Whittling down a list of the five greatest golfers of all time is a feat in and of itself. Therefore, we think we should get a medal just for attempting it! (Maybe a cool, green jacket too.)
We like to think we did a pretty good job in selecting five golfers who did more than win championships. They changed the game of golf for generations to come. Maybe this list will inspire you to quit your well-paying but dead-end job and become a great golfer yourself—hey one guy did it and it kind of worked.
5. Sam Snead
Which is worse: never winning the U.S. Open or coming in second four times? We’re going with the latter. As a consolation, Sam Snead was the man who most considered had “the perfect golf swing” and maintains his status as consecrated “old guy” of the various tours: he’s the oldest winner of the PGA Tour as well as the oldest to qualify for the PGA Championship. Likewise, Snead is the only player to post a top-ten finish in at least one major championship in five different decades. Old guys rule, right?
- Masters: 1949, 1952 &1954
- Open Championship: 1946
- PGA Championship: 1942, 1949 & 1951
4. Walter Hagen
If greatness were measured in major championship victories (which it kind of is) Hagen would be third all-time—totaling eleven major championships and trailing only Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus in the category. This includes five PGA Championships (tying him for the most all time). Also, and amazingly, in 1922, he became the first Native-American to win the Open Championship. While Hagen played in six Masters Tournaments, the tournament wasn't founded until 1934, which put him at an age perhaps too ripe to win.
- S. Open: 1914, 1919
- Open Championship: 1922, 1924, 1928, 1929
- PGA Championship: 1921, 1924, 1925, 1926, 1927
3. Arnold Palmer
Ah, The King. Owing to his titular beverage (a refreshing fifty-fifty split of iced tea and lemonade) he will never be forgotten. Of course, one cannot forget his 1960 “Sportsman of the Year” win either, which made him arguably the first superstar of the sports’ television era. People love this guy, man, and he’s also an incredible athlete. Perhaps most remarkable is the fact that Palmer won all seven of his majors in a hyper-brief six-year period!
- Masters: 1958, 1960, 1962 & 1964
- S. Open: 1960
- Open Championship: 1961 & 1962
2. Jack Nicklaus
We go back and forth over who’s the greatest golfer of all time. Some days it’s the Golden Bear and sometimes it’s the Tiger. Here’s the thing: if being the best comes down to winning major championships, Jack is the greatest of all time and there’s no question about it.
Nicklaus holds a record eighteen major wins, was runner-up in majors on nineteen occasions and was third nine times. If that wasn’t enough, he won the PGA Tour seventy-three times (third all time). At forty-six, he became the oldest Masters champion and still holds that record today.
- Masters: 1963, 1965, 1966, 1972, 1975 & 1986
- S. Open: 1962, 1967, 1972 & 1980
- Open Championship: 1966, 1970 & 1978
- PGA Championship: 1963, 1971, 1973, 1975 & 1980
1. Tiger Woods
When gauging the greatest golfer, or athlete, of all time, what do we measure? Obviously, on the one hand, it comes down to numbers: how many championships did they win? How well did they play over the course of their career? But also it’s about intangibles. Tiger Woods changed the game of golf completely, bringing it into the mainstream and forever augmenting what we think of when we think of golf (and what a golfer “looks like.”) And, yes, he’s also the second all-time major champion winner so there’s that, too.
Things happened to Woods: his latter career was plagued by injuries and he had the ubiquitous off-the-course struggles. He never surpassed the Golden Bear in terms of championships (though there’s no denying that he certainly could have), but he came darn close. He's also one of only five golfers to achieve a modern-day grand slam (three times) and the only player in the modern era to win four majors one right after the other (this feat came to be known the “Tiger Slam.”)
- Masters: 1997, 2001, 2002 & 2005
- S. Open: 2000, 2002 & 2008
- Open Championship: 2000, 2005 & 2006
- PGA Championship: 1999, 2000, 2006 & 2007
It wasn’t easy and, at times, it wasn’t pretty (just be glad we didn’t invite Jon Daly) but we got it done. If you’re thinking of joining the ranks of the greatest golfers of all, just get yourself a set of PowerBilt clubs and you’ll be well on your way! (We make no claim that owning PowerBilt clubs will make you a better golfer—but it sure can’t hurt.)