15 Greatest Golf Players of All Time

1. Jack Nicklaus

Ack Jack Nicklaus is considered by many to be the greatest golfer of all time. In fact, it's hard to talk about Jack Nicklaus without thinking about Tiger Woods. They are easily the two finest golfers of our time. Although Tiger Woods continues to be inspirational, ack Nicklaus' greatness can't be denied.

Nicklaus holds the major championship record with 18 victories. He is remarkable in how he drew the best out of great opponents like Palmer, Player, and Watson.

More significantly, he revolutionized the game of golf with his physical prowess, mental fortitude, and consistency, tackling hard golf courses all around the world. Hogan and Palmer combined cannot beat his record in the major championships.

A staggering 37 top-two finishes in majors! Before we conclude that the tours of the twenty-first century surpass the tours of Nicklaus' heyday, we should keep in mind that Nicklaus defeated many of the game's best players during their prime.

He had a driving range of 10 ft (3 m) or 12 ft (4 m), and his main objective was to get the ball close to the pin so he could show off his various exceptional wedge shots.

With his renowned golf course design firm, Nicklaus has continued to impact the game in his elderly years.

2. Tiger Woods

Eldrick Tont "Tiger" Woods was born on December 30, 1975, in Cypress, California. He is tied for the most PGA Tour victories and ranks second in the men's Major Championships.

Woods has won the PGA Player of the Year title an unprecedented 11 times. From August 1999 to September 2004, he was the world's top-ranked golfer.

He has 15 professional major golf titles and 82 PGA Tour tournaments to his credit. Woods is the fifth (after Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, and Jack Nicklaus) and youngest player to complete the career Grand Slam.

In a televised appearance in 1978, Woods competed against comic Bob Hope. He won the 9-10 boys' event at the Junior World Golf Championships in 1984, when he was just eight years old. 

He won golf's most prestigious and tradition-laden competition, forever changing the game, not to mention his Masters-record 18-under par total in his first Masters as a professional.

We recall his stunning 12-shot winning margin. Many people forget about Tiger Woods' dismal start at the 1997 Masters. Woods fired a 40 on the front nine on Thursday, leaving him at 4-over par.

This is when the stars looked to align and the golf skies opened up. Over the next 63 holes, Woods stormed through Augusta National, toying with the course and embarrassing the world's greatest players. 

Tiger's triumph gave golf its greatest ratings winner to date. The ratings were 9.2 in 1996, before Woods got pro. When Woods won in 1997, the figure jumped to 14.1.

The rest, as they say, is history: 15 majors, 82 PGA Tour victories, the lowest PGA Tour lifetime scoring average, 10 Player of the Year honors, and, yes, scandal and humiliation.

However, the impact and level of achievement are undeniable and unequaled.

3. Ben Hogan

Because of his capacity to control the flight and trajectory of his ball, Ben Hogan was branded "the Hawk." He has won nine majors and participated in more majors than Jack Nicklaus.

When he was at his best, Hogan was 5'7" and weighed 140 pounds. He excelled in his brilliant ability to not only play golf courses, but to study and interpret them as no one else could.

Hogan's life was one long battle. He overcame a terrible car accident in 1949 that nearly took his life. But he never gave up until he suffered a severe stroke after Alzheimer's and colon cancer ravaged his mind and body.

Despite all this, Hogan is one of only five players to have won all four Grand Slam tournaments.

In 1953, he became the first person to win three majors in a single year.

That year he did not participate in the PGA because he knew his legs would not be up to the task. His final major would be the 1953 British Open. The 1971 Houston Champions International was Hogan's last competition.

Ben Hogan was 58, when he went off the course during the tournament due to poor play and a damaged knee.

4. Arnold Palmer

Arnold Palmer won 97 professional events and seven majors over his six-decade career.

Between 1958 and 1964, he won all of his major titles, including four Masters, one US Open, and two British Opens. His charisma altered the perception of golf as an exclusive, upper-class pastime.

Arnold Palmer, along with Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player, is regarded as one of the three founding fathers of golf. Throughout his career, he was able to win 62 PGA Tour events.

This accomplishment ranks him fifth all-time in the PGA lifetime rankings. Arnold Palmer came from 15th place to win his only US Open after hitting six birdies in his first seven holes.

Between 1961 and 1967, his penchant for posting low scoring averages earned him four Vardon Trophies. After winning his fourth Masters tournament in 1964, he also set the record for the second-lowest scoring average.

Outside of golf, he was known as a skilled businessman, and several of his companies are still in operation today.

Palmer was a fascinating personality and the world of golf and sports will miss him. He passed on in 2016 at the age of 87.

5. Gary Player

He is arguably the best non-American golfer in history. He had nine major victories to his name, including three Masters and three Open Championships, at the end of his career.

Born in South Africa, he competed with Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer.

