Top 20 Greatest Golfers of All Time

Last updated on May 10, 2023 in Best of Golf 4 comments.
best golfers of all time

Who is the best golfer of all time? It can be a daunting task to compare Old Tom Morris to Tiger Woods or Ben Hogan to Babe Zaharias, or Jack and Arnold to any other golfer. However, the numbers can help us do so. Professional majors, tour victories, and worldwide wins are all key measures. Modern-era golfers who competed in 72-hole tournaments on great courses with tough competition and won in many tournaments around the world should be given a higher standing than historic gentlemen. The historic golfers are ranked last, but no disrespect is intended.

Let’s check out the list of the 20 best golfers of all time with our following article.

1. Tiger Woods

Tiger Woods

Tiger Woods began his rise to the top in 1997 when he dominated the Master’s tournaments, setting records and leaving competitors in awe. Despite starting poorly, Woods swept through the course, earning a 12-shot victory and boosting golf’s ratings. Woods went on to achieve unparalleled success with 15 major championships, 82 PGA Tour wins, and numerous accolades, but also faced scandal and disgrace. His impact on the game is undeniable, and his recent 15th major victory puts Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 majors back in play. He is also the youngest player to complete a golf Grand Slam.

Major wins: 1997 Masters, 2019 Masters, 2008 US Open, 2000 US Open, 2006 Open Championship, 2000 PGA Championship, 2005 Masters, 2000 Open Championship, 2002 US Open, 2005 Open Championship, 2007 PGA Championship, 1999 PGA Championship, 2002 Masters, and 2006 PGA Championship.

2. Jack Nicklaus

Jack Nicklaus at 2022 Masters

Nicklaus not only brought out greatness in his opponents, but he also elevated golf through his physical prowess, mental fortitude, and strategic play. With 18 major championships and 37 top twos in majors, Nicklaus beat the game’s best at their peak, coaxing their very best out of them. Even in his 40s, he outplayed the likes of Ballesteros, Kite, and Norman to win his sixth Masters in 1986. Nicklaus continues to shape the game through his golf course design company, cementing his legacy as the Golden Bear.

Major wins: 1962 US Open, 1963 Masters, 1963 PGA Championship, 1965 Masters, 1966 Masters, 1966 Open Championship, 1967 US Open, 1970 Open Championship, 1971 PGA Championship, 1972 Masters, 1972 US Open, 1973 PGA Championship, 1975 Masters, 1975 PGA Championship, 1978 Open Championship, 1980 US Open, 1980 PGA Championship, and 1986 Masters.

3. Sam Snead

Sam Snead is considered the best golfer of all time in terms of winning. He won a staggering 82 PGA Tour titles, along with approximately 135 to 165 wins worldwide in four different decades. Snead won three Masters, three PGA Championships, and a British Open but never won a U.S. Open. Despite this, his accomplishments were not diminished, and his swing served him well into his golden years. In 1979, at the age of 67, Snead became the first player to score below his age, shooting 67 and 66 in the Quad Cities Open. Throughout his life, he was a beloved advocate and ambassador for golf, and his swing remains the gold standard.

Major wins: 1972 PGA Championship, 1949 PGA Championship, 1951 PGA Championship, 1946 British Open, 1949 Masters, 1952 Masters, and 1954 Masters.

4. Arnold Palmer

Arnold Palmer at British Open

Arnold Palmer may not have had the prettiest swing, but he was the most important golfer ever and one of the best golfers of all time. He transformed golf by increasing the prize money and making it accessible to everyone. He built an army of devoted fans and won and lost with more flair than any other athlete. He dominated the Masters from 1958 to 1968, winning four times, finishing second twice, third once, and fourth twice. Although he made his name at the Masters, it was the 1960 U.S. Open where he showcased his talent, coming from seven strokes behind to shoot a historic final-round 65 and win the tournament, beating legends Ben Hogan and a 20-year-old Jack Nicklaus.

Major wins: 1958 Masters, 1960 Masters, 1962 Masters, 1964 Masters, 1960 US Open, 1961 British Open, and 1962 British Open.

5. Ben Hogan

Ben Hogan

Ben Hogan was a golf legend who focused on shots, not showmanship. He was a master shotmaker and relied on his ability to control his ball’s flight instead of advanced equipment. Hogan won 9 majors, a higher percentage of majors entered than even Jack Nicklaus. Despite many struggles, including a 1949 car accident that nearly killed him, Hogan persevered. He was a meticulous observer who didn’t write down yardages but instead interpreted them. Hogan won all of the Grand Slam events and became the first to win three majors in one year. In his last tournament, the 1971 Houston Champions International, Hogan left the course during the first round and never played again.

Major wins: 1946 PGA Championship, 1948 PGA Championship, 1948 US Open, 1950 US Open, 1951 US Open, 1953 US Open, 1951 Masters, 1953 Masters, and 1953 British Open.

6. Bobby Jones

Bobby Jones shone brighter than any other athlete during the Golden Age of sports, from 1923 to 1930. He won everything in sight, with 13 major championships, a record that stood for 40 years before Nicklaus broke it. Jones accomplished all this by the age of 28 and then retired from competitive golf, making his name one of the greatest golfers of all time. His crowning achievement was the unprecedented and unduplicated Grand Slam in 1930. Jones went on to organize the Masters and was a fixture at Augusta each spring. Unfortunately, he suffered from syringomyelia, which confined him to a wheelchair, and he passed away on Dec. 18, 1971.

Major wins: 1923 US Open, 1926 US Open, 1929 US Open, 1930 US Open, 1926 British Open, 1927 British Open, and 1930 British Open.

7. Tom Watson

Tom Watson

Tom Watson is an eight-time major winner who dominated golf’s oldest tournament, the British Open, winning it five times in nine years. He is remembered for his four memorable duels with Jack Nicklaus, including the 1977 British Open, considered the greatest head-to-head duel in golf history. Tom Watson was the sentimental favorite at the 2009 British Open at Turnberry but missed an eight-foot par putt that would have provided an improbable capper to his Hall of Fame career. Watson also has two Masters wins, three runner-ups, and 12 top-10 finishes at Augusta.

Major wins: 1975 British Open, 1977 British Open, 1980 British Open, 1982 British Open, 1983 British Open, 1977 Masters, 1981 Masters, and 1982 US Open.

8. Gary Player

Gary Player (right)

Gary Player is widely regarded as one of the best golfers of all time and golf’s first great international ambassador, paving the way for players like Seve Ballesteros and Greg Norman. At the start of his career in the mid-1950s, golf was primarily dominated by British and American players. But the diminutive South African, with an unprecedented commitment to physical fitness and an unmatched work ethic, fashioned a remarkable career, winning over 150 tournaments worldwide, including nine major championships. He is one of only five players to have won all four of golf’s modern majors and one of only four to have won the Masters and the British Open three times each. His greatest win was the 1978 Masters, where he stormed to victory with a final-round 64, still the greatest final-round performance in Masters history.

Major wins: 1959 British Open, 1968 British Open, 1974 British Open, 1961 Masters, 1974 Masters, 1978 Masters, 1962 PGA Championship, 1972 PGA Championship, and 1965 US Open.

9. Gene Sarazen

Gene Sarazen

The best golfer of all time Gene Sarazen’s contribution to the game of golf goes far beyond the memorable shot he hit at the 1935 Masters. At the age of 19, he won his first professional title, and he went on to win a total of 38 times in a career that spanned over four decades. His 1935 Masters win made him the first member of golf’s modern Career Grand Slam club, which includes only four other players today: Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus, and Tiger Woods. Sarazen even impacted the way golf is played by inventing the sand wedge in the early 1930s. His legacy remains as one of the game’s greatest champions and innovators.

Major wins: 1935 Masters, 1922 PGA Championship, 1923 PGA Championship, 1933 PGA Championship, 1922 US Open, and 1932 US Open.

10. Phil Mickelson

Phil Mickelson

Phil Mickelson ranks 10th position in the list of greatest golfers of all time. He has long lived up to the moniker “Next Nicklaus,” bearing tremendous expectations, many of which are self-imposed. Although his failures are almost as well-known as his many successes, he has accomplished plenty in his career. With 45 PGA Tour victories (tied for eighth all-time) and six majors, including three Masters, his win at the 2021 PGA Championship was perhaps his most impressive, making him the oldest major winner in history at 50 years and 11 months. Mickelson’s popularity has only grown over time, and he has recorded a record six runner-up finishes in the U.S. Open, adding to his everyman appeal.

Major wins: 2004 Masters, 2006 Masters, 2010 Masters, 2005 PGA Championship, 2021 PGA Championship, and 2013 US Open.

11. Seve Ballesteros

Seve Ballesteros

Seve Ballesteros’ appeal was his relatability to the average golfer. He played from tough lies, just like us, but with added style and grace. He burst onto the scene as a 19-year-old at the 1976 British Open, tying for second with Jack Nicklaus. Ballesteros had honed his game on Spain’s Pedrena beaches with a homemade 3-iron, perfecting his ability to tackle any lie or condition. He won three British Opens, including a legendary birdie from a parking lot in 1979, denying Tom Watson his third consecutive Open in 1984 and a superb final round in 1988. Ballesteros won five majors, including two Masters, and 65 titles worldwide. He is considered the best golfer of all time in Europe and Europe’s Arnold Palmer, helped make the Ryder Cup an iconic sporting event. Seve’s influence was so great that, as a non-playing captain, he led the European team to victory in the 1997 Ryder Cup held on mainland Europe at Spain’s Valderrama Golf Club.

Major wins: 1980 Masters, 1983 Masters, 1979 Open Championship, 1984 Open Championship, and 1988 Open Championship.

12. Byron Nelson

Byron Nelson’s performance in 1945 was unparalleled, as he won a record-breaking 11 consecutive tournaments, including the prestigious PGA Championship. This achievement as the best golfer of all time is put into perspective when compared to the career of Payne Stewart, who won a total of 11 tournaments and is considered one of the greatest golfers of all time. The Streak, as it came to be known, accounted for more than one-fifth of Nelson’s 52 career wins. It’s worth noting that his competitors during this period included Sam Snead and a young Ben Hogan. Nelson’s incredible success during that spring and summer was a testament to his ability to enter “The Zone,” and he was named AP Athlete of the Year for winning a staggering 18 events that year. Throughout his career, Nelson was renowned for his sportsmanship, making him one of the game’s greatest gentlemen.

Major wins: 1939 US Open, 1937 Masters, 1942 Masters, 1940 PGA Championship, and 1945 PGA Championship.

13. Lee Trevino

With his unorthodox, self-taught game, The Merry Mex, Lee Trevino, achieved an impressive feat, winning 29 PGA Tour events and six majors. He famously beat Nicklaus four times at major championships, cementing his status as one of the few players who could stand up to the Golden Bear. Trevino’s humor and working-class charm also brought a new level of appeal to the Tour. As he once joked, “I played the tour in 1967 and told jokes, and nobody laughed. Then I won the Open the next year, told the same jokes, and everybody laughed like hell.” His legendary career on and off the course solidified his place as one of the greatest golfers of all time.

Major wins: 1968 US Open, 1971 US Open, 1971 British Open, 1972 British Open, 1974 PGA Championship, and 1984 PGA Championship.

14. Nick Faldo

Sir Nick Faldo’s dominance of world golf during the 1990s came at the expense of his chief rival, Greg Norman. Faldo defeated Norman in a memorable British Open showdown in 1990 and capitalized on Norman’s epic collapse to win the 1996 Masters. In total, Faldo won six majors, including three Masters and three British Opens, and secured 30 victories on the European Tour. Faldo also provided a steadying influence on five Ryder Cup-winning teams, cementing his legacy as one of the best golfers of all time and a respected team leader.

Major wins: 1987 Open Championship, 1990 Open Championship, 1992 Open Championship, 1989 Masters, 1990 Masters, and 1990 Masters.

15. Walter Hagen

Walter Hagen at the 1922 Open Championship

Hagen had won 11 major championships, including five PGA Championships, four British Opens, and two U.S. Opens, setting a record that stood until the 1960s. In addition to his major victories, Hagen also won five Western Opens, which were considered nearly as prestigious as majors at the time. Known for his flamboyant style and showmanship, Hagen helped raise the profile of professional golfers and paved the way for future generations of touring professionals.

Major wins: 1914 US Open, 1919 US Open, 1922 British Open, 1924 British Open, 1928 British Open, 1929 British Open, 1921 PGA Championship, 1924 PGA Championship, 1925 PGA Championship, 1926 PGA Championship, and 1927 PGA Championship.

16. Ernie Els

Ernie Els, also known as the Big Easy, is a strong contender for the title of the second-best player of the Tiger Woods era with his impressive record of four majors – two U.S. Opens and two British Opens. His effortless, graceful swing has made him the envy of amateur golfers worldwide and helped him secure 19 PGA Tour victories, being one of the best golfers of all time.

Major wins: 1994 US Open, 1997 US Open, 2002 British Open, and 2012 British Open.

17. Billy Casper

In the 1960s, while the Big Three of golf (Nicklaus, Palmer, and Player) were dominating the headlines, the understated Casper was also a force to be reckoned with. Casper earned three major championships, including the 1966 U.S. Open where he thwarted Palmer’s quest for victory, and won a total of 51 PGA Tour events, which places him seventeenth on the list of greatest golfers of all time.

Major wins: 1959 US Open, 1966 US Open, and 1970 Masters.

18. Vijay Singh

Vijay Singh at the 2004 US Open

Although his career has been marred by cheating allegations and suspicion of performance-enhancing drug use, Vijay Singh remains one of the best golfers of all time. With 34 PGA Tour victories under his belt, including two PGA Championships and a Masters win, Singh’s place in the sport’s pantheon is hard to dispute.

Major wins: 1998 US Open, 2004 US Open, and 2000 Masters.

19. Rory McIlroy

McIlroy, a four-time major champion, is just one Masters win away from achieving a career Grand Slam. Despite his impressive achievements, there is a lingering feeling that his greatest accomplishments are still ahead of him. He has yet to recapture the same level of success he enjoyed in 2014 when he captured two majors. However, McIlroy is undoubtedly the player on this list of best golfers of all time with the most potential for future success.

Major wins: 2011 US Open, 2012 PGA Championship, 2014 PGA Championship, and 2014 Open Championship.

20. Greg Norman

Greg Norman

Greg Norman AO is a golf legend who was inducted into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame in 1988 and later elevated to a Legend of Australian Sport in 2007. Norman’s interest in golf began when he caddied for his mother and borrowed her clubs to play on his own, becoming a scratch golfer in just two years. He turned professional in 1976 and won his first professional tournament, the Westlakes Classic, the same year. Norman went on to achieve phenomenal success, winning numerous tournaments and holding the best golfer in the world ranking for 331 weeks. Despite some near-misses, he is still regarded as one of the greatest golfers of all time.

Major wins: British Open 1986 and 1993.

Above is the list of the 20 best golfers of all time. Have any other ideas or know any information that we have missed in this article, please leave your comment below or let us know by filling in this contact box.

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Linh Chi

I am an avid traveler who loves to play golf and have experience in tourism golf in Vietnam and Asia countries. I'm here to provide you with useful information and help to plan a perfect golf holiday in Southeast Asia.

Comments (4)

  1. No way Tiger over Nicholas, that’s absurd. Had Tiger remained healthy he probably would have overtaken Nicholas, but as it stands NO WAY. Makes the rest of your list suspect as well.

    1. Hi Shannon,
      Yes, it is true that Nicholas is a great golfer. However, our list of 20 best golfers in the world is based on the major wins they achieved. And, it is clearly that Tiger Woods gained the most.
      Best regards,
      Linh Chi.

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