50 Greatest Golfers of All Time : AND WHAT THEY TAUGHT US
Perhaps the landscape of competitive golf is too broad, elastic and time-warped to even attempt this. Eras are distended and sometimes overlapping. Strength of competition swells and deflates. Major championships gain and lose recognition. Money is an impossible barometer. And how do you compare Mickey Wright to Bobby Jones anyhow? With all that, here it is: Our ranking of the 50 Greatest Golfers of All Time, which rates, parenthetically, as one of the most ambitious projects in the 50-year history of Golf Digest.
Our voting panel was not shackled by a formal set of criteria. The methodology: We circulated 60 ballots to members of our Professional Advisory Staff, Teaching Professionals, Contributing Editors, in-house editors and a select group of writers and historians. We asked them to rank the top 10 players in order, and to then place the remaining players in descending groups of 10. Points were awarded for each 10-golfer bracket, with bonus points given to the special players who fell within the top 10.
The ranking does not intend to quell controversy. No ranking ever has. Our fervent hope is that it inspires argument at every station, from No. 2 to No. 50. (You’ll give us Jack Nicklaus as No. 1, won’t you?) The instructional points set forth by the greatest golfers who ever lived should help your game as well. Finally, we hope the essays contributed by many of the world’s most accomplished writers, athletes and high-profile figures will entertain and enlighten you as to the legacy of these remarkable individuals.
1 Jack Nicklaus
The greatest of all time
A champion’s champion: He showed us how to play
BY TIGER WOODS
If you aspire to be the greatest, you must at first have a clear picture of greatness. Mine appeared bigger than life, towering over opponents as he dominated professional golf. So you can imagine my surprise when I first met Jack Nicklaus and discovered I was taller.
Mr. Nicklaus, as I called him back then, was conducting a clinic at Bel-Air Country Club in Los Angeles, a short drive on the expressway from my home in Cypress. I was part of the show, sponsored by the Friends of Golf (FOG) tournament, having been selected by head pro Eddie Merrins to put on a ball-striking exhibition. I was 15 and a Nicklaus disciple from the time I was able to understand his stature in the game. “Hello, Mr. Nicklaus,” I said. “It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
I hit a few hooks, slices, low shots and high fades. I knew I had some skills and loved to show off. Jack complimented me on my golf swing and gave me a few words of encouragement. “Tiger,” he said, “when I grow up I want to have a swing as beautiful as yours.” We shook hands and posed for a picture. I felt even taller afterward. I guess meeting greatness had elevating power.
My dad first told me about Jack when I was 6 or 7. He wanted to make sure I knew my history. He proclaimed Jack to be the greatest ever, and Jack immediately became the standard against which I measured myself. I saw a clipping in The L.A. Times noting some of his accomplishments. It included the first time he broke 80 and 70; the first time he won the state amateur in Ohio and the U.S. Amateur. I was pretty young, but I understood that if I was going to become the best, Jack’s record was a pretty good place to start. So I cut the article out of the paper and tacked it just above the headboard of my bed. I figured it was a nice little barometer to see what someone else had done. If I could do that well, great. If not, then that would be fine, too. At least I had something to shoot for.
Watching Jack on TV and reading about him, I soon realized for myself just how good he was. There were a couple of things about Jack that really caught my attention. First, his intensity level. Whether he was shooting 65 to win or was grinding out a 74 on Friday afternoon to make the cut, his intensity level never wavered. Now, none of us know his mental approach, because if we knew that we’d all be winning. But his intensity level was unmistakable.
Second, all serious golfers have at one time or another faced a putt in the final round of a tournament or late in a match that you have to make to keep your chances alive. Almost invariably, Jack was able to make that putt. The greatest pressure putter of all time? He’d get my vote.
Perhaps the most impressive thing about Jack’s record is that not only did he win a lot of tournaments, but he won them over a long period of time. His consistency and durability have been incredible. He and Arnold Palmer share the record of winning at least one PGA Tour event for 17 straight years. Incredible. Year in and year out, he kept winning.
Chasing Jack isn’t easy. Eighteen professional major championships. It’s a daunting task. Some would suggest that Jack’s record is unattainable today because of the strength of field at majors. Even though the depth of field wasn’t as good then as it is now, in major championships the top players always seemed to be in contention. That hasn’t changed. In fact, just as impressive as Jack’s 18 majors is the number of times he was in contention. He put himself there more than anyone else. There was a 13-year stretch in the British Open in which he had 11 top-3 finishes. He has 73 top 10s in majors. That’s 18 years’ worth. Now there’s a record that might be unreachable.
The fun in chasing Jack lies in the challenge, even though it appears insurmountable. Contrary to popular belief, I’m not consumed with the chase. I don’t lie awake at night thinking about his records. In fact, I’m a world-champion sleeper. I’ve learned from Jack to put myself in position to win on Sunday. Sometimes you’ll win. Other times, opponents will give you a win. The important thing, though, is to put yourself in position to take advantage of those opportunities. Jack did that better than anyone. He also taught me that you don’t have to be on top of your game to win. In one of our conversations, he told me, “I very seldom won with my A game. I won with my B game and my C game, and I managed. You have the same thing.”
Jack wasn’t telling me that I was so superior to my fellow competitors, but that I had the ability to overcome less-than-great ball-striking. Jack wasn’t the purest hitter in golf, nor did he have the most elegant swing. He did, however, know how to win-how to get it done with what he had that week. And he was surely one of the game’s best thinkers.
I think he also saw a little of himself in me when we teed it up together in a practice round for the 1996 U.S. Open at Oakland Hills. A couple pieces of
advice he gave me that week proved he could identify with me as a player and as a person. When we came to the 18th, a tough dogleg right that Ben Hogan birdied in the final round of his Open victory in ’51, Jack put his arm around my shoulder. “I used to take a driver, cut off the dogleg and have a short iron into the green, while almost everyone else was hitting a 3-wood and laying up,” he said, pointing to the trees that protected the leg. “You can do the same. The only difference is that those trees weren’t full-grown when I did it.” He smiled that little mischievous smile.
After I won a second straight U.S. Amateur, I had a difficult time adjusting to the demands of the media. I just wanted to be treated like everyone else. Arnold had always been free with his counsel on such matters, but Jack was also a valued adviser. He put in perspective how to handle the media. He said it was my responsibility to talk to them as long as I was the focal point of the tournament-no matter how well or badly I played. He also said that the media should not expect an hour-long interview after I’ve just played a poor round. There had to be mutual respect. I felt he knew what I was going through.
Other times we just enjoyed each other’s company and the chance to win a few skins. During the practice round before my Masters victory in 1997, Arnold, Jack and I had the best time kibitzing over bets. Arnold took all the skins. We also played together in the Par-3 Tournament. I was nervous the whole round, but it was a good kind of nervousness. Man, did I witness the competitiveness of those two. I’d hit what I thought was a pretty good shot. Jack would hit it inside me, then Arnold would hit it inside Jack. Age got the better of beauty that day.
The one thing of which I’m certain is that Jack remains the standard. I think what we all remember about Jack is that he’s not only the greatest player of all time, but he’s a true champion on and off the course. Maybe he hasn’t won the most tournaments, but the fact that he was able to do it in the majors for a longer period of time-and win more of them than anyone else-is the most incredible thing about his career. I only hope that one day I’ll be eye level to him in accomplishments. That would be tall enough.
Nicklaus won 18 professional majors, including four U.S. Opens (1962, ’67, ’72, ’80), five PGA Championships (1963, ’71, ’73, ’75, ’80), six Masters (1963, ’65, ’66, ’72, ’75, ’86) and three British Opens (1966, ’70, ’78). He won the U.S. Amateur twice (1959, ’61). He won 70 tournaments on the PGA Tour and was leading money-winner eight times. He played on six U.S. Ryder Cup teams and was captain in 1983 and ’87.
Let the left heel rise
* The less a golfer’s left heel lifts going back, the more the left hip is forced to drop and the right hip to rise in response to the pulling of the arms and shoulders as they attempt to turn fully.
* The more the hips rock or tilt going back, the more they will rock or tilt the other way reactively swinging down.
* The more tilted the hips during the forward swing, the less easily they can rotate toward the target.
* The less easily the hips rotate targetward, the less room the golfer makes for the arms to swing freely past the body-the more, so to speak, he “gets in his own way.”
I work periodically in practice on consciously allowing the left heel to be pulled clear of the ground going back proportionate to the amount of shoulder turn I am making. By doing that, I reduce the amount of tilting or rocking in my hips, which enables them to rotate sufficiently to make room for my arms to swing freely past my body, which allows me to release my wrists and hands fully, which produces full extension at impact.
If you feel “blocked” or “in your own way” during the later stages of the downswing, you might find a little more left-heel lift mighty helpful.
2 Ben Hogan
A quiz on the best ball-striker the game ever knew
By DAN JENKINS
The fact that I knew Ben Hogan longer and better than anybody else in the sportswriting dodge often worked against me when dealing with my journalistic brethren. We’d play these trivia games during idle hours in bars, restaurants, press rooms, wherever, and it always worked out that they’d eventually make sport of me.
Here are some of my questions followed by their answers:
Ownself: “Who was the golfer who even Jack Nicklaus agrees was the greatest shotmaker who ever lived, all through the bag, all 14 clubs?
Somebody: “Ben Hogan.”
Ownself: “Who’s the only player who ever won five U.S. Opens?”
Two guys: “Ben Hogan.” [Yep, we count the ’42 Hale America National Open, and you should, too.]
Ownself: “Besides Willie Anderson, who’s the only other player to win three U.S. Opens in a row?”
Three guys: “Ben Hogan.” [Not bad: He won in 1948, didn’t play in ’49 and then won in ’50 and ’51.]
Ownself: “After Byron Nelson’s 18 wins in ’45, who won 13 for the second-most victories in a year?”
Everybody: “Ben Hogan.”
Ownself: “Who once won six tournaments in a row, which is second only to Byron Nelson’s 11 in a row?”
Everybody: “Ben Hogan.”
Ownself: “Who won 68 lifetime tournaments, which is more than anybody other than Sam Snead and Jack Nicklaus?”
Everybody: “Ben Hogan.”
Ownself: “Who’s the only player who finished in the top 10 in 16 straight U.S. Opens?”
Everybody: “Ben Hogan.”
Ownself: “Who’s the only player who finished in the top 10 in 14 straight Masters tourna . . . “
Everybody: “Ben Hogan.”
Ownself: “Who’s the only guy to win five Colonial National Invi . . . “
Everybody: “Ben Hogan.”
Ownself: “Who invented pract . . . “
Everybody: “Ben Hogan.”
Ownself: “What golfer . . . “
Everybody: “Ben Hogan!”
Ownself: “Who are the only three quarterbacks who won a national championship in college and an NFL championship in the pros?”
Everybody: “Ben Hogan.”
They weren’t really tricked.
Hogan won the U.S. Open in 1948, ’50, ’51 and ’53, the PGA Championship in 1946 and ’48, the Masters in 1951 and ’53, and the British Open in 1953. He won 68 professional tournaments, including 13 in 1946 and 10 in 1948.
