OPINION: The 10 Greatest Golfers Of All Time
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It is virtually impossible in any sport to choose its finest exponent. Almost inevitably, any discussion that delves into the “greatest” sparks a healthy debate, but such an inventory will always remain subjective. When it comes to golf, we can analyse many different numbers – PGA Tour victories, major championships hauls and winning streaks just immediately spring to mind,
However, there are many other factors that should come into swing – think shot-making ability, consistency, durability and the impact a player has had on a game that is deceptively simple and endlessly complicated.
Here is our countdown to the 10 greatest golfers to ever pick up a club.
- Phil Mickelson
‘Lefty’ is arguably more renowned for his near-misses as he is his 42 successes on the PGA Tour. Mickelson is a six-time runner-up at the U.S. Open – the only one of golf’s big four tournaments to desert him.
Ironically, the 47-year-old had to endure countless setbacks before lifting his first major trophy at the 2004 Masters and it was only last year that Mickelson’s 267 total set a record score for a runner-up in the British Open. As long as he remains active, the American will continue to be a formidable force as he goes in search of a career Grand Slam.
- Tom Watson
One of the greatest links players of all time and a real stalwart of the game. Watson won eight majors and dominated golf’s oldest tournament, tasting glory at the British Open on no less than five occasions.
Watson is also noted for his longevity – at nearly sixty years of age, and 26 years after his last major championship, the American was an eight-foot par putt away from claiming an improbable victory at Turnberry in 2009. Watson enjoyed many epic battles with his arch-rival Jack Nicklaus, but their respectful competitiveness only served to increase golf’s popularity at the time.
- Byron Nelson
Nelson is fondly remembered for his remarkable 1945 season which is widely regarded as the greatest single year by a player on the PGA Tour. The American steamrolled his way to 18 tournament victories from a possible 35, which included a stunning sequence of 11 on the spin. On the other 17 occasions he failed to pick up the top prize, the five-time major champion still managed to finish runner-up seven times.
- Gene Sarazen
The first member of the career grand slam club, Sarazen was one of golf’s leading stars in the 1920’s and 1930’s. A winner of seven major titles and blessed with tremendous power, ‘The Squire’ is also widely credited with the invention of the sand wedge – this essential component can be found today in the bags of all serious golfers.
- Sam Snead
Like Mickelson, “Slammin Sammy” was cursed by the U.S. Open – the only major to elude him in which he agonisingly finished in second place four times. A winner of a record 82 PGA Tour events and able to post victories in four different decades, Snead’s flowing textbook swing was a work of art and remains the benchmark for what many consider to be the “perfect golf swing”.
A treasured ambassador for the game, Snead was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1974 and five years he offered enthusiasts one final glimpse of his genius, as he became the first player to score below his age, shooting 67 and 66 in the Quad Cities Open at the age of 67.
- Gary Player
The South African won 165 tournaments on six continents over six decades and is the only non-American to have lifted all four majors. Player was golf’s first great international ambassador and made up for his diminutive figure in ferocity, intensity and will to win as demonstrated in his final-round 64 to win the 1978 Masters – to this day it remains the greatest final-round Masters performance in history.
The man known as the Black Knight is also a prolific golf course architect with more than 325 design projects on five continents throughout the world.
- Arnold Palmer
The flamboyant and charismatic American was the catalyst behind changing people’s perception of golf from an elite, upper-class pursuit into a dynamic sport for all. His swashbuckling style was far from elegant, but he would always generate excitement and win or lose, no other athlete could get close to his level of watchability.
Palmer won all of his seven majors in just a six-year period with the ‘Palmer charge’ became the stuff of legend – most notably his final round 65 in the US Open of 1960 when he erased a seven-stroke deficit for the greatest comeback in the tournament’s history.
- Ben Hogan
A legendary ball-striker, master student and tactician of the game who battled back from a horrific, near-fatal car collision in 1949 to rewrite the record books.
Four years on, Hogan won five of the six tournaments he entered and became the first golfer to win as many as three majors in one year and was only unable to try for the calendar-year grand slam because the dates of the Open Championship and the PGA Championship overlapped that year. His victory in the former saw him add his name to the elite career grand slam club and proved to be the last of his nine major titles.
- Tiger Woods
Such has been his well-documented personal struggles and health ailments; it is easy to forget that Tiger Woods was once a force of nature in the world of golf.
‘Tiger’ announced his arrival in record-breaking fashion at his first ever Masters event in 1997, storming to his first of 14 major titles with a tournament-record 18-under par total. Woods even had a-boggling 12-shot margin of victory and to put his startling performance into perspective, runner-up Tom Kite’s 282 total would have been good enough to win 17 previous Masters.
Woods changed the sport by bringing it to the masses and giving it an “athletic” image like never before. On top of this, he is only the second golfer to have achieved a career Grand Slam three times – it appeared inevitable that he would break Nicklaus’s record after winning his last major at the 2008 U.S. Open. However, such a feat now seems beyond impossible.
Despite his overwhelming success, the 41-year-old’s career looks set to be regretful tale of what might have been.
- Jack Nicklaus
A living legend who not only sustained his own levels of excellence, but brought out the greatest in all of his opponents. The Golden Bear was a colossus in golf’s major championships, winning a record 18 of them as well as fabricating 19 second-place and nine third-place finishes over a span of 25 years.
His mental toughness and course guile enabled him to become the oldest Masters champion in 1986 at the seasoned age of 46 – it remains one of the sport’s most memorable moments.
Golf has never had a greater champion than the man who continues to shape the game with his prolific golf course design company. Boasting such formidable numbers (surpassing the combined total of his great rivals – Palmer and Player), Nicklaus is unquestionably the greatest golfer of all-time.
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