Top 5 golfers of all time

Published 01/10/2008 18:57:19

Sports fans have an insatiable desire for statistics, for number ones and unbeaten records; grand slams and underdog victories. The question of who is the best golfer of all time comes up often, and may even change over the next ten years. Here's what we think is the top 5, in reverse order.


5. Gary Player


Birthplace: Johannesburg, South Africa

Date of birth: November 1, 1935

Major Wins: 9

Total Wins:163


Player racked up 9 major wins, the fourth best total ever, and over 160 total wins, the third best ever. Player was characterized by his hectic schedule and constant travelling of the world, winning tournaments on every continent including 13 South African Open titles and 7 Australian Opens.


Player was such a prolific and consistent golfer, it was hard not to place him in the list, though he narrowly pipped Sam Snead and Gary player for the last spot on the list.


4. Bobby Jones


Birthplace: Atlanta, Georgia

Date of birth: March 17, 1902

Major Wins: 7 (13 until rule change)


Bobby Jones played in a different era where only two of the current majors existed - the British and US opens. The amateur equivalents of these two were then counted as majors making his total 13 rather than 7. Jones managed to complete the grand slam (winning all four events in a year) twice, a feat which has yet to be matched by any other golfer.


Jones retired at just 28 so you might think it surprising that he makes it so high in our list, however his influence on the game was stronger than some others who could have made the list. Jones founded the US Masters, has a sportsmanship award named after him and continued to influence the game long after his time in the limelight was over.


3. Ben Hogan

ben hogan top 5 golfers

Birthplace: Stephenville, Texas

Date of birth: August 13, 1912

Major Wins: 9

Total Wins:64


Although Hogan has an excellent record, including 9 major victories, it is perhaps the manner of these victories and his fantastic natural golf swing that leave him so high on this list. Hogan is generally regarded as one of the finest ball strikers ever to play the game of golf, and a man known to practice more than any of his contemporaries.


"You hear stories about me beating my brains out practicing, but... I was enjoying myself. I couldn't wait to get up in the morning, so I could hit balls." Ben Hogan


Hogan also survived a life-threatening car crash in 1949 and was hospitalised for almost two months afterwards. His injuries were so serious it was expected he wouldn't walk again, let alone play competitive golf with one of the best swings ever. However he did come back, and even completed a unique "Hogan-slam" in 1953 - he won 5 of the 6 tournaments he entered, and the first 3 majors. He couldn't even enter the fourth major as the dates overlapped.


"Is Tiger Woods the best ball striker you have ever seen? No, no - Ben Hogan, easily" - Jack NIcklaus


2. Tiger Woods


tiger woods top 5 golfers

Birthplace: Cypress, California

Date of birth: December 30, 1975

Major Wins: 14

Total Wins: 89


Tiger practically came out of the womb swinging a golf club and has been sweeping aside the competition at every level since. Woods appeared on the Bob Hope show at three, won the Junior World Golf Championships six times, won the US Junior Amateur Championship at 15, won 3 successive US amateur titles at the age of 20 and became PGA Tour Rookie of the Year in 1996. This is a man who experience success at every turn and wanted more.


Woods' record against his peers is unmatched, he's been world #1 for basically all of his pro career bar a period of swing adjustment from 2003 to 2004. It's a testament to his will that he came back from this adjustment an even more dominant player and continued to rip up the record books.


The 2008 season was an especially good one until it was curtailed by injury. It's no secret that Woods essentially won the US Open title on one knee, such was his desire to win in front of his own fans.


Although Woods is regarded as a powerful player, generating massive clubhead speed, his strongest suit is generally his play under pressure, and in particular his putting. No other player thrives under the spotlights so much as Eldrick 'Tiger' Woods.



1. Jack Nicklaus


jack nicklaus top 5 golfers

Birthplace: Columbus, Ohio

Date of birth:  January 21, 1940

Major Wins: 18

Total Wins:113


Until Tiger can win 18 majors, the 'Golden Bear' remains number one on the list - and deservedly so. Jack had such players as Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, Lee Trevino and Tom Watson for his contemporaries and still managed to dominate. What's amazing about Jack's career is his sheer staying power - his first major came in 1962 at the US Open and his last in 1986 at the US Masters.


On the course, NIcklaus was generally known as a conservative player who relied on his excellent putting and shot-making to dominate his opponents. Nicklaus was something of an introverted character, somewhat similar to Woods in his style of being able to shut all others out and focus totally on achieving victory. It was Nicklaus' insatiable appetite for winning that made his career so long and so special.


"I wanted to win and then win and win and win again - everytime I teed it up, now and forever." Jack NIcklaus


Nicklaus holds many records, some of which include:

  • Most major wins (18)
  • Oldest winner of the US Masters (46)
  • Most Masters titles (6)
  • Along with Tiger Woods, the only player to have won each major 3 times

"I never went into a tournament or round of golf thinking I had to beat a certain player. I had to beat the golf course. If I prepared myself for a major, went in focused, and then beat the golf course, the rest took care of itself."

Honourable Mentions

Any top 5 list is going to leave out some big names: Arnold Palmer, Lee Trevino, Tom Watson, Sam Snead, Walter Hagan, Gene Sarazen, Byron Nelson, Harry Vardon, Young Tom Morris...the list goes on and on.


How did we judge this list? Primarily wins, majors then value to the sport - be it sportsmanship, show or even celebrity. It's all about opinions.


What's your top 5 list?



1.  Woods is #1 plain and simple

comment by Faty Bumpkin - 05/07/2009 11:11

2.  No Vardon? Tom Morris?

comment by Golf Trunks - 10/07/2009 12:11

3.  Woods is the best. todays guys are all pretty good. the reason they don't have as many majors as Nicklaus' opponents is because Woods wins so many in a shorter period of time. 4 in a row even. hands down.

comment by Bukator - 10/09/2009 00:26

4.  There's no question about Woods' prowess in this era. However, the competition of Nicklaus's era would blow today's chokes off the course (33 majors between Palmer, Player, Watson and Trevino alone)compared to a paltry 10 between Mickelson, Singh and Els). Granted they're still competing but that stat alone accounts for Jack's unparalleled 19 runner-up finishes versus Woods'5. There's is a mountain to climb before Jack Nicklaus can be taken down from his recognition as the all-time greates golfer ever.

comment by Redhill - 23/06/2010 19:33

5.  Jack will always be the best. Staying power, and playing with those shi*ty old persimmon woods, no world wide web. Jack did it old school, he dominated the toughest fairway on tour, the little six inch fairway between his ears.

comment by larry - 12/05/2015 17:19

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