Top 10 Greatest Golfers of All Time


Over the last century, golf has emerged as one of the biggest and most widely played sports in the world.  The rise of golf, both in America and around the world, has brought fame and riches to many, many men, and today it could be argued that professional golf has never been more popular.

But today’s players owe an awful lot to those who came before them, as some of the greatest golfers of all time paved the way for today’s young stars and brought popularity to the sport.  Here are the ten of the greatest and most influential golfers of all time.

10.  Byron Nelson

Byron Nelson by Acme, 1944

It’s really kind of amazing to think about, but three of the greatest golfers in history (Sam Snead, Ben Hogan, and Byron Nelson), were all born within seven months of each other in 1912.  A native of Waxahachie, Texas, Nelson played professionally between 1935-1946 and won 52 times, including five major championships. He was a two-time winner of both the Masters and the PGA Championship, and only the absence of an Open Championship kept him from completing the career grand slam.

Nicknamed Lord Byron, his legacy has remained intact thanks in large part to the Byron Nelson Championship, played annually in Dallas.  Up until his death in 2006, he was present at his namesake tournament virtually every year.  The Nelson Championship is far from the most important event on the PGA calendar, but all you need to know about how the man is viewed by today’s professionals is the fact that the vast majority always make it a point to compete out of respect.

9.  Tom Watson

Tom Watson

When thinking of the greatest golfers of all-time, you’d probably jump immediately to some of the other guys on this list, like (SPOILER ALERT) Tiger, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus.  One name you probably didn’t immediately think of, but absolutely should have, is Tom Watson.  The native of Kansas City was one of the most dominant players in the world in the 1970’s and 1980’s, winning eight majors, including five Open Championships, and coming up just short of the career grand slam, having never finished higher than second in the PGA Championship.  What a slacker.

Watson was also aided in his ascendance to the top of the golfing world by a familiar name: Byron Nelson.  Nelson took an interest in a young Watson in 1974, and became his mentor.  It was under Nelson’s tutelage that Watson’s career took off, winning his first career major within a year of working together.

8.  Arnold Palmer

Zenos Frudakis Arnold Palmer Legioner

Now, some of you might have expected to find Arnie a little higher on this list, because when you start naming some of the most famous golfers who ever played, after Tiger and Jack, Arnie is likely the next guy you’re going to go to.  And rightfully so, as this working-class guy with the ugly swing would ultimately become one of the greatest and most popular golfers of all-time, with Arnie’s Army following him around every course on which he played.  Arnie won seven majors, including four Masters titles, but what keeps us from bumping him a little higher on this list is the fact that he never won the PGA Championship, leaving his career grand slam incomplete.  But hey, at least he’s got a tasty drink named after him, so he’s got that going for him.  Which is nice.

7.  Bobby Jones

Bobby Jones c1917
Now, unlike the other guys on this list, there’s something very unique about Bobby Jones, and that’s the fact that he never turned pro.  Jones competed for his entire career as an amateur, and was insanely successful, bringing home four US Opens and three Open Championships in a seven-year span.  He was also a five-time US Amateur champion and even won the British Amateur in 1930.  And then, at the age of 28, he gave up competitive golf.  His influence on golf didn’t stop there, however, as he helped design a little golf course you might have heard of: Augusta National.  And upon completion of the club, Jones co-founded the Masters.  He came out of retirement to compete in the Masters, but only on an exhibition basis, and played until 1948 before hanging up his clubs once and for all due to his failing health.

6.  Sam Snead

Nicknamed Slammin’ Sammy, Sam Snead managed “only” seven majors over his long and illustrious career, but has another pretty impressive record to his name: most career PGA victories, with 82.  In between his numerous golfing victories, Snead also served in World War II, presumably clubbing Nazis with a four-iron all across Europe.  During his career he won the Masters Tournament three times, the PGA Championship three times, the Open Championship once and finished as the runner-up four times in the U.S. Open.

Snead can also distinguish himself from any other male golfer in history thanks to a little achievement he pulled off in 1962, when he entered a field of 15 players and won the Royal Poinciana Plaza Invitational.  What was so special about that particular win? It was an LPGA event, and Snead was the only man in the field, making him the first and only man to ever claim victory in a women’s tournament.  We’d like to believe he competed in drag, but sadly photographic evidence suggests this was not the case.