Because he frequently wore all black, he was known as "The Black Knight." Gary Player would be ranked higher if professional wins on all tours were counted.

Player has won tournaments on every continent except one, the Antarctica. He has won nine majors (1959 British Open, 1961 Masters, 1962 PGA Championship, 1965 U.S. Open, 1968 British Open).

He won these major championships between the ages of 23 and 42, and he never won more than three events in a calendar year.

That ties him with Ben Hogan for the fourth-most PGA victories in history.

Player is one of only five players to have won a career Grand Slam, and the first to do so in his first four attempts.

He is also one of only three players to win several majors at the same time. Only Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, and Lee Trevino won more majors during Player's prime. 

6. Sam Snead

Sam Snead holds the all-time record for PGA Tour victories. There are three basic reasons Snead failed to win more than seven majors.

First, he only played the British Open five times, but he played the Masters 44 times. Because of "contractual links to a sponsor," Snead won the 1946 British Open.

Second, Snead passed up numerous major championship possibilities because he played his greatest golf from the ages of 28 to 33.

Tiger Woods won six majors between those ages, and Jack Nicklaus won five.

Third, World War II played a significant role in Snead's lack of success, as 14 majors were canceled between 1940 and 1945.

Snead won at least six races in six separate years, the highest being his 11-win season in 1950. Snead had 12 top-10 performances and was runner-up four times at the US Open, but that major was his white whale.

Snead is the oldest PGA Tour winner, having won the Greater Greensboro Open in 1965 at the age of 52. In 1972, 1973, and 1974, Snead finished in the top ten at the PGA Championship.

7. Tom Watson

Watson was one of the most dominant players in the world from 1970-1980, winning eight majors.

This Kansas bred golfer never finished the season better than second in the PGA Championship. Watson also climbed the heights of golf thanks to his mentor Byron Nelson.

Tom Watson dominated the British Open. He won that event five times in a span of nine years from 1975-83. Jack Nicklaus and Peter Thomson are the only other golfers since 1930 to win the same individual major at least five times.

Watson won 39 times on the PGA Tour, including twice at the Masters and once at the U.S. Open.

He is one of only two players to finish in the top 10 at each of the four majors. Watson's peak was between 1977 and 1984, which is shorter than most of the greats' peaks.

He was named PGA Player of the Year six times (1977, 1978, 1979, 1980, 1982, and 1984), but he didn't win much outside of that time frame. 

 In 2007, Tom Watson started a partnership with a casino group. He also made bets with his friends on golf, which is a popular activity among golfers.

As a result, they ended up owing him some actual money due to his successes in one of the tournaments.

8. Byron Nelson


Nelson's most notable victories came in 1944 and 1945, when he won the PGA and PGA Majors. Between 1943 and 1945, he won 14 major championships, including the 1944 and 1945 PGA Championships.

Nelson was the runner-up in 1944 and the winner in 1945. Nelson would have won three of them and finished fifth or better in nine of them if the other 14 majors had not been canceled due to World War II. From 1937 to 1951, he finished in the top eight in every year the Masters was held.

Despite retiring from professional golf at the age of 34 in 1946, he continued to excel at the Masters until he was 40.

He only won twice, but he finished in the top eight in each of the 12 tournaments from 1937 to 1950. Between 1937 and 1951, Nelson competed in 29 majors, finishing eighth or better in 26 of them, including six second-place finishes.

9. Bobby Jones

Bobby Jones was England's finest sportsman from 1923 to 1930, winning everything in sight, including the Triple Crown.

No other sports icon achieved more in a shorter span of time, and no other sports legend retired from competitive golf at such a young age.

Jones won the US Open in an 18-hole playoff in 1923, and he went on to win 12 more majors before retiring.

Before Jack Nicklaus, his record of 13 major championships stood for 40 years.

Jones was a 14-year-old golf prodigy who didn't find his game until he was 20.

He won the British Open by two strokes, followed by the US Open and the British Open by a similar margin.

His path to the Slam was almost cut short when he lost three one-up matches in the British Amateur.

Jones was a regular at Augusta each spring, but his game was limited to friendly competitions.

He was confined to a wheelchair in his final years due to Syringomyelia, a painful and disabling disease.

"As a young guy, he was able to stand up to just about the greatest," wrote famed golf writer Herbert Warren Wind.

10. Severiano Ballesteros

We admire Seve Ballesteros because we could relate to him. We were frequently striking from the woods, bunkers, and parking lots, just like he was.

He did it with such ease and style that it was impossible not to respect and envy him.

The 37-year-old started his career striking rocks off the coast of Spain with a homemade 3-iron and is currently having success at Royal Troon.

In 1979, 1984, and 1988, he won the Claret Jug, Royal Lytham and St Annes, and St Andrews. His victory at Hoylake in 1988 included one of the greatest final rounds in golf history.

