For decades, the best men’s golfers have entertained spectators on courses worldwide. Whether you’re an avid follower of golf or you just casually watch the game, chances are you’re aware of at least one golfing legend. And for anyone who doesn’t consider these golfers to be some of the greatest athletes ever, you might be misinformed.
In fact, researchers at the University of Missouri found that older adults who play golf at least once a month are at a lower overall risk of death. This lowered risk of death is attributed to golf’s social aspects as well as the physical activity itself. The study’s lead researcher hopes these findings will help propel golf onto the US Department of Health and Human Service’s list of daily recommended physical activities.
Still, many health benefits associated with playing golf are negated when a player rides in a golf cart instead of walking the course, as the game’s founders originally intended. Not only is opting for a golf cart negating the physical benefits of playing golf, but it’s not the smartest way to introduce your kids to the game. And golf carts can be dangerous for your kids. Researchers from the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia report that over 6,500 kids are injured each year from golf cart-related accidents. What’s more astonishing is that kids under 12 years old account for more than half of these accidents. That’s certainly a good reason to skip the golf cart this Saturday and walk the back nine with your kids.
We’ve been privileged to see many legendary golfers on the greens over the years. Tiger Woods, of course, may be the greatest modern-day golfer to some, but is he the best to ever do it? We consulted 10 sports and golf-oriented websites in an effort to find the consensus best men’s golfers of all time. Don’t agree? As always, feel free to share your top five with us in the comments section below!
The List: Best Men’s Golfers, Per Golf Experts
1. Jack Nicklaus
The argument over who takes the top spot on the list of the best men’s golfers of all time comes down to two names – Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods. However, Jack Nicklaus took the top spot on 60 percent of the lists we referenced, solidifying his first-place position on the list of best men’s golfers of all time.
“Nicknamed the Golden Bear, Nicklaus gained 73 victories in his career, including 18 major golf championships. Nicklaus is the first player to win up to $2m in prize money, and, at 46 years old, he is the oldest player to win the Masters,” explains Golf News.
Winning the Masters at the age of 46 is an accomplishment that you can’t truly appreciate until you reach that age or at least get close. Still, Nicklaus’s career was filled with stunning accomplishments, even when he wasn’t technically winning.
“The most remarkable fact about Jack Nicklaus, and why he should be considered the greatest golfer of all time, is that he finished in second place in majors 19 times! Think about that for a moment. Nicklaus not only won 18 majors in his playing career, but he finished in second place 19 times,” adds The Sporting Blog.
That means Nicklaus was either winning or coming in 2nd place nearly 40 times in his career – remarkable. But, that’s not all.
“[Nicklaus] won each major at least three times and finished in the top two at least eight times in each major. No other golfer had more than 46 top-10 finishes, but Nicklaus was a top-10 finisher 73 times and finished in the top five 56 times. At his peak from 1971 [through] 1977, Nicklaus placed top five in 23 of 28 majors, including six wins,” adds Bleacher Report.
2. Tiger Woods
As we said earlier, there were two names that littered top spots on the lists – Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus. Tiger Woods comes in an extremely close second and makes a strong argument for the top spot. There’s really no debate that Tiger Woods is one of the best men’s golfers of all time, and for great reason. Perhaps no other golfer experienced such a dominant stretch than Tiger Woods.
“When you think of the most dominant and famous golfers of all time, it is hard to find anyone that can keep up with Tiger Woods. Tiger is only rivaled by one man, Jack Nicklaus, and even that is largely debatable,” writes Golfspan.
However, it will go without debate that Tiger Woods is the most popular golfer of all time as he helped transform professional golf into a household event and sparked a new generation of golf enthusiasts.
“Instead of hurting the broadcast ratings, Tiger’s breakaway made golf the sport with the highest viewership to date. The ratings in 1996, before Woods got professional, were 9.2. When Woods won in 1997, the figure increased to 14.1. As they say, the rest is history. He is currently rated as the greatest American golfer in history,” adds Sports Brief.
Tiger Woods will always be compared with Jack Nicklaus – similar to the Jordan-LeBron debate, but we’ll save that for another time. Aside from major wins, some golf experts argue that Tiger’s career was better and they definitely have a case.