5.  Gary Player

All Black

This South African golfer nicknamed the Black Knight, due to the fact that he typically wears all black on the course, is arguably the most successful and famous non-American golfer in history, and in his heyday he was a contemporary and rival of both Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus.  The three waged legendary battles on the course, and Player finished his career with nine major victories, including three Masters titles and three Open Championships.  He’s also the only non-American to have ever completed the career grand slam, and has racked up 165 victories on six continents over the past six decades.  Player has also designed more than 300 courses and written several books, and owns the Gary Player Stud Farm, which sadly does not teach you how to score with the ladies, but is a top thoroughbred race horse farm.

4.  Walter Hagen

SLNSW 20075 American golfer Walter Hagen Roseville Golf Club taken for Golf in Australia

One of the greatest golfers of the first half of the 20th century, Walter Hagen won 11 major championships over the course of his career, good for third on the all-time list behind Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods.  A native New York state resident, Hagen became something of a national hero when he became the first American to ever bring home a British Open Championship, and he would go on to win four Open titles in all.  After turning pro at the age of 20,Hagen came up just short of winning a career grand slam, with only a Masters title missing from his resume.

His story is really pretty similar to that of Frances Ouimet, made famous in the movie The Greatest Game Ever Played, in that Hagen was from a working class family and started out as a caddy before making a splash in the professional ranks.  At the time, pro golfers weren’t exactly well regarded at the private country clubs, and Hagen himself was refused entry to the clubhouse at the Open Championship of 1920.  Hagen was instrumental in helping to end the class division in the world of golf, and he had the good fortune of not being played by Shia LeBeouf in a movie.

3.  Ben Hogan

Ben Hogan NYWTS

It’s tough to top Walter Hagen for the third spot on our list, but Ben Hogan gets the nod not only because of his incredible talent and success, but because he is often thought of as having the most perfect golf swing in the history of the sport.  No one practiced or prepared more than Ben Hogan, and no one spent as much time working on swing mechanics and technique than anyone who came before him; this has led to people often referring to him as the greatest striker of a golf ball in history.

In 1953, Hogan also put together one of the most memorable single years in PGA history, completing what is now referred to as the “Hogan Slam,” which, believe it or not, does not involve Hulkamania.  That year Hogan won five of the six tournaments he entered, including three major championships.  He ended his career with nine major championships, even overcoming a head-on collision with a Greyhound bus that not only could have killed his career, but the man himself.

2.  Tiger Woods

Now we’re going to go ahead and bet you didn’t see this coming.  Arguing between Tiger and our number one pick, which shouldn’t be a secret at this point, is kind of like trying to decide whether it would be better to hook up with Kate Upton or Sofia Vergara.  Tiger lands at number two, however, for reasons that should be pretty obvious.  Had his career trajectory continued on the same path up until that fateful November night when his life fell completely apart, he’d likely be our number one selection.  As it stands, it’s hard to fathom he will ever be able to catch Jack Nicklaus for the most majors ever won, which only a few years ago seemed to be a mortal lock.  Still, Tiger is truly a once-in-a-generation talent who transcends the game and brings in casual viewers like no one before him.

1.  Jack Nicklaus

Image result for Jack Nicklaus young

And now that we’ve gotten Tiger out of the way, we can move on to the man he has been chasing his entire life, Jack Nicklaus.  The Golden Bear is, quite simply, the greatest golfer of all-time now that Tiger’s career has been derailed.  Nicklaus is second on the all-time wins list, having racked up 73 victories in his career, including a staggering 18 major championships.  He’s won the Masters six times, with his first and last victories coming an incredible 23 years apart, and has completed the career grand slam four freaking times.

To put in perspective just how dominant the Golden Bear was over his career, he can legitimately say he “only” won the Open Championship three times, since he hasn’t won any other major fewer than four times.  We’re going to go ahead and chalk that up as complete and utter domination, and give the Golden Bear his rightful place as the greatest golfer of all-time.

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  1. Back on March 10th, Mike, who says Tiger is the best golfer ever, without having the credentials yet, said ” I seriously doubt that he won’t reach 5 more majors”. Tiger is now 0 for 22 in his last 22 majors. Sounds like another wanna-be to the throne, to me. Jack’s 18 is the mark to beat if you want to be called ‘The Best’ IMHO.