Limit your hip turn
Some prominent golfers advocate taking a big turn of the hips. I don’t go along with this. If the hips are turned too far around, then you can’t create tension in the muscles between the hips and the shoulders. A golfer wants to have this tension; he wants the mid-section of his body to be tightened up, for this tension is the key to the whole downswing. The downswing, you see, is initiated by turning the hips back to the left. When you have this stored-up tension in the muscles between the hips and the shoulders, you have something with which you can begin the downswing. As the hips turn back to the left, this turning motion increases their tension. It is this increased tension that unwinds the upper part of the body.
When the hips are turned back to the left, this tightens the muscles between the hips and the shoulders just a notch more-something like the way a fellow gives each lug that little extra tightening twist when he’s changing a tire. Maximum tension in the muscles between the hips and shoulders produces maximum speed.
3 Sam Snead
The most natural talent and the best athlete
By TED WILLIAMS
Sammy Snead! Sam-my, Sammy, Slammin’ Sammy Snead! All I can tell you is, I’m extremely faithful about my belief in Sammy Snead. Boy, what an athlete. Terrifically built with those shoulders, no hips, power in those legs. Sammy was strong and he was fluid. Pretty good little boxer, too. Bet you didn’t know that, did you?
We met through Fred Corcoran in the ’40s sometime. Fred had been high up in golf running the PGA Tour. Eventually he became Sammy’s friend and left the tour job to be his manager. We hooked up in Boston, Freddie and I, so it was natural that Sammy and I would get to know each other.
We went into business together once. It was a fishing-tackle thing in Miami, but it didn’t work out the way we hoped and we got out of it. Finally, Sears got hold of us both.
Fred was always adamant that Sammy was the greatest golfer of his time, and I believe that. Look, there was a helluva lot of competition. Ben Hogan, Byron Nelson, Jimmy Demaret-all that talent to get in front of if Sammy was going to win and, boy, he won. Everybody who ever saw him swing a golf club knew they’d seen something to remember. They also knew, by seeing how fluid he was, that he was an absolutely great athlete.
Better yet, here’s a guy to admire not only because he could play; he understood what he was doing. It’s not always the best athlete who wins, but it’s often the one who observes and learns the most. Combine those things, and you’ve got something. You’ve got a Sammy Snead.
What a super, super guy. He came out of those West Virginia hills wearing no shoes and won all those tournaments and, what’s he now, 88 years old? He still hits that first ball every year at the Masters, down the middle 220 yards. I’m told he still can do that leg-kick higher than his head.
Tell you what, if I ran a big golf-ball company these days, I’d get Sammy Snead on my payroll, because I’ve got a great idea that he could make them some money. You get those Titleist people to give me a call and I’ll clue ’em in.
Sammy and I never played golf together, but we talked about the differences between golf and baseball. Sammy saw me hit a home run and said, “Well, Ted, not a soul in the world could interfere with that ball flying out of the park. But in golf, you’re wide open to hawks and vultures.” By that he meant the old-time hustlers like Titanic Thompson. But I always had the feeling that Sammy could take care of himself in those money matters. I know Fred Corcoran once said, “Sammy’s the only golfer who ever won a million dollars and saved two million.”
Well, if Sammy had his say about baseball, I had mine about golf.
“Sammy,” I said, “the only way a golfer’s going to get hurt is if he gets hit by lightning. Besides, how difficult can it be? You’ve got that flat-faced club and the ball’s just sitting there all pretty, snow white, smiling, teed up, everybody’s quiet like it’s church and they’re holding their breath so as not to disturb you while you try to make up your mind when you’re going to hit it.”
And I said, “Golf just can’t be as tough as hitting a baseball. I’m up at bat with 50,000 people screaming at me while some pitcher is throwing me sliders and knucklers from all different angles, and maybe a fast ball at my head if I’ve ever hit a long one off him.”
Sammy listened to me and he got the last word. “Yeah, I know,” he said, “but when we hit a foul ball, we got to go out and play it.”
Snead won 81 times on the PGA Tour from 1937 to ’65. He won seven majors (the 1942, ’49 and ’51 PGA Championship, the 1949, ’52 and ’54 Masters, and the 1946 British Open). He played on seven U.S. Ryder Cup teams and won the Vardon Trophy four times.
Pull down with your left hand
More golfers initiate the downswing incorrectly than commit any other single fault in golf. Almost invariably the cause of the fault is grabbing or throwing the club with the right hand instead of pulling it down with the left hand. When the right hand starts the downswing action, the shoulders move forward, the wrists uncock and both clubhead speed and square delivery are inhibited. The key thought of pulling down on the club with the last two fingers of the left hand helps prevent the right hand from assuming command and throwing the club from the top. It encourages the simultaneous thrust toward the target of the left side, too, a vital action that is always inhibited when the right hand is trying to run the show.
4 Bobby Jones
The greatest amateur of them all
By ALISTAIR COOKE
The popular memory of every great athlete is a romantic mixture of the truth and spectacular legend. Babe Ruth not only hit more homers than anybody, it seemed he could hit the stadium clock face whenever he chose to. Mark Spitz could swim the turn-around length of a pool in record time, too. Jesse Owens could outrun a horse.
The legend of Bobby Jones’ Grand Slam is that in one magical summer, in 1930, by playing his incomparable best, this amateur beat all comers, both amateur and professional, at a time when the best amateurs were as good as the best pros; and that, by winning all four majors in one year he established himself as the wonder of golf.
The truth contains little magic and only one round of high drama. The key to his extraordinary feat lies buried in Jones’ own writings: his reminiscences (Golf Is My Game) and the collection of essays that form a teaching manual (Bobby Jones on Golf). They constitute a unique record, since Jones was not only the best player of his time, but the most thoughtful writer on the game of any time.
After he won both the 1930 British Amateur and the British Open, he sailed home to prepare first for the U.S. Open in Minnesota. On the boat train to Southampton, Jones and his wife had along as a traveling companion Cyril Tolley, the most formidable, if not the most tactful, of Jones’ British opponents. “Bob,” said Tolley, “how long have you been over here?” About six weeks, Jones replied. “Do you suppose,” mused Tolley, “you have ever played so badly for so long a period?” With his unfailing instinct for good manners, Jones wrote later that “to agree would very obviously imply a disparagement of the opposition.” But it was the truth: “By the hardest possible kind of labor I had managed to win these two tournaments when my game was never once anywhere near peak efficiency.”
This story by itself disposes of the natural assumption that Jones was on one of those hot streaks that happen once in a while to every golfer. His achievement: to have won his way through 26 rounds (16 at match play) over four summer months, punctuated by many distractions.
It was the British Amateur, the first of the four and the one in which Jones played his worst golf. It was the fourth round, it now appears, that disclosed the secret of Jones’ triumph. By a fluky twist of fate, it was against the giant Tolley and played at St. Andrews in a 30 m.p.h. gale with “the wind being whipped in the bunkers.” It was, in retrospect, the most decisive round of his life.
Dizzy with exhaustion and tied after 18 holes, the two men padded back to the 18th tee and both hit long drives. Now came Tolley’s fateful lapse. A “slack second” (Jones’ term) was followed by a weak chip, which left him lying 3, seven feet from the hole. Jones, on pretty much the same line, was 10 feet away in 2. The gap of three feet was Fate’s present to Jones and made possible the match, the Grand Slam, the ticker-tape parades and his subsequent unique fame. Jones putted up just two inches from the hole, precisely in Tolley’s line. The big man conceded, and it was all over. Jones always regretted that “such a splendid match” should have ended in a stymie; but it was in those days a challenging element of match play. Understandably, Jones believed till the day he died that the stymie should never have been abolished.
Bobby Jones is the only winner of the Grand Slam, achieved in 1930 by his capturing the U.S. Open, British Open, British Amateur and U.S. Amateur. He won nine majors, including four U.S. Opens (1923, ’26, ’29, ’30). After winning the Slam, he retired at 28.
Begin downswing by unwinding hips
The most important movement of the swing is to start the downswing by beginning the unwinding of the hips. There can be no power, and very little accuracy or reliability, in a swing in which the left hip does not lead the downstroke. If the hands, arms or shoulders start the downward movement, the club immediately loses the guidance of the body movement, and the benefit of the power the muscles of the waist and back could have contributed. I think we may well call the unwinding of the hips the most important movement of the swing.
The trunk will begin to unwind while the hands and club are still going back. This order of movement has the effect of accomplishing two very important results. First, it causes the hip turn to lead the downstroke. But equally important is the effect of completing the cocking of the wrists. As the downstroke begins, one should have the feel of leaving the clubhead at the top.
5 Byron Nelson
He won everything, then retired
By KEN VENTURI
For all that Byron Nelson accomplished as a player-and his record is phenomenal-he’ll always be remembered for winning 11 tournaments in a row in 1945. That’s an amazing feat, one that will never be equaled, but I like to point out that Byron retired only one year later, in 1946, at the age of 34. He won six tournaments his last season, so you tell me, how much greater could he have become had he kept going?
In truth, I have an idea. In the mid-1960s, when Arnold Palmer and Gary Player teamed against all comers in a made-for-TV series called “Challenge Golf,” Byron and I took on Arnold and Gary at Pebble Beach. Byron was in his early 50s and hadn’t played competitively in almost 20 years, but his golf was phenomenal. We were in the prime of our careers, but Byron’s ball-striking was so fantastic, it was like he was playing against children. He drove the ball as long as we did and consistently hit his irons closer to the hole. When he finally missed a green on one hole, he chipped in. Byron and I-Byron, mostly-won that match.
Nobody kept the ball on the clubface longer through impact than Byron did. He took the club back straight away from the ball with that upright swing of his, then extended through it in a way where the clubhead moved along the target line for a good distance after impact. This made him amazingly accurate and consistent; in one U.S. Open during Byron’s prime he hit the flagstick six times in 72 holes. Byron’s divots all looked the same. And he is the only guy whose natural ball flight was a straight shot. He could hook and fade it easily, but Byron could hit the ball dead straight on demand. That’s the hardest thing to do in golf.
After Byron retired, he worked wonders helping me with my game. His understanding of the game in general and the golf swing in particular was profound. He understood cause and effect in the swing and how to go about applying what he saw. For instance, Byron would come up with a list of maybe eight things that were wrong with a swing, but he wouldn’t try to fix all of them at once. He could recognize how fixing one of the swing errors would automatically correct three or four of the others ones, and that’s how he went about it. He was a genius that way.
Beyond that, Byron was the greatest gentleman the game has ever known. I never heard him swear, never saw him lose his temper and was always amazed at the consideration he showed every person he met. In 1953 and ’54, we played a lot of exhibitions together. When we arrived at the first tee, Byron would always ask what the course record was and who held it. I was puzzled by this the first time he did it and asked him why he wanted to know. He replied, “As long as you play with me, Ken, remember one thing: You never break the course record if it’s owned by the host pro, because he lives there and you’re only visiting.” We both had numerous chances to break course records, but never did.
Byron is a sweet person, but he had to have been a vicious competitor to achieve such a great playing record. That’s how it is with the great ones-they have one personality on the course and another off it. I’m young enough to have seen only the warm side of him, but it’s enough to convince me that golf never saw a better person.
Nelson won 52 PGA Tour events in a brief but spectacular 13-year career. He won 18 tournaments in 1945 alone, including the record 11 in a row. He also won five majors, including two Masters (1937, ’42), two PGA Championships (1940, ’45) and the U.S. Open (1939.)
