Is Tiger Woods the greatest golfer of all-time?
Time and time again we see Tiger Woods do one amazing thing after another on the golf course. His victory on one
leg at the 2008 U.S. Open in Torrey Pines is still fresh in my mind. I don’t think I will ever forget his chip- in at The
Masters in 2005 on the 16th hole while battling Chris DiMarco…man that ball hung on the lip for what seemed like an
eternity. And I must say the greatest putt I have ever seen is Tiger’s triple breaking, 60 footer, on the Island Green
at TPC Sawgrass in 2000. If you haven’t seen it, you must! It is freaky good. In fact, check it out.
But having said all that, he is not atop my list of all-time great players. I know, I know…all modern day golf fans are
scoffing at me right now saying that I don’t know what I am talking about. But I open it up for discussion right now. I
will name the three players I rank above him and highlight a few things they have accomplished. Additionally, I will
discuss what I think Tiger needs to do to pass these guys and catapult into my #1 spot.
Let me start with my 3rd ranked player of all-time…Jack Nicklaus.
OK, I realize that saying Tiger is not my number one and that Jack is in third place opens me up to scrutiny right
away…but read what I have to say before you make up your mind that I am an idiot. Frankly, it is not what Tiger or
Jack have done, but it is what the top 2 have accomplished and in the manner they accomplished it, which puts them
in the driver’s seat. However, let’s discuss what Jack has done and why he is ranked above Tiger in my book.
The “Golden Bear” is the PGA’s all-time leader in major championship victories with 18. Additionally, he is ranked #2
in PGA history in total PGA victories with 73. What is amazing about Mr. Nicklaus is his consistency and longevity.
His best season was his 1972 season, where he won 7 PGA events and 2 majors. But from 1962 (his rookie year)
through 1978 we won multiple tournaments every year. His average season during that stretch resulted in 4 wins
and approximately 1 major. This is consistent excellence, to say the least.
His list of majors includes the career grand slam; in fact he is the all-time leader in wins in 3 of the 4 major
tournaments. His list of major wins includes; 6 Masters Championships (the most all-time), 4 U.S. Opens (tied for the
most all-time), 3 Open Championships, and 5 PGA Championships (the most all-time).
He has been involved in some of the most storied battles in professional golf history. Although he lost the 1977
British Open, his battle with Tom Watson may be the most well played tournament in the history of golf. His come
from behind victory in the 1986 Masters is another all-time great moment in the history of the game, and also made
him the oldest player to win The Masters.
In addition to being a great player, Jack has built a successful golf design business, become an accomplished
author, and continues to manage and run The Memorial golf tournament on a course he designed, Muirfield Village,
in Columbus, Ohio.
What does Tiger need to do to pass Mr. Jack Nicklaus? Simple…win his 19th major and his 74th tournament. It
seems to me that Jack is defined by these numbers. The old saying goes something like this, “Judge not or let ye be
judged yourself.” Jack is judged on wins. Therefore to beat Jack, Tiger must beat him in the win column. Plain and
Next on my list of all-time great players is…Ben Hogan.
The thing about “The Hawk” in my mind is not just the wins. Which, frankly, are quite impressive in their own right.
Briefly, the numbers break-out as follows:
64 PGA wins (#4 all-time);
9 major championships (#4 all-time; including the career grand slam)
Good, right? No, damn good is the best way to describe Mr. Hogan’s numbers. But why do I rank him above Jack
Nicklaus? Here’s why…
On a foggy night in February of 1949 (the prime of Ben Hogan’s career), he and his wife were traveling through
Texas. Through the fog, Ben noticed a Greyhound bus coming right at them. Mr. Hogan jumped from his driver’s
seat to cover and protect his wife, Valerie. Luckily both Ben and Valerie lived, but Ben had a double fracture of his
pelvis, a fractured collar bone, a broken left ankle, broken ribs, and life-threatening blood clots throughout his body.
Despite surviving the crash, the outlook concerning his quality of life was bleak and doctors said he would never walk
again. Obviously, his golfing career was over, right? Wrong!
Mr. Hogan’s mental toughness and drive to succeed on the golf course overcame these physical injuries and life-long
handicaps. In fact, his first tournament after the accident came in 1950. Although physically limited and limping
noticeably, Mr. Hogan willed himself to a second place finish. His first win after the accident came 5 months later in
an 18 hole playoff. Not only did he have to gut it out and tolerate the pain for a full 4 rounds of golf over 4 days, but
he had the added torture of another 18 the following day. His will and desire won out, and he posted his first post-
accident PGA tour victory at Merion. Later that same year, he entered and won the U.S. Open!
One might say that this comeback in and of itself is worthy of putting him on the list of all-time greats, but it gets even
better…even though in retrospect you notice a severe drop off in the amount of tournaments played on an annual
basis by Mr. Hogan. Obviously, this is due to his physical handicaps.