In 1986, Spanish golfer Ballesteros won the Vardon Trophy for the lowest scoring average on the European Tour. On his way to 65 world titles, he won five majors and three British Opens.

Seve Ballesteros, Europe's Arnold Palmer, carried a sport on his back and sold it to an entire continent. He almost single-handedly elevated the Ryder Cup from a low-key, American-dominated series of exhibitions to one of sports' greatest spectacles.

He was the spark that ignited the European team against a heavily favored American team as a non-playing captain. Without firing a single shot, he willed his side to a historic victory.

11. Gene Sarazen

At the age of 19, Gene Sarazen won his first professional title. There was no turning back after that.

He went on to win additional races in his career. Sarazen is widely credited with inventing the popular "sand wedge" shot.

This is the shot that launched his career, because it was completely different from the way people played golf at the time. 

On the par-5 15th hole at Augusta National Golf Club, he hit his tee shot from 220 yards away from the fairway.

He was three strokes behind going into the final round of his first Masters. He won the masters in 1935 solidifying his position as a golfer in history. Sarazen hit a double eagle to force a playoff with Wood, which he won.

Bobby Jones' Augusta gathering would never be the same again. After 66 years, just four other players have joined that exclusive club.

12. Phil Mickelson

Since being branded "the next Jack Nicklaus," Phil Mickelson has faced great expectations.

He has 45 PGA Tour victories, which ties him for eighth all-time, and six major titles, including three Masters.

Phil Mickelson became the oldest major winner in history at the age of 50 years, 11 months, and seven days.

The American had not won a major since 2013, over eight years ago, but he had come close in 2015 and 2017, as runner-up at the British Open.

Phil Mickelson's 66 at the 2013 British Open is one of the best rounds in major championship history, propelling Phil the Thrill into our top ten.

Phil Mickelson won the 2018 Open Championship at Carnoustie with a remarkable five-under-par 66, ending his major championship drought. In addition, he holds a record six US Open runner-up finishes. 

As long as Mickleson competes in the US Open, he has a chance to complete a career Grand Slam, which would be an extraordinary achievement for a player who had to endure numerous painful setbacks just to win his first major.

But, as he demonstrated at Kiawah, Phil can do anything.

13. Lee Buck Trevinio

Trevino was born on December 1, 1939, near Dallas, Texas, U.S., and became a professional golfer in the 1960s.

Trevino, a man of Mexican-American ancestry, attended grade school, joined the U.S. Marine Corps, and worked odd jobs and as an assistant pro at golf facilities in his home state of Texas.

He unexpectedly finished fifth in the 1967 U.S. Open. He won the British Open (Open Championship) in 1971 and 1972, in addition to that competition in 1968 and 1971.

Trevino was the first golfer to win the U.S., British, and Canadian Opens in the same calendar year, becoming the all-time leader in prize money won in 1970.

Lee Trevino, a former PGA champion, was struck by lightning and sustained back and arm wounds.

In 1982, he underwent additional surgery as his ongoing back issues severely limited his ability to play. He made a comeback to win the PGA Championship and the British Masters in 1984.

14. Louise Mae Suggs

Suggs was one of four women's golfers that dominated the United States in the 1950s. She was dubbed "the female Ben Hogan" because to her clean swing and club-head speed. After a sobering round, Bob Hope nicknamed her "Miss Sluggs."

 Suggs won fifty LPGA tournaments as a professional, including eight major championships. She won the US Open in 1949 with a 291 total, winning by 14 shots.

She became the first player in history to complete a career Grand Slam of four major titles. In 1957, Suggs received the Vare Trophy as the LPGA player with the lowest scoring average.

She was deadly accurate with her six, seven, or eight irons on the short approach. Her athleticism enabled her to improve her club-head speed by delaying her release.

Louise Suggs insisted that women's golf abilities were on par with the top male players. In 1961, she triumphed over men's champion Sam Snead. She played competitively into the 1980s after retiring from the LPGA circuit in 1962.

15. Kathrynne Anne Whitworth

Kathy Whitworth still lives in North Texas and participates in a variety of golf events. She is an ambassador for the LPGA's Volunteers of America tournament at Old American Golf Club in The Colony and her junior events at Mira Vista Country Club in Fort Worth.

Kathy Whitworth is the most successful female golfer of all time, with 88 victories and an incredible 95 runner-up finishes.

She was the first captain of the women's Solheim Cup squad and has staged her own extremely successful junior competition. Whitworth will be a regular presence at this year's VOA Classic in Fort Worth, Texas.

In 1962, Kathy Whitworth won the first of her 88 professional titles. She won six major titles and was voted LPGA Player of the Year seven times. Kathy Whitworth's Little Book of Golf Wisdom is the title of her book.

Whitworth discusses why Asian woman dominate golf and her favorite aspect of attending professional events.

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