Stay down and through
At the moment of impact most players come up too quickly with the body and head, following the turn of the left shoulder. They end up looking right at the ball in an upright position. They might hit some shots straight, but when the pressure is on they’ll exaggerate this straightening of the left side. This can cause any number of errors, such as pulling the ball to the left or hitting it thin.
The better player, on the other hand, stays down through the hitting area much longer with his body by keeping his knees flexed, his left side leading and his head back. The right side comes down and under instead of up and around, and the clubhead trajectory is as low as possible, following the ball as it goes through the shot. That little dip they talked about in my swing happened because my knees were staying flexed and moving laterally farther than usual.
6 Arnold Palmer
To his devoted fans, he’s still the King
By GEORGE BUSH
As Golf Digest celebrates its 50th anniversary, I was pleased to be asked to pay tribute to my friend Arnold Palmer. But I wondered why they asked me to do the honors. There are so many other Palmer fans out there who are better golfers, whose memories of Arnie’s many triumphs are more vivid than mine.
There are many still alive, memories intact, who on any one of four days of glory at the Masters strode with the rest of Arnie’s Army up the 18th fairway at Augusta, highly charged with adrenaline, knowing that they, like their hero, were an integral part of golf history.
There are many fans around today who back in 1960 actually watched Arnie win the U.S. Open at Cherry Hills. None of them who were there in Colorado will ever forget how their champion, our champion, came from seven shots back on that final day to win the big one.
Some of those spear carriers in Arnie’s Army followed their king abroad, carrying their crusade overseas to watch as Palmer won back-to-back British Opens in 1961 and ’62.
And there was so much more for those foot soldiers in Arnie’s Army to salute. From his Amateur Championship win in 1954 all the way up to the senior tour events or Skins Games of today, Arnie still stirs emotions and captures America’s pride.
Some of Arnie’s corporals and privates and even generals in his army are a little slower now. They use magnets to ease the pain or canes to walk. Some cut across while others doggedly follow. Some surrender and sit there on the grass waiting for their hero to come by, but they are out there loyal to the end.
But I never marched in the army. Maybe Golf Digest asked me because the editors know that Barbara and I have been friends of the Palmer family. They know that Arnie has a wonderful propensity for making friends. Maybe it is because they know that we treasured our friendship with Winnie Palmer, too. We loved her. We went to her funeral late last year and felt uplifted by the genuine feeling of affection there for Winnie and Arnold.
The feeling transcended sports and victories. It had little to do with a sports legend’s personal grief-though that was all around us-but a lot to do with a close family’s strength, about a family’s love. That funeral simply reminded us of Arnie’s great life spent with Winifred Walzer Palmer.
When they came to visit us in Maine or at Camp David, you knew this love for each other was strong and real, a marriage blessed by God.
I never marched next to Arnie across that bridge to Augusta’s 12th and I never stood on any 18th green to see him crowned, but I have seen him up close and personal. And so I know for certain that he is a great and caring person, a wonderful, loving husband and father, and a true American hero.
Palmer won seven professional majors, including the U.S. Open (1960), Masters (1958, ’60, ’62, ’64) and British Open (1961, ’62). He won 60 PGA Tour events and was leading money-winner four times. He was a four-time Vardon Trophy winner, played on six U.S. Ryder Cup teams and won as captain in 1963 and 1975.
Keep your head still
Many golfers think it’s easy to keep the head steady; they think that all you have to do is keep your eye on the ball. Thus, when the amateur tops a shot, friends like to say, “You looked up.” When he hits behind it, they say, “You didn’t have your eye on it.”
They’re wrong. The only thing they’re right about is that some golfers do have a tendency to peek; these players will top shots, especially shots up close to the green, because they lift their heads to look up and see where the ball has gone before they’ve hit it. But although you can move your head as a result of taking your eye off the ball, the reverse of this, unfortunately, is not true. Keeping your eye on the ball is absolutely no guarantee at all that you will hold your head steady. Your eyes and head work entirely independently. You can hold rock still in the chair where you are now reading this and roll your eyes around in their sockets to look at the floor, left wall, ceiling or right wall. So it isn’t enough to keep your eye on the ball. You must consciously and deliberately force your head to hold still. And it isn’t easy at all. It takes prolonged effort and concentration. It is probably the hardest part of golf to learn. You’ve just got to think about it and practice it until it becomes second nature.
7 Walter Hagen
Golf’s greatest showman could really play, too
By PAUL RUNYAN
Winner, PGA Championship, 1934 and ’38
I knew Walter Hagen as well as I ever knew anybody whose life-style was totally different from my own. I always went to bed early and ate good foods. I had good spending habits and was a teetotaler. Hagen was just the opposite, except he never drank as much as people say he did.
Hagen was underrated. I think that his winning four PGA Championships (at match play) in a row should be compared favorably with Bobby Jones winning the Grand Slam, considering that two of the Grand Slam events Jones won were amateur events and he won them handily because there was virtually no competition. Hagen consistently beat the best professionals of his time. And he wasn’t afraid of Jones. They once played a series of match-play exhibitions, and Hagen beat Jones easily.
It was often written that Hagen had to scramble all the time because he was a wild hitter. They said his swing was unorthodox. Well, the hell it was. He was a very long, very straight driver, and his swing was magnificent. He did sway a bit on the backswing, but he moved through the ball beautifully. He was marvelous with the putter, and under pressure he was outstanding.
Hagen was disturbed by so few things. Playing the Western Open at Olympia Fields in 1927, he came to the 18th hole early in the tournament and had an 18-foot putt for an eagle. His putt rimmed the cup and stopped six inches below the hole. He slowly tapped his next one and it rimmed the hole again and his ball was now 18 inches from the hole. He missed that putt, too. He announced, “I guess I better try on this one.” It cost him the lead, but he still won by several shots. The point is, nothing ever bothered him.
Hagen was an extremely cordial man. He never walked past you without saying, “Good morning,” shaking hands and asking how your family was. On the other hand, Hagen was a ruthless competitor and master strategist who would do anything to win, anything that was legitimate. For example, the stories about not showing up on time to play, of making his opponents wait, are true. At the Augusta Open one year we had to play 36 holes the last day. I had played very well in the morning round and was supposed to tee off with Hagen in the afternoon round at 12:05 p.m. Well, Hagen showed up at 12:40 p.m., and after we had played one hole it started to rain. Joe Kirkwood was playing well ahead of us and had to play only one hole in the rain. We played 17 holes in the rain and even though I shot a miraculous 75, I lost by one shot. Hagen came up to me on the 14th green with a sheepish look on his face and said, “I’m sorry for what I’ve done to you.”
I said, “Don’t worry about it. It will never happen again.”
But it did happen again. I partnered with Hagen in the International Four-Ball Matches in 1932, and when our tee time arrived, Walter was nowhere on the premises. I was sure we would be disqualified, but just as they called us to the tee for the last time, Walter drove up in a taxi and got out wearing a tuxedo. He had partied all night and hadn’t even gone to bed. He apologized for being late and proceeded to pick up on the first five holes. We were 2 down after those five holes, but then Walter went seven under par on his own ball the rest of the way, and we won in 39 holes. Walter apologized to me. He said, “Tonight I’ll get a good night’s sleep, and we’ll be better tomorrow.”
Hagen got a good night’s sleep. The next day we lost, 4 and 2. Truthfully, I wished he had arrived in the taxi and the tuxedo.
Hagen won 11 professional majors, including five PGA Championships (1921, ’24, ’25, ’26, ’27), four British Opens (1922, ’24, ’28, ’29) and two U.S. Opens (1914, ’19). He won 40 tournaments in the U.S. alone and played on five U.S. Ryder Cup teams from 1927 through ’35.
Control your mind
Top-quality golf requires concentration on every shot. And right here is where I always have an advantage. A thousand and one things can happen to distract and upset the tournament golfer. Some minor incident, perhaps something he did wrong, gets him brooding. Once he sets off on a wild trail of thought like that he might as well give up, unless he can concentrate on the job at hand. Luckily for me, I realized long ago that I’m no machine. I’m going to make plenty of shots that will make me look like the rankest beginner. But if I let a blunder like that get to me, I’d have kicked away every championship or challenge match I’d ever played.
8 Gary Player
A world leader, on and off the course
By NELSON MANDELA
Because he is a professional golfer who spent much of his career performing outside South Africa, Gary Player was always perceived as being one step removed from the world of politics. Yet few men in our country’s history did as much to enact political changes for the better that eventually improved the lives of millions of his countrymen. Through his tremendous influence as a great athlete, Mr. Player accomplished what many politicians could not. And he did it with courage, perseverance, patience, pride, understanding and dignity that would have been extraordinary even for a world leader.
During my many years spent in prison, I was frequently made aware of the harsh treatment Mr. Player endured as a representative of our nation. In 1969, at a very important tournament in America [the PGA Championship], a group of militant demonstrators who opposed apartheid yelled in the middle of his golf swing in an attempt to disrupt him. They threw crushed ice in his face. Once they even tried to charge him, but Jack Nicklaus brandished his golf club and helped restrain them. Amid this, Mr. Player finished in second place, perhaps his finest performance ever.
On another occasion, in Australia, protesters ventured onto one of the putting greens in the middle of the night and etched, with white lime, the slogan, “Go Home, You Racist Pig” on the green. Mr. Player frequently received threats against his life. There were people who thought he was partly to blame for apartheid in South Africa, when in truth he was no more responsible for that policy than Jack Nicklaus or Arnold Palmer were for racial conflict in the United States. Mr. Player was in danger many times, and the American FBI stayed in his company for months on end to protect him. That must have been terribly distracting, yet he endured and stood his ground.
And he always remained loyal to South Africa. Many athletes, you know, have fled their countries for the U.S., but Mr. Player remained true to his South African heritage. He did his best to explain the complex nature of trying to invoke change in our country, and always set a tremendous example for all South Africans. For example, he successfully lobbied our government to allow golfer Lee Elder and tennis player Arthur Ashe to compete in South Africa. He established the Gary Player Foundation, which has done a great deal to further education among young black people in our country. I am proud to serve as a patron for the foundation. Upon my release from prison, I met with Mr. Player and told him, “You have not received the recognition you deserve.” I was very sincere in saying that.
Mr. Player was just voted the top athlete in the history of South Africa. His accomplishments as a golfer are extraordinary. He has won more than 160 tournaments around the world and must be considered amongst the greatest golfers of all time. He won tournaments in five different decades, including the Grand Slam-all four professional majors in his career.
That is impressive, but it is important to note that Gary Player also was voted one of the top five most influential people in our nation’s history. His accomplishments as a humanitarian and statesman are equal to, and may even surpass, his accomplishments as an athlete. That is a legacy that will last forever.
Player has won 163 tournaments worldwide, including 21 on the PGA Tour. He won nine major championships, including three Masters (1961, ’74, ’78), three British Opens (1959, ’68, ’74), two PGA Championships (1962, ’72) and the U.S. Open (1965).
The buried lie from sand
When the ball is buried in the sand, I follow the same procedure as with a normal sand shot, with three exceptions. First, my clubface is square to, or facing, the target at address, rather than slightly open. This helps the clubhead cut deeper and under the buried ball.
Second, I swing more upright than normal so that my club enters the sand with more of a downward blow. My weight is on my left foot.
Third, I allow for the ball to roll a greater distance on the green than it would from a level lie. Because my club cuts deeper into the sand, it imparts less backspin on the ball. I bring the club through the sand with a full follow-through.