    1. BOBBY JONES – Won 13 of 20 majors entered; he was an amateur so we must count amateur titles which meant so much more years ago when pro golf didn’t pay much. He is officially credited with 7 majors, and he only played 7 years, quitting golf at age 28! He decided to win the grand slam in 1930, and he did! He also won 50% of all the tournaments he entered! All this while earning a law degree at Harvard!

    2. BEN HOGAN – Won 9 majors. But in 1942 the Hale American Open took the place of the U.S. Open due to the war. He also served almost 3 years in the Army during his peak years. In 1953, after his fatal car accident which almost killed him, Hogan won The Masters, The U.S.Open and the British Open; the only reason he didn’t win the PGA, was there were no planes to get him back in time.

    3. Jack Nicklaus – 18 Majors, 19 second place finishes. All this while never being away from his family for more than 2 weeks at a time. Nicklaus is also said to have the toughest competition playing during his reign.

    4. Tiger Woods – 14 Majors, and will most likely break the all time wins record for the PGA. Most likely will not break Nicklaus’ 18 majors. If so, Woods moves to 3rd or possibly 2nd.

    5. Gary Player – 9 Majors, massive international record. etc…

    6. Arnold Palmer 7 Majors and credited for changing the game of golf with his identification with the average fan.

    7. Phil Mickelson, 5 Majors, over 40 PGA wins, all this while battling arthritis and maintaining a full family life.

    8. Sam Snead 7 Majors

    9. Gene Sarazen 7 Majors

    10 Lee Trevino 6 Majors. Trevino beats out Seve Ballesteros and the rest of the modern day golfers because of the way he won, who he beat and his incredible ball striking. Trevino would beat Jack Nicklaus in Majors, win his first PGA tournament with the U.S. Open, all this while fighting to make ends meet. Not even a Sponsor before his first Open qualification. I almost had Trevino at 6.

  3. Great comments regarding ‘great golfers’ since simply playing the sport does not make one great.
    I read somewhere, please understand I may have the number or the person wrong, but, I read somewhere that Sam Snead (I believe) had somewhere @ 286 top ten finishes in his lifetime playing golf professionally.
    I could be wrong, but if it’s correct or even nearly correct, or if the person I remember reading this about is someone else, then that person was indeed a ‘great golfer’. I understand this may be rebuked by others and expect that. I’m only posting what I remember reading to the best of my recall. I’m old. Sorry for that.

  4. Determining “the greatest” has little meaning in sports, basically because you can’t compare athletes over different eras. Thus ultimately, everyone’s “greatest” list will converge to each individual’s “favorite” list. But if one cares to insist on “the greatest,” I believe the closest measure is to judge on who played the best golf for the longest, thus to a good degree negating the elements of eras and time.

    The golfer who most closely meets my criterion is Sam Snead. He “played golf longer, better than anyone else in the history of the game,” said Bob Toski. If in future I should see any golfer threatening to win PGA tournaments as he nears 70 (which Snead did at the Quad Cities Open c. 1979, and I believe that included asking this 67-year-old man to walk the course for 36 holes the final day due to a rainout), then I may have to reevaluate my choice. During that tournament, by the way, he reportedly became the first PGA pro in a tournament to shoot his age (67; then 66).

  5. Bloody hell is that Doc guy for real who the hell does he think he is? what a sanctimonious self important twit.He,s so up himself and by the way I thought this was about golf not Christianity ethics or whatever.Just shut up you twit.

  6. Finally, a top ten list that is NOT made by someone who has no knowledge of sports before 1990. Jack Nicklaus is, and most likely will always be, the greatest golfer of all time.

  7. The ONLY reason this list puts Nicklaus ahead of Tiger is that he has won more majors. In virtually every other category, Tiger wins by a mile. Woods is easily the best golfer who ever lived.


  8. Mike Sez:
    I seriously doubt that he won’t reach 5 more majors and way more additional PGA tour wins in the next 10 years, and hopefully that will silence the doubters.

    How many more majors has he won since you posted this? Still 2nd best of all time, and by the way, time is running out.

  9. I really believe as good as he was, Tiger may never win another major. Too much young raw talent on the scene today. When he started, golf was in a slump and he was the only game in town in reality. There just was not anyone at his level. The golfers were all older for the largest part and on the winding down of their games.
    He is a great ball striker but I don’t really see him winning another major, ever. Though it would be great for golf if he did.

  10. Wow, there are more whiny babies on this blog than in a room full of women on the rag. What in the world created such a stir between you dudes?
    Tiger is/was a great golfer. No one can dispute that. But no, he most likely will not achieve the number of wins that Nicholas did. And whether or not anyone wants to consider it, the poster above opened my eyes when he noted Nicholas won majors (plural) after age 50. Tiger will be pressed to win any tournament after age 50, except MAYBE a seniors tournament.
    I’m not a Tiger basher but if Nicholas did all those things, does anyone here really believe Tiger or for that matter ANYONE match what Nicholas did in terms of wins and wins as a sr. playing in non sr. tournaments. That blew me away when I read it.

  11. I just read over this link:
    This guy was really good! I would have loved to see him and the other old goats play golf. It would have been great tv.

    I’m not bashing Tiger but I went and looked at his sheet and it’s not as impressive at all.

    I pulled them up side by side on two screens and there is a major difference in the two and Nicklaus has a very wide margin of achievements in golf it seems.

    I never knew these old guys were so Fkn good! And with the crap they had to play with! Persimmon Drivers? No telling what Jack Nicklaus would have done with today’s technology!

    I’m not bashing Tiger, he the modern day golf god it seems for certain. But I’m going to have to change teams here and say if I live another 60 years, I’m not certain Tiger will ever match or beat Nicklaus’ life long achievements. They are amazing and so long ago. Before I was even born!

  12. Sam Snead NEVER won the US Open gets your facts straight. it was the British Open he won in 1946 as far as him # 7 thats a joke Gary Player rated above Sam Snead not in my opinion no way thats a joke Snead and Hogan maybe slighty behind Jack and Tiger

  13. Well everyone has an opinion and that’s okay. We live and learn with time and our opinions will prove us right or wrong one day. Which is not even important since all these posts are merely opinions.
    I will wait for 10 more years and see if Tiger breaks the record. He’ll never do it in my opinion but that too is just an opinion. I’m not certain if anyone will break his record but if they do, it will stand for decades as well. It’s a hard record to break.

  14. Some people are bashing Tiger for his morality. Now, being a South African, I can tell you Gary Player is definitely not treated as a demigod here. He had come out in full support of the apartheid government and this loomed over his head his entire career. People like Ernie Els, Louis Oosthuizen and Charles Schwartzel are far more popular here. Yet, if it is golfing greatness that is being debated here, we have to get to the point. Gary Player makes every top 5 or 10 top golfers of all time list and probably the highest ranked non American. So if you’re not bashing him up, why bash Tiger?

  15. I’m not certain if people are bashing Tiger because of his morality or not. I’m not in their heads. Some people have different attitudes towards different things and that’s okay, we are all different.

    I really don’t believe he had any real competition during his first 13 or so years. Maybe 2 to 3 competitors that were good but not his caliber. He was just great back then.

    Now, the field is crowded with a dozen or two brilliant players that are all his equal in terms of ‘can they win today’. Tiger created the stir in golf and now nearly 20 years later those that got into the game because of him are now beating him. There may not have been as many ‘great’ player in this sport ever, in the history of the game as there is now and that is due to Tigers great playing in his early years. That is a big reason why him beating Jacks record is not likely in my opinion.

  16. Michael Cambridge on

    did anyone catch the nonsense in Jeff Kelly’s column about Jack winning the Career Grand Slam 4 times? Jack and Tiger are TIED with 3 CGSs.

    Also, Tiger may be only 4 Majors short of Jack, but Tiger’s holds the record for the Lowest Career Scoring Average, the record for the Highest Career Winning %, and the record for the most total Wins at 79 by age 37 and still playing. Sam Snead won 77 PGA tournaments by himself by age 52. Sam mysteriously gets credit for 5 TEAM wins for a false total of 82. Tiger has several team wins with Stricker, Kucher and Duval, but none of Tiger’s team wins are counted. Apples vs Oranges favor Sam.

