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Who is the All-Time Greatest Golfer?

Great golf players come and go. Tiger Woods is a standout player, but how does he compare to the greats of the past? As the great golfers of history never played head-to-head, under the same conditions, the greatest golfer ever is a difficult question to answer. Cast your vote on who you think is the greatest male golfer ever? Read below for a discussion on this question and some players who may fit this description.

In order to decide on the greatest golfers, we need to define what is meant by 'greatest'. Is it the player who has won the most titles, topped the rankings, or won the most prize money? Or is it the best all-round player - who has won consistently under a range of conditions, courses and under the most pressure?

A somewhat similar poll to determine the Greatest Golf Athlete of All Time was conducted on the ESPN Sport Science website in 2012 - the difference here was that they were looking for the greatest athlete, not player, from the sport of golf.

Most Majors Wins

Based on wins in the Major championships, the greatest golfer ever may be Jack Nicklaus, who won 18 Majors, including the Masters six times in his career (see Major winners list). Tiger Woods currently has 15 Major wins, and may win some more. Winning all four Majors is considered a grand slam. Only five golfers have won all four Majors at any time during their career (a Career Grand Slam). These are Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus, and Tiger Woods. Not only have they done it once, Woods and Nicklaus have won each of the four Majors three times.

St Andrew's golf courseSt Andrew's old golf course

Best Scores

Golf is all about having the lowest score, so a good basis for determining the greatest golfer can be based on average scores. The Vardon Trophy is an annual award given to the best golfer each year based on scores. The award is currently given based on the lowest adjusted scoring average over a minimum of 60 rounds. Since the award was first given in 1937 Tiger Woods has the most wins with eight (1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2005, 2007, 2009). Next on five wins are Billy Casper (1960, 1963, 1965, 1966, 1968) and Lee Trevino (1970, 1971, 1972, 1974, 1980). Arnold Palmer and Sam Snead each won the trophy four times, and Ben Hogan, Greg Norman and Tom Watson three times. The lowest averages are also by Tiger Woods - he achieved an average of 67.79 in 2000 and 2007.

Most Prize Money

The golfer who has won the most prize money is without doubt Tiger Woods. His total earnings has put him on top of the World's Highest Paid Athletes lists eleven times. Other golfers to appear at some time on this list (which has been running since 1990) are Phil Mickelson, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Greg Norman. Golfers from before this period cannot be compared, and recently golf earnings have skyrocketed anyway.

Some Great Golfers

Here is a list of some of the top golfers that have ever played. 15 of these are on the list for you to vote for who you think is the greatest male golfer ever.

name notes
Tiger Woods winner of 14 Majors, and 3 Career Grand Slams. Varden trophy winner eight times. 10-time PGA Player of the Year.
Jack Nicklaus winner of 18 Majors, and 3 Career Grand Slams. Finished in the top three in 48 Majors, 73 career wins on the PGA Tour.
Ben Hogan Career Grand Slam winner. 9 Major wins. Won 64 events on the PGA Tour, Four-time PGA Player of the Year.
Gary Player Career Grand Slam winner. 9 Major wins.
Bobby Jones 7 US Open wins. ( + 6 US Amateur titles)
Gene Sarazen Career Grand Slam winner. 7 Major wins.
Arnold Palmer 7 Major wins. Won 62 events on the PGA Tour. Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year in 1960
Sam Snead 7 Major wins. Won a pro tournament in six different decades. Won 82 PGA Tour events
Tom Watson 8 Major wins.
Walter Hagen 11 Major wins.
Harry Vardon 7 Major wins.
Lee Trevino  
Nick Faldo  
Seve Ballesteros  
Greg Norman spent 331 weeks as the world's Number 1 ranked golfer in the 1980s and 1990s
Billy Casper  
Byron Nelson  
Hale Irwin  

Greatest Female Golfer

We are compiling a list of the greatest female players from the sport of golf, which will then be voted on and the winner placed on the shortlist of the all time greatest athlete ever (all sports). The first stage is to get nominations before the vote is started. See the current list below of top athletes, compiled using other published lists and visitor feedback. If you believe that there is someone missing from this list, please place a comment below, including any relevant details about the person. The players below are listed in no particular order - once the shortlist is complete then you will be able to vote for who you think is the greatest of all. This list is not necessarily complete - if you know of a player who should be listed here, let us know.

name notes
Babe Zaharias  
Mickey Wright  
Louise Suggs  
Annika Sörenstam  
Karrie Webb  
Patty Berg  
Lottie Dod  
Kathy Whitworth US golfer, won 88 LPGA Tour tournaments, more than anyone else has won on either the LPGA Tour or the PGA Tour.

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Lists Extra

Football/Soccer is clearly the world's most popular sport, and has the most popular athletes, but which sport has the fittest players (but not necessarily the greatest athlete). These players do not always earn the most. The best of the best have made it to our 7 Sporting Wonders Lists.

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