9 Mickey Wright
She sought perfection on every swing
BY BETSY RAWLS
Member, LPGA Hall of Fame
As people watched Mickey play golf during her career on the LPGA Tour, what they saw was a nearly perfect golf swing, a display of power not exhibited since Babe Zaharias, and golf shots unlike any that had been produced by women golfers up until then. They also saw an attractive, polite, soft-spoken, dignified young woman who accepted applause and praise with great humility.
What they didn’t see was a woman consumed by the need to win tournaments. Mickey’s drive to excel at golf, indeed to be the best golfer in the world, started the day she picked up a club for the first time, and it finally helped send her into early retirement.
Mickey was a perfectionist about most things she did, but she took it to an extreme with her golf swing. Mickey didn’t just want to hit a golf ball onto the green and close to the hole, she wanted to do it with exactly the right ball flight-a ball that had maximum carry, with a slight draw, that hit softly and stopped on the green. To attain the shots she wanted, Mickey strove for the perfect golf swing throughout her career, and she came close to achieving it.
As a teenager in California, Mickey drove from San Diego to Los Angeles once a week to work with golf professional Harry Pressler. Mickey never stopped believing in the principles she learned from Harry and has used the same basic swing she developed as a youngster for almost 50 years.
Mickey’s record in golf is phenomenal. She stopped playing regularly on tour in 1969, a mere 10 years after her first LPGA victory. During a 10-year span from 1959 to 1968 she averaged 7.9 wins per year. In 1963 she had an amazing 13 victories! Her 82 victories include 13 “major” championships and other records that probably won’t be broken. Just a golf swing, no matter how good, won’t produce performances like Mickey’s. Of all the qualities that led to Mickey’s success, her drive to be the best was the thing that fueled her career. Mickey had to win. She felt that a lessening of her obsession diminished her chances of winning. Mickey could never tolerate being anything but the best, and she knew herself well enough to know when the time came that being the best took more out of her than she had to offer. These feelings, along with a foot problem that made it difficult to play in golf shoes, led to the end of her playing regularly after the 1969 season. In the 15 years of full-time play, she averaged a truly remarkable 5.4 victories per year.
Mickey today is a delight to be around. She has a great sense of humor, curiosity about the world around her, interest in other people and absolutely no need to be the center of attention. She won’t play golf with people, but she loves to go out by herself early in the morning with one club and play nine or 18 holes. She still loves the game, still works on her golf swing, still hits golf balls, but now she has fun doing it.
Mickey Wright won 82 LPGA Tour events, including 13 in 1963 alone. She won 13 major championships, including the U.S. Women’s Open (1958, ’59, ’61, ’64), the LPGA Championship (1958, ’60, ’61, ’63), the Titleholders Championship (1961, ’62) and the Western Open (1962, ’63, ’66).
Hit the ball hard
Apart from our comparative lack of strength, too many women possess an even greater weakness on the golf course. Women don’t hit the ball as hard as they can. Too many women are so concerned they won’t look graceful swinging hard that they end up with a most ungraceful powder puff caricature of a swing, looping, lunging, limp. Too many don’t hit the ball hard enough to leave the imprint of their swing on the turf, let alone know when or why they should take a divot.
10 Tom Watson
His swing-and character-remain true
By FRANK D. (SANDY) TATUM
USGA President, 1978-’79
Tom Watson is a name that sounds like the name of a golfer. In my book a golfer is someone who:
* appreciates the privilege of being able to play the game;
* respects its values and traditions;
* respects the game’s rules, and plays accordingly;
* handles success with charm;
* handles failure with grace;
* adds something positive to the experience of those with whom he or she plays.
Tom Watson certainly qualifies on all counts, so the name fits. There are, moreover, additional factors that identify Tom.
He has an exceptional golf swing. It manifests a no-nonsense approach to hitting the ball. Throughout all the good years and all the not-so-good years it has remained beautifully intact.
He has a real reverence for the game, which adds a distinctive quality to watching him play. Verve, heart, intelligence and imagination are characteristics that have added so much to his career. He has a capacity to focus on the shot to be played. Perhaps more than any other single characteristic, it is the intensity of such focus that separates the great players from the rest.
His duels in the sun with Jack Nicklaus are legendary. The last two rounds of the 1977 British Open at Turnberry when Tom shot 65-65 to win by one over Nicklaus, who shot 65-66, surely rank with the most sensational performances in the history of the game. Hubert Green, who finished third, was 11 shots back!
Tom’s record, however impressive, cannot express how he relates to the game and the people with whom he plays. I’ve had the privilege of playing a wonderful lot of golf with him in a wonderful lot of places. Those experiences included playing with him over a period of 20-plus years in the Crosby/AT&T.
One episode revealing how he deals with failure occurred when his game was in an awful slump. The slump seemed to have reached its nadir when he made a desultory double bogey on the 17th hole that caused him to miss the cut in the AT&T. Later, when we were leaving the clubhouse after a late lunch at Cypress Point, he checked the time. I said, “Why are you looking at your watch?” He replied, “It’s only 4:30, and we have time to play nine holes.” My noting that we had no clubs, shoes or sweaters and that there was a cold, damp mist blanketing the course chilled by a stiff wind did not deter him. With borrowed gear and clubs borrowed from Hank Ketcham (the creator of Dennis the Menace), off we went into the mist and the rapidly declining light. If there is more sheer joy to be derived from playing golf than that we shared in that setting, I have not experienced it.
Another illustration of how he relates to playing the game occurred at Dornoch in Scotland. We had played a round in the late afternoon in heavy rain and a stiff wind in front of a large gallery of people who somehow had learned that Tom Watson was playing the course. As we played the 18th hole at about 6 p.m. he said, “Let’s tell the caddies to go home and come back in an hour so that we can play again without the gallery.” They and we did so. As we were playing the third hole in the fading summer light he stopped and said, “I have something I want to say, Tatum.” I said, “What do you want to say, Watson?” With wind whipping his rain suit and the rain splattering on his face he replied, “This is the most fun I have had playing golf in my whole life!”
This, in essence, is Tom Watson.
Watson collected eight major championships, including five British Opens (1975, ’77, ’80, ’82, ’83), two Masters (1977, ’81) and the U.S. Open (1982). He won 34 tournaments on the PGA Tour, was leading money-winner five times and Player of the Year a record six times. He is a three-time winner of the Vardon Trophy. His Ryder Cup record is 10-4-1.
How to chip from the rough
I tend to use either a sand or pitching wedge and play chip shots out of the rough in much the same way I play sand shots. With the ball back at least in the middle of my stance, I open both my setup and the clubface. I take the club up more abruptly on the backswing by hinging my right hand sooner, to avoid as much grass as possible on the takeaway. On the forward swing I slide the clubhead under the ball with the face held firmly open by the last three fingers of my left hand. I can even hit slightly behind the ball, as if I were in the sand, with good results. Remember that the ball will tend to run farther out of the rough than from a regular lie.
11 Gene Sarazen
The Squire stood the test of time
BY SAM SNEAD
Gene Sarazen was feisty, I’ll tell you that. I’ll give you an example. When I joined the PGA Tour in 1937, they didn’t use ropes to hold the galleries back like they do now. I was playing with Gene one time, and he hit a good iron shot close to the hole. The gallery broke out and started stampeding toward the green, and they just ran right over Gene. They knocked him down, and one guy ran right up Gene’s back and kept going toward the green. Well, Gene jumped to his feet and started screaming about getting his hands on that guy. Gene wasn’t a big man, only 5-foot-6 or so, but it’s a good thing he didn’t find that guy, or there would have been a burial. What a competitor he was. Determined. I don’t think I ever met a fellow who wanted to win more.
Gene and I were never very close. At one of the Masters in the late 1930s, my manager, Fred Corcoran, was telling the sportswriters how versatile I was. He said I could break par playing in my bare feet. When I played the practice round barefoot, I didn’t dig my toes in. I lifted them in the air and swung on the balls of my feet. I birdied the first hole and shot 34 on the front nine. Gene didn’t like it. He called it a corn-plaster stunt and said it was no way for a pro to behave. He went on so much, Corcoran was in tears. But that was Gene. He was outspoken and had strong opinions.
I’ll tell you something else. When Gene added a bunch of solder to the flange of his pitching wedge and turned it into the first sand wedge, he changed the game for good.
In later years we became more friendly. I always enjoyed seeing Gene when we went to the Masters to do the Honorary Starter ceremony. In fact, I saw him just a couple of months before he died. Gene had to wear two gloves just to hang on to the club, and you could read the brand name of his driver on his downswing. But the last thing I remember about Gene is that I gave him a big hug before I left to go home. I’m glad I did that. Gene Sarazen was something special.
Sarazen’s seven major championship victories include the U.S. Open (1922, ’32), PGA Championship (1922, ’23, ’33), British Open (1932) and Masters (1935). He won 38 tournaments on the PGA Tour and is one of only four players to win all four majors during a career.
12 Tiger Woods
Today’s dominant player transcends the game
By HANK AARON
I hear Tiger Woods has taken batting practice once or twice. The scouts tell me he has “warning-track” power. So I’m here to say, “Tiger, warning-track power is not going to get you too far. Better keep the day job.”
What a job he’s doing. Right after he won the 1997 Masters, and I mean right away, I saw more African-American kids on golf courses than I’d ever seen before. It was inspiring in ways that I never would have imagined growing up in Mobile, Ala.
Golf has never been a black child’s game, because it’s not a game you can play for $1.50 or $2, and most of the places where you could play were whites-only.
When Tiger set all those records at that Masters, it reminded me of the way we used to gather around the radio and listen to Joe Louis’ fights. The only difference with Tiger is, people gathered around the TV. His winning meant the same things to us that Jackie Robinson meant in baseball and Joe Louis meant in boxing. He lifted us up and showed us what we could do.
The first time we met, I thought he might have the whole package of qualities that make for greatness. Not only did he have unique talent, he seemed to have unique commitment to that talent. He wanted to be the best and was willing to do the hard work necessary to get there.
I saw the full realization of that commitment in the last couple of years. It’s one thing to go out and hit that ball farther than anybody else. That doesn’t mean you’re the best. You’re the best when you can fine-tune your game to win anywhere, anytime, in any way.
We first met at an awards function. He was in school at Stanford. He must have been 18, 19. I knew at that first meeting that he was special. He was impressive. Very bright, composed, mature way beyond his years. And he not only had something interesting to say to you, he was interested in what you had to say to him.
At 24, Woods has won 18 PGA Tour titles, including two pro majors (1997 Masters, ’99 PGA Championship). His $6.6 million in tour earnings for ’99 was nearly $3 million more than his nearest competitor made. He already stands first on the career money list. His amateur record includes three consecutive U.S. Amateur titles (1994-’96) and three straight U.S. Juniors (1991-’93).
13 Harry Vardon
Simply the best of his time
By PETER ALLISS
Harry Vardon died in 1937 when I was but a lad of 6. I never saw the great man play, but my father, Percy, a fellow golf professional (who played on four Ryder Cup teams in the ’30s) played with him on several occasions. Father was always impressed with Vardon’s rhythm and balance, also the effortless way he applied power, even though he was then in his early 50s.
The other great players of the day gave the impression they were trying to smash the ball to smithereens. His rivals-Taylor, Braid, Ray-were “hitters,” whereas Vardon “swept” the ball away.
Compared to Vardon, the grips of his rivals were crude, particularly by today’s standards. Vardon employed a light grip using the overlapping method, which still bears his name even though it was used earlier by a Scottish amateur, John Laidlay.
Vardon was born in Jersey, one of the Channel Islands, renowned today as a haven for tax avoiders. It was there he learned the game as a caddie. He came to England as an assistant professional in 1890 when he was 20. In 1903 he was appointed head pro at the South Herts Golf Club in north London, where he remained until his death. He lived modestly in a small house no more than 300 yards from the clubhouse.
Vardon’s greatest achievement was winning the British Open six times between 1896 and 1914. Braid and Taylor each won five, as did Peter Thomson and Tom Watson in modern days. I feel Vardon has been poorly treated by his appraisers, who inevitably rank Nicklaus, Hogan, Jones and Palmer as the century’s greatest players. I’ve always thought the century should be divided in two, due to changes in equipment, but I can’t comprehend how anyone could be so certain that Vardon does not rate a place at the top, especially if victories in major championships is the primary measurement.
Vardon won seven, but aside from his three visits to the U.S., the only major available to him was the British Open. If it had been “convenient” for Vardon to play in every U.S. Open up to 1920-and also let’s imagine the existence of the Masters and the PGA Championship-the outcome might have been very different. It’s possible Tiger Woods would be chasing the record of Harry Vardon rather than Jack Nicklaus.
Vardon won the British Open a record six times (1896, 1898, 1899, 1903, 1911, 1914), and was runner-up four times. He won the U.S. Open in 1900.
14 Lee Trevino
Golf’s funnyman also let his clubs talk
By NICK SEITZ
Comedy is a growth industry these days, and if Lee Trevino hadn’t made it as a golfer he could have been a rollicking success as a stand-up comedian. He can be funny sitting down or delivering punch lines on his follow-through.
Trevino’s 40-year pro career is memorable for its Horatio Alger beginnings (he literally went from the outhouse to the penthouse) and Hall of Fame record (six majors and five Vardon Trophies for low stroke average).
He is the last of the great shotmakers; he can make a golf ball do more tricks than those old traveling yo-yo salesmen could perform with their fancy demo toys. Trevino is memorable too for his unique swing, as consistent as it is unorthodox.
But he is most unforgettable as an entertainer in a sport almost stodgy by nature. He is golf’s answer to David Letterman, or would be if Letterman wore as many surgical scars. Trevino’s the only golfer to rebound from back surgery to win big, and his humor is spontaneously unscripted.
After he won the 1968 U.S. Open at Oak Hill in Rochester, N.Y., Trevino took over a local Mexican restaurant and threw a fiesta for a group of us. At one point he asked animatedly if we’d noticed that you never see a garbage can outside a Mexican restaurant.
He invited me into a practice round at the 1970 World Cup in Buenos Aires, where the joke between us was that his North Dallas Spanish and my college Spanish together couldn’t get us much of anything beyond the excellent local beer, which wasn’t a bad start, of course.
When an Argentine woman behind the tee oohed and aahed over one of his drives, the peppery Trevino wheeled and snapped with mock severity: “What’d you expect from a U.S. Open champion, lady-ground balls?”
His humor was usually born out of personally experienced hardship. “I went to college,” he said. “I went to SMU every year to deliver a Christmas tree.” He had in fact worked at a Tin Cup driving range that was converted into a Christmas tree lot in winter. He could even joke about lightning, which hit him during the 1975 Western Open. “I should’ve held up a 1-iron,” he cracked. “Not even God can hit a 1-iron.”
His public humor was good for him and good for us, and fortunately it’s still going strong. “When I retire,” says golf’s funny bone, “I’m gonna get me a blue blazer, an old-school tie and a can of dandruff, and be a USGA official.”
Lee Trevino won six majors, including the U.S. Open (1968, ’71), British Open (1971-’72) and the PGA (1974, ’84). He won 27 PGA Tour events and won the Vardon Trophy a record-tieing five times.
15 Billy Casper
Uncommonly gifted, highly underrated
BY JOHNNY MILLER
When people think of golf in the 1960s, they think of the “Big Three” of Arnold Pal-mer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player. To the public, it seemed then and seems now like no other pro golfers existed. It has been pointed out that, from 1965 through 1970, the Big Three combined for a total of 35 victories on the PGA Tour.
But Billy Casper won 23 all by himself.
That says something about Casper, who in my mind is the most underrated golfer of all time, hands down. Casper won 51 times on the PGA Tour. Only five players won more, and Casper did it against some of the best golfers of any era. He was sensational.
Casper wasn’t the most flamboyant guy around, which is why he didn’t get much attention from the press or much adulation from the public. But he was a golf genius, especially with the putter. As a young pro I played a lot of golf with Casper, and I saw him do things that were hard to believe. For example, if he missed a putt he thought he should have made, and was left with a three-footer coming back, he would walk up and slam that putt so hard it would hit the back of the hole, pop up in the air and then fall in. He did that all the time. If he ever missed one of those, the ball would have gone 10 feet by the hole. But he never did miss. And he was even better on long putts. On 30-, 40- and even 60-foot putts, he would roll the ball to within two feet, on average.
He was a magician with the long clubs, too. Casper loved to work the ball. He would fade his driver and then curve his approach shot either way.
Casper never choked. If you found yourself playing head to head against him, you were in very deep trouble. He had almost no ego. He would grind along in a very businesslike way, rarely making a mistake, and eventually he would beat you. Remember when Arnold Palmer blew the 1966 U.S. Open at Olympic to Casper by squandering a seven-stroke lead on the back nine? Well, people forget that Casper shot 32 over the final nine holes.
Casper won 51 tournaments on the PGA Tour, including the U.S. Open (1959, ’66) and the Masters (1970). He won the Vardon Trophy five times and played on eight U.S. Ryder Cup teams.
16 Seve Ballesteros
The master of escape dominated the world
BY PETER THOMSON
From the start of his career on the big scene in 1976, Severiano Ballesteros was prone to waywardness. That is what the fans loved, and Seve spent a fair time among them. With good looks, an infectious smile and a jaunty lope along the fairways, he attracted a huge following.
Like Palmer before him, Seve became almost a victim of his own reputation. Galleries expected him to hit wild shots-to “go bush” now and again-and he took no steps to play otherwise. Perhaps he couldn’t. Seve’s physique didn’t help. With long legs and arms, working knees and elbows, there were too many moving parts for his swing to last. Alas, when the shine went off his putting, he was disarmed, and he fell back among the also-rans and could-have-beens. Golf lost a diamond asset.
I will never forget his first British Open, in 1976 when he was just 19. He engaged in a monumental battle at Royal Birkdale with Johnny Miller over the last two rounds. Miller was at his peak, with his game under expert control. Ballesteros was not. For a good part of each round Seve played his second shots from extraordinary places, yet managed to keep his score low enough to hassle Miller. Seve’s second-place finish stamped him as a future champion.
It was on the Elysian Fields of Augusta National Golf Club where he came into his own. Appreciating the broad fairways without rough, the Spaniard reigned supreme, winning in 1980 and again in 1983.
Ballesteros wanted to pick and choose where the pickings were the best. The U.S. tour wanted otherwise. Either he play 15 tournaments or none, so he went where he was appreciated and paid most-his own European territory. Some say he made the Euro Tour. Others say he milked it. Whatever he did, he left an indelible mark.
Ballesteros won the British Open in 1979, ’84, ’88 and won the Masters in 1980 and ’83. He won 48 tournaments on the European tour and captured five World Match Play titles. He played on eight European Ryder Cup teams and captained the victorious European team in 1997 at Valderrama.
17 Babe Zaharias
An incredible record in a career cut short
BY ANN RICHARDS
Mildred (Babe) Did-rickson Zaharias changed the status of women in sports forever. After the Babe arrived on the scene, women had to be taken seriously-she saw to that. As the greatest woman athlete of all time, she could beat almost any man at almost any game, and she was not shy about saying so. At golf clinics, she would hit a 300-yard drive and then turn to the crowd and say, “Don’t you men wish you could hit a ball like that?”
Born in Port Arthur, Tex., in 1911, and raised in Beaumont, Babe entered the 1932 Olympics at Los Angeles. She was allowed to compete in only three events-it was thought at the time that women were too frail to do more-and won gold medals in the javelin and the 80-meter high hurdles. She won the high jump, too, but judges ruled she dived over the bar in a way they found unacceptable and awarded her the silver medal instead.
Babe was an All-American basketball player for three years, and was a champion at tennis, diving, baseball and softball.
But she is best known for her feats in golf. In less than eight years as a touring pro, she won 31 tournaments, including three U.S. Women’s Opens, and dominated the game as no woman ever has. Her contemporary, Patty Berg, once said, “Until Babe came along, women were all swing and no hit. She put power into women’s golf.”
In 1938 Babe played in the men’s Los Angeles Open and was paired in the pro-am with wrestler George Zaharias. They fell in love and were married. While dying of colon cancer at the age of 43, Babe entered the U.S. Women’s Open one last time-and won it. With all women’s sports on the rise today, we must pause to recognize the woman who was the genesis.
Zaharias won 31 LPGA tournaments in a six-year pro career. She won 10 professional majors: the U.S. Women’s Open (1948, ’50, ’54), the Titleholders Championship (1947, ’50, ’52) and the Western Open (1940, ’44, ’45, ’50).
18 Nick Faldo
He re-tooled his game to win majors
By PRINCE ANDREW
Duke of York
It is interesting to note that in the last 15 years, or, if you prefer, in the last decade and a half of the millennium, no player won more than three professional major championships, except for Nick Faldo. He won six. And if we are discussing greatness, then I have always believed that the greatest courses produce the greatest champions. It is no coincidence that Nick won his majors at St. Andrews, Augusta and Muirfield.
Nick did not touch a golf club until he was nearly 14. At 20 he became the youngest ever Ryder Cup competitor. He has played in no fewer than 11 Ryder Cup competitions and has amassed 25 Ryder Cup points, the largest number to date. Established as one of the finest golfers in Europe-and one of the best young players in the world-Nick completely dismantled his swing. If there is one thing I have learned about Nick, it is that he is the ultimate perfectionist; he could not settle for being one of the best, he had to become the best. It took him two years to rebuild his swing, and he spent the next 10 years achieving great feats on the course.
Aside from that resolve to be the best, and a level of determination perhaps rivaled only by that of Gary Player, Nick’s outstanding attribute is his ability to raise his game. Nick has had two rounds of golf that will stick in most people’s minds for years to come: his third round with Greg Norman at St. Andrews in the Open of 1990 and overtaking Greg in the final round of the 1996 Masters. There are perhaps no better examples of the power of concentration.
It has been thrilling to witness, often at first hand, some of the defining moments in Nick’s career. Equally, I have enjoyed seeing another side of Nick Faldo through my involvement with the Faldo Junior Series golf tournaments. I have also been fortunate to play golf with Nick on several occasions; I can shake his mental resilience but never break it! I am also convinced of his absolute determination to win yet more major championships.
Faldo is a three-time winner of the Masters (1989, ’90, ’96) and British Open (1987, ’90, ’92). He has won 39 tournaments.
