We are almost a quarter of the way through the current century and there enough perspective to determine the Greatest Golfers of the 20th Century.
Out of the many great players worth noting, I determined only six worthy of the title “Greatest Golfer of the 20th Century” title.
The shortlist of golfers is listed in the order of their careers. Who do you rate higher than the others in the argument for who is golf’s greatest player?
1. Harry Vardon
Founder of the modern game, his elegant swing can still be identified as the genesis for the great swings of current players.
He dominated the game in the early part of the century and won six British Opens and one US Open. He only entered three of them and was runner up in the other two, while there wasn’t a PGA Championship or Masters in his era.
Vardon suffered a debilitating case of tuberculosis at 32 years of age that resulted in permanent tremors or he might have won ten opens.
A global figure during his prime, more than anyone, he is credited for growing the game of golf in America.
2. Walter Hagen
Though Hagen didn’t achieve notoriety outside the golfing community as the other five, his accomplishments were equal to theirs.
He won 11 majors: five PGAs, which were all held in match play format, four British Opens, and three US Opens. There were no Masters until he was 44 years old.
He also won five Western Opens, a mini-major of his day, the equivalent of the current Players Championship.
3. Bobby Jones
The lone amateur among this shortlist, Jones managed to defeat the greatest professionals of his era and retired from the game at 28 with four US Opens, three British Opens and was the winner of the original grand slam.
That came in 1930 when he won the US Open, British Open, US Amateur, British Amateur – an accomplishment not likely again.
4. Ben Hogan
Arguably the greatest shot-maker in the history of the game, Hogan won nine majors, the career grand slam, 64 PGA Tour events and four US Opens, the harshest test of golf and all played during the 36 hole-final formats.
Many credit him with a fifth US Open too. The USGA cancelled the US Open in 1941 due to WWII. However, Hogan won a substitute event, sponsored by the USGA and run like a National Championship, including rigorous qualifying, an elite field and a traditional Open venue.
A major injury in an auto accident shortened his career.
5. Jack Nicklaus
Nicklaus won 18 majors (the most ever), 73 PGA tour events, was player of the year five times and an eight-time leading money winner.
All of that was achieved despite playing a modified tour schedule, and deferring to family above golfing life.
6. Tiger Woods
Woods has won 15 majors, 82 PGA tour events, is an 11-time player of the year, 10-time leading money winner and perhaps possessed the most complete game of all: power, ball striking, scrambling and putting.
Injuries and lifestyle decisions interrupted his path to the majors record that seemed inevitable early on. However, it can be argued that Tiger’s most productive career occurred in the 21st century.
So far, Tiger dominated the first part of the 21st century, just as he was one of the Greatest Golfers of the 20th Century.
Other great players of the century: Gene Sarazen, Sam Snead, Byron Nelson, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, Tom Watson, Seve Ballesteros were all great players with great stories.
Jack Holden retired from business and returned to writing full time about his lifelong passion for the game of golf. He was introduced to the game as a caddy in Westchester County, NY, where golf clubs and great golf courses proliferate. He provides unique golf course reviews, commentary, opinions, tales and other interesting tid-bits about the game he loves.