Who is the All Time Greatest Golfer?
Great golf players come and go. Tiger Woods is a standout player, but how does he compare the greats of the past? As they often never get to play 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, 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 14 Major wins, and will probably 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.
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 (up to 2009), 13 men have won the trophy more than once. The most is by Tiger Woods with eight wins (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 in 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 nine 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 in 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
|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.|
|Greg Norman||spent 331 weeks as the world's Number 1 ranked golfer in the 1980s and 1990s|
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 using the comment form below.
|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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Commenting is closed on this page, though you can read some previous comments below which may answer some of your questions.
- Lozzie48 (2013)
Jack is the greatest....two reasons ...majors and runner up totals, quality of opposition, ( how many Hall of Famers play now versus when Jack played
- Alan gray (2013)
Jack is not only the best player of all time, he has never gets up to the antics Tiger Woods does (ie) spitting,swearing, throwing clubs about pretty poor maybe thats why I named my son after Jack and if I ever had another son it wouldn't be named after Tiger. Golf is not only about majors its the whole package and Jack's got it.
- Tony The Tank (2016)
Jack is the greatest player, period. Most majors, runner ups and most hall of fame players he played against. Tiger never even came close. i have Ben Hogan as the 2nd over Tiger.
- Ccocrv (2013)
I don't care about Tiger's antics or not, the greatest influence on one kids should be one's parents, this is about the greatest golfer, by a country mile there can only be one and that's Tiger Woods, Jack may have 18 Majors but he played in a era where half the field was semi pro, not like these days where they employ en entourge of coches, physios, mental workout gurus and the like, the game is just light years more professional and by todays standards Jack would have done well to get 9 of his majors which is highly doubtful
- Tony tan ccocrv (2013)
What a moron you are! Jack played against 25 hall of famers. 24 of them was in the height of their career. Tiger in 17 years the list is 3. Mickelson ,Singh , and Ernie Ells.
- Randy Watkins tony tan (2013)
Let my add this about Jack: Won 18 majors. Was first or second in 37 majors. Was top three in 48 majors. Those are ridiculous numbers. "nuff said.
- Randy Watkins ccocrv (2013)
This argument is simple. Take the top 8 players from Jack's era and the top 8 from Tiger's era. Now, the 16 golfers competer. You have to bet everything you have on who wins the most in multiple tournaments over a year's time. Who are you going to put your money on? It would not be close. Jack's era contained multiple golfers that would look you in the eye with no fear and know they could beat you. Even if the golfers they were looking at are Tiger and Jack. The current era contains one golfer of that type--Tiger, and to some extent, Phil. Tiger's field is deeper and bigger, yes. But when it comes to Sunday when the pressure is on, they wilt. Side note: Rory will become one of the greats, Adam Scott has made great progress, (too early to tell about Jordan Spieth), but no one else consistently wins when it matters. The group in Jack's era would win easily.
- Tom Olin Randy Watkins (2016)
Tiger's field was much shallower ... with only Phil, Ernie, and to some extent Vijay. Nicklaus played against the deepest fields of all time ... including Palmer, Casper, Trevino, Watson, Norman, Faldo ...
- Tony The Tank Tom Olin (2016)
Also Miller, Player, Crenshaw and Ballesteros.
- GoodPotatoSalad ccocrv (2017)
after reading these replies to you, you lost your argument.
and you forget, tiger played in a lot of tournaments against ham and eggers and no big names where playing in it
- Byron 6867 (2014)
Golf is one of the few professional sports where no one talks about season records anymore. "Why?" Byron Nelson distroyed them. He doesn't get enough respect because most people never saw him play. A lot of this discussion is about recent memory and who has the best PR.
- Tony The Tank (2016)
Jack is hands down the greatest of all time. Beside the most majors and runner ups but look at his competition. He went against players like Palmer, Trevino, Player, Miller, Watson, Casper and Crenshaw
- Tom Olin (2016)
"Greatest of all time" is a career measure ... it doesn't measure how fast you've gone, it measures how far you've gone. Tiger won the sprint. Jack won the marathon. The greatest golfer of all time is Jack Nicklaus.
- Warpsp (2016)
Duh, Jack is head and shoulders above Tiger in EVERY measure. P.S. How the hell do you NOT have Kathy Whitworth on the Woman's list???
