Over the last decade, golf has become an increasingly popular and exciting sport. Many players have flirted with excellence, but only a select few players have left a truly extraordinary mark on the game.
While plenty of golfers have showcased brilliant ability and have seen great success, every now and then we see a special player emerge who is able to couple the highest standard of golf with astonishing longevity.
The best of the best are able to combine these qualities, and they can perform at their best in the most important moments.
Deciding on just ten players is a near-impossible task, with legends of the sport inevitably going to be missed out.
Nevertheless, we have taken on the challenge, so here is our take on the top 10 best golfers of all time!
The 10 Best Golfers of All Time
10. Bobby Jones
A lawyer by trade, Bobby Jones goes down as the best amateur golfer of all time.
Playing just for fun, Jones won thirteen majors, and was the first to win the (pre-Masters) grand slam in 1930; one of the greatest performances by a golfer within a calendar year.
Despite never turning pro, Jones did all of this against some of the best golfers of that time, and he played a very important role in developing the game of golf.
While he never got the chance to compete in a Masters, he co-founded the competition and helped design the Augusta National golf club, after an early retirement at the age of 28.
9. Seve Ballesteros
One of the most loved characters of the sport, with over fifty career wins, Ballesteros flourished amongst legends of the game in the 70s and 80s, such as Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson.
Seve had an unbelievable ability to produce recovery shots in any situation, the most famous of these being his shot from behind the car park at the 1979 British Open, going on to make a birdie.
On top of his five major titles, Seve has had possibly the biggest influence on the Ryder Cup in the history of the event.
Aiding Europe to victories in 1985, 1987 and 1989, he helped put an end to a period of American dominance.
Having spent sixty-one weeks as the world number one during his career, Ballesteros is often regarded as the greatest European golfer in history, and is certainly one of the best golfers of all time.
8. Tom Watson
Watson was undoubtably one of the most dominant figures that golf saw during the 1970s. Mentored by golfing legend Byron Nelson, Watson is not far away from being a legend of the sport himself.
Byron Nelson took an interest in Watson in 1974, and with an education in how to win from a golfing great, by 1975 he had won his first of eight major tournaments.
Notably, Watson had a firm grip on the British Open between 1975 to 1983, winning it five times and placing second twice.
Thanks to his superior putting and short game, Watson won plenty, and was named PGA player of the year six times. He did however, never manage to end a season better than second in the PGA championship.
7. Gary Player
South-African born Gary Player is often regarded as the most successful non-American golfer of all time.
Player became the third golfer in history to ever win all four major championships in a career, and more significantly, he was the first person from outside of the US to achieve the ‘career slam’.
First emerging onto the golfing scene in the mid-1950s, Player Competed with the likes of Palmer and Nicklaus.
His final professional appearance was at the 2001 British Open, then facing new stars like Tiger Woods.
His career ended with only twenty-five PGA tour wins, but is made up for with an impressive nine majors, including three Masters wins.
6. Walter Hagen
As well as becoming the richest golfer in the world during his time, Walter Hagen was one of the best golfers of the early 20th century.
He was the first ever American-born golfer to win the British Open in 1922, which he went on to win three more times throughout his career.
Hagen only falls behind Tiger Woods and Jack Niklaus in Major wins, with an outstanding eleven, and he has forty-five PGA tour wins.
Known for his flare both in his game and his colourful outfits, Hagen’s incredible putting and superb recovery skills set him apart from his competition.
Captain of the U.S team for first six years of the Ryder Cup, Hagen also played a critical role in the tournament’s early days.
5. Sam Snead
While ‘Slammin Sammy’ Snead didn’t win as many majors as some of the other greats, his achievements shouldn’t be overlooked.
During a career disrupted by the war, Snead still managed to put his name at the top of the list of PGA Tour competitions with eighty-two wins. Only Tiger has managed to tie this record years later.
Snead ranks at joint sixth in all time major wins with seven under his belt, and is one the most consistent golfers over a long period; he gained his last PGA tour win thirty years after his first, and he placed top ten of a major in five different decades.
Despite never managing to win the US Open, it was Snead’s incredible longevity that secures him a spot as one of the best golfers of all time, and who knows how many more titles he might have won if not for the war.
4. Arnold Palmer
Palmer enjoyed outstanding career success, and was a key factor in the population of golf throughout the 1960s.
Palmer accumulated an impressive sixty-two PGA tour wins throughout a career spanning almost six decades, making him fifth on the tour’s all-time list. He also won seven majors within a six year period of dominance, four of which being Masters titles.
Not only did win a lot, but he often did so in an unforgettable fashion, making extraordinary winning come-backs like at the 1960 US open, when he recovered from a seven-stroke deficit in the final round to win the title.
Helping transform golf from an exclusive country-club game into a sport appealing to the masses, Palmer had an unforgettable career, and you don’t get a nickname like ‘The King’ for nothing.
3. Ben Hogan
Hogan was often regarded as one of the hardest working golfers of his time, and it’s easy to see why when you look at what he achieved in such a short time.
His career took off after his first professional win in 1940, followed by three consecutive tournament wins. Hogan won fifteen tournaments between 1940 and 1942, and gained his first major title at the 1946 PGA Championship.
In a career disrupted by the war, Hogan boasted sixty-four PGA tour wins, putting him at fourth all time, with nine of those being majors.
Perhaps most impressive is that in 1953 he became the first person to win three major championships in one calendar year; the only person to eventually join him in this achievement being Tiger Woods, forty-seven years later.
Hogan set records with a methodical approach to golf, and his focus on accuracy rather than power allowed him to become one of the best golfers of all time.
2. Tiger Woods
Often when the term best golfer of all time is heard, so is the name Tiger Woods.
He captivated the world with his mind-bending shots and dominated the sport throughout the 2000s, but for us he comes in at a very close second.
Tiger is tied at the top with Sam Snead for most PGA tour wins at eighty-two, and has won fifteen majors so far. Only Nicklaus himself has more major titles.
Woods was unrivalled in his prime, breaking countless records in this period.
In August 1999, he became the worlds topped ranking golf player, and he didn’t let this slip for 264 weeks until 2004. In 2005 he resumed his position as number one for another 281 weeks!
However, some ups and downs in the later part of his career meant that tiger has been unable to beat Jack Nicklaus’s record of eighteen majors.
After 11 years without winning a major, Tiger came back to win the 2019 Masters, so perhaps there’s still time for him to secure his title as the best golfer of all time.
1. Jack Nicklaus
Jack Nicklaus has won more major championships than any other player in golfing history. He has the second most PGA Tour wins, and set numerous records throughout his career from start to finish.
What’s special about Nicklaus is just how consistent he was in majors for such a long period of time. He holds the record for the highest number of top ten finishes at seventy-three (no other golfer has more than forty-six), as well as top five finishes with fifty-six.
His success in majors spanned over two decades, with his first major win coming in 1962, and his last in 1986. This makes him the oldest player to win the Masters tournament at the age of 46.
Like tiger, Nicklaus was one of the most influential athletes of his generation, and his stats are difficult to argue against.
So far, no other player has achieved such a level of consistent career success for such a long period of time, and in majors -the tournaments that matter the most- Nicklaus is unrivalled.