The Top Golfers of All Time

Exploring the best, respected, and game-changing golf players is a big job. We’re not going back to golf’s very beginning, but we’re looking at stars from more than a hundred years of playing. These players are from different times, from the early golf pioneers to today’s top players.

In this article, we’ll learn about the top 8 golfers who made a big impact on the sport. They’ve left a strong mark on golf’s story, and their influence still matters today.

Top 1: Jack Nicklaus – Unparalleled Master of Majors 

Jack Nicklaus

When it comes to golfing excellence, one name shines above the rest – Jack Nicklaus, known as the “Golden Bear.” His record speaks volumes: 18 major championships won, a feat that remains unparalleled. What truly sets him apart is his astounding 19 runner-up finishes in major tournaments, showcasing his remarkable and unmatched consistency on the green.

It’s not just the number of major victories that defines Nicklaus’ greatness; it’s the astonishing frequency of his top placements. He triumphed in each major tournament at least three times and secured a top-two finish at least eight times in every major. This level of dominance is unparalleled in the history of golf.

Nicklaus’ legacy extends beyond victories. He held his ground in the top 10 an astonishing 73 times and clinched a top-five spot an impressive 56 times. Even during his peak years from 1971 to 1977, he secured top-five finishes in 23 out of 28 majors, with six victories to his name.

His consistency is a testament to his enduring talent. From 1960 to 1982, Nicklaus participated in a total of 88 majors, emerging victorious in 17 of them – a win rate of 19.3%. His top-five finishes stood at an incredible 60.2%, and he secured a top-10 finish or better a remarkable 75.0% of the time. Even during Tiger Woods’ impressive 12-year peak from 1998 to 2009, he managed a top-10 finish in only 68.8% of majors. Nicklaus’ consistency is even more remarkable, spanning over a decade longer.

Top 2: Tiger Woods – Modern Golf Icon and Global Phenomenon

Tiger Woods

Tiger Woods, a name synonymous with golf greatness. His influence on the modern game is undeniable, with iconic moments like the banana hook, the triumphant Tiger fist pump, and his signature red shirt on Day 4. He’s a true artist of the sport, leaving an indelible mark on its history.

Not only is Woods famous for his distinctive style, but his achievements also speak volumes. Tying with Sam Snead for the most PGA tour wins at 82 and securing 11 PGA “Player of the Year” awards, he’s a force to reckon with. His 15 Major tournament wins (second in golf history) cement his legacy, while his role in transforming the sport into a global phenomenon is undeniable. Tiger’s influence reaches beyond the golf course, as he stands among the world’s wealthiest athletes.

During his peak, Woods was an unparalleled force. From 1997 to 2008, he dominated the PGA Tour, winning 14 of 46 consecutive majors. The years 2000-01 saw him achieve a historic feat, holding all four major titles simultaneously. His prowess was awe-inspiring, consistently finishing in the top four from 2005 to 2008.

While injuries, personal challenges, and time have taken their toll, Woods remains an enigmatic figure. His major wins stalled at 14, once seeming destined to surpass Jack Nicklaus’ record. Despite lingering near the top in recent years, his path to the 18-major milestone remains uncertain.

Top 3: Ben Hogan – Master of Precision and Majestic Shotmaking

Ben Hogan seated on back of car in homecoming parade on Broadway

Ben Hogan, a figure of quiet determination, etched his name into golf’s history as the sport’s finest shotmaker. He wasn’t the flamboyant showman like Arnold Palmer; instead, he let his golf shots speak volumes. Hogan’s prowess was all about precision and control, an ability that set him apart from the rest. His nine major wins and remarkable success rate in majors rival even the legendary Jack Nicklaus.

Hogan’s journey was one of relentless struggle. Overcoming early challenges with the hook and a near-fatal 1949 car crash, he displayed unwavering resilience. Alzheimer’s and colon cancer may have dimmed his later years, but his spirit remained unbroken.

Unlike most players, Hogan didn’t merely navigate a golf course; he carefully analyzed every detail. His approach was one of interpretation, not just recording yardages. Every shot was a feeling, a connection between him and the terrain. His iconic swing, delivered from under the familiar white hat, bore the marks of his distinctive style.

He achieved the Grand Slam, a feat only five players can claim. The year 1953 witnessed his remarkable “Hogan Slam,” capturing all three majors in a single calendar year, a feat matched only by Tiger Woods. Hogan’s legacy extends beyond his wins; he left an indelible mark on equipment manufacturing and golf instruction.

From 1946 to 1953, Hogan’s domination was undeniable. A car crash couldn’t deter him, as he notched an astounding 13 wins in 1946 alone, kicking off his major conquests. His peak saw victories in eight of 11 majors entered, an achievement obscured by the accident’s aftermath. The pinnacle arrived in 1953 when he triumphed in all three majors he entered, a feat later matched only by Woods.

Top 4: Arnold Palmer – Charismatic King and Golf’s Cultural Catalyst

Arnold Palmer, affectionately dubbed “The King,” didn’t just play golf; he transformed it into a global phenomenon. With 62 PGA tour victories and seven major championships, his impact on the sport is immeasurable. Palmer’s entry onto the scene in 1955 marked a turning point, catapulting golf into mainstream popularity. His connection with fans was so profound that they formed “Arnie’s Army,” a fervent following that cheered him on during every tournament, making the 60s a decade marked by Palmer’s meteoric rise.

