’ve been able to try a calendar year grand slam.
Hogan owned a total 64 PGA Tour victories which included 9 Major titles. His golf career was put to a halt twice in World War 2 when he served the U.S. Army as utility pilot and when he had a near fatal car accident in 1949 when a Greyhound Bus hit Hogan’s car head on. Doctors were not sure at that time if Hogan would walk again. Instead, he returned to the Tour nine months after the crash and won six majors after the incident.
Ben Hogan was PGA Tour Player of the Year four times and was the AP Male Athlete of the Year in 1953.
4. Arnold Palmer
With his charisma and golf talent, there was never a more endearing golfer than Arnold Palmer. He was recognized as golf’s first television star and rightfully so. Palmer had many epic battles with the likes of Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Billy Casper. Palmer, Nicklaus and Player were called the “Big Three” in golf during the 1960’s. The trio is primarily responsible for popularizing golf all over the world and commercializing it.
Palmer won his first tournament in 1955 and was victorious in the PGA Tour a final time in 1973. In between, he won 7 Major tournaments and a total of 62 PGA Tour wins, which is fifth all-time. What made Palmer’s Majors resume impressive is the fact that he won all his Majors during a six year period of domination.
The King was inducted to the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1974 as one of the 13 original inductees. He was also the recipient of the PGA Lifetime Achievement Award in 1998 after a career that spanned six decades.
3. Bobby Jones
He co-founded the Masters and invented the Grand Slam after winning all-four majors in 1930. That alone puts Robert Tyre Jones Jr. above many great golfers.
Bobby, as he was more known, played in a total of 31 Major tournaments. He placed in the Top 10 in 27 of them and won on 13 instances. Before golf’s modern era, the four majors were the U.S. Amateur, U.S Open, Open Championships and the British Amateur From 1923-1930, nobody was better than Bobby Jones. As an amateur, he would beat the world’s top professional golfers like Gene Sarazen and Walter Hagen.
Jones accomplished all these as an amateur golfer. Yes, Bobby Jones was an amateur golfer as he was a lawyer by profession. He retired from golf at age 28 but made significant money later on as golf instructor and equipment designer. He was among the original inductees to the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1974.
2. Tiger Woods
Easily could’ve been the greatest of all-time. But personal problems and injuries have prevented Tiger Woods from fully reaching his full potential.
Woods has won a total of 14 Majors so far. That’s very impressive, considering that only Jack Nicklaus has more at 18. But when you realize that Tiger hasn’t won one since the 2008 U.S. Open, you’re going to ask what happened? As we said earlier, personal problems and injuries. Let’s put that on the side now and talk about his accomplishments.
Woods was only 20 when he turned pro in the summer of 1996. By April 1997, Tiger had already won three PGA events including the 1997 Masters, his first Major. Woods became world #1 less than a year after turning pro. He was the world’s top ranked golfer from August 1999 to September 2004 ( 264 weeks ) and June 2005 to October 2010 ( 281 weeks ). Combined, his two reigns are the longest ever in golf. Woods also won a record 11 PGA Player of the Year awards. He also led the Tour in money earnings for ten years and has been among the world’s top earning athletes for over a decade. Just imagine if he didn’t have the distractions. Jack Nicklaus’ 18 Majors looked like a matter of time in ‘08. It now looks like mission impossible for Woods.
Regardless, Tiger Woods is one of the greatest ever and #2 in our list.
1. Jack Nicklaus
The Golden Bear is heralded as the Greatest golfer of all-time and we do not disagree with that. Jack Nicklaus won a total of 18 majors during his career. He also had 19 second place finishes and 9 third place trophies in Majors tournaments. His first tournament win as a pro was a major- the 1962 U.S. Open. He won his second consecutive Masters in 1966, becoming the first player to win two in a row. He also won the Open Championship in 1966 to complete the ‘grand slam’. Nicklaus also became the first player to win the ‘grand slam’ twice and later thrice in his career.
Overall, Nicklaus won 73 PGA tour events, the third most in history. In 1986, he won his 18th Major tournament by topping the Masters for a record sixth time in his career. In doing so, he became the oldest player to win the Masters. Nicklaus joined the Senior PGA Tour when he became legible and won 10 tournaments including 8 of their Majors. Really, there’d no need to go on further. There has never been a more dominant golfer than Nicklaus was during his athletic peak.
Nicklaus has designed hundreds of golf courses through Nicklaus Designs, one of the largest business of its kind.
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