- Underdog (2014)
Stroke average is, unfortunately, irrelevant. Tiger benefits enormously from high-tech equipment and balls not to mention the near perfect grooming of the courses now days. You don't seriously believe that Jack's stroke avg wouldn't be considerably lower with todays equipment and perfectly manicured venues? It was at the end of Jacks career before the advancements we see today were available and even then not to todays standards. I am a purist. I measure the greats by how they performed under the gun and against the best. Nobody comes close to Jack. Also, lets give Tiger another 5-8 yrs when he is not in his prime and see what his stroke avg looks like.
- Gswift (2013)
i think rory Mclroy is one of the greastest and lee Westwood because of how they pklay on the course
- Randy Watkins Gswift (2013)
rory may become one of the greatest. I think he will, but time will tell that story. He cannot be on the list right now.
- Heb927 (2015)
Tiger by a mile. Only morons debate this still. Higher winning percentage at 27% vs. Jacks 17%. Lower stroke average and over 88 victories to Jacks 78. Plus, his competition is better and has more of it. Only the haters and the biased debate the obvious. I guess those kind of numbers should put to rest Jack's comments that "blacks don't have the right muscles to compete in golf"
- Brooklyn Fats (2013)
The best golfer of all time will have the lowest stroke average for all tournament play. The Vardon Trophy is the lowest average score per year and Tiger has won it the most but it seems no one has analyzed each of the top golfers over their entire career to see what the averages are. If there is such an analysis I would like to know about it. My guess is that Tiger will be number on in such category.
- Randy Watkins Brooklyn Fats (2013)
Sorry, but the greatest are always going to be determined by wins and character. What difference does a scoring average make if you choke on Sunday?
- Ed chapman (2018)
Hogan finished in the top 3 in 52% of all the tournaments in his career - 150 out of 292. My resources are limited - how does Tiger and the other great players compare with Hogan's amazing consistency?
- Eric Hansen (2017)
Gary Player has won more professional golf tournaments worldwide than any player in world history (150 as of 1986). He began his career in 1953. He also logged 6 million miles in the air flying to tournament. To put that in perspective, you would have to fly from New York to Los Angeles and back 50 weeks a year for 20 years.
- John H (2017)
I have heard it said that Nicholas had stiffer competition than Woods but how can that be true? There are more than double the number of golfers in the world today than 30 years ago. It has to be so much tougher today to stand out in such a huge pool of talent. Theses are the facts not just a yearning for the good old days.
- Tony Tan John H (2020)
You kidding me right. What kind of logic is that. Jack had to go against Hall of Fame golfers to win. Palmer, Watson, Player, Miller, Trevino, Snead, and Floyd are just a few. Later on he had to go against Ballesteros, Faldo, Strange and Crenshaw.
- Michael Cambridge (2017)
Tiger Woods is the GOAT. Golf is simply a game of STROKE AVERAGE. There is no other way to describe it or to compare golfers of different eras. The lowest number of strokes to get the ball in the hole determines the winner in golf. Stroke average IS competitive golf. Tiger gets the ball in the hole in less strokes on average than Jack and anyone who ever played at the professional lever.
Tiger has the all time lowest career stroke average in the 97 year history of the PGA Tour (1916-2012). He is the ONLY golfer with a seasonal stroke average below 68.00 which was 67.79 in 2000 and 67.79 in 2007; the lowest/best seasonal scoring average ever achieved (twice). Each of Tiger's first 14 years had stoke averages in the 60's until he hit the fire hydrant (1996-2009). In Jack Nicklaus' 24 winning seasons (1962-1986) he was only able to manage 4 seasons with stroke averages in the 60's (out of 24). The greatest falsehood in golf is the COMPETITION question. For the sake of debate, let's agree that Jack had the best competition ever, and Tiger had/has the worst competition ever. Tiger still broke the all time scoring record in PGA Tour history, also for the 1997 Masters, the 2000 US OPEN, the 2000 British Open and the 2000 PGA Championship. If you establish the PGA Tour all time scoring record, and the all time scoring records in relation to par in all four Major Championships, WHAT THE HECK DID THE QUALITY OF HIS COMPETITION HAVE TO DO WITH ALL TIME WORLD RECORDS? Did poor competition inflate Tiger's stroke averages beyond what Jack and every PGA player and every participant in the Majors ever achieve? Of course not. If Usain Bolt of Jamaica breaks the world record 100 meter sprint against 80 year old retired sprinters, didn't he still run the fastest time in history? Tiger ALSO has the highest WIN% in PGA Tour history at 27% over 17 years. That's more than twice the 12% win rate of Jack Nicklaus's career and better than Jack's 16% win rate between 1962 and 1986. The best all time stroke average and the best all time winning percentage are not mutually inclusive. You can have one without the other. However, Tiger has BOTH! Sprinkle in the most Player of the Year (MVP) awards, the most scoring average awards, the most money ever earned awards, the distinction of being SPORTS first and only $Billionaire and most famous athlete in the world ever; how is Tiger not the best golfer of all time?
