When you think of “Who’s the GOAT” debates when it comes to sport, a few conversations and names come to mind. Jordan Vs. LeBron, obviously, Jordan. Then you’ve got tennis with Nadal, Djokovic, and Federer all making claims as the best players in history.
Golf is no different, and the two names that are most spoken about are Jack and Tiger; when you go by first name, you know you’ve made it. Now, when you consider that Jack and Tiger have combined to win 32 Majors, it’s easy to see why they’re regarded as two of the all-time greats.
While it’s all good and well to pay tribute to the two greatest, we mustn’t forget other golfers who have contributed to the game in a long and lasting way. Names like Mickelson, Norman, Hogan, and Snead have made a tremendous contribution to the game and earned their right to factor in the conversation of the game’s best.
In golf, Major Championships are considered to be the pinnacle of the sport and serve as a measuring stick when it comes to ranking the greatest golfers of all time. But other factors are just as crucial, like PGA Tour victories, worldwide wins, weeks spent at No1, Top 5s, and contributions made away from the golf course.
Ranking the greatest golfers is no easy task, and to throw in a spanner in the works, there’s always the “what if” argument. What if Bobby Jones didn’t retire at 28? How many majors might he have won? What about the 14 major championships that were canceled because of World War II? How many could Byron Nelson have won?
So factoring in all these considerations, I’ve compiled a list of the ten best golfers of all time without ranking them 1 through 10; I’ll leave that up to you.
Let’s get started!
- 1 Greg Norman
- 2 Phil Mickelson
- 3 Tom Watson
- 4 Gary Player
- 5 Bobby Jones
- 6 Arnold Palmer
- 7 Sam Snead
- 8 Lee Trevino
- 9 Tiger Woods
- 10 Jack Nicklaus
One of the most charismatic and greatest golfers was the legendary and iconic Greg Norman. The Australian was known for his aggressive game style, which led to the nickname, “The Great White Shark.”
Norman is one of the very few successful players who came to the sport relatively late, at the age of 15. Prior to that, Norman excelled at Rugby and Australian Rules Football.
Greg Norman was born in Mt Isa in the Australian state of Queensland on February 10th, 1955. Norman’s first foray into golf was working as a caddy at the Virginia Golf Club located in Brisbane. Amazingly it only took Norman two years to get his handicap down to scratch.
The Great White Shark amassed a total of more than 90 wins worldwide, which is a number that puts him well and truly among the greatest and maybe even the greatest international golfer. Norman sat atop the world rankings for an unforgettable 331 weeks, putting him second on the list of weeks held at number 1.
The Shark was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2011 and has a host of other awards and recognitions to his name including, the Byron Nelson Award, Vardon Trophy, and the Arnold Palmer Award. Norman is also a successful businessman and runs a multi-billion business under his Great White Shark nickname.
- Two-time major winner
- 20 career wins on tour
- 16 wins in Europe
- 35 Australasian Tour wins
Phil Mickelson, affectionately known as “Lefty,” burst onto the golf scene as a swashbuckling youngster in the early 1990s. For more than 25 years, from the early 90s right through the 2000s, Lefty dominated the PGA Tour and spent 700 weeks in the official top 10 world golf rankings.
Surprisingly Mickelson never reached the world number 1 ranking, with his highest ranking being 2 on multiple occasions.
Mickelson started the game very early under the guidance of his father, who was a top golfer in his own right and was even practicing before he started attending school. As a youngster. Lefty lived in a house with a huge backyard which was where he and his father honed Micklesons world-renowned short game.
Mickelson received a golf scholarship and attended the Arizona State University, where he went on to win three NCAA Championships and became a crowd favorite due to his bomb drives and deft flop shots.
While most golfers go through Q-School, Mickelson turned pro in 1992 thanks to a previous win that granted him touring status. His first tournament win came in 1993 at Torrey Pines, which just happened to be the same course he grew up playing in high school.
Lefty also has the illustrious status of being one of the highest-paid athletes, with an estimated $90 million in career earnings.
- 6 Major Championships
- 3 Masters, 2004, 2006, 2010
- 2 PGA Championships, 2005, 2021 (aged 50)
- 1 British Open, 2013
- 44 wins on the Tour
- 10 wins in Europe
Similar to Greg Norman, Tom Watson was known for his fierce game style. Watson was one of the most dominant players all the way from the 70s through to the early 90s, and his peers marvel at his longevity which was on display when at age 59, he fell just short of winning the British Open.
