The Top Ten Class Acts in Golf History
Old Tom Morris
Yep, that is right. The old man with the long gray beard is who I consider the biggest class act in golf history. Many
of you might have read about Old Tom being one of the first competitors in the Open Championship, or maybe you
are familiar with him and his golf course designs and/or greens keeping fame. But he also set the tone and laid the
groundwork for the behavior true golfers should emulate. The great Horace Hutchinson is quoted as having said
the following about Mr. Morris, “(he had an) unruffled serenity of temper…(he was) one of the most remarkable
men…(he) has been written of as often as the Prime Minister, he has been photographed as often as professional
beauty (queens), and yet he remains, through all advertisement, exactly the same, simple and kindly.” What a
wonderful example the great Tom Morris set for the generations of golfers to follow! In 1983, the Golf Course
Superintendents Association of America named their most prestigious award The Old Tom Morris Award. This
award is presented annually to the individual who through a continuing lifetime commitment to the game of golf has
helped to mold the welfare of the game in a manner and style exemplified by Old Tom Morris. Quite fitting, I would
To put Byron Nelson second on the list of all-time class acts in no way disparages his class, rather it demonstrates
the dignity of Old Tom. Perhaps Ken Venturi said it best when he said the following about Lord Byron, “You can
always argue who was the greatest player, but Byron is the finest gentleman the game has ever known." Without a
doubt, in the game of golf Mr. Nelson dominated. His best season was his 1945 masterpiece in which he tallied 18
wins in total, included in this tally of victories is the PGA Championship (due to the War this was the only major
played in 1945). However even more astounding than that is that fact that on his way to these 18 tournament
victories, he rattled off 11 wins in a row!! Nevertheless, this true gentleman walked away from the game in 1946, at
the age of 34, to fulfill his lifelong dream of becoming a rancher. However, later in his life he would befriend and
become a mentor to another true gentleman in the game of golf, Tom Watson.
Mr. Jones is another vitally important figure in the game of golf and he was a dominant player. In all, Bobby won 13
amateur and professional major championships and in 1930 he won all 4 majors in the same year. This feat hadn’t
been accomplished prior to 1930, nor has it been accomplished since. However, all the while Bobby Jones set the
example for how golfers should handle themselves. It is written that in his youth, Bobby Jones struggled with a huge
temper. In fact, a funny quote attributed to him is, “sometimes the game of golf is just too difficult to endure with a
club in your hands.” However, over the years he worked to hone his temper and focus that energy on winning. And
win he did. Over time he became the model for appropriate behavior and class on the golf course and the USGA
named their annual distinguished sportsmanship award after him.
I feel like putting Patty Berg as the 4th classiest person in golf history is doing her a disservice. Patty was a great
golfing champion, no doubt. She won 60 LPGA events and 15 majors, ranking her #1 in majors won in LPGA
history. But her quality of character and drive to give back makes her records of wins and losses seem
insignificant. She always thought that you are never a real winner until you live up to your higher calling in life.
Along the lines of living up to her higher calling, Patty Berg believed in passing along her love of golf to others. It is
rumored that during her lifetime she put on more than 16,000 golfing clinics all over the world, which introduced golf
to over 500,000 people. Additionally, she was an officer in the Unites States Marine Corps during WWII, she was a
founding member and President of the LPGA, and she was awarded the Bobby Jones award for sportsmanship in
1963. In 1978 the LPGA introduced the Patty Berg award, which they award to the lady golfer who has made the
greatest contribution to women’s golf during the year. And then in 1986, she was awarded the Old Tom Morris
award. Could she have done anything more for the game of golf or handled herself in a more professional way? I
seriously doubt it!
Tom Watson is one of the first golfers I can remember watching play the game. And without fail, watching him was
always a true joy. As I mentioned above, Lord Byron was his mentor and, obviously, their partnership was a
success as Mr. Watson will go down in history as one of the greatest golfers to ever play the game. However, it is
my belief that Tom Watson will also go down as one of the game’s finest gentlemen. I’ve seen ample video
concerning the 1977 Open Championship, arguably the greatest golf tournament ever played. Jack and Tom were
slugging it out stroke after stroke after stroke with no give and no take. However, finally on the 18th hole Tom
Watson emerged victorious. He walked off the 18th green arm in arm with Jack Nicklaus and in his victory speech
he told us how good it felt to be the Open Champion and defeat Jack Nicklaus…but he reminded us all that next
time it might not turn out that way. It was a great tournament and a classy way to handle one’s self in victory.
Furthermore, in the 2009 Open (32 years after his 1977 victory at Turnberry) Mr. Watson was back at it again vying
for his 6th Open Championship. But this time, he missed the key putt and he didn’t hoist the Claret Jug.
