Best Golfers of All Time
Updated: Oct 7, 2022
There is no fiercer "best ever" discussion in sports besides LeBron James versus Michael Jordan and Jack Nicklaus vs Tiger Woods.
The duo of PGA Tour luminaries who have won a combined 32 major championships was an easy pick for No. 1 and No. 2 on my ranking of the best golfers of all time, but what about their placement?
But before we get to those two individuals, get ready for a journey through the history of PGA.
Other than Nicklaus and Woods, the last major championship won by a golfer in our top 10 list of best golfers of all time was the 1983 British Open.
The four major tournaments are the focus of each PGA season, so career major titles were the main factor considered while rating these all-time greats. Let us check them out.
Best Golfers of All Time
10. Gary Player
Source: Dave Kotinsky/Getty Images - Gary Player
British Open: 1959 and 1974
British Open: 1978
Masters: 1961 and 1978
Masters: 1961 and 1978
PGA Championship: 1962 and 1972
PGA Tour Victories: 24
U.S. Open: 1965
Gary Player would be ranked a little bit higher on this list if professional wins across all tours were taken into account. With the exception of Antarctica, the South African golfer won competitions on all other continents.
The player has 165 professional victories on several tours, dating from 1955 to 2015, and won 63 tournaments in South Africa.
The player only has 24 wins that really matter, that is not even half the sum of what best golfers of all time listed ahead of him because we only considering top PGA golfers.
On the one hand, it's noteworthy that he stretched out those victories over 20 years, taking home big titles at ages 23 and 42. However, he never achieved more than three PGA Tour victories.
9. Tom Watson
Source: Keith Hailey/Getty Images - Tom Watson
British Open: 1975 and 1983
British Open: 1977 and 1980
Masters: 1977 and 1981
PGA Tour Victories: 39
U.S. Open: 1982
Tom Watson's dominance of the British Open was unparalleled among players who have won an individual major.
In the nine years from 1975 to 1983, Watson won that competition five times. In the tenth year of that streak, 1984, Watson tied for second, forcing a playoff.
Aged 59, age did not stop Watson from finishing second in 2009. The only other golfers since 1930 to have won the same major at least five times in a career are Jack Nicklaus and Peter Thomson.
8. Byron Nelson
Source: Hulton Archive/Getty Images - Byron Nelson
PGA Tour Victories: 52
Masters: 1937 and 1942
U.S. Open: 1939
PGA Championship: 1940
PGA Championship: 1945
A few of the top 10 best golfers of all time were affected by either World War I or II. However, none more so than Lord Byron.
In his 52-year PGA Tour career, Byron Nelson won 50 percent of his matches in 1944 and 1945.
The golfer triumphed in eight tournaments in the first year and a record-breaking 18 in the second war, including an astounding 11 straight.
Unfortunately, the PGA Championships in 1944 and 1945 were the only majors held from 1943 through 1945. Nelson finished second in 1944 and first in 1945.
7. Arnold Palmer
Source: ABC Sports/Getty Images - Arnold Palmer
British Open: 1961 and 1962
Masters: 1958, 1960, 1962 and 1964
PGA Tour Victories: 62
U.S. Open: 1960
Arnold Palmer did have a good run on the PGA Tour before taking on the moniker of a delightful lemonade and iced tea and beverage.
Over nearly two decades, "The King" claimed 62 matches, including seven championships between 1958 and 1964. Only Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus have achieved a similar feat.
Palmer won at least six tournaments each of the four years from 1960 to 1963, when he earned 29 of his victories. Neither Woods nor Nicklaus enjoyed a four-year string with six or more victories each year.
Not surprisingly, Palmer won two major championships and was awarded PGA Player of the Year in 1960 and 1962.
6. Sam Snead
Source: Walt Disney Television Photo Archives/Getty Images - Sam Snead
British Open: 1946
Masters: 1949, 1952, and 1954
PGA Championship: 1942 and 1949
PGA Tour Victories: 82
Sam Snead is the best all time golfer and leader in PGA Tour even though he is far from first in major championships.
Snead's failure to win more than seven majors can be attributed to several main factors. The greatest one is that, throughout his career, he only participated in five British Open compared to 44 times at the Masters.
Snead only competed in (and won) the 1946 British Open due to "contractual obligations to a sponsor. He only played in the British Open once between 1938 and 1961, which significantly decreased his prospects of winning majors throughout his career.