Like Mickelson, Watson started playing golf at an early age and was also trained by his father. Born in Kansas, Tom Watson attended Stanford University and graduated with a psychology degree. A little know fun fact is Watson was also a very high-level table tennis player in his university years at Stanford.
Tom Watson has the remarkable distinction of being named PGA Tour Player Of The Year six times, 1977,78,79,80,82 and 84. Watson also led the money leaders list five times, and his reputation was enhanced when he won he chipped to beat the legendary Jack Nicklaus in the 1982 US Open
Watson was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1988, winning a plethora of other awards, including the Payne Stewart Award and the Old Tom Morris Award.
- 71 Career wins
- 39 Wins on tour
- 14 Seniors Champions wins to date
- 8 Majors and
- 8 Wins in Europe
Gary Player is commonly viewed as one of the top 5 players ever, and when you look at his record, it’s easy to see why. Player who went by the nickname The Black Knight amassed a whopping 167 wins worldwide and is one of only five players to win all four majors.
Off the course, Players’ contributions to golf and education were unparalleled, and it’s estimated The Black Knight raised more than $65 million for disadvantaged children.
Player was born in South Africa, in 1933 and, like many others on this list, was introduced to the game by his dad. At 14 years of age, Player won his first junior tournament and turned pro at the tender age of just 17.
The Black Knight held many distinctions and was inducted into the Hall of Fame back in 1974. He has been awarded the Hilton Hotel Achievement Award, Sportsman of the Century Award, the PGA Tour Lifetime Achievement Award, and the prestigious Laureus Achievement Award.
Gary Player has designed close to 400 golf courses and resorts globally and has even owned and bred 100s of racehorses. Player was also awarded an Honorary Membership to The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews, arguably the home of golf. Only nine other golfers have been bestowed this great honor.
- 160 Wins worldwide
- 9 Major Championships including 3 Masters
- 24 PGA wins
- Fun Fact: Players is the most traveled athlete of all time, with more than 26 million km logged
Arguably one of the greatest golfers, Bobby Jones is regarded as being the best amateur golfer to have played the game.
Bobby Jones, who was trained and educated as a lawyer, grew up in Atlanta, Georgia, and remarkably the child golfing prodigy won his first event at age six. Jones was a highly educated man and graduated with a degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Georgia Tech.
From the early 1920s to 1930, Jones dominated the golfing scene and not only went to head to head with the best professional golfers in the U.S., but he also beat them.
At the age of 14, Bobby Jones captured his first big golfing win, which resulted in him being invited to play at the U.S. Amateur. In 1930, Jones amazingly won the four most significant amateur events in a calendar year, the U.S. Open, The Amateur Championship, The U.S. Amateur, and the Open Championship.
Jones would go on to represent the U.S. five times in Walker Cup action and had the distinction of captaining the American team on one occasion. After Jones retired, he co-founded the iconic Augusta National Golf Club and helped design the course.
Jones also authored dozens of books on the game of golf and released numerous instructional videos, which were the first of their kind.
- The only golfer to win all four Majors in a calendar year
- 5 U.S. Amateur titles
- 4 U.S. Opens
- 3 British Opens
- 5 Wins in Walker Cup play
When you talk greats of the game, it’s hard to go past Arnold Palmer, and even those who don’t follow the game know who he is. Many experts put him in the same category as Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, and Sam Snead, and it’s hard to argue with that.
Arnold Palmer was more than just a golfer; he was also a pilot and an astute businessman who created the Arnold Palmer Clothing Brand, which is now sold globally. Born in Pennsylvania in 1929, the young Palmer would accompany his father to the Latrobe Country Club where his father worked. Arnold received a golfing scholarship and attended Wake Forest College before enlisting with the U.S. Coast Guard from 51-54.
Arnold Palmer was bestowed some of the game’s most prestigious awards, with the 2004 Presidential Medal of Freedom being the one he was most proud of. Other achievements were the American Golf Hall of Fame and the 2009 Congressional Medal.
Off the course, his contribution to golf was immense, with Palmer designing some of the world’s most iconic and demanding courses. Other business interests included owning a beverage company and a short foray into the world of the automotive industry.
- 95 Wins worldwide
- 5th All-time on the PGA wins list with 62
- 7 Major Championships
- Career spanned six decades
Many believe Snead had the purest golf swing the game had ever seen and is acknowledged as one of the all-time greats. Sam had his start in the game when he was introduced to caddying at his local club, but the love for the game quickly took snead from carrying the bags to bombing off the tee.
