Best Men’s Golfers Of All Time: Top 5 Legendary Athletes, According To Golf Experts

For centuries, professional golfers have entertained spectators on golf courses worldwide. Whether you’re young or old, an avid follower of golf or you just casually watch tournaments, chances are you’re aware of at least one of the best men’s golfers of all time. And for anyone who doesn’t consider golf a ‘real’ sport with plenty of health benefits, you might be sorely 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, and researchers also say walking the golf course at least once a month boosts heart health in older Americans. The study’s lead researcher also hopes these findings will help propel golf onto the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service’s list of daily recommended physical activities. 

Still, many of the 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. Kids are easily distracted from the game and their attention becomes fixated on driving the golf cart. And according to another recent study, driving around in golf carts can be very 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. Over the course of a nearly 10-year study, the research team recorded 63,501 golf cart-related injuries to children and adolescents. Golf cart injuries steadily increased year over year. The study also found that males tend to be involved in golf cart accidents more than females and that the most common injuries are minor cuts, scrapes, and bruises.

So, who are the legends on the green? StudyFinds did the research, consulting 10 sports and golf-oriented websites in an effort to bring you the best men’s golfers in history. Our list comprises the five most frequently listed athletes from across these sites. As always, feel free to share your thoughts with us in the comments section below! 

photo of man swinging golf driver
A golfer swinging his club (Photo by Courtney Cook on Unsplash)

The List: Best Men’s Golfers of All Time, According to Experts

1. Jack Nicklaus

Topping the list is none other than the ‘Golden Bear,’ Jack Nicklaus. He performed at his highest level in major tournaments, and it’s that ability to play his best golf on the grandest stages that make Jack the best men’s golfer in history. 

“The Golden Bear was in a class of his own at majors. Not only did Nicklaus win 18 majors, but he was also the runner-up 19 times. He 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,” explains Bleacher Report

Jack Nicklaus at the 2006 Memorial Tournament
Jack Nicklaus at the 2006 Memorial Tournament (Photo by Barry Salmons on Shutterstock)

Jack Nicklaus was either first or second in major tournaments a staggering 37 times over the course of his career. Perhaps no other golfer was as dominant at the peak of their career as Jack Nicklaus. 

“Among his major titles, Nicklaus won a record six Masters Tournaments, five PGAs (tied with Walter Hagen), four US Opens, and three British Opens. His final major was the 1986 Masters, and this is considered one of the most memorable tournaments in major history, as Nicklaus shot six shots under par (30) on the back nine of the final round. He is the oldest player to win the tournament. After his success on the PGA Tour, Nicklaus continued his winning ways on the Senior PGA Tour until 1996, with eight more major titles. Additionally, he finished sixth in the 1998 Masters at the age of 58. His last professional tournament was the 2005 Open Championship,” writes How They Play.   

With all of that winning comes a lot of prize money, and Jack Nicklaus broke records for the amount of money he won in his time. However, Jack Nicklaus didn’t stop at winning major golf tournaments, and he went on to become one of the leading figures in golf tutorials after he finished playing on tour. Jack Nicklaus produced equipment, books, video tutorials (on VHS), and a range of other golf-related materials to help further golf’s popularity. 

“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. He has five US Open titles, which he won from 1963 to 1980. At the end of his career, he wrote several books, created a company for the manufacture of golf equipment. He was one of the first to enter the Hall of Fame in 1974. And he is rightfully considered the greatest golfer of all time,” adds Golf News Magazine

2. Tiger Woods

Although Jack Nicklaus is ahead of Tiger in major victories, golf fans and experts will continue to argue over which of the two should be considered the best golfer of all time. Tiger Woods absolutely deserves to be mentioned in the conversation as he revolutionized the game of golf and sent the game’s popularity soaring to new heights. 