Palmer’s influence extended beyond his remarkable wins. He revolutionized golf’s landscape, breaking free from the exclusivity of country clubs and bringing the game to the masses through television screens. His flair for the game, both in victories and losses, captivated audiences like never before. From the azaleas and pines of Augusta National to the greens of other prestigious courses, Palmer’s charisma and skill were on full display.

While he left an indelible mark on numerous tournaments, the 1960 U.S. Open stands as a testament to his prowess. Facing a formidable leaderboard, including legends like Jack Nicklaus and Ben Hogan, Palmer delivered a historic final-round performance that sealed his status as one of golf’s greatest comeback artists.

With 60 PGA Tour wins, including seven majors, Palmer’s achievements speak volumes. His dominance from 1958 to 1964, particularly at the Masters, solidified his name among the likes of Nicklaus and Woods. Palmer’s captivating style earned him accolades, including being the first PGA Tour millionaire and a four-time PGA Tour money champion.

Top 5: Sam Snead – Timeless Swing Maestro and Victory Seeker

Sam Snead, the epitome of golfing greatness, holds a staggering 82 PGA Tour titles and possibly as many as 165 global victories, spanning from the 1930s to the 1960s. His swing, as smooth as flowing syrup, propelled him to wins across four different decades, including the 1954 Masters triumph over his friend and rival, Ben Hogan. Yet, a void in his accolades looms large: the U.S. Open title, which remained beyond his grasp.

Snead’s record boasts seven major championships, featuring three Masters and three PGA Championships. His unparalleled swing, an embodiment of efficiency, guided him into his golden years, remaining the benchmark for golfers. In a remarkable 1979 performance, he scored below his age, 67 and 66, in the Quad Cities Open at 67 years old, a testament to his enduring greatness.

Despite his prolific victories, the U.S. Open remained elusive, a quest defined by near-tragic near-misses. Yet, Snead’s legacy endures as the oldest player to win a PGA Tour event, the unparalleled leader in PGA Tour victories. A story of triumph, resilience, and the pursuit of excellence, Sam Snead’s impact on the world of golf stands unmatched.

Top 6: Bobby Jones – Golden Era’s Shining Star and Grand Slam Achiever

In the midst of the vibrant Golden Age of sports, Bobby Jones emerged as a shining star, outshining even the likes of Babe Ruth and Jack Dempsey. From 1923 to 1930, he dominated the golfing world, amassing a remarkable haul of victories. Yet, at the peak of his triumphs and aged only 28, he walked away from competitive golf, leaving an indelible mark.

A prodigious golf talent at 14, it wasn’t until he turned 20 that Jones truly found his stride, embarking on a stunning journey. He secured 13 major championships, a record untouched for four decades. His crowning jewel was the unprecedented Grand Slam of 1930, capturing the U.S. and British Opens, and the U.S. and British Amateurs. His legend secure, Jones later co-founded the Masters and Augusta National Golf Club.

Jones’ career, although short, burned brightly. He won seven majors in only eight years, a feat unmatched by his contemporaries. A life after golf saw him battle with illness, facing syringomyelia, and eventually passing away in 1971.

Top 7: Gary Player – International Golf Ambassador and Fitness Innovator

Gary Player, the legendary South African golfer, earned his moniker “The Black Knight” or “Mr. Fitness” through his iconic all-black attire and commitment to physical well-being. Over a span of 60 years, he secured an impressive total of 165 victories across six continents. Player’s impact on golf transcended borders, as he is heralded as the foremost international golf ambassador.

Renowned for his astonishing nine major victories, Player’s triumphs included three Masters and three Open Championships. A pivotal member of the ‘Big Three’ golfers of the 1960s, he stood alongside two other illustrious players yet to be named. Remarkably, Player, the sole non-American on the list, achieved a grand slam with three Masters, three Opens, two PGA Championships, and the US Open during the 1960s and 70s. This feat places him tied for fourth in all-time majors won.

Before Player’s era, golf was dominantly the realm of British and American players. He revolutionized the sport with his unparalleled commitment to fitness and tireless work ethic. Overcoming challenges, he secured more than 150 global tournament victories, solidifying his place among the rare players to own all four modern golf majors.

Player’s prowess extended to the iconic Augusta National, where he clinched his third green jacket with a remarkable final-round 64 in 1978, defying odds and showcasing one of golf’s most memorable performances. His legacy is etched as one of the five to own a career Grand Slam and one of four to claim the Masters and British Open three times each. With wins spanning five decades, from the 1950s to the 1990s, Gary Player’s impact on golf remains an enduring testament to his extraordinary dedication and achievement.

Top 8: Tom Watson – Consistent Maestro and Masterful Duelist

A remarkable golfer named Watson emerged as a force during the 1970s and 80s, showcasing a blend of power and skill that set him apart. His outstanding peak performance over eight years, marked by six PGA Player of the Year titles, stands as an extraordinary period in golf history. With a career spanning over 40 years, Watson’s dedication to the game remained unwavering.

Hailing from Kansas, the 73-year-old golfer secured his place in history with 39 PGA Tour victories, tying him for tenth place all-time. Known for his mastery of handling diverse conditions, he captured eight major championships, including five victories at the prestigious British Open. His prowess extended to captivating duels with Jack Nicklaus, culminating in the unforgettable 1977 British Open, a showdown for the ages.

In 2009, Watson’s enduring legacy was on display at Turnberry, where he captured the hearts of fans during a valiant attempt at a historