Golf has got to be an incredibly tough sport to play at the highest level. In most sports when things aren’t going your way, you can dig down, up the intensity, and hope that extra effort will lead to results on the scoreboard. However, in golf, simply trying harder is likely to impact your play in a negative way. Instead, those who would be great at the game of golf need to relax, become more focused, and find balance between the mental and the physical aspect of the game. This might not sound too challenging if you were off by yourself in the middle of nowhere, but in the middle of a high pressure golf tournament, competing with scores of other golfers, thousands of fans lining the course, and dozens of television cameras tracking your every move it is a whole different animal. The average weekend duffer would quickly crack under such pressure, and even some of the greatest names in golf have gone in the tank when the pressure was on during the last stretch of holes. However, for the top 10 golfers of all time, those that made this list, pressure is something they are old friends with. They use it as a focal point for their determination and skill, and when they’ve got a lead heading to the 18th tee box, they close the door on their opponents. The best in the history of golf all had this ability. Here is my list of the top 10 golfers of all time:
10 – Phil Mickelson
Though he doesn’t get nearly the press that Tiger Woods does he is perhaps the only contemporary whose raw natural ability matches that of his longtime nemesis. Early in his career Mickelson was criticized for his inability to win any of the four majors, despite winning on a regular basis in other PGA tour events. He finally got the monkey off his back at the 2004 Masters, capturing the green jacket. He has four more major championships on his resume since, including a couple more green jackets.
9 – Tom Watson
One of the most consistent golfers of all time, Tom Watson at one point went 37 consecutive years making the cut in at least one PGA tour event. He wasn’t just very good for a long time though. He was exceptional at the top of his game, winning eight majors, including the Open Championship a staggering five times.
8 – Gary Player
This South African golf legend racked up 9 major championships in his storied career. A contemporary of Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer he regularly dueled those two golf greats in many compelling tournaments.He has 166 professional wins, and is one of only five golfers to have completed the career “Grand Slam”, winning all four majors at least once in his career.
7 – Byron Nelson
Few names in the sport of golf are as recognizable as Byron Nelson. Though he retired from golf at age 34, he accomplished an incredible amount in his relatively short career. This contemporary of Ben Hogan and Sam Snead tore through the competition, winning a record 11 tournaments in a row at one point, and a staggering total of 18 in 1945. He finished his career with 52 tour wins, including 5 majors.
6 – Annika Sorenstam
Yes, this list isn’t just about male golfers. Though the ladies don’t get the press, and don’t have as long a history, there is one among them that truly established herself as a legend in the sport, and is easily deserving of a spot on the list of the top 10 golfers of all time. Her accomplishments on the LPGA match up nicely to what Tiger Woods has done on the men’s tour. This Swedish star racked up 72 LPGA victories, including 10 majors over the course of her career.
5 – Arnold Palmer
Simply dubbed “The King”, Arnold Palmer has been the most recognizable name in golf for 5 decades. With 7 major championships, including 4 green jackets as Masters champion, his royal nickname has been well deserved. He earned 62 PGA tour wins during his playing days, despite competing head to head with golf legends like Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player. Arnie is one of golf’s greatest players and one of its greatest characters as well.
4 – Sam Snead
The winningest golfer in PGA tour history, Sam Snead finished his incredible career with 82 PGA tour wins. Slammin’ Sammy was consistent and prolific in a career that spanned 4 decades. He regularly battled both Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson during his days on the tour, and despite that stiff competition, managed to finish his career with 7 major titles, including 3 Masters victories.
3 – Ben Hogan
To have this guy sitting at number 3 on the list of the top 10 golfers of all time just goes to show just how incredibly good the two guys ahead of him must be. Hogan was the first player to win 3 major championships in a single season, and may very well have become the only man to win the elusive Grand Slam of Golf in 1953 had the British Open not overlapped the PGA Championship that year, making it impossible for him to compete in both. Hogan, despite spending some of the peak years of his career fighting in World War II, still finished with 64 PGA Tour wins, including 9 majors.
2 – Tiger Woods
If you’d asked me six years ago if Tiger Woods would be sitting at number two on this list come 2014 I would have scoffed at the notion. Coming off his 14th major win at the U.S. Open in 2008, and fully in his prime at 32 years of age, Tiger looked poised to not only beat Jack Nicklaus’s record of 18 major championship wins, but demolish it. Well, Tiger’s personal life, his career, and his health have all been a bit sketchy since then, and six years later he finds himself with the exact same number of major wins. Yes, he’s won plenty of titles in between, but it’s the majors that really count. If he can get back on track, perhaps he will find himself at the top of this list someday, but he’s not quite there yet.
1 – Jack Nicklaus
One of the most determined, ferocious competitors in the game of golf, Nicklaus was a threat to win every tournament he competed in. His great career spanned 25 years, where he routinely chewed up and spit out the competition on his way to 73 PGA Tour victories (2nd all time), including 18 majors (1st all time), and 6 Masters championships (1st all time). His final Masters victory at the age of 46 is regarded as perhaps the greatest tournament performance of all time.
Featured image by Keith Allison