Snead had prestigious length off the tee and was known as “Sam the Slammer” or ” the long ball-hitter from West Virginia.” Born in 1912 in Hot Spring, West Virginia, Snead was a farmboy and never left home without his distinctive straw hat. A fun fact is Snead credits his squirrel hunting ability as the reason behind his accuracy in his golf game.
In 1934 Snead turned his attention to the professional golf tour and made his way across the nation in a beat-up second-hand car. Within no time, Snead started to dominate the tour and, after one year, had already earned close to $20,000, which today equates to roughly $400,000, not a bad season for 1934.
Snead won 142 events and won the Greensboro Open an astounding eight times, which helped cement his stature as one of the game’s greats. But Snead didn’t stop there; he also won the West Virginia Open seventeen times; yes, 17, and had six worldwide victories in a time when travel was limited at best.
- 7 Major Championships
- 142 Professional wins
- 82 PGA wins tied with Tiger Woods at the top
Probably one of the most charismatic and talented golfers to ever play the game, Lee Trevino transformed the game of golf with his smiling face and wild fashion.
Trevino grew up incredibly poor, and, unlike many of the other golfers on this list, he taught himself to play the game. Trevino is of Mexican heritage and was raised in the tough neighborhoods of Dallas, Texas. Trevino’s first introduction to the game of golf was selling recycled golf balls he fished out the ponds around the course.
Lee Trevino played golf for the Marines and was struck by lightning at the Western Open in 1975. He survived the strike and went on to become a legend.
Trevino captured his first Major out of nowhere and was still a relatively unknown player even amongst his peers. But that all changed after his U.S. Open win in 1968; Trevino went from unknown to the front cover on every golf magazine in the nation.
Trevino won 29 times on the PGA Tour at a time when he was competing with arguably two of the greats, Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer. He was the leading money winner in 1970 and went on to win an impressive six Major titles; not bad for a boy who grew up in a house with no water or electricity.
- 29 PGA wins
- 6 Major Championships
- 1970 led the prizemoney list
- 92 victories in total
Tiger Woods has transcended the game of golf and has become a household name over the last two decades. He is undoubtedly up there with Muhammad Ali and Michael Jordan as the greatest athlete ever.
With his mum being Filipino and his father African-American, Woods opened the game of golf to players of color and minority. In a sport that white men had dominated, many saw this as a pivotal turning point in golfs history. Overnight, the game became more popular than ever before.
Woods grew up in California and attended Stanford University, majoring in economics while on a full golf scholarship. Tiger made his PGA Tour debut in 1992, and the rest is history.
In the eyes of most experts, Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus are the two greatest players ever to play the game. Woods has amassed a whopping $120 million career prize money and became a billionaire at the age of 34 thanks to his massive off-course sponsorship deals with brands like Nike, GM, and Tag Huer.
Woods is credited as the first player to hold all four Major Championships simultaneously, although there is some debate as purists say he didn’t achieve the feat in a calendar year.
- 15 Major Championships, second only to Jack Nicklaus with 18
- 82 PGA wins, tied all-time with Sam Snead
- 7 Consecutive PGA wins, second on the list
- 142 Consecutive cuts made, the most of any player in history
Born in Columbus, Ohio, in 1940, Jack Nicklaus is often regarded as the greatest golfer ever. Affectionately known as “The Golden Bear,” Nicklaus went on to win 18 Major Championships, the most of any player in history.
His Golden Bear nickname was given to him by an Australian sports journalist, and it seemed to stick. Nicklaus, like Arnold Palmer, created a leisurewear company named The Golden Bear, now worth billions. Jack started playing golf at the age of 10 and shot an exemplary 51 on his first-ever nine holes.
Nicklaus made his professional debut in 1962 and competed in a time many regard as the pinnacle of golfing talent. Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, and others like Trevino and Watson all graced the fairways and competed against the legend of the game.
The Golden Bear topped the PGA prize money list eight times, was awarded PGA Rookie of the Year, and was PGA Tour Player of the Year five times. Nicklaus was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1974 and also received the Congressional Gold Medal in 2014.
- 18 Major Championships the most of all time
- 117 Professional wins
- 73 PGA wins, third behind Snead and Woods
- 39 Consecutive cuts made in Majors