19 Hale Irwin
Master of the U.S. Open-and the dramatic
BY DAVE ANDERSON
Until he reacted to that 45-foot birdie putt by running around the 18th green and slapping hands with the 1990 U.S. Open spectators behind the ropes at Medinah No. 3, his name might as well have been HaleIrwin.com.
For all the millions and all the PGA Tour events he had won, his image was as impersonal and as impassive as a Web site. He had always talked about how the thing he enjoyed the most about golf was the “only-ness” of being out there by himself. But when he celebrated that putt so spontaneously with so many others and went on to win his third U.S. Open in a 19-hole playoff with Mike Donald the next day, Irwin created his legacy.
“It changed,” he has said, “how the world looked at me.”
In the golf world’s eyes, Irwin was appreciated as never before. He was no longer just the golfer whose competitive concentration had earned him a reputation for “playing tough courses well” in winning the U.S. Open at Winged Foot in 1974 and at Inverness in 1979. He now had bonded not only with the gallery that day but with every duffer who ever dreamed of holing a 45-foot birdie putt on the 72nd green at a U.S. Open.
“The thing that triggered it was the volume of the noise,” he has said. “When I looked over and saw the crowd going wild, I got caught up in it-the excitement-and my instinct was to share it with them.”
That instinct put Hale Irwin on a loftier pedestal. He now was more than a University of Colorado defensive back-turned-pro golfer, more than a rigid robot who had hit some great fairway wood shots and memorable 2-iron shots under pressure, more than a money machine who later would dominate the Senior PGA Tour. He not only had an emotional soul, but when he celebrated that 45-foot putt, he had displayed it for all to see and to cherish.
Irwin won the U.S. Open three times (1974, ’79, ’90). He won 20 PGA Tour events and played on five U.S. Ryder Cup teams. From 1975 through ’78, he made 86 consecutive cuts. He has had a remarkable career on the Senior PGA Tour; in his first five years he won 25 tournaments.
20 Jimmy Demaret
BY JACK BURKE JR.
Jimmy may have been the greatest shotmaker who ever lived. His bread and butter was a low fade, but he could hit every shot in the book.
Jimmy had a tremendous influence on Ben Hogan. Unlike Hogan, though, Jimmy didn’t practice much. He played by feel and instinct, and he had a lot of imagination and guts. That was enough.
Jimmy had talent. He also had the right tools physically. He had the strongest hands in the world, and his wrists were the size of most people’s ankles. And his record is something–he won the Masters three times, in 1940, ’47 and ’50; and he won 31 times on the PGA Tour.
There never was a guy who was more fun to be around, or a guy who enjoyed being who he was, more than Jimmy.
What he taught us: Great shotmakers have great hands, and Demaret’s were something to behold: Large, meaty, thick-fingered and supple. But as he pointed out, the hands can’t perform their share without the rest of your anatomy working properly, too. “To prevent swaying on the backswing,” Demaret said, “keep your weight on the inside portion of your right foot.”
21 Raymond Floyd
Floyd’s trademark was “The Stare,” an intimidating glare his foes couldn’t help but notice when he was in or near the lead. His record was something to stare at as well. Floyd won his first PGA Tour title in 1963 and his last in 1992, a remarkable feat of longevity. Then there are the years in between, when he quietly constructed one of the most varied playing records in history. Floyd won 22 times on the PGA Tour and collected four majors, including the 1969 and ’82 PGA Championships, the 1976 Masters and the 1986 U.S. Open (at age 43). Floyd also played on eight U.S. Ryder Cup teams. At age 58 he hasn’t gone away; he has won 13 tournaments and more than $7 million on the Senior PGA Tour.
What he taught us: Floyd’s full swing is far from classic; it features a hitch early in the backswing and an ungainly lurch through impact. His putt-ing style is curious, too; he grips the putter at the end of the handle with his hands close to his belly. His feet are so close together they almost touch. Floyd doesn’t much care. His advice to the everyday player is classic: “Don’t worry so much about technique in putting. The important thing is to feel comfortable.” That’s another way of saying, “It’s not how, but how many.”
22 Greg Norman
BY DONALD TRUMP
You hear a lot about Greg Norman’s ability as a ball-striker, but let me tell you, the man can really putt. I’ve played a number of rounds with Greg through the years, and in a particular pro-am, which we won, he always made the putt that had to be made. That pro-am we played in together was a scramble, and we were five under par after six holes-gross-and none of the amateurs made a putt. They were long putts, too, 20 feet or more. He’s a really great putter.
What sets Greg apart from other golfers is his great determination. He has talent, sure, but talent alone isn’t rare. Talent without determination just doesn’t work. He’s a strong-willed, hard-driving, competitive guy. He loves to win. Even when he’s knocked down, he gets back up and comes after you. I respect and admire that. It’s what makes him so successful.
Greg can be controversial, but people who profess to have a problem with Greg are just jealous. He looks better than they do, he plays better than they do, and he’s a better businessman. When you have attributes other people don’t have, jealousy is a very common reaction. Greg’s a super guy. And a truly great golfer.
What he taught us: Norman’s game is exceptionally well-rounded. He’s a long, accurate driver and a superb iron player, which may explain why he took so many chances he ended up regretting. When he had it going, Norman could judge distance extremely well. One thought that helped: “When in doubt over club selection, always choose the longer club.”
23 Cary Middlecoff
When people think of the 1950s, they think of Ben Hogan and Sam Snead. But Cary Middlecoff had a better decade. A former dentist whom writer Herbert Warren Wind called “a happy refugee from subgingival curettage,” Middlecoff won 28 PGA Tour tournaments during the decade and 40 over all. Middlecoff was at his best in the big tournaments: He won the 1949 U.S. Open at Medinah and the ’56 Open at Oak Hill, as well as the ’55 Masters. A long, straight driver and clutch putter, Middlecoff was also an excruciatingly slow player and a temperamental one. His career wasn’t long; he was gone from the PGA Tour by 1963 because of a chronically bad back.
What he taught us: Doc was an intellect, and much of his success was due to his ability to think his way around the golf course. His considerable achievement in the majors was largely the byproduct of a disciplined game plan, which he passed on to us as follows: “Concentrate on hitting the green; the cup will come to you.” Middlecoff rarely beat himself.
24 Johnny Miller
You can’t discern Johnny Miller’s legacy by looking at the record books, even though he won 24 tournaments on the PGA Tour and took home two majors: the 1973 U.S. Open and 1976 British Open. Miller invented the sustained hot streak, winning 15 tournaments from 1974 through ’76. He invented the outrageously low round, firing a final-round 63 in winning the U.S. Open at Oakmont and shooting 61 on three occasions. Miller also invented the runaway victory, winning the 1975 Phoenix Open by 14 shots. And he all but invented pinpoint iron play, at times hitting the ball stiff to the flag half a dozen times in a row. He was an innovator as well, the first pro to use an extra-long putter and one of the first to use a graphite-shaft driver.
What he taught us: Despite numerous injuries, bouts with the putting yips and an agonizing slump midway through his career, Miller gets extra points for longevity. He won his first tournament in 1971 and his last in 1994. Toward the end, he survived on wits, guile and experience. When Miller said, “Tee up on the same side of the teeing ground as the trouble, and aim away from it,” he was offering a bit of common-sense advice we all can use.
25 Tommy Armour
It’s remarkable that Tommy Armour won three majors, including the 1927 U.S. Open, 1930 PGA Championship and 1931 British Open. After all, he had but one eye. He had lost the other in combat during World War I, where, having been riddled with shrapnel, he reportedly leaped from a tank and killed a German soldier with his bare hands.
Needless to say, Armour was a tough fellow when the heat was on. And he wasn’t effective just in majors; he won 25 tournaments altogether. Armour was known as the “iron master,” but he and many of his contemporaries felt driving was the strength of his game.
What he taught us: As good a player as Armour was, his legacy as a teacher is probably just as indelible. He wrote classic instruction books and spent many years teaching well-heeled clients at Boca Raton, Fla., telling his subjects to “Hit the hell out of the ball with your right hand.” Armour felt that, used properly, the right hand was not a hook-inducing component of the swing, but a primary source of power and control.
26 Nancy Lopez
BY BONNIE BLAIR
When top athletes watch other athletes in competition, they often see things the public doesn’t. Our perspective is unique. When the average fan watches Nancy Lopez play golf, they see someone who is having fun. Nancy smiles a lot and gives the impression of being totally comfortable and relaxed. But having watched her a lot over the years, and being a golfer myself, I see a fierce intensity in Nancy that is very rare in sports. That intensity is the hallmark of all great athletes.
How could Nancy win 48 times on the LPGA Tour, including three LPGA Championships, and not be utterly focused and driven to excel? Think of the determination it took for her to succeed as a wife, mother and world-class golfer, which she accomplished as few women have. If they handed out gold medals for blending professional and domestic careers, Nancy would have a bunch of them. Now, that’s something to smile about.
What she taught us: One of Nancy’s secrets to distance: “Hold the club in the fingers, not the palm, of your right hand.” Gripping the club toward the palms of the hands is a sure-fire way to lose yards, and Lopez learned early on to position the handle where she could generate the most clubhead speed.
27 Peter Thomson
Peter Thomson won the British Open five times (1954, ’55, ’56, ’58 and ’65), a total exceeded only by six-time champion Harry Vardon. But that is only one measure of his greatness. In the 1950s, an era when golfers rarely competed extensively outside their homeland, Thomson became the first dedicated internationalist. His playing record worldwide is amazing to this day: 26 victories in Europe, 19 more on an older version of the Australasia Tour, and 11 more wins in Asia. An Australian, Thomson had a limited playing schedule on the PGA Tour, which resulted in only one victory in the U.S., but he made up for it on the Senior PGA Tour by winning nine times in 1985 alone. No one has won more in a single year, and Thomson did it at the age of 56.
What he taught us: Thomson believed in keeping the golf swing simple. His philosophy always was to pay close attention to preswing fundamentals (stance, posture and grip), and then make an uncomplicated swinging motion back and through. One bit of advice sounded more complicated than it was: “At address, line up your head two to three inches behind the ball and anchor it there, not tensely but firmly.”
28 Kathy Whitworth
Purists are awed by Sam Snead’s 81career victories, but Whitworth compiled 88 on the LPGA Tour, a record approached only by the great Mickey Wright, who had 82. The next closest was Patty Berg, with 60. Whitworth, tutored by Harvey Penick and Hardy Loudermilk while growing up in Texas, was a complete player and a consistent one; she won the Vare Trophy for low scoring average a whopping seven times, was leading money-winner eight times and was the LPGA Player of the Year seven times. She had endurance, too, winning tournaments in 22 separate years. Whitworth wasn’t terribly effective in majors in view of her other accomplishments: She won six, including the LPGA Championship in 1967, ’71 and ’75, and the Titleholders Championship in 1965 and ’66. Like Snead and the U.S. Open, she never won the U.S. Women’s Open.
What she taught us: Rather than overpower golf courses, Whitworth won with a fine blend of technical excellence, strategic mastery and emotional control. Her game was predicated on simplicity, exemplified by this tip: “For consistent pitches, make your backswing and follow-through the same length.” In the end, her greatest strength was that she had so few weaknesses.
29 Nick Price
Born in South Africa but raised in what is now Zimbabwe, Nick Price has won three majors: the British Open in 1994 and the PGA Championship in 1992 and ’94. He was second in two other British Opens and has finished in the top five in all four majors. To date, Price also has won 16 tournaments on the PGA Tour, 15 of them coming in the 1990s-no player won more in that decade. He was leading money-winner two years running, in 1993 and ’94.