5. Bobby Jones
Source: Sarah Fabian-Baddiel/Heritage Images/Getty Images - Boby Jones
PGA Tour Victories: 9
U.S. Open: 1923, 1926, 1929, and 1930
British Open: 1926, 1927, 1929 and 1930
Bobby Jones, who won seven major championships while being only qualified to compete in half of them during his brief career, is the PGA's ultimate asterisk.
Before he co-founded the Masters in 1934 a few years after his retirement, it was not a competition. From 1934 to 1948, Jones participated in the competition on an exhibition basis.
Jones was also barred from competing in the PGA Championship because of his amateur status. Instead, he participated in two major amateur tournaments at the time—the British Amateur and the United States Amateur.
He achieved an unofficial record by winning the former five times and the latter once.
4. Walter Hagen
Source: ullstein bild Dtl/Getty Images - Walter Hagen
PGA Tour Victories: 45
PGA Championship: 1921, 1925, 1926, and 1927
British Open: 1922, 1924, 1928, and 1929
U.S. Open: 1914, 1919
Only three best golfers of all time have won at least 10 major championships, with Walter Hagen being one among them.
Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus are always ranked one and second, respectively, in any list of the greatest PGA golfers.
Hagen, though, is frequently overlooked on these rankings, in part because he competed a long time ago.
The fact that Hagen only got a few chances to play in major league games makes his accomplishments more impressive. Because the Masters wasn't established until 1934, well past his prime, he never won it.
Additionally, because of World War I, there was only one major each year between 1915 and 1919, on average.
3. Ben Hogan
Source:Bob Thomas/Getty Images - Ben Hogan
British Open: 1953
Masters: 1951 and 1953
PGA Tour Victories: 64
PGA Championship: 1946 and 1948
U.S. Open: 1948, 1950, 1951, and 1953
Despite missing the whole 1949 season due to a nearly catastrophic car accident, Ben Hogan ruled the PGA Tour between 1946 and 1953.
In 1946 alone, Hogan won a career-high 13 competitions, including the initial of his 9 majors.
He won 30 tournaments between 1946 and 1948, and in 1948—the year he won both the PGA Championship and the U.S. Open—he was voted the PGA Player of the Year. Hogan additionally received POY awards in 1950, 1951, and 1953.
That was the beginning of an incredible run in which he finished in the top seven of all three other tournaments and won 8 of the total eleven majors he participated in.
2. Tiger Woods
Source:Jun Sato/Getty Images - Tiger Woods atteding 2022 US Open
British Open: 2000, 2005, 2006
Masters: 1997, 2001, 2002, and 2005,
PGA Championship: 1999
PGA Championship: 2001, 2006, and 2007
PGA Tour Victories: 79
U.S. Open: 2000, 2002, and 2008
Tiger Woods was a deity among men during the height of his career, and it only seemed a matter of time before he broke every PGA Tour record ever established.
Woods won 14 of the 46 straight majors from 1997 to 2008 and placed in the top 30 in 44 of them.
He became the only individual to ever hold all four titles at the same time between 2000 and 2001 after winning four straight majors.
Even so, Woods' career didn't end there; from 2005 to 2008, he finished in the top four of twelve of the fourteen majors, including six victories. If not for Nicklaus, he could be the best golfer of all time.
1. Jack Nicklaus
Source:Michael Cohen/Stringer/Getty Images - Nikllaus (Right)
British Open: 1966, 1970, 1978
Masters: 1963, 1965, 1966, 1972, 1975 and 1986
U.S. Open: 1962, 967, 1972, 1980
PGA Tour Victories: 73
PGA Championship: 1963, 1971, 1973, 1975, 1980
Although Jack Nicklaus ultimately won more PGA Tour tournaments than Sam Snead and Tiger Woods combined, the Golden Bear was a master in the majors.
Nicklaus not only won 18 major championships, but he also finished in second place 19 times. He had at least 3 victories in each major and at least eight top-two finishes.
He is the only player to finish in the top ten more than 46 times; Nicklaus finished in the top ten 73 times and in the top five 56 times.
At his best, between 1971 and 1977, Nicklaus finished in the top 5 of 23 out of 28 majors, including six victories. He is at the top of the best golfers of all time ranking.