Nevertheless, he was just as classy and dignified in defeat as he was in victory.
Payne Stewart’s life was cut short during the prime of his golfing career. The loss was stunning at the time and
strangely enough time hasn’t diminished the loss. Nevertheless, the impact Payne had, and continues to have, on
the golfing world is still being felt to this day.
Most of the world remembers the images of Payne Stewart sinking that clutch putt to win the 1999 US Open at
Pinehurst and then IMMEDIATLEY congratulating his closest competitor, Phil Mickelson, concerning the fact he was
about to become a father. That act demonstrates the class that oozed out of Mr. Stewart. During one of his most
joyous golfing moments, he remembered the one of his competitors was on the verge of one of life’s most joyous
moments…becoming a parent. However, class acts had been flowing out of Payne Stewart for many, many years
before that. His second career PGA win came at Bay Hill in 1987. Payne donated his entire winner’s check from
that tournament to charity to help fight cancer, as Payne’s father had lost his life to cancer a few years earlier.
In 2000, the PGA Tour established the Payne Stewart Award which is given annually to the player that shows
respect for the traditions of the game, embodies the commitment to uphold the game’s heritage of charitable
support, and maintains a professional presentation of himself and the sport through his conduct. It is a great honor
in the name of a great man.
A reader of this site sent me the name of Bill Campbell for consideration in regards to my list of the game’s greatest
amateurs. However after reading more about Mr. Campbell, I established an opinion that he was more than a great
competitor. In fact, he is a great man. Concerning competitive golf, Bill competed as an amateur his entire career.
Along the way he won numerous championships, including 3 USGA Championships. Additionally, he played on 8
Walker Cup teams where he was undefeated in singles competition. In 1956, he was awarded the Bobby Jones
trophy and from 1982-1983 he was the President of the USGA. Without question, that is quite an impressive
resume. However, I think this only tells half the story and I think the following quote by Mr. Campbell sums up his
view on golf and life, “It is an honorable game, an honorable institution, if you will, so that people shouldn't need
policemen to keep them straight. That goes with being a golfer.” I don’t think I can say it any better than that.
Personally, I love Nancy Lopez and I don’t think I am alone regarding these feelings. In the “Most Important People”
list, I mention that she saved the LPGA Tour and I don’t think I over-stated that fact. In the middle of the identity
LPGA’s crisis, she stepped in and won 5 consecutive tournaments in 1978 and 9 overall that year, including the
LPGA Championship. Along with this great season came Rookie of the Year honors, the Vare Trophy, and the
Player of the Year award. More importantly, the world seemed to re-ignite their interest in the LPGA Tour and it
became relevant and interesting again. She was its savior. The following year she won 8 more times and by the
time she was 30 she had already won enough to qualify for the Hall of Fame, despite giving birth to her first two
children during that time frame. Following the birth of her third child, golf seemed to take a distant back seat to
family life and when you simply look at her career numbers perhaps you aren’t as impressed with her as you might
be with other golfers. Nevertheless, her dedication to family, the way she handled herself, and her outstanding golf
game ranks her right up there with the greatest who have ever walked the links. In my book, her balanced life set
the example for how we all should seek to live our lives. Furthermore, I think golf is a better game for having Nancy
Lopez play it and I think many people’s lives are better for having interacted with her.
Chick Evans was the first person to win the US Amateur and the US Open in the same year (1916), he holds the
record for most wins in the US Amateur Tournament, and he holds the record for most years played in the US
Amateur. In fact, he played in that tournament every year from 1907 through 1962. However, the reason why Mr.
Evans makes my list is not his impressive Amateur record. Rather it is his philanthropic endeavors.
After he performed his historic feat in 1916, he was offered big money for a series of golf instruction videos. Rather
than accept the money and become a professional golfer, Mr. Evans started a scholarship fund. This scholarship
fund has become known as the Western Golf Association Evans Scholars Foundation. His idea was to provide
funding for qualified caddies to attend college. To date, this fund has sent over 8,900 caddies to college and as I
type this 865 caddies are currently enrolled in school and utilizing the Evans Scholars Foundation support. The
total support to these scholars since its inception is over $100 million. WOW!!!
Most people may have never heard of Ms. Song. But I remember watching her win both the 2009 Pub-Links and
the US Women's Amateur and the class, grace and humility she displayed really left an impression on me. And then
in August, I noticed an article in Golfweek that highlighted Ms. Song giving away 30% of her professional winnings to
charitable entities. Now she just turned professional on June 23rd, 2010, so her total professional winnings total is
not a staggering total. But considering that she already has two wins in less than 6 months, this could end up being
something big over time!! Kudos. KUDOS!!!