    Also, Tiger holds the most Junior golfing records (6 Junior Worlds including 4 in a row; and 3 USGA US Junior Amateur Championships in a Row; the most Amateur Golf records (only golfer to win 3 USGA US Amateurs in a Row) and the most PGA pro golfing records. Tiger may not catch Jack’s 18 Majors, but Jack never held the many golfing records that Tiger still holds.

    Of the top 10 Golfers of all time, Tiger is #1 and still active. He’s the only one using modern equipment. No other golfer using modern equipment is in the top 10. Therefore, saying Tiger had an advantage over Jack because of modern equipment doesn’t hold water.

    Also, the quality of Competition argument that Jack had the tougher rivals is nonsenses. All golfers competed against GOLF COURSES, not players. Jack had a better career stroke average than his rivals, and Tiger has the best CSA of all time. Even Jack said many times that he never competed against other players because he competed against golf courses. Golfers and their caddies don’t scout other golfers. They scout and measure out golf courses.

  17. Lets calm it down a bit and just let time tell the story, okay?
    I don’t believe anyone here hates anyone else, so these are opinions and I really enjoy reading them but not the hidden anger in some of them.
    If Tiger wins more than Jack, then Tiger will be without doubt listed as such, if he doesn’t then he won’t.
    As they said, they play against the golf courses, not each other so this is really an individual sport, lets let them be individuals.
    As for modern day equipment being used by Tiger, I’m lost here. So what? That’s what’s available. You make it sound like Tiger has picked up some cross to bear by using modern technology. He hasn’t. He actually has an advantage by using today’s modern technology, something golfers back in the 40’s-80’s did not have.
    I think I saw an interview with Brent Sneedeker (spelling?) after he went out and used the old school wooded headed drivers/woods and old school irons and balls from 40 years ago. His comment was something like “wow I don’t see how they hit the ball like they did back then, I’ll never try this again”.
    I think he shot in the low/mid 80’s. You gotta give some creds to those that used ‘old stuff’ and were winners nonetheless.
    That may need to be taken into consideration, not for voting purposes, but to understand how much easier technology has made striking the golf ball today.
    And even with that said I think the longest on record during a tournament drive is by : Sept. 25, 1974, Mike Austin rocketed a drive 515 yards while competing in the U.S. National Senior Open Championship at Desert Rose, Las Vegas. This guy was a Senior PGA golfer, not a young dude like Jack or Tiger was in their prime, he was 60 something!
    So lets enjoy history and history being made?

  18. Michael Cambridge on

    How can Tiger be #2 when he has the most records in Junior golf, the most records in Amateur golf (without being a lifetime amateur as was Jones), and the most unbreakable records in PGA golf?

    Tiger won 14 Majors in 12 years by age 32. Jack won 18 Majors in 25 seasons by age 46. PGA venues were driven to slow Tiger down by Tiger Proofing golf courses. There were never any speed bumps on Jack’s road to 18 Majors.

    Why is the sports media waiting for Tiger to catch Jack’s Major wins record when Jack never held any of Tiger’s Junior, Amateur and PGA records and accomplishments. Tiger may catch Jack’s 18, but Jack will obviously never catch any of the many Tiger records. Tiger has the most golfing records in history at all competition levels.

    Tiger is the only golfer in history to win 6 Junior World Championships, 3 consecutive US Junior Amateur Championships, followed immediately by 3 consecutive US Amateur Championships (for 6 USGA Amateur Majors in a row). Tiger is also the only pro to win 4 professional Majors in a row and he did that over a 10 month period which is a lot harder (staying hot) than doing it over a 5 month calendar year period. Tiger also won 7 of 11 Majors (1999-02) which is a 63% win rate over 3 years; and he later won 6 of 14 Majors (2005-08) for a 43% win rate. Jack was never able to play this well.

    Why is it that Jack, famous for consistency and longevity, could win the most career Majors to-date, but is only 3rd behind a still active Tiger and Sam Snead for most total career wins. If Jack could win the hardest events (Majors) why couldn’t he do as well in the easier non Major tournaments??? Tiger’s the GOAT!

    We’ll be hearing about Tiger woods records forever, whether he gets to 18 or not.