Tiger Woods at the Emirates Australian Open in 2011
Tiger Woods at the Emirates Australian Open in 2011 (Photo by Tony Bowler on Shutterstock)

“What many people don’t remember about the 1997 Masters is how badly Tiger started the tournament. On the front nine on Thursday, Woods went out in 40, leaving him 4-over par. That, apparently, is when the stars aligned and the golf gods smiled. Over the next 63 holes, Woods swept through Augusta National like a tornado, toying with the course and demoralizing the greatest players in the world. Tiger’s runaway, far from putting a crimp into the television ratings, instead gave golf its greatest ratings winner to date. In 1996, before Woods turned pro, the ratings were 9.2 on Sunday. In 1997, when Woods won, the number jumped to 14.1. The rest, as they say, is history — 15 major championships, 82 PGA Tour wins, the lowest career scoring average in PGA Tour history, 10 Player of the Year awards,” writes Athlon Sports

Woods started his career with a bang and continued his run of dominance for the next decade plus. If Tiger is in contention on Sunday afternoon, the world stops to watch what he does. Still, Tiger is three major victories away from catching Jack Nicklaus, and although Tiger won the 2019 Masters, he’s still a few major wins away.  

“After turning Pro at the young age of 20, he went on to win his first major the next year. He didn’t just win, he won it in style by 12 strokes. The man was simply announcing his arrival. Tiger would go on to win multiple tournaments and showcase his mastery in the art of breaking records. He topped the world golf rankings for an outstanding 264 weeks, and when he lost the number one ranking in 2004, he came back in 2005 and topped it for 281 weeks, just in case there was someone on the planet who missed the fact that he was greatest at the time. He also casually won 13 major tournaments during this period. Despite the fact that his career was affected by multiple scandals, which made him an unlikable golfer for a while, he still secured PGA’s Player Of The Year Award a record eleven times,” explains Golfspan

Tiger Woods has faced his fair share of adversity both on and off the golf course. However, the debate between Tiger or Jack for the title of best men’s golfer of all time will continue to rage on. 

“I would guess that 9 out of 10 lists would have either Tiger or Nicklaus on top. Tiger is second all time with 15 majors, tied for first with 82 tournament wins, and he won all 4 majors consecutively. Those numbers alone would easily make the case that Tiger is the greatest ever. Add to it his popularity, endorsements, and sheer dominance of the game for so many years and you have the greatest golfer ever. He not only dominated the PGA tour with his physical ability, but there was the mental and psychological aspect of his game that is difficult to explain. He almost willed himself to win. Watching him on the golf course was like watching Jordan, Brady, or Gretzky take over a game, but when Tiger did it, he did it by himself,” adds Red Birdie Golf

3. Ben Hogan

Swinging into the third spot on the list is a man whose name is synonymous with the game of golf – Ben Hogan. The best golfers in history are judged by their ability to win major tournaments, and Ben Hogan won nine majors over the course of his career. But, as the experts explain, Ben Hogan’s career was nearly cut short due to a terrible car accident

“Despite a near-fatal car accident that cost him the entire 1949 season, Ben Hogan dominated the PGA Tour from 1946 to 1953. 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. (Hogan also won POY in 1950, 1951 and 1953.) That was the start of an unreal stretch in which he won eight of 11 majors entered and placed top seven in each of the other three,” explains Bleacher Report

Ben Hogan’s career was filled with adversity, and he’s still considered one of the best golfers of all time. However, Hogan approached the game differently from other golfers both past and present. Hogan relied on his instincts to shape his shot selection and watching him work a golf course was a remarkable sight

“Hogan won a total of nine majors over the course of his career and he is still one of only five players to date to win a career Grand Slam. What is remarkable about Hogan though, is that he was a feel player who rarely referred to yardages for shots. He had an uncanny ability to gauge distances and figure out how much he needed to shape the golf ball to get it to where he wanted it to go. Hogan overcame a lot of difficulties throughout his career, including a car crash during his prime years that nearly ended it altogether,” adds The Sporting Blog

Ben Hogan has to be considered one of the best to ever play the game. Hogan’s swing was used as a teaching tool by golf instructors everywhere and his determination to win golf tournaments is still second to none. 

