Who Is Golf’s GOAT (Greatest Of All Time)? Hint: It Ain’t Tiger

When you can’t play golf for whatever reason, it’s fun to read about, think about and talk about golf.

Who Are The Best Golfers Of All Time? is one of the great debates in sports. Recently I have been going to various websites looking for their rankings. I found many of the experts’ rankings to be mind boggling, completely nutso. A few examples:

In October 2018, Rob Doster of Athlon Sports had Tiger Woods ranked first, Jack Nicklaus second and Sam Snead third. Tiger before Nicklaus? Hogwash! And how could any thinking person put Snead ahead Bobby Jones?

In November 2018, T.J. Aulcair of PGA.com had Phil Mickelson at No. 10 and Tom Watson at No. 11. On what planet is this guy living on? Eight Majors (Watson) versus five for Phil The Thrill? Plus, Tom faced far deeper tournament fields during his playing days.

Bleacher Report came out with its rankings late last year: 1) Tiger 2) Jack 3) Ben Hogan 4) Sam Snead 5) Arnold Palmer 6) Bobby Jones 7) Watson 8) Gary Player 9) Walter Hagen 10) Gene Sarazen 11) Byron Nelson 12) Phil Mickelson, who couldn’t fit into Harry Vardon’s knickers.

Recently, Brent Kelley of Thought Company came out with his Top 25 Male Golfers of All-Time and he is another Tiger hawker who ranked him over Nicklaus using flawed reasoning such as “Woods won more money titles, more scoring titles, more Player of the Year awards -- more than Nicklaus, more than anyone else (it's not even close).” Kelley did show a bit of wisdom by ranking Watson (No. 7) ahead of haughty Gary Player (No. 8). 

Currently the website thealltimegreatestgolfers.com, which uses “extensive data analysis on all the greatest players, past & present” to come up with its list, has a head-scratching Top 10: 1) Woods 2) Nicklaus 3) Snead 4) Hogan 5) Player 6) Palmer 7) Hagen 8) Mickelson 9) Watson 10) Jones. Again, what’s with this Woods and Mickelson love affair? And Jones 10??? 

Since it appears that so many of today’s opinion givers have either been brainwashed by the media or have been given under-the-table money by agents and sponsors, I thought it was high time to come out with The STARK Truth, an all-time-best list that is based on the following criteria: 1) Majors won. 2) Tournaments won. 3) Great moments/Rising to the occasion. 4) The quality of competition. 5) Length of domination. 6) “Je ne sais quoi,” but you know exactly what I mean by that.

Yes, this is an opinion piece, but it is opinion that is based on career numbers and “special moments in time.” In other words, this is the most fair and balanced list of the world’s greatest golfers that has ever been published. 