In 1951, he entered 5 tournaments in total. He won three of them…The Masters, The U.S. Open and The World
Championships of Golf. By the way, the two he didn’t win, he finished 2nd and 4th. Then in 1953, Hogan put on one
of the greatest displays in golf history. In fact, he entered 3 of the 4 major championships in 1953. And oh yeah, he
won them all!!!! Now here is the kicker, back in 1953 the PGA Championship overlapped the British Open due to the
amount of time it took to travel from the U.S. to the U.K and back again. Given that, it is entirely possible that Mr. Ben
Hogan could have been the second player in the history of golf to win the Grand Slam of golf in one calendar year.
This type of performance is the stuff legends are made of and in my opinion, “The Hawk” is a legend in the game of
golf. Given his legendary status and his reputation for being the best ball striker in the history of the game, he ranks
#2 on my list of all-time great golfers.
In my opinion, the greatest player in the history of the game is…Bobby Jones.
Given that Robert Tyre Jones, Jr. played the game in the 1920’s and 1930’s, many people in modern society don’t
have any idea who he is. Nevertheless, if they like golf…they should.
For starters, Mr. Jones’ demeanor, sportsmanship, and mannerisms on and off the golf course were first class. In
fact, the USGA awards the Bobby Jones Trophy annually to the golfer who displays the highest level of
sportsmanship in the game. A story behind one of Bobby’s famous quips regarding sportsmanship goes something
like this; during a playoff in the 1925 U.S. Open, Mr. Jones hit a ball into the rough just off the fairway. As he was
getting in position to hit his next shot, his club accidentally caused the ball to move. Although no one saw the
infraction, he called over the marshals to call a penalty. After conferring back and forth, the marshals decided no
one saw the incident so the final decision regarding the ruling was left up to Bobby. He called a two-stroke penalty
on himself. He eventually lost the playoff by one stroke. Even though he lost, the public praised Jones up and down
for his sportsmanship. Bobby seems to have been quite amazed by all this up-roar over his integrity and he is
quoted as having said, “You may as well praise a man for not robbing a bank.”
Having good sportsmanship is one thing, but in order to be considered the best golfer in the history of the game you’
ve got to have game…serious game. Rest assured Bobby Jones had game. In fact, I think his numbers and
statistics speak volumes alone. However, before you hear the numbers it is vital to understand that he never
competed as a professional; instead he opted to play with amateur status for his entire playing career. Furthermore,
he walked away from serious competitive golf following the 1930 season…he was 28 years old. Finally during his
time, the four major championships were considered to be the U.S. Open, the British Open, the U.S. Amateur, and
the British Amateur.
In his career, he entered 20 major championship tournaments. He won 13 of them. That equates to a winning
percentage of 65%. If Jack had won this percentage of majors, he would have won 101 majors; Tiger would have
already won 34. Needless to say, Mr. Jones rate of winning is phenomenal. In fact, his total of 13 major
championships would put him at #3 all-time.
Even more astounding than that is the “impregnable quadrilateral” as it was called back in the day or the “Grand
Slam” as we call it now. In 1930, Bobby Jones entered and won all four of the major championship tournaments…a
feat that has yet to be replicated.
Given that Mr. Jones was an amateur his entire career he competed in the Walker Cup, rather than the Ryder Cup.
In total he competed in 10 Walker Cup matches…he won 9 of them!
Walking away from serious competitive golf after achieving the “impregnable quadrilateral” in 1930, Bobby Jones
went on to practice law and utilize the degrees he earned from Georgia Tech, Harvard, and Emory University…all of
which were earned while he played intense competitive golf. Furthermore, he and Alister Mackenzie teamed up to
create Augusta National and The Masters tournament, arguably the most prestigious golf tournament in the world. In
World War II he served with the U.S. Army Air Force. And then later founded Peachtree Golf Course in Atlanta.
So in Robert Tyre Jones, Jr., you’ve got a winner of unprecedented level in the sport of golf. You’ve got the creator
of The Masters, the greatest tournament in golf. And you have four of the greatest courses in the world associated
with him…East Lake (the course he grew up playing), the Atlanta Athletic Club (one and the same as East Lake for
awhile), Augusta National (co-founded by Bobby), and Peachtree Golf Club (also co-founded by Mr. Jones). And you’
ve got the USGA Sportsmanship award named after him. Wow!
However in my book all that is great, but without the Grand Slam achievement (winning all four major titles in the
same year), he might not even be in the top ten. Plain and simply put, to be great you must do great things. And no
one before Bobby Jones and no one after Bobby Jones has achieved the “impregnable quadrilateral”.
So…Is Tiger Woods the greatest player in the history of golf? I don’t think he is yet. I think he can pass Jack by
winning a few more tournaments. Hogan’s heroics on a broken body can be surpassed by Tiger…especially after his
U.S. Open win in 2008. If he could rip off 3 majors in one year after his knee surgery…maybe he takes down “The
Hawk.” But in my mind, he must win the Grand Slam (the Masters, the U.S. Open, the British, and the PGA all in the
same calendar year) to pass Bobby Jones.
Frankly, I think he can do it and I will be watching with unrivaled passion as he attempts to achieve the near
Originally written on 7/10/2009
note I have updated my thinking on this and now regard Young Tom Morris as the greatest golfer in history