The Ten Greatest Golfers of All Time
My list of the ten greatest golfers of all time is certain to stir up debate, and you are more than welcome to offer your opinion on the matter.
- Golf - the world's greatest individual sport
- Phil Mickelson, No. 10
- Gary Player, No. 9
- Byron Nelson, No. 8
- Arnold Palmer, No. 7
- Tom Watson, No. 6
- Sam Snead, No. 5
- Ben Hogan, No. 4
- Bobby Jones, No. 3
- Tiger Woods, No. 2
- Jack Nicklaus, No. 1
- Every top ten list is arbitrary
Golf - the world's greatest individual sport
Winston Churchill had no understanding of golf. In fact he was contemptuous of the sport, saying it was a game where you chased "this little ball around with instruments ill-suited to the purpose." But golf is the most wonderful game. It requires so much of us - patience, concentration, focus, emotional control. It gives and it takes. There are lucky bounces and disastrous ones. You're up, sometimes way up, and just as suddenly you're down, sometimes way down. Golf is a metaphor for life. And if you can stand over a twelve foot putt which if you make it will win the Masters, the United States Open or the British Open, and you drain the ball into the bottom of the cup, you will attain golf immortality at that very instant.
What follows is my list of the ten greatest male golfers ever to play the game, men who had that rare gift of being able, time and again while under great pressure, to execute one remarkable golf shot after another and win major championships in the process.
Phil Mickelson, No. 10
Phil will drive you crazy because he plays golf like a riverboat gambler, sometimes making decisions that end up costing him dearly, like what he did on the final hole of the 2007 United States Open at Winged Foot Country Club. Leading the tournament by two strokes and needing only bogey to win, he pulled out his driver instead of the safer club - a three wood - and hit the ball into the woods, where he scrambled to a double-bogey and lost the tournament. "What were you thinking of?" they asked him later, to which he replied "I was an idiot!"
Yet Phil has won three majors and a total of forty-one tournaments in twenty years on the tour. That's averaging two wins for every year he's been out there. That's awfully steady work performed at a very high level. Phil has shots in his repertoire that the rest of us can only dream of. His short game around the greens is, with the possible exception of Seve Ballesteros, the most creative we've ever seen.
Gary Player, No. 9
Gary Player owns ten major championship trophies, including three British Open and three Masters wins. He won the South African Open thirteen times, and he has won tournaments all over the world. In the United States alone he won 21 PGA titles. He more than held his own against his fierce rivals Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus when they were all in their prime. He introduced physical fitness into the world of golf by maintaining a strict dietary and exercise regimen, and his passion for fitness kept him winning on the Senior PGA Tour until he was well into his sixties.
Byron Nelson, No. 8
Lord Byron, as he was known to millions, was the face of golf, along with Gene Sarazen, in the late 1930's through the mid-forties. Byron Nelson is widely regarded as the greatest gentleman the game has ever seen. Ken Venturi relates the story that Nelson cautioned him that "when you go to a country club to play an exhibition, find out if the club pro holds the course record there, and if he does, do not break it." Nelson won an incredible eleven straight tournaments on the PGA Tour in 1944, a record that will never again be approached. let alone broken.
Arnold Palmer, No. 7
Between 1960 and 1963, Arnold Palmer won 29 PGA Tour championships, an average of more than seven a year. He won the Masters four times, the U. S. Open once, coming form eight strokes back on the final day, and the British open twice. Palmer wore his emotions on his sleeve when he played, and the fans took to him in droves. "Arnie" did more than any man to publicize and popularize golf during the onset of the television age in the 1950's and 60's. His adoring fan's were called "Arnie's Army," and they lived and died with every shot he made or missed.
Tom Watson, No. 6
Tom Watson held the ranking as the number one player in the world from 1978 through 1982. He won eight major championships in his day, including five British opens. He is considered unequivocally the best links style golf course player the world has ever seen. What attests to this fact is that in addition to his six Open Championship titles, he almost won it a seventh time at the age of 60, before losing in as playoff. He has also won the British Senior open three times. His 'duel in the sun' with Jack Nicklaus, on the final day of the Open Championship at Turnbury, where he shot a 65 to Jack's 67, was legendary.
Sam Snead, No. 5
Slammin Sammy Snead, who grew up in the West Virginia hills learning to play golf barefooted, probably possessed the prettiest golf swing ever beheld. Snead won over eighty golf tournaments during his illustrious career, but he never won the big one, the U. S. Open. He still holds the record as the oldest winner of a regular PGA Tour event, a feat he accomplished just shy of his 54th birthday. If a golf swing was ever seen as poetry in motion, it belonged to Sam Snead.
Ben Hogan, No. 4
Ben Hogan, the "Hawk," was the undisputed king of the golf world between 1950 and 1953, a feat he accomplished after being in an automobile accident in 1949 that almost took his life and landed him in hospital for nearly a year. He was told he would never walk again, but Hogan refused to believe that diagnosis and recovered to rejoin the PGA Tour and achieve even greater success than before the accident. He won a total of nine major championships, including the U.S. Open five times. Hogan was legendary for his dogged determination, his concentration and the amzing accuracy of his shot-making, and his complete silence on the golf course. It was said that the only words he ever uttered to an opponent were "you're away."
Bobby Jones, No. 3
Bobby Jones was the man who singlehandedly popularized the game of golf in America in the 1920's, and who remained an amateur throughout his illustrious career. His greatest feat was accomplished in 1928, when he won what was then considered the 'grand slam' of golf, the U.S. and British Opens, and the U.S. and British Amateur championships all in the same year. When he returned from capturing the last of the titles, the British Open, he was given a ticker-tape parade in New York City. He retired after accomplishing that feat, feeling there was nothing left for him to prove in the game of golf. Jones created the magnificent Augusta National course and its Masters tournament. He was the consummate gentleman, both on an off the golf course.
Tiger Woods, No. 2
What can you say about Tiger? Until his marital troubles derailed his game in late 2009, Tiger had won an amazing twenty-five percent of all the tournaments he entered - an unheard of winning pace, year in and year out. His 2000 season was his best, a year when he won the Masters by a record twelve strokes. He topped that of course by winning the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach in 2002 by a whopping 15 shots! He finished that tournament with a score of twelve under par, beating the second place finisher, Ernie Els, who finished with a score of three over par. Tiger was not just the only player in the field to break par - he obliterated it. He has fourteen major championships, second only to Jack Nicklaus' eighteen, a record which Tiger may yet break one day.
Jack Nicklaus, No. 1
Jack Nicklaus, at least until Tiger Woods surpasses the Golden Bear's record of 18 major tournament wins, if he ever does, is firmly ensconced in the position of the greatest golfer who has ever lived. When Jack Nicklaus stood over a six foot put to win a tournament, he never missed. Nicklaus won 73 regular tour events, had 58 second place finishes and 36 third place finishes. He had a total number of 118 wins world wide. Nicklaus won the Vardon Trophy, given to the player with the lowest scoring average for a given year, eight times, and was runner up 6 times. He won eight senior tour majors, as well as two U. S. Amateur titles. Jack Nicklaus is simply the winningest golfer of all time. Not even Tiger comes close. Perhaps Jack's greatest win came at the 1986 Masters, when he was 46 years old. It was his sixth green jacket.
Every top ten list is arbitrary
Your list may differ from mine. I am well aware that some great golfers are not on this list who may very well deserve to be there, men like Walter Hagen, Gene Sarazen, Tommy Armour, Colin Montgomerie, Seve Ballesteros, Billy Casper (who won over sixty times) and more. Readers are welcome to disagree with me and offer their own suggestions.