Price has a knack for excelling in important tournaments, winning the World Series of Golf in 1983, the Players Championship in 1993 and the Canadian Open in 1994. Price built an outstanding record internationally as well, winning 24 tournaments outside America.
What he taught us: Upbeat and optimistic, Price would be a top-10 choice in a “nice people” ranking. He allows that attitude to carry over into his game. Price’s advice on bunker play is worth remembering: “The sand shot is one of the most forgiving shots in golf. Just knowing that will decrease your anxiety when you step into a bunker.” No great player was pessimistic stepping onto the first tee, and Price has had a much better outlook than most.
30 Julius Boros
Julius Boros had a mild personality with a golf swing to match, rarely giving the impression of swinging at more than 60 percent of his power. But the man called “Moose” by his fellow pros was a tough, unflappable competitor who was at his best in the big championships. He won the first of his two U.S. Opens in 1952 at Northwood in Dallas, the second in a playoff over Arnold Palmer and Jackie Cupit at The Country Club in 1963. Boros was second in one other Open and third in two others. When he outdueled Arnold Palmer to win the PGA in 1968 at age 48, he became the oldest player to win that event. He played on four Ryder Cup teams and had a successful career on the PGA Tour, winning 18 times. His syrupy swing aged well; he was a force on the Senior PGA Tour for several years in the early 1980s.
What he taught us: No player wins one U.S. Open, let alone two, with a patty-cake action devoid of pure power. Boros may have seemed as though he were hitting the ball at half speed, but in fact he attained plenty of distance. His watch words were, “Swing easy, hit hard.” His swing may have appeared slow and easy, but closer inspection revealed a quality of controlled violence.
31 Bobby Locke
Nobody thought Locke had a chance when the South African decided to try the American PGA Tour in 1947. Unorthodox in every respect, he played a roundhouse hook with every club in the bag and, upon reaching the green, was unquestionably one of the best putters who ever lived. He was the second-leading money-winner in that ’47 season and went on to win 11 tournaments on the tour, playing only sporadically through the late ’40s and early ’50s. Then there is his record in the British Open: Locke won it four times, a total exceeded by only three others.
What he taught us: Locke’s putting technique was as odd as it was effective. He employed a style in which he addressed the ball with a closed stance and swung the putter into the ball from well inside the target line-much the way he swung the longer clubs. Locke wasn’t preoccupied with dissecting his technique; he was an artist and once advised, “Swing the putterhead through the ball at the same pace you took it back.” Seeing that Locke holed every putt in sight-or at least seemed to-one would expect others to imitate his method. But no one ever did.
32 Gene Littler
Gene Littler was known as “Gene the Machine” for his elegant, efficient swing. His technique was as effective as it was pleasing to watch: He won 29 times on the PGA Tour and captured the 1961 U.S. Open at Oakland Hills. Littler was close in some other majors, losing to Billy Casper in a playoff at the 1970 Masters and to Lanny Wadkins at the 1977 PGA Championship. He was an outstanding money player, winning the Tournament of Champions three consecutive years (1955-’57) when it was one of the richest events in golf. He also played on seven U.S. Ryder Cup teams. Littler’s record is all the more remarkable considering he was stricken with cancer of the lymph system in 1972. Upon recovering, he won five more times on the PGA Tour and went on to enjoy a successful career on the Senior PGA Tour, winning eight times.
What he taught us: Littler’s syrupy swing was beautiful in part because of its simplicity. His uncomplicated action was by design. Littler used very few swing thoughts, and when he did they were to the point: “Let the clubhead continue through the ball low along the ground on the line to the target.” His unfettered technique enabled him to be a versatile ball-striker, one reason he was able to capture a U.S. Open, the most demanding championship test of all.
33 Curtis Strange
BY FRANK HANNIGAN
Curtis Strange was the best golfer in the world for more than a year during the late 1980s. Considering there are about 30 million golfers, that’s very good. His achievements: Back-to-back U.S. Open wins in 1988 and ’89; leading money-winner in 1985, ’87 and ’88; first player to win more than $1 million in a year (1988); won 17 times in a span of 11 years.
It was given that he would excel when it mattered most-like almost holing a bunker shot on the 72nd hole and getting into a playoff with Nick Faldo at the 1988 U.S. Open. He was above average in every phase with the exception of driving distance. The swing was as classy as his look. Curtis could really wear a cap.
He played in a barely controlled rage. His friend Jay Haas still dines out on “Curtis got mad” stories. My favorite, even with the expletives deleted, came during a Players Championship, when a remote TV mike picked him up speaking for us all at times when he blurted, “I hate this course and I hate this game.”
What he taught us: Strange’s instructional legacy is that it is acceptable to sway your head and body slightly to the right as you perform the backswing. What wasn’t pointed out: Strange coiled his body tremendously at the same time. Curtis himself said that one of his keys was to “Try to turn the back of your left shoulder behind the ball.” His terrific body rotation supplied him with sufficient power, and his swing was sound enough to provide control.
34 Willie Anderson
Willie Anderson drank himself to death at age 32, which explains why so little is known about him. But we know this: He was good enough to win four U.S. Opens in a five-year stretch (1901, ’03, ’04, ’05), and he also captured four Western Opens, a tournament that at the time held as much status as any major today. Anderson also was the first golfer to break 300 in a 72-hole event, shooting 299 at the 1902 Western.
Anderson, who was endowed with large hands and plenty of muscle about his shoulders, was described by one writer as “a dour Scot without any sense of humor; a cold, calculating, businesslike player who attended strictly to his shotmaking.” Anderson finished fourth in the 1909 U.S. Open at Englewood in New Jersey. A year later, he was dead.
What he taught us: Alex Smith, a contemporary of Anderson’s, wrote that Anderson was equally skilled with every club in the bag. Anderson carried only eight clubs, which says something about his skill. He obviously was single-minded, as he is purported to have said, “To think of nothing but golf while engaged in playing golf is the secret to success.”
35 Ralph Guldahl
Over a four-year period in the mid- to late-1930s, Ralph Guldahl was as dominant as any golfer has been. He won the U.S. Open in 1937, successfully defended his title the following year, then won the Masters in 1939. He also won three consecutive Western Opens from 1936-’38, when it had major-championship status. There were other titles, too-he won a total of 16 times on the PGA Tour, and had 20 runner-up finishes.
Guldahl was a consistent, straight-ball hitter and a stoic competitor. As he waited to hole out on the 72nd green at Oakland Hills in 1937, Guldahl removed a comb from his pocket and coolly groomed his hair. The end came when he overanalyzed his swing for the purpose of writing an instruction book; he never won again.
What he taught us: Guldahl may be the most celebrated victim of “paralysis by analysis.” Nevertheless, he achieved greatness at least in part due to his willingness to practice. One of his practice tips was, “Line up all practice putts carefully, just as you would on the course.” The tip is useful even today, and it should be pointed out that it was Guldahl’s full swing, not his putter, that eventually failed him.
36 Roberto De Vicenzo
Competition outside the U.S. wasn’t nearly as stern when Roberto De Vicenzo played as it is now, but the sheer weight of the Argentinian’s accomplishments in the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s earns him a spot on our list. Roberto won tournaments in some15 countries, and his total victory count lies somewhere around 200. He won the British Open in 1967, finished second in 1950 and was third an amazing five times. He won nine tournaments on the PGA Tour during his infrequent appearances in the U.S., but he is best known for losing the 1968 Masters when, on his birthday, he holed a 9-iron for an eagle on the first hole en route to a final-round 65 that tied Bob Goalby, only to discover he signed an incorrect scorecard leaving him with a 66, one stroke out of a playoff.
What he taught us: Like two of his contemporaries, Julius Boros and Sam Snead, De Vicenzo had a drowsy swing that was surprisingly powerful. He was a very solid ball-striker who concentrated on keeping mechanical thoughts to a minimum. He once advised, “Check your stance at address regularly. It is the key to good balance and freedom of movement in the legs, hips, shoulders and arms.”
37 Payne Stewart
Payne Stewart’s tragic death in a private-jet accident in October 1999 called attention to an extraordinary career. Four months earlier, Stewart, 42, won his second U.S. Open with phenomenal clutch putting down the stretch at Pinehurst No. 2. It was Stewart’s third major over all; he won the 1991 U.S. Open at Hazeltine in a playoff over Scott Simpson and captured the 1989 PGA Championship at Kemper Lakes.
Stewart was at his best on tough courses. He won the MCI Heritage Classic at Harbour Town twice, and nearly won the U.S. Open at Baltusrol in 1993, finishing two strokes behind Lee Janzen. At Olympic in 1998, Janzen again edged him for the title. Stewart won 11 times on the PGA Tour and played on five U.S. Ryder Cup teams.
What he taught us: It’s no secret that Stewart had one of the most stylish swings of the modern era. But his technique was also sound and adaptable for any playing conditions. Stewart had a long record of playing well in cold, wind and rain. Shortly after he won the 1989 PGA, he told us, “In bad weather, take more club and shorten your backswing.” Ten years later, he used that advice to remarkable effect at Pinehurst.
38 Horton Smith
Smith, “The Joplin Ghost,” displayed a putting skill that was regarded as almost supernatural.
Smith was deadly from every distance. He won 32 tournaments on the tour in a career that began in 1927, mainly with his skill on the greens, the method of which he explained in an instruction book written after he retired. Tony Lema always said that a putting lesson he received from Smith in the early 1960s turned his career around.
Most of the big championships eluded Smith, but he did win the inaugural Masters Tournament in 1934 and added another Masters victory in ’36. He also played on five U.S. Ryder Cup teams.
What he taught us: Smith’s uncanny skill with the putter gave the impression he was a “natural” in the mold of a Ben Crenshaw. But Smith worked hard on his mechanics and analyzed deeply all aspects of putting.
Smith utilized a lot of tricks, too, such as when he said, “On fast downhill putts, contact the ball slightly toward the toe of the putter.”
39 Jim Barnes
Jim Barnes won the U.S. Open in 1921, and finished sixth or better six times beginning in 1913. He added the British Open in 1925, and won three Western Opens (when it was considered a major) along the way.
Barnes didn’t move to America from his native England until 1906, when he was 19 years old, but he managed to win 21 tournaments against the best players of the era. Nicknamed “Long Jim” because he stood 6-foot-4, Barnes gets credit for dispelling the notion that tall golfers are at some some sort of disadvantage.
What he taught us: Like many tall players, Barnes was forced to concentrate a great deal on balance and rhythm during the swing. He mentioned the importance of weight transfer often, writing: “To keep too much weight on the right foot is to almost force a slice.” Regardless of one’s height, that is sound advice.
40 Ernie Els
At age 30, Ernie Els has only seven PGA Tour victories, but he certainly knows which tournaments to win. He captured the 1994 U.S. Open at Oakmont in a playoff over Loren Roberts and Colin Montgomerie, then won again in 1997 at Congressional. He is only the second foreign-born player to win the U.S. Open more than once; Alex Smith in 1910 was the first. Els has fared well in the other majors, too, most notably in the British Open, where he has finished in the top 10 four times.
Els’ placid temperament and long, flowing swing conceal the fact that he is one of the toughest head-to-head competitors in recent history. He won three straight World Match Play Championships from 1994 through ’96. A determined internationalist, Els has won 22 tournaments outside the United States.