“Woods has more total PGA Tour wins than Nicklaus. Woods has more seasons with five or more wins than anyone else, and his best seasons are better than Nicklaus’ best seasons. Most of Nicklaus’ greatest contemporaries, Palmer, Watson, Trevino, and Miller have said that Woods’ best was better than Nicklaus’ best,” explains Live About.
3. Ben Hogan
The third spot is where the golf experts really start to differ in their opinions on who they consider top-notch. Although you might not be too familiar with the name, Ben Hogan came in third across more than half of the sites we referenced, and for good reason. Ben Hogan helped revolutionize the sport of golf and he deserves his rightful place on the list.
“Hogan won a career-best 13 tournaments in 1946 alone, including the first of his nine majors. From 1946 to 1948, he won a total of 30 tournaments and was named the PGA Player of the Year in 1948, taking both the U.S. Open and PGA Championship that year,” explains Bleacher Report.
30 tournament wins in a two-year span is pretty remarkable. Still, Hogan was lucky to even have a career as a professional golfer.
“Even a near-death car accident does not stop the ‘hardest working’ golfer. Mr. Hogan spends a lot of time practicing and developing golf swings that can be seen in Golf lessons until this day. In 1953, the ‘Hogan Slam’ was one of his best achievements where he won all 3 Majors in a single calendar year,” writes Deemples.
Besides Tiger Woods, Hogan is the only golfer to achieve 3 major wins in a calendar year. “Ben participated in 58 major tournaments throughout his career and placed in the top 10 forty times. That is a 69% top 10 appearance estimation, higher than even Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods,” adds Golfspan.
4. Walter Hagen
Coming in fourth is Walter Hagen. Hagen played in the first half of the 1900s, just before Ben Hogan’s time. Walter Hagen was ranked fourth on nearly half of the lists we referenced, and he was one of the first Americans to establish themself as one of the world’s best golfers.
“One of the greatest golfers of the 20th Century, Mr. Hagen was the first American golfer to win the British Open in 1922. Mr. Hagen is one of the three greats that have more than 10 Major wins under their belt. The other 2 were Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus,” writes Deemples.
Being the first American to do anything is an accomplishment but being the first American to win the British Open is truly historic. Still, Hagen experienced his fair share of adversity and didn’t have the same opportunities for greatness as the golfers who came after him.
“The most remarkable thing about Hagen’s achievements was the limited opportunities he had to play in majors. He never won the Masters because it wasn’t founded until 1934, which was well past his prime. And from 1915 to 1919 (ages 23-27 for Hagen), there was an average of just one major per year because of World War I. In all, there were 37 majors held from 1914 to 1929, and Hagen won 11 of them,” explains Bleacher Report.
“A native of New York, Hagen became a national hero when he first brought the British Open title to American history and continued to win four further Open titles. At the end of his career, only the Masters’ title was missing from his CV,” adds Golf News.
5. Sam Snead
Rounding out the list is none other than Sam Snead. Sam Snead played well before guys like Jack and Tiger, making his career somewhat of a history lesson. One thing can’t be denied, Sam Snead was one of the winningest golfers ever.
“If winning is the measure of greatness in golf, there’s never been a better player than Sam Snead. Slammin’ Sammy won more golf tournaments than any other player, with his iconic, smooth, syrupy swing that looked as natural and effortless as breathing. He won 82 PGA Tour titles and anywhere from 135 to 165 victories worldwide, depending on who you ask,” explains Let’s Golf Better.
Snead’s swing is so iconic and effortless that he was able to play, and play very well, later in his life. “His swing was such an efficient device that it served him well into his golden years and remains the gold standard for golf swings. In 1979, he offered golf fans one final glimpse of his greatness, as he became the first player to score below his age, shooting 67 and 66 in the Quad Cities Open at the age of 67,” writes Athlon Sports.
Still, Snead was missing one key tournament win from his resume and it’s one that likely prevents him from appearing higher on the various lists of the best men’s golfers of all time.
“Last, but not least, the U.S. Open alluded Snead for his entire career. He had 12 top-10 finishes at the U.S. Open and was the runner-up four times, but that major was his white whale,” adds Bleacher Report.
Again, if you’ve got your own top five list of best golfers that you’d like to share, please leave your thoughts in the comments below.
You might also be interested in:
- Athlon Sports
- Golf News
- Bleacher Report
- The Sporting Blog
- Rookie Road
- Live About
- Sport Brief
- Let’s Golf Better
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