The five greatest golfers in history
It is a game wrought with tradition and customs. To the layman, Golf is a slow-moving and yawn-inducing activity. For the enthusiasts, however, it is the ultimate test of sporting mettle.
Being one of the purely individual sports, and one with a long history, golf champions have been held in high regard in sporting circles. While making this list, I considered multiple factors such as majors won, competition, impact, legacy and more. Here is my list of the greatest Golf legends of all time:
‘The Golden Bear’ stands head and shoulders above golfers when it comes to greatness. Nicklaus’ 18 majors is a record that still stands and the closest to that number is Tiger Woods with 14.
Nicklaus turned pro in 1961 at the age of 21 and a year later won his first major at the US Open in dramatic fashion by beating Arnold Palmer by three shots in an 18-hole playoff. Nicklaus did not look back after that and began a dominance of the sport, winning three of the majors at least once by 1963. In 1966, Nicklaus completed a career grand-slam, winning the Open Championship. He completed a career grand slam three times in his playing time. A feat that was considered unprecedented for the time.
Tiger Woods, without a doubt, is the most famous golfer of all-time and the biggest star that the sport has given to the world.
With 14 Majors, Woods is second on the list of golfers with most majors won. He turned pro in 1996 at the age of 20 and like Nicklaus, won his first major a year later. As a rookie, he won the PGA Tour Rookie of the Year. His first major was the Augusta Masters in 1997 followed by the PGA Championship in the year, 1999. By the year 2000, Woods had won five Majors and completed a career Grand Slam. Then 24, Woods became the youngest golfer to complete a career Grand Slam.
In addition to his exploits at the majors, Woods has also carved an impeccable record on the PGA Tour. His 79 titles on the PGA Tour are second only to Sam Snead’s 82. Woods has also won 40 titles on the European Tour, which is good for 3rd all-time.
Woods has, for the most part, been the face of professional golf in the 21st century and unsurprisingly, is also the highest earner in the history of the sport. In 2010, Woods had become the first billionaire in the sport of golf.
Despite facing a slump in recent years after his well-publicized divorce, Woods seems to be back on the up. Woods’ golfing story is not complete yet.
The TV boom in the 1950s meant that golf needed a bankable star that would draw scores of people to watch.
Up stepped the everyman, Arnold Palmer, to crown himself ‘The King’.
Palmer’s humble beginnings opened up the game as accessible to the middle and working classes and this contributed in an upsurge of popularity for the sport.
Along with Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player, Palmer was one of the three biggest stars of the sport in the 1960s and he went on to amass a whole host of honours.
Despite never winning the US PGA Championship, Palmer still collected seven Majors which places him seventh on the list of most Majors won in Golf.Incredibly, Palmer won all of these in a span of just nine years. His haul of 62 titles on the PGA tour is good for fifth all-time.
Palmer’s legacy as a golfer and his social contributions to the sport are unrivalled. His biggest legacy, however, is that one of the most popular drinks of all time (containing a mix of iced tea and lemonade) is named after him.
The King passed away in 2016 and tributes were paid to him by figures from Golf and all walks of life, including then US President, Barack Obama.
From Nicklaus, we move on to one of his contemporaries, Gary Player.
Hailing from South Africa, Player was one of the breakout stars of the sport in the 1960s and helped popularize the sport in the US and Europe.
Player is one of the five golfers to win complete a career Grand Slam in Golf. He did so in the year 1965 when he won his first and only US Open. Player’s best performances came at the Augusta Masters and the Open Championship, where he won three titles each. At the US PGA Championship, Player won two times and his overall trophy case of nine Majors places him on fourth for most Majors won.
After retiring from active participation, Player has still been influential in the world of Golf as a course-designer. For his sporting excellence, Player was also named the “Sportsman of the Century” in South Africa in 2000.
“Slammin Sammy” was nicknamed thus because of his near-perfect swing. A weapon that would help him dominate the game for a good four decades.
Snead won his first tournament, the West Virginia Closed Pro, in 1936 and there was no looking back for the man from Virginia. He won title after title on the tour and his record of 82 PGA Tour titles still stands as a record to this date.
In the Majors, Snead was able to bag seven, putting him on par with Arnold Palmer. His first Major was the US PGA Championship in 1942 and won the tournament thrice. He also won the Augusta Masters thrice in his career along with a single win the Open Championship. Snead missed out on a career grand slam by the whisker as he finished second on four different occasions in the US Open.
Before Sam Snead’s dominance in the sport, Walter Hagen was the bonafide great of Golf.
His record still speaks volumes, especially considering the Augusta Masters was established years after his peak. Despite this, Hagen’s tally of 11 Majors is third-most in Golf history.
Known for his assertive nature and stylish demeanor, Hagen’s influence was also felt by his trailblazing attitude during an era in which there was a stark difference between amatuer and professional golfers.
Hagen’s favorite hunting ground was the US PGA Championship, where he won five titles (tied for most with Jack Nicklaus). Along with that, Hagen also won the Open Championship four times and the US Open two times.
As per some analysts, Hagen should be credited with more Majors as during his playing days, the Augusta Masters was not established and Hagen won the Western Open (which is close to today’s definition of a major) five times. The opinion notwithstanding, Hagen’s body of work and accomplishments have stood the test of time in the golfing world.