The STARK Truth – The 10 Greatest Golfers Ever


  1. Jack Nicklaus (b. 1940)-- PGA Tour Victories: 73. Majors Won: 18 (1962 U.S. Open, 1963 Masters, 1963 PGA, 1965 & ’66 Masters, 1966 British Open, 1967 U.S. Open, 1970 British Open, 1971 PGA, 1972 Masters, 1972 U.S. Open, 1973 PGA, 1975 Masters, 1975 PGA, 1978 British Open, 1980 U.S. Open, 1980 PGA, 1986 Masters). This is a no-brainer. Jack is the GOAT (Greatest Of All Time)! Not only did Nicklaus win 18 Majors, but he was also the runner-up 19 times. He won each Major at least three times and finished in the top two at least eight times in each Major. He is the only player to have who won two majors in a season five times (1963, '66, '72, '75 and '80). “Palmer and Player played superbly, but Nicklaus plays a kind of golf with which I am not familiar.” – 1930 Grand Slam winner Bobby Jones. 
  1. Bobby Jones (1902 – 1971) – “Professional” Majors Won: 7(1923 U.S. Open, 1926 U.S. Open, 1926 British Open, 1927 British Open, 1929 U.S. Open, 1930 U.S. Open, 1930 British Open).“Amateur” Majors Won: 6 (1930 British Amateur, 1924, ‘25’, ‘27, ’28 & ‘30 U.S. Amateur). During his era, the four Majors were the British Amateur, The (British) Open Championship, the U.S. Open and the U.S. Amateur. All told, Jones, who never gave up his amateur status, played in 31 Majors from 1923 to 1930, winning 13 times and finishing in the Top 10 27 times. His BIGGEST YEAR was 1930 when he won all four Majors. It remains the GREATEST YEAR EVER BY A PLAYER! He retired that same year from competitive golf despite being just 28. As three-time Major winner Tommy Armour (1896 – 1968) said, “It is nonsense to talk about who was the greatest in the world. All you can say is that there have been none greater than Bobby Jones.”
  1. Tiger Woods (b. 1975) --PGA Tour Victories: 79.Majors Won: 14 (1997 Masters, 1999 PGA, 2000 U.S. Open, 2000 British Open, 2000 PGA, 2001 & ’02 Masters, 2002 U.S. Open, 2005 Masters, 2005 & ’06 British Open, 2006 & ‘07 PGA, 2008 U.S. Open). From 1997 through 2008, Woods finished in the Top 30 in 44 of 46 consecutive Majors, winning 14 of them. In 2000-01, he won four straight Majors.  Woods placed Top Four in 12 of 14 majors from 2005 through 2008 with six wins. Woods won all 14 of his majors (at least three of each) and 65 of his 79 total PGA events before turning 33. When compared to Jack’s 19 second-place finishes in Majors, Tiger has a modest six.  
  1. Walter Hagen (1892 – 1969) --PGA Tour Victories: 45.Majors Won: 11 (1914 U.S. Open, 1919 U.S. Open, 1921 PGA, 1922 British Open, 1924 British Open, 1924, ’25, ’26 & ’27 PGA, 1928 & ’29 British Open). Walter Hagen is one of three golfers to win at least 10 Majors in his career. Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods are the other two. Hagen is considered by many to be the greatest match-play golfer ever, winning the PGA Championship four consecutive years. From 1916 to 1957 the PGA was a match-play tournament. His flamboyant style and keen sense of humor made him the game’s first superstar. As author Charles Price wrote, “He carried it off big. He was gorgeous. One got the impression that he invented the game.”
  1. Harry Vardon (1870 to 1937) –Gift To Golf: His Grip.Professional victories 49. Majors Won: 7 (1896, ‘98, ‘99, ‘03, ‘11 & ‘14 The [British] Open Championship and the U.S. Open in 1900). Not only did he win The Open six times, he finished shed ninth or better 19 times in 21 years from 1894 to 1914. He never played in the Masters nor the PGA since neither one was founded until well past his prime. He played in the U.S. Open three times -- winning once and placing second twice. Wrote Bernard Darwin of Vardon, “I do not think anyone who saw him play in his prime will disagree as to this, that a greater genius is inconceivable.” 

  1. Ben Hogan (1912 -1997) --PGA Tour Victories: 64.Majors Won: 9 (1946 PGA, 1948 U.S. Open, 1948 PGA, 1950 U.S. Open, 1951 Masters, 1951 U.S. Open, 1953 Masters, 1953 U.S. Open, 1953 British Open). In 1946, he won 13 tournaments, including his first Major. Tiger Woods is the only other golfer to ever win three Majors in the same calendar year. Over his career, Hogan placed in the Top 10 in 40 of 58 majors. That's 69.0 percent, compared to 49.4% (38 of 77) for Woods and 44.5% (73 of 164) for Jack Nicklaus. “We can never establish who was the greatest player ever, but I don’t know how you’d prove that anyone was a better golfer than Ben Hogan.” – Golf professional, author and sportscaster Peter Alliss (born 1931).
  1. Sam Snead (1912 – 2002) --PGA Tour Victories: 82.Majors Won: 7 (1942 PGA, 1946 British Open, 1949 Masters, 1949 & ’51 PGA, 1952 & ’54 Masters). Snead is the all-time leader in PGA Tour victories. His Major total could have been higher, but he only played in the British Open five times and 14 Majors were cancelled from 1940 to 1945. He remains the oldest player to win a PGA Tour event, taking the 1965 Greater Greensboro Open at the age of 52 years, 10 months and eight days.
Tie 8. Arnold Palmer (1929 - 2016) -- PGA Tour Victories: 62. Majors Won: 7 (1958 Masters, 1960 Masters, 1960 U.S. Open, 1961 British Open, 1962 Masters, 1962 British Open, 1964 Masters). Twenty-nine of Palmer’s victories came in a four-year span from 1960 to 1963, winning at least six events in each of those years. Neither Woods nor Nicklaus ever had a four-year streak with six or more wins in each year. He was the runner-up in 10 majors -- one each year from 1960 to 1968 and once more in 1970. “The most charismatic figure I have ever seen … swinging punching slashing his way round the golf courses of the world,” wrote Peter Alliss of Golf World in 1997.