  19. Well you may be a younger person and never really got to see the ‘old pros’ at work. Back when Jack, Lee, Chi Chi, Arnie and the others were playing professional golf there were only a hand full of them that actually made a living at golf full time from day one to end of career. I think Jacks first paycheck was $33 or something insane like that. Like I sad they didn’t make a living at this game, they played it because they loved it. The money came in their winter years when they were leaving the game and heading into the seniors PGA.
    I’m not knocking Tiger, he’s a great golfer but longevity is what it takes for a person to be thought of as number one otherwise one game, one week, one month, one year could be the only factor to consider? That would be wrong.
    In the end, if Tiger breaks Jacks record then he’ll be number one and there won’t be any question to it.
    But if tiger never beat Jacks record he’ll always be number two at best and even then someone can catch either of them. They aren’t Gods. They are golfers.
    If you had the time to research golf and the players from the early days of the PGA up to today, you’d see many amazing things that were done with a simple wooden headed golf club and a rubber band wound ball. You’d be really amazed I do think.
    That doesn’t take anything away from today’s technology that makes hitting great shots much much easier. That’s the equipment of today and everyone uses it. But I have to say that if every one played with the equipment from the 50-60-70’s, there would not be the scores turned in that we see from the current list of pros on the PGA.
    And if the old timers had the advantage of today’s technological equipment they may have set many many more records than they did.
    Just a theory, nothing else.
    Lets let history decide who is the best and enjoy our seats on the sidelines.

  20. I just spend about an hour reading posts here.
    It seems like a lot of people get or got real angry and got real far off this posts original intent. The guy Doc seems to not particularly like Tiger as a person but I don’t see anything he has said about Tigers golf not being up there with the very very best. Then it seems some people posting to Doc and others get very critical towards Doc because he voices an opinion regarding his feelings towards the game. So I did some research.
    He said something about ethics being the center post or the biggest ingredient in golf according to the PGA pros. I spent a lot of time looking into that online and he is correct.
    When asked, ethics is number one on the PGA players list as to what golf is all about.
    I know ethics means nothing to a bunch of you folks, it is just winning and losing. Understood.
    So whether he or Mike or Steve or ????? is right in the end why can’t we just say for now, Tiger is really really good, is number one in the hearts of many, and may be number on on this blog one day, maybe soon, and leave it at that with all the ‘comments’ left at the curb?
    We’re in America, like it or not, and people can have opinions without being put down about them. Any one of you could be verbally chastised for something or another, but over who’s number one in golf, really, that’s the best we have here in the Good old US of A?
    I like the guy, Tiger, would be proud to play a round with him but it would never happen. Whether or not Tiger wins any more is up in the air. The field has so much talent and so many new guys coming in to play that it gets harder and harder every year.
    But lets be civil and just see?
    Great blog, lots of meanness, good opinions, and a great topic.

  21. To help a little more on the Tiger vs. Jack debate, I read recently that in their 1st 50 PGA starts as professionals, Tiger had 28 top 10 finishes and Jack had 34.

  22. Well after several weeks have passed (actually several months) it seems that some of the hopes that Tiger Woods would win again have fallen to the wayside with the likes of many young golfers coming into the game and winning. Seems more young golfers are grabbing the gold ring week after week. Tiger may have played this past Masters ‘just because’ and not because he could really win it. But that doesn’t matter. He can play any tournament he wants, it’s his right.
    I’m falling in with many others here and believing that Tiger Woods may never win another major tournament or at least not before he turns to the senior tour which is a different animal in its self.
    Doc like many others may just be passionate about golfers of his time.
    But I’m no mind reader, I just believe time has taken its toll on Tiger Woods and he’s a great golfer of ‘the past’. Much like many here referred to the great golfers of the 40’s-1980’s.
    We’ll see, the year is young.

  23. rememberwhatbushdid on

    100% agree on Nicklaus as the greatest of all time. Stiffer competition. 25 years of being the dominant force. The most majors. Tiger was dominant from 2000 to 2009. Nowhere near the class of competition. Nowhere near as many majors.

    • You said everything I have said for the past years. Why do Woods homers argue these points.

  24. Your facts are wrong. Jack is not second on the all time wins list at 73. Tiger woods is second with 79. Check your facts before you use false info in an argument of goat.

    • Look at the date of this article. Tiger has won 7 times since May 2012 when this article was published.