March 5, 2018 - 3:03pm
Posted by:
T.J. Auclair
tj.auclair's picture
Tiger Woods
USA Today Sports Images
Listing the 15 greatest male golfers of all time is sure to spark a healthy debate. Who do you think should be on our list of the best golfers ever?

Any list that dives into the "greatest" at anything is sure to spark a debate.

Who's on the list and at what number? That's fine, even healthy, in fact. Ranking lists are, after all, a subjective matter.When it comes to a list ranking the greatest golfers of all time, there are so many factors that come into play. Things like number of PGA Tour wins, winning streaks, longevity and -- most importantly -- major victories.

With that, here's my list of the 15 greatest male golfers of all time.

15. Harry Vardon
Majors won:
7 (1900 U.S. Open; 1896, 1898, 1899, 1903, 1911, 1914 Open Championship)
Professional victories: 49
Notes: A member of the Great Triumvirate with John Henry Taylor and James Braid, Vardon won the Open Championship a record six times. Vardon was also known for the "Vardon Grip" -- the style of grip where one overlaps instead of interlocking. Vardon, born in Bailiwick of Jersey near Normandy, France, made just three trips to the U.S. in his career. Each time, he played in the U.S. Open -- 1900, 1913 and 1920 -- finishing first, second and then third, respectively.



14. Seve Ballesteros
Majors won: 5 (1980, 1983 Masters; 1979, 1984, 1988 Open Championship)
PGA Tour victories: 9
European Tour victories: 50 (first all time)
Notes: One of golf's most recognizable players from the mid-70s to the mid-90s, Ballesteros pretty much owned the European Tour and -- to this day -- is that Tour's all-time winningest player. While his five major championship wins are a massive accomplishment, Ballesteros will forever be remembered for the tournament he loved the most -- the Ryder Cup. He led Europe to five wins in the matches both as a player and as a captain. Arguably the greatest shot-maker in the game's history, it always seemed as though the worst off he was, the more incredible a shot Ballesteros would pull off. In 1976, at age 19, Ballesteros finished second in the Open Championship... just a preview of things to come.

13. Billy Casper
Majors won: 3 (1970 Masters; 1959, 1966 U.S. Open)
PGA Tour victories: 51 (seventh all time)
Notes: One of the Tour's most prolific winners from the 1950s to the 1970s, Casper also holds the U.S. record for career Ryder Cup points won. He played in a then-record eight Ryder Cups, a record now owned by Phil Mickelson with 11 and counting. The Ryder Cup Captain in 1979, Casper also won five Vardon Trophy awards for the lowest seasonal scoring average on the Tour. Though Casper's name was never mentioned as one of the "Big Three" -- Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player -- it's worth noting that Casper won 27 times between 1964-1970, which was two more than Nicklaus and six more than Palmer and Player combined.

12. Byron Nelson
Majors won: 
5 (1937 & 1942 Masters; 1939 U.S. Open; 1940 & 1945 PGA Championship)
PGA Tour victories: 52 (sixth all time)
Notes: Nelson's 1945 season is one that will likely never be topped. That year, Lord Byron won a mind-boggling 18 of 35 PGA Tour events, including 11 in a row. Almost as unbelievable, on the 17 occasions in which Nelson didn't win, he finished runner up seven times. Nelson won the only major played that year -- the PGA Championship -- as three of them were not played due to World War II. Also, Nelson's 113 consecutive cuts made is second only to the record of 142 set by Tiger Woods. Most impressive about Nelson's cut streak is that in his day, only top-20 finishers received a check... so that's 113 consecutive top-20 finishes.

11. Tom Watson
Majors won: 8 (1977 & 1981 Masters; 1982 U.S. Open; 1975, '77, '80, '82 & '83 Open Championship)
PGA Tour victories: 39 (11th all time)
Notes: You want to talk about longevity? How about Watson nearly winning the 2009 Open Championship at Turnberry at the age of 59? Watson holds the record for the longest time span between first and last playoffs on the PGA Tour: 34 years, 6 days. He won the 1975 Open Championship in an 18-hole playoff and 34 years later lost a playoff for that 2009 Open Championship to Stewart Cink. Watson is a six-time PGA Player of the Year and a two-time Ryder Cup Captain.