Tie 8. Tom Watson (b. 1949) -- PGA Tour Victories: 39. Majors Won: 8 (1975 British Open, 1977 Masters, 1977 & ’80 British Open, 1981 Masters, 1982 U.S. Open, 1982  & ’82 British Open). Watson won the British Open five times in the span of nine years (1975-83), tied for second in year No. 10 of that streak (1984) and forced a playoff before finishing second in 2009 at the age of 59. Jack Nicklaus (six Masters, five PGA Championships) and Peter Thomson (five British Opens) are the only other golfers since 1930 to win the same Major at least five times in a career. He placed Top-10 at least 10 times at each of the four Majors, which is a feat only he and Nicklaus can claim. And who can ever forget the 1977 Duel in the Sun at Turnberry when Watson defeated Nicklaus by one stroke or Sunday’s chip-in birdie on the par-3 17th hole of the 1982 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, resulting in a two-stroke victory over Nicklaus. In order to be the Man, you have to beat the Man, which Watson did.


  1. Gary Player (b. 1935) --PGA Tour Victories: 24.Majors Won: 9 (1959 British Open, 1961 Masters, 1962 PGA, 1965 U.S. Open, 1968 British Open, 1972 PGA, 1974 Masters, 1974 British Open, 1978 Masters). The South African golfer had 165 world-wide professional victories from 1955 to 2015. He won Majors at the ages of both 23 and 42. He is one of just five men to have achieved the career Grand Slam. Considering the number of Majors Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Lee Trevino won during his prime, his total of nine Majors is impressive. My favorite take on Player came from comedian Don Rickles, “Gary Player is all right if you like to see a grown man dressed up as Black Bart all the time.”

My Honorable Mention List (alphabetical order)

Byron Nelson (1912 -2006) -- PGA Tour Victories: 52. Majors Won: 5 (1937 Masters, 1939 U.S. Open, 1940 PGA, 1942 Masters, 1945 PGA).

Fifty percent of Nelson's 52 career PGA Tour victories came in the WW II years 1944 and 1945. In ‘45 alone, he won 18 times, including an amazing 11 consecutive tournaments. Unfortunately, only 10 Majors were held from 1940 to 1945, three of which he won.

Gene Sarazen (1902 – 1999) – PGA Tour Victories: 39. Majors Won: 7 (1922 U.S. Open, 1922 & ‘23 PGA, 1932 British Open, 1933 PGA, 1935 Masters).    

In the early 1930s, Sarazen was the king of the PGA Tour. From 1932 to 1935, he won each major once. 

Lee Trevino (b. 1939) -- PGA Tour Victories: 29. Majors Won: 6 (U.S. Open 1968 & ’71, British Open 1971 & 72, PGA 1974 & 1984). “He’s done it all with a swing that suggests a lumberjack going after the nearest redwood,” wrote Curry Kirkpatrick.

My “Still Watching” List

Phil Mickelson (born 1970) – PGA Tour Victories: 43.  Majors won: 5. Majors blown: 18, give or take. He is tied with Tiger Woods with 38 career top-10 finishes in Majors.

Who is on your Best-Ever list? 

Play Away!


  • Thomas

    We all have opinions in mine it comes down to Nicklaus and Hagen and its a toss up. Hagen in his prime won 11 of 32 majors. He was not able to play in 32 others. The masters did not exist the PGA was not founded for part of his prime and all Majors were cancelled for 2 to 5 years during WW1. Jack has an amazing record of 18 first and 19 seconds. During his prime Hagen won 5 of 9 PGA Championships and 4 of 8 Open Championships. Nobody can compare with the long career of Jack and nobody can equal Hagens dominance in his prime. There is also the fact that Hagen did more for the Professional Golfer than anyone ever. Not to mention all he did for the Ryder Cup. Tiger and Hogan are the two but not the equal of Jack and Walter

  • Tim Alpaugh

    Perhaps another criteria would be the span in which these players accomplished their titles. Bobby Jones retired at 28, Nelson at 33, Nicklaus 46 and Eldrick and Phil are still out there in their 40’s.

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