The Greatest Golfers Of All Time

Steve Murray
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Wednesday - August 16, 2006
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After 10 years on the PGA tour and an amazing 50 wins in only 196 events, Tiger Woods can now be added to any discussion of the greatest golfers of all time. Many will argue that he may have entered into this group in 2001 when he held all four majors at the same time and the world was introduced to the ridiculous “Tiger Slam.” Not that his accomplishment was anything short of historic, it’s just the tag put on it was stupid. No one brings up the “Bobby Slam” in reference to Bobby Jones winning all four majors in 1930 and thankfully, Phil took it upon himself to save us from the “Mickelslam.”

Where exactly Woods belongs is difficult to determine. He’s won 25 percent of the tournaments he’s played in and 28 percent of the majors. Pretty impressive, but he has plenty of company.

Tiger can’t be No. 1. That belongs to Jack and will for some time. Even though Tiger has done more than had Nicklaus at the same stage of their careers, The Golden Bear is still the standard-bearer with 18 majors including six alone at the Masters. He has also tallied 19 second-place and nine third-place finishes in majors. His 73 wins is second all time.

What about the other legends of the game?

There is no question that Byron Nelson had the single greatest season in PGA history. In 1945 he logged 18 victories including an amazing 11 in a row. It seems safe to say the competition may have been less because of World War II, but his record 19 consecutive rounds in the ‘60s proves his skills were without question. He won five majors before retiring at the age of 34, and had set a record with 113 consecutive cuts made. Tiger topped that by collecting a check in 142 straight, but things have changed over the years. During Nelson’s time, tournaments paid only the top 20 finishers. If we use the same standard today, Tiger’s consecutive cut total would be 21.

Sam Snead, who along with Nelson and Ben Hogan, is a part of what may be golf’s greatest threesome. Snead leads everyone with 82 wins while finishing with 358 top 10 finishes. He also won about 70 international tournaments. Whereas some athletes burn bright for a time before succumbing to age or competition, Snead soldiered on. In 1965, at the age of 52, he became the oldest person to win on tour with his victory at the Greater Greensboro Open. He wasn’t finished. Twelve years later he shot a 66 at the Quad Cities Open. Snead won seven majors and was known for such wisdom as, “Keep close count of your nickels and dimes, stay away from whiskey, and never concede a putt.”

Ben Hogan was born within six months of his two friends and competitors and is still considered one of golf’s best ball strikers. Hitting it like Hogan remains testament to a great shot making. In 1953 he won five of the first six tournaments he entered and the first three majors. He finished with nine majors and 64 career wins and, if not for World War II and his near-fatal car crash in 1949, his numbers would be greater. Even though his doctors told him he would never walk following the accident, 11 months later Hogan finished second in the Los Angeles Open. Six months later he won his second U.S. Open following an 18-hole playoff.

There may never have been a more popular golfer than Arnold Palmer. His game wasn’t bad either. Seven majors victories and 62 total he completely dominated the early ‘60s with 29 victories in four years. For all Palmer has done on the course, it is what he has done beyond hitting the ball that makes him special. Who can forget Arnie’s Army? This son of a groundskeeper made huge galleries common is perhaps more responsible than anyone for the explosive popularity of the sport and the huge checks given out each week.

When Walter Hagen was plying his trade, golf was the domain of amateurs, and pros were looked upon as classless intruders. He changed that. In addition to his 11 victories in majors and 44 total, Hagen led the change that made professional golf a respectable occupation through his personal style and great play. And he was a huge star, who could command appearance fees of $100,000 and became the first athlete to earn $1 million.

And then there is Bobby Jones. Jones won his first tournament at the age of 6 and the U.S. Amateur at 14. As the majors were counted at the time (U.S. Open, British Open, U.S. Amateur and British Amateur), Jones won 13 of the 20 he entered. He retired at the age of 28 after being one of the most influential athletes of the 1920s along with Babe Ruth, Jack Dempsey, Red Grange and Bill Tilden. He co-designed the Augusta National Golf Course, was a founder of the Masters, his name graces the USGA’s award for sportsmanship and golfers the world over still speak of him reverence.

Put Tiger where you want. He’s got plenty of company, and that won’t change no matter where he finishes. But just for the sake of argument, let’s give it a try.

1) Jack 2) Snead 3) Hogan 4) Woods 5) Nelson 6) Jones 7) Palmer 8) Hagen. We’ll have to revisit this when he gets victory 83 and his 19th major.

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