“Impressively, he is known to have always placed more emphasis on striking the ball than scoring. This player’s style is one of the most influential to date and is a huge reason for his tremendous success rate. He is remembered as being one of only five players to post first in all 4 major championships… 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. If for nothing, ‘the Hawk’ would still have gone down in history as one of the golfers with the most refined golf swings ever seen in golfing history,” furthers Golfspan

4. Sam Snead

Sam Snead was an absolute magician on the golf course, and he belongs in the conversation as one of the best golfers ever. Sam Snead fought in World War I and still managed to carve out one of the best careers golf fans have ever seen. 

“This war veteran who fought in World War 1 has managed to snatch seven major victories. They include three Masters, three PGA Championships, and one US Open after returning from the war. Mr. Snead also has the most career PGA victories with 82, giving him the nickname, ‘Slammin’ Sammy’. He held the title for the most PGA tour wins for a long time before Tiger Woods tied his record in 2019,” explains Deemples

Seven career major victories after fighting in World War I is a remarkable accomplishment no matter how you look at it. However, Sam Snead’s career continued to be impacted by ongoing global events, all of which were completely out of his control. 

“World War II was another big factor, as a total of 14 majors were canceled from 1940 to 1945. Because of that, Snead missed out on a bunch of opportunities from ages 28 to 33—an age range in which Tiger Woods won six majors and Jack Nicklaus won five. 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. Nevertheless, Snead won at least six events in six different years, the best of which was his 11-win season in 1950—though he didn’t win a major that year, oddly enough,” furthers Bleacher Report

“Using a smooth, syrupy swing that looked as natural and effortless as breathing, Slammin’ Sammy won more golf tournaments than any other player — a staggering total of 82 PGA Tour titles, and anywhere from 135 to 165 victories worldwide, depending on whom you ask. He posted wins in four different decades, from the 1936 West Virginia Closed Pro to the 1965 Greater Greensboro Open (his eighth title in that event), when he was 52 years old,” adds Athlon Sports

5. Arnold Palmer

Arnold Palmer was the name and face of golf during the early 1960s. Palmer won seven career major championships and he was a consistent top finisher in majors as well. “Long before becoming the namesake of a delicious blend of iced tea and lemonade, Arnold Palmer had quite the run on the PGA Tour. ‘The King’ won 62 tournaments over the span of nearly two decades, including seven majors between 1958 and 1964. Four of those wins were at the Masters, a total only Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods have reached. Palmer got 29 of his victories in a four-year span from 1960 to 1963, winning at least six events in each of those years. Neither Woods nor Nicklaus ever had a four-year streak with six or more wins in each year,” explains Bleacher Report

Arnold Palmer at the Arnold Palmer Invitational Golf Tournament in Florida, 2011
Arnold Palmer at the Arnold Palmer Invitational Golf Tournament in Florida, 2011 (Photo by Debby Wong on Shutterstock)

Arnold Palmer was also named Player of the Year in both 1960 and 1962. Of course, Palmer also won two major championships in each of those years. But, Palmer’s influence on the game and his popularity helped bring the game of golf to new heights. 

“ There have been better players with prettier swings. But there has never been a more important golfer than the King, Arnold Palmer. He quadrupled purses, brought golf away from the country clubs and into our living rooms, and assembled an Army of devoted followers. He won — and lost — with more flair than any other athlete. From 1958 to 1968, Palmer reigned amid the azaleas and pines of Augusta National, where Arnie’s Army first mustered. With the lone exception of 1963, he was in contention at every Masters during that epic stretch, winning four times, finishing second twice, third once and fourth twice,” adds Athlon Sports

Arnie’s Army is a group of loyal, devoted fans dedicated to following Arnold Palmer around Augusta National. This type of popularity helped set the stage for players like Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, and Phil Mickelson to capture the attention of American sports fans and win a lot of money playing professional golf. Arnold Palmer was the first big professional golf figure to be featured on television, and he’s largely responsible for the game’s popularity in America today. 

“Palmer achieved 60 PGA Tour wins, 7 major championships and 15 consecutive years on the Tour with at least one victory. He was very similar to Tiger Woods in the way he brought the game of golf to the masses, in a way few other players could. Palmer played in his prime during the advent of television, and his personality helped bring the game of golf into more people’s homes with a greater appreciation of the sport,” furthers The Sporting Blog

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