Everyone who knows what a golfing major is knows Tiger Woods has been rated No.1 in the sport for most of the past decade. But Sports Illustrated‘s Top Twenty linksters of all time listed Jack Nicklaus to a slight edge over Woods.
Nicklaus led a contingent of links specialists that included Arnold Palmer, Byron Nelson, Ben Hogan, and Bobby Jones. His 290 points of a possible 300 beat Tiger by 17 tallies.
Being rated No.1 precludes that golfer has won many majors, which comprise men’s golf’s Grand Slam challenge, the Masters, the U.S. Open, the British Open, and the PGA Championship, played each season (year) in that order. Nicklaus captured 18 majors in his career, including six Masters, an all-time mark; four U.S. Opens, trying him all-time with Hogan and Jones; and five PGA championships, tying him for all-time star status with Walter Hagen.
A judge’s panel of 15 voters made up of six professional golf writers and nine golfing association executives voted for the best golfers of all time based on a tally of 300 or more points awarded to each player. The results were part of the 50th Anniversary edition of Golf Magazine, a Sports Illustrated publication, presented in September of 2009.
The issue specifically honored the 80th birthday of golfer “The King” Arnold Palmer, who achieved victory in seven majors and won a U.S. Amateur title.
Three women, Mickey Wright, Annika Sorenstam and Babe Didrikson Zaharias, rivaled the boys for a top spot in the voting. Wright garnered the No.8 spot with a total of 142 points, besting the likes of Lee Trevino, Billy Casper, and Gene Sarazen, as well as Sorenstam and Zaharias.
Voting Results for Best Golfer Ever:
No.1 rated is Jack Nicklaus (290 points), who won 18 majors and two U.S. Amateur championships. No.2 is Woods (283). Woods won three U.S. Amateur championships and is chasing the retired Nicklaus for all time majors champion with 14 major titles. The immortal Bobby Jones, who never turned professional, nevertheless was voted No.3 (265) because he won five U.S. Amateur titles, one British Amateur championship and seven majors as a ranked amateur.
Although the next 17 voted players are all retired champions, with the exception of Tom Watson, who thus far has participated in two 2010 majors, their points earned drop off considerably from the top three of Nicklaus, Woods, and Jones.
No.4 Hogan (231); No.5 Sam Snead (208); No.6 Palmer (199); No.7 Nelson (196); No.8 Wright (142); No.9 Gary Player (141); No.10 Hagen (124); No.11 Watson (120); No.12 Sorenstam (116); No.13 Vardon (106); No.14 Tom Morris Jr. (91); No.15 Seve Ballesteros (90); No.16 Zaharias (74); No.17 Sarazen (72); No.18 Trevino (68); No.19 Tom Morris Sr. (62); and No.20 Casper (36).
Hagen won 11 majors, including five British Opens. Hogen polished off nine majors, four of them the U.S. Open. Player also triumphed in nine majors, including three Masters titles and three British Open wins. Watson has won five British Opens and a total of eight majors. Sarazen won seven majors, including three victories in the PGA Championship. Snead is a seven-time majors winner. He won three Masters and three PGA Championships. Vardon is the reigning British Open titleist, taking that championship a record six times.
Golf is an ancient sport, championed early by the Morris family, Vardon, Hagen, and Jones, then Hogan, Snead, Sarazen, and Nelson, followed by the 1960s era of Palmer, Nicklaus, and Player. In the modern game, all the golfing world waits to discover if Woods can become the sport’s all time dominator.
/Resource: Sports Illustrated’s 2009 Sports Almanac, NY, pp. 392-399/