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Top 10 Golfers of All-Time

Who are the best golfers of all time? Who are the best golfers of all time?

With Tiger Woods in the news lately for all the wrong reasons, golf fans long for a simpler time, when golf was a gentleman’s sport without the hype and pitfalls of 21st century media.  No matter what you think of the modern game, Phil Mickelson, Jim Furyk, Ernie Els are among the best to ever step on a course. But how many active players are good enough to make the Rosebud list of the Top 10 Golfers of All Time?

Here’s a look at the best of the best.

Sarazen dominated golf in the '20s and '30sSarazen dominated golf in the '20s and '30s10. Gene Sarazen – We’re going way back to kick off the list. Sarazen was dominating golf courses back in the ‘20s and ‘30s, but he accomplished then what only four golfers since have been able to – capture the Career Grand Slam by winning all the majors in his career. Those were the Masters (1935); the U.S. Open (1922, 1932); the British Open (1932); and the PGA Championship (1922, 1923, and 1933).

That’s a total of seven majors. Only six players in history have won more.

Hagen was the man nearly 100 years agoHagen was the man nearly 100 years ago9. Walter Hagen – We’re going even further back for #9, but Hagen, who won his first major in 1914, has to be in any conversation about the greatest golfer of all time. His 11 major championship wins is the third most of all time.

Hagen is an important sports figure for another reason – money.

Long before athletes were among the richest figures in society, Hagen was making pro sports a big time source of revenue. He is thought by many to be the first athlete to earn a million dollars in his sporting career.

The ageless Watson is still a factor nearly 40 years after turning pro The ageless Watson is still a factor nearly 40 years after turning pro 8. Tom Watson – Watson sits 10th on the all-time list with 39 PGA Tour wins. He also racked up eight majors, including five British Open championships between 1975 and 1983.

While those are astonishing accomplishments, his second place finish at the 2009 British Open after losing in a playoff is just as spectacular given that he was just shy of his 60th birthday at the time.

Snead has won more PGA Tour events than anyone elseSnead has won more PGA Tour events than anyone else7. Sam Snead – Snead had an illustrious 45-year career spanning from 1934 to 1979. In that time, he notched 82 PGA Tour victories, the most of all time. That in itself is a very good argument to place him higher on this list. But the ghost haunting Snead’s career is his failure to win the U.S. Open.

Snead won majors events seven other times, and finished second in the U.S. Open four different times, but never completed the Career Grand Slam.

Player was clutch, playing his best golf in majors Player was clutch, playing his best golf in majors 6. Gary Player – The lone non-American to make this list, South Africa’s Gary Player has had a career somewhat the inverse of Sam Snead’s. Whereas Snead racked up a ton of tour wins, but sometimes fell short when it counted most, nine of Player’s 25 tour wins were majors.

Consequently, Player sits relatively low on the all-time wins list, but is tied for fourth most major championships of all-time. Player also became one of the five golfers to have completed the Career Grand Slam when he won the U.S. Open in 1965.

Nelson's early retirement kept him from setting earth-shattering recordsNelson's early retirement kept him from setting earth-shattering records5. Byron Nelson – Nelson may not have the numbers of some of the other golfers on this list, but that is due only to the fact that he retired at age 34, after just 14 years playing pro. In that time, he earned 52 PGA Tour wins, which currently makes him sixth on the all-time list.

He won five majors in his short career - the Masters in 1937 and 1942, the U.S. Open in 1939, and then the PGA Championship in 1940 and 1945, with only the British Open eluding him.

Most amazing of all, however, was his winning 11 consecutive tournaments in 1945. He finished with 18 wins that year. Had he not become a rancher in just about the prime of his career, Nelson would surely have delivered even more eye-popping numbers.

Palmer popularized golf at the dawn of the TV eraPalmer popularized golf at the dawn of the TV era4. Arnold Palmer – One of golf’s most popular and enduring figures, Palmer is almost single-handedly responsible for the commercialization of the game. When the TV era hit for golf in the ‘50s, Palmer was the sport’s biggest star.

Palmer has also got the stats to back up his personality. He’s a big name for a reason, namely his 62 PGA Tour wins, which places him fifth on the all-time list, and his seven majors. The one strike against Palmer was his inability to complete the Career Grand Slam, finishing second in the PGA Championship in 1964, 1968, and finally in 1970, but never winning.

Hogan was the greatest strategist and technician in golf historyHogan was the greatest strategist and technician in golf history3. Ben Hogan – Maybe the only name more legendary that Arnold Palmer is Ben Hogan. Hogan’s accomplishments are too many to name here, and in fact, entire books and films have been dedicated to his legacy.

However, even a quick overview reveals a superb golfer. Hogan won nine majors and is one of the hyper-elite to have completed the Career Grand Slam. In 1953, Hogan won the first three majors of the year – the Masters, the U.S. Open, and the British Open – a feat that came to be known as “the Hogan Slam.”

Those were the last major championships of Hogan’s career, and came after a near fatal head-on car crash into a Greyhound bus. The accident left Hogan with injuries that affected his ability to compete, yet he had some of his best years after the crash.

Hogan’s career is a tale of perseverance - it took 10 years of playing pro before he won his first tournament. A meticulous strategist, Hogan also contributed much to the development of the technical side of the game.

The biggest name in golf today, Woods will soon be #1 on any list of all-time greatsThe biggest name in golf today, Woods will soon be #1 on any list of all-time greats2. Tiger Woods – It’s really just a matter of time until Woods is the undisputed number one on any list like this. His accomplishments on the course are immense.

Woods is third all-time in tour wins with 71 and second all-time in major championships with 14 (which includes the Career Grand Slam). But there are two facts more astonishing than those: 1. He’s only 34 years old and so has a ton of golf ahead of him. 2. He’s still improving his game.

Woods’ recent personal problems sidelined him from competition momentarily. How he recovers from the hit to his public persona has yet to be determined, but given what we’ve seen from Tiger so far, it’s a fair bet that he will land enough victories to make him the winningest golfer in history.

You can't argue with the Golden Bear's numbersYou can't argue with the Golden Bear's numbers1. Jack Nicklaus – It may be a matter of time until Woods takes over top spot on this list, but for now, “the Golden Bear” has a solid grip on #1.

The numbers speak for themselves. Nicklaus has won more majors than any golfer in history. He won the first of his 18 majors at the 1962 U.S. Open after playing pro for less than a year. It was his first professional win of any kind.

He completed the Career Grand Slam by winning the 1966 British Open, and then went on to win 12 more majors.

His last major championship came at Augusta in 1986 when he won the Masters, over 24 years after his first majors win. That’s an incredible feat by any standard.

Nicklaus won 73 total PGA Tour events, the second most of all-time. But more than that it was his ability to step up on the grand stage that makes him so special. In his quarter-century of majors appearances ending in 1986 he finished in the top five 54 out of 100 times.

He was also the first player and one of only two golfers in history to complete a Triple Career Grand Slam (Tiger Woods is the other to have completed the triple career slam).

The list of accomplishments goes on and on, but suffice to say that even Tiger Woods has a ways yet to go before he overtakes Jack Nicklaus as the greatest golfer ever to pick up a club.

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Last modified on Tuesday, 14 June 2011 08:36

Happy is a regular contributor to RosebudMag.com and has written for various other publications, including Black Belt, Inside Hockey, and FoxSports.com. He transitioned to life as a writer following a decade-long career as a touring musician. He lives with his son in Vancouver, British Columbia

Website: www.rosebudmag.com/hkreter

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