10. Phil Mickelson
Majors won: 5 (2004, 2006, 2010 Masters; 2013 Open Championship; 2005 PGA Championship)
PGA Tour victories: 43 (ninth all time)
Notes: One of the most electric players in golf history, Mickelson has been a member of a U.S.-record, 11 Ryder Cup teams. He made his debut in 1995 at Oak Hill and has automatically qualified for every team since, never once relying on a captain's pick. Mickelson turned professional in 1992, but it took a long 16 years before he would win his first major at the 2004 Masters. An impressive player throughout his illustrious career, Mickelson is still winning well into his 40s. In March 2018, months shy of his 48th birthday, Mickelson defeated 2017 PGA Champion Justin Thomas in a playoff at the 2018 WGC-Mexico Championship. The win was the first for Mickelson since the 2013 Open Championship.

9. Gene Sarazen
Majors won: 
7 (1935 Masters; 1922 & 1932 U.S. Open; 1932 Open Championship; 1922, 1923 & 1933 PGA Championship)
PGA Tour victories: 39 (tied for 11th all time)
Notes: A career grand slam winner, Sarazen enjoyed the best years of his career in the 1920s and 1930s. He was only 20 in 1922 when he won both the U.S. Open and PGA Championship. At age 71, Sarazen made a hole-in-one at The Open Championship in 1973, at the "Postage Stamp" at Troon in Scotland. Sarazen is also known as the man who invented the modern sand wedge, a staple in the golf bags of all serious golfers even today.



8. Gary Player
Majors won:
9 (1961, 1974 & 1978 Masters; 1965 U.S. Open; 1959, 1968 & 1974 Open Championship; 1962 & 1972 PGA Championship)
PGA Tour victories: 24 (25th all time)
Notes: Along with those 24 PGA Tour wins, the man known as the Black Knight also won 72 times on South Africa's Sunshine Tour -- a record. Player has won 165 tournaments on six continents over six decades and was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1974. He's one of five players to achieve a career grand slam -- he was the third to do so. His victory at the 1965 U.S. Open made Player the only non-American to win all four majors.



7. Arnold Palmer
Majors won: 
7 (1958, 1960, 1962 & 1964 Masters; 1960 U.S. Open; 1961 & 1962 Open Championship)
PGA Tour victories: 62 (fifth all time)
Notes: The King, Arnold Palmer is recognized as the first superstar of the sport's television age, beginning in the 1950s. There's never been a more endearing superstar in any sport than Palmer. Along with his charm, Palmer was a damn good player too. He was the epitome of cool. His first PGA Tour victory came in 1955 and his last came in 1973. He was pretty much a regular contender over the course of those 23 years and had several epic battles with the likes of Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Billy Casper and others. Remarkably, Palmer when all seven of his majors in just a six-year period.

6. Ben Hogan
Majors won: 9 (1951 & 1953 Masters; 1948, 1950, 1951 & 1953 U.S. Open; 1953 Open Championship; 1946 & 1948 PGA Championship)
PGA Tour victories: 64 (fourth all time)
Notes: A legendary ball-striker, The Hawk, as he was known, completed his career grand slam with a victory in the 1953 Open Championship. That 1953 season is known as "The Triple Crown" season. It's when Hogan won five of the six tournaments he entered, including three majors. He was unable to try for a calendar-year grand slam because the dates of the Open Championship and the PGA Championship overlapped that year. During the prime of his career, Hogan's competitive golf was interrupted by World War II (he served in the Army as a utility pilot) and a near-fatal car crash. The crash happened on Feb. 2, 1949 when a Greyhound bus hit Hogan and wife, Valerie, head on. Doctors were unsure if Hogan would ever walk again, let alone resume his golf career. Nine months later, not only was he walking, but back to playing. He won six more majors after the crash.