What he taught us: Els’ tempo was a gift from providence, and it probably has a lot to do with his mechanics so rarely going astray. On the subject of rhythm, Els says, “For smoothness, start the backswing with your arms only.” Els’ backswing is smooth, all right, and his downswing isn’t bad, either.
41 Paul Runyan
By his own admission, Paul Runyan in his prime was the shortest hitter on the PGA Tour. It was hardly a serious handicap; Runyan won the PGA Championship at match play twice, defeating Craig Wood in sudden death in the 1934 final and thrashing the great Sam Snead, 8 and 7, in 1938.
Never longer than 220 yards off the tee, “Little Poison” was a superb fairway-wood player and possessed one of the finest short games ever seen. In fact, he developed a short-game method that a number of tour players use today.
Runyan won nine tournaments in 1933 and was the leading money-winner in 1933 and 1934. He aged gracefully, too, winning the PGA Seniors Championship in 1961 and ’62. Today, at age 93, he still teaches and lectures on the game.
What he taught us: Runyan’s short game was without peer, a combination of sound mechanics and exceptional feel. One of his fundamental beliefs: “On pitch shots, do not hold the club any farther up the shaft than is necessary to make the shot fly the required distance.” Control is paramount on shots from near the green, and Runyan felt that choking down on the club was the best way to obtain it.
42 Tom Kite
Tom Kite has won 19 times in his 28-year career on the PGA Tour. Not an overwhelming number for a career of that length, but Kite was the most consistent player of his era.
Kite has finished second in 29 tournaments and third in 22 others; he has more than 200 top-10 finishes. Kite finished among the top-20 money-winners 17 times, and was the first player to reach the career plateaus of $6 million, $7 million, $8 million and $9 million.
Kite won the 1992 U.S. Open, captured the Vardon Trophy twice and played on seven U.S. Ryder Cup teams. Never a long hitter, Kite continues to be a fine swing technician and an excellent course manager. He has already won early on the senior tour, grabbing the new millennium’s first senior major, The Tradition.
What he taught us: Kite’s boyhood teacher, Harvey Penick, was a major influence in his game. Kite can be extremely analytical about the golf swing, much more so than Penick. Like his mentor, however, Kite has a knack for applying common-sense principles to the swing. When Kite said, “At the top, don’t force the club beyond where your body lets it go,” he was expressing the need to play within your capabilities at all times.
43 J.H. Taylor
J.H. Taylor won the British Open five times against such fellows as Braid, Vardon and Ray. Impressive stuff, but it was his way of going that impressed observers of the era. Taylor was the second golfer to break 80 in all four rounds of a major (Harry Vardon was the first, in 1898), the feat coming in the 1900 British Open at St. Andrews. Taylor improved as time went on; he won the 1909 British Open with rounds of 74-73-74-74, good enough to beat Braid by six strokes.
Taylor, who had been turned away by the British military for being flat-footed and having poor eyesight, ran second in the British Open six times, and in one of the few trips he made to America, was runner-up to Harry Vardon in the 1900 U.S. Open.
What he taught us: Golf instruction hadn’t evolved very far at the turn of the 20th century, but Taylor had a prescient understanding of how the club should be swung. His observation, “The knees should be bent, the head kept at the same level, throughout the playing of the stroke,” is as valid in the era of graphite shafts as it was in the age of hickory.
44 Ben Crenshaw
Ben Crenshaw has won two majors-the 1984 and ’95 Masters-with what is widely considered to be the best putting stroke of all time. Those victories were no fluke; Crenshaw has six other top-four finishes at Augusta, and was second in five majors altogether. Crenshaw has won 19 times on the PGA Tour, including his first tournament as a professional, the San Antonio Texas Open. He has been among the top-10 money-winners seven times, and played on four Ryder Cup teams, serving as captain at The Country Club in 1999. Having been tutored by Harvey Penick, Crenshaw was a fine amateur, too, winning three consecutive NCAA Championships from 1971 through ’73.
What he taught us: Crenshaw summarized his views on putting: “I have two thoughts: Make a smooth stroke, and get a good, solid hit.” That’s it. That’s all. Crenshaw’s instructional legacy is that it isn’t necessary to overanalyze the fickle subject of putting. The simpler you make it, the better off you are.
45 Lloyd Mangrum
Many golfers lost productive years to military service during World War II, but Mangrum sacrificed more than his prime as a player. He was wounded twice during the Battle of the Bulge and was awarded two Purple Hearts. Less than a year after those horrific episodes, Mangrum showed how tough he really was, winning the 1946 U.S. Open in a playoff over Byron Nelson and Vic Ghezzi. It was Mangrum’s only major, but he did win 36 PGA Tour events and finished second in the 1949 Masters and 1950 U.S. Open. He also won the Vardon Trophy twice and played on four Ryder Cup teams.
Mangrum was a nerveless competitor, often playing pressure shots with slitted eyes and a cigarette dangling from his lips. He won the 1951 St. Paul Open under a death threat, presumably from gamblers. Mangrum died of a heart attack-his 12th one-in 1973.
What he taught us: The traits that made Mangrum great-guts, tenacity and nerve-can’t be taught. But he did offer this driving tip: “To ensure good timing in your swing, slow down your backswing.” It’s good advice, and unlike most amateurs, Mangrum actually put it into practice.
46 Larry Nelson
Nelson followed a unique route to stardom. A promising baseball player as a young man, he didn’t take up golf until he returned from a military hitch in Vietnam, where he saw plenty of combat. He broke 70 within nine months, having learned the swing by reading Ben Hogan’s instruction classic, Five Lessons.
Nelson turned pro in 1971 and went on to win three major championships, including the 1981 and ’87 PGA Championships, and the 1983 U.S. Open at Oakmont. He won 10 PGA Tour events altogether and played on three Ryder Cup teams. Not a bad record on the Senior PGA Tour, either-he’s won more than $4 million in less than three full seasons.
What he taught us: Nelson has remained faithful to Hogan’s swing principles throughout his career. He felt that one of the most important was, “Keep your forearms as close together as possible throughout the stroke.” It’s a fine key to consistency, and Nelson’s steadiness as a ball-striker is proof of his validity.
47 Henry Cotton
Cotton was at his peak in the 1930s and ’40s, an inopportune time considering there was little means or incentive to travel to the U.S., and World War II had forced a virtual halt to tournament golf in Great Britain. (Six British Opens were canceled during the heart of Cotton’s reign.)
Nevertheless, Cotton emerged as one of the great players of his day, injecting enthusiasm into a British golf scene that was moribund following the glory years of Vardon, Taylor and Braid.
Cotton won the British Open three times, in 1934, ’37 and ’48, and played on three British Ryder Cup teams. He won 30 tournaments altogether in Great Britain and continental Europe.
What he taught us: Cotton had a long run at the top of British golf, and he couldn’t have done it without a deep understanding of the golf swing. Cotton was an independent thinker who defied convention when he said, “Try a swing without forcing the left arm straight; it might suit you to bend it a little.” Cotton turned out to be right; no top instructor today insists upon keeping the left arm ramrod-straight during the swing.
48 Patty Berg
Patty Berg won 28 amateur events and no doubt would have turned pro earlier than she did had there been a tour for her to play. As it was, she turned pro in 1940, four years before the first version of the LPGA Tour was founded. She went on to win 60 tournaments, third-most in LPGA history.
Berg was outstanding in majors, winning 15 altogether, including seven Titleholders Championships, seven Western Opens and the 1946 U.S. Women’s Open. She also captured three Vare Trophies for low scoring average. Berg was the first great woman professional and the LPGA’s greatest promoter; she was the first LPGA president, from 1950 through 1952, prime years of her playing career.
What she taught us: Berg’s chief rival for a time was Babe Zaharias, one of the longest hitters of any era. Berg compensated by developing a dependable short game. One of her thoughts was, “On pitch shots, you should have the sensation that you are tossing the ball underhand to the pin.” All good short-game teachers have incorporated that piece of imagery into their repertoire.
49 James Braid
It was said of James Braid that “he went to bed a short hitter and woke up a long one.” Whatever his strengths as a player, Braid enjoyed a long run during which he compared very favorably with his more famous contemporary, Harry Vardon. Braid never competed in the U.S. Open, whereas Vardon did, and that alone drops him several notches on the all-time list. Nevertheless, from 1901 through 1912 Braid won the British Open five times and never finished worse than sixth. Braid also excelled in one of the big championships of his day, the PGA Matchplay Championship, winning four times. His career quickly declined after 1912, but in 1927, at the age of 57, he managed to reach the final of the PGA Matchplay, losing to Archie Compston.
What he taught us: Few players of Braid’s day enjoyed his longevity, which he made possible by keeping his putting stroke intact. On that subject, Braid wrote, “Any accurate putting is quite impossible when the body is swayed.” How right he was; when instructors today tell you to keep your head still, they are paraphrasing Braid.
50 Bernhard Langer
Bernhard Langer suffered several career-threatening bouts with the putting yips, which makes his solid playing record-and appearance on this list-all the more extraordinary. Langer solved his woes on the greens by employing a number of unorthodox putt-ing styles, each time finding an effective (though temporary) solution. The greatest irony of all is that Langer won the Masters in 1985 and ’93, putting beautifully on the most demonic greens in golf. When he missed a five-footer that would have retained the Ryder Cup for Europe in 1991, many said he would never recover. But he astounded his critics by winning the next week.
Certainly the best golfer Germany ever produced, Langer has appeared in nine Ryder Cups, and his record in Europe, where he has won 37 times against such adversaries as Nick Faldo, Sandy Lyle, Ian Woosnam, Colin Montgomerie and Seve Ballesteros, adds ballast to his ranking.
What he taught us: Langer is probably more qualified than most to discuss the mechanics of the putting stroke. But he likes to emphasize tactics, saying, “Hit every putt with enough speed to carry the ball 15 inches past the hole.”
His bouts with the yips doubtless convinced him of the need to lay his first putt close to the hole, good advice even for the best putters among us.
The 50 greatest players of all time
1. Jack Nicklaus
2. Ben Hogan
3. Sam Snead
4. Bobby Jones
5. Byron Nelson
6. Arnold Palmer
7. Walter Hagen
8. Gary Player
9. Mickey Wright
10. Tom Watson
11. Gene Sarazen
12. Tiger Woods
13. Harry Vardon
14. Lee Trevino
15. Billy Casper
16. Seve Ballesteros
17. Babe Zaharias
18. Nick Faldo
19. Hale Irwin
20. Jimmy Demaret
21. Raymond Floyd
22. Greg Norman
23. Cary Middlecoff
24. Johnny Miller
25. Tommy Armour
26. Nancy Lopez
27. Peter Thomson
28. Kathy Whitworth
29. Nick Price
30. Julius Boros
31. Bobby Locke
32. Gene Littler
33. Curtis Strange
34. Willie Anderson
35. Ralph Guldahl
36. Roberto De Vicenzo
37. Payne Stewart
38. Horton Smith
39. Jim Barnes
40. Ernie Els
41. Paul Runyan
42. Tom Kite
43. J.H. Taylor
44. Ben Crenshaw
45. Lloyd Mangrum
46. Larry Nelson
47. Henry Cotton
48. Patty Berg
49. James Braid
50. Bernhard Langer
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