- There is only two in the running. If you only count majors, then it is Jack,if you count wins it Sneed. However if you count everything, then its Tiger (from r miller, Apr 2013)
- Tom Watson played the greatest round of golf I have ever seen. In his last British Open, even though he lost! Some body please make that movie! Simply the greatest and purely emotional round ever! (from Malcolm Watson, Mar 2013)
- Where's tiger woods? (from bub, Mar 2013)
- Nicklaus was a buckeye which clearly makes him the best! 18 wins and 19 runner ups in majors. Case closed (from Danny Chester, Mar 2013)
- Jack had the lowest scoring average for eight years. Can anyone explain why he did not receive the Vardon Trophy. (from allan cowland, Jan 2013)
- Tiger Woods is a spent force and a has been! He will never surpass Jack's record of 18 majors. Major wins should be the one and only criteria for being the best golfer. (from john wewege, Oct 2012)
- That gentleman said that Tiger will not exceed 18 majors is a little silly. Nicklaus is the man but Tiger is not 40 and he will exceed 18 majors before 2015 and put every doubt to rest. Congratulate him when done; he has been playing since a toddler. (from Percy S, Jan 2013)
- Jack without question! The stat that really stands out is that he won major titles 24 years apart! US Open in 1962 and Masters in 1986.Also, when history looks at Jacks and Tigers competition one has to look at their fellow competitors. Jack won against Arnie, Gary Player, Ben Hogan, Tom Watson, Johnny Miller, Lee Trevino and other fantastic players. All hall of famers who each have won many majors. Looking at Tigers competition who will be remembered? Phil Mickelson and that's it. Scoring average is irrelevant because Jack managed his game to win, not set records. 63 is the lowest round ever at a major and I think Miller's was the best I have seen but in 1980, in the first round of the US Open,Jack and Weiskopf each had 63's. On hole 18 Jack missed a putt 3 foot putt that would have given him a 62.Just take a look at say 20 years of each golfers prime in the majors. Assign a 10 for first, a 9 for second, an 8 for third etc. Add them up and compare. Very obvious. I have played and observed golf for 50 years and have some perspective. Jack had a plan for each golf course and executed it as best he could to WIN, not being concerned with scoring. Lee Trevino said" Give Jack Nicklaus a 1 stroke lead with one hole to play and him winning was the surest thing in golf". Technology is another issue. Nicklaus said, when he was 62 years old, that he hit the ball further than he ever had. Golf courses have had to be redesigned because of technology.My opinion will never change in my lifetime. Golfers understand the mental aspect is "critical" for success and no one was better at this than Jack. Tiger's problems have absolutely validated this, as after his marital woes he has not been the same. Not close! Tiger is in the top five, where is debatable, but there is only one "greatest of all time" (from Dan H, Sept 2012)
- How does Nicklaus claim HE had the lowest scoring average 8 times? What was his average for his best 8 years--and how many tournaments did he play in? (from Roger Schlaifer, July 2012)
- Everyone seems to forget that besides Tiger's 14 Majors he has won 16 World Golf Championships, and if I am not mistaken these usually include anywhere from at least 50 to 100 of the worlds best players. Tiger by at least 31 lenghts.(as in Secretariat). (from Jim Laffin, July 2012)
- Tiger woods is the most athletic & exciting (June 2012)
- How could you put in Karrie Webb and leave out Kathy Whitworth, Betsy Rawls & Nancy Lopez? While Majors are a big factor, they're not everything. All 3 of those women dominated the LPGA Tour. Personally, I think that if Nancy Lopez had not chosen to be a full-time mom (a great choice by the way), she would have been the best ever. (from Mike W, June 2011)