5. Sam Snead
Majors won: 
7 (1949, 1952 & 1954 Masters; 1946 Open Championship; 1942, 1949 & 1951 PGA Championship)
PGA Tour victories: 82 (first all time)
Notes: The only major that eluded Snead was the U.S. Open... where he agonizingly finished second four times. The owner of what many considered to be a "perfect golf swing" Snead remains the PGA Tour's oldest winner, capturing the 1965 Greater Greensboro Open at 52 years, 10 months and 8 days. He's the oldest player to make the cut at a major: age 67 years, 2 months, 7 days at the 1979 PGA Championship; the first PGA Tour player to shoot his age: 67 in the second round of the 1979 Quad Cities Open; and the only player to post a top-10 finish in at least one major championship in five different decades.



4. Walter Hagen
Majors won: 11 (1914, 1919 U.S. Open; 1922, 1924, 1928, 1929 Open Championship; 1921, 1924, 1925, 1926, 1927 PGA Championship. 
PGA Tour victories: 45 (eighth all time) 
Notes: The Haig is third all-time in major championship victories with 11 total, trailing only Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus. Included in those 11 titles are five PGA Championships, which is tied for the most all time. Amazingly, Hagen scored all five of those victories when the PGA was a match-play format. He is also the first native-American to win the Open Championship when he turned the trick in 1922. A six-time Ryder Cup USA Captain, Hagen played in six Masters Tournaments, but the tournament wasn't founded until 1934, which was well after his prime.

3. Bobby Jones
Majors won: 
13 (1923, 1926, 1929 & 1930 U.S. Open; 1926, 1927 & 1930 Open Championship; 1924, 1925, 1927, 1928 & 1930 U.S. Amateur; 1930 British Amateur)
PGA Tour victories: 9
Notes: Before the modern era of major championships, the four majors consisted of the U.S. Amateur, U.S. Open, Open Championship and British Amateur. For a seven-year period between 1923-1930, there was no greater champion in golf than Atlanta's Bobby Jones, who also co-founded the Masters. As an amateur, Jones often beat the era's best professional golfers in Walter Hagen and Gene Sarazen. In 1930, Jones won all four majors, effectively creating what is known as the "grand slam." He retired from competitive golf at the tender age of 28. In all, Jones played in 31 majors, winning 13 and placing among the top ten finishers 27 times.

2. Tiger Woods
Majors won: 14 (1997, 2001, 2002 & 2005 Masters; 2000, 2002 & 2008 U.S. Open; 2000, 2005 & 2006 Open Championship; 1999, 2000, 2006 & 2007 PGA Championship)
PGA Tour victories: 79 (second all time)
Notes: It's hard to imagine that you can look at the second-winningest major champion of all time and wonder: What could have been? But, that's where we're at when it comes to Woods. He collected his 14th and final major to date at the 2008 U.S. Open. Since then, he's been plagued by health ailments that have limited his starts -- sometimes missing entire seasons. For a while there in the 2000s, it sure looked like Woods surpassing Jack Nicklaus in the major tally wasn't only a formality, but also a question of how many more he'd collect once he passed the Golden Bear. Woods changed the game, brought it to the masses and is undoubtedly the biggest reason golfers today look more like "athletes" than ever before. He's 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 (modern-day) majors in succession -- the Tiger Slam. All the injuries are such a shame. What if?  

MORE: 17 of Tiger Woods' most eye-popping achievements

1. Jack Nicklaus
Majors won: 18 (1963, 1965, 1966, 1972, 1975 & 1986 Masters; 1962, 1967, 1972 & 1980 U.S. Open; 1966, 1970 & 1978 Open Championship; 1963, 1971, 1973, 1975 & 1980 PGA Championship)
PGA Tour victories: 73 (third all time)
Notes: If being the best comes down to major championships, Nicklaus is the all-time greatest and it isn't even a contest. Along with his record 18 major wins, Nicklaus was runner-up in majors on 19 occasions and was third nine times. He finished among the top 10 at 73 of the 164 majors he played. On top of that, Nicklaus is a 73-time PGA Tour winner (third all time). He remains the oldest Masters champion when he slipped into his record sixth green jacket at age 46 in 1986. He became the first player to complete double and triple career slams of golf's four professional major championships. There has never been a better golf champion than Nicklaus.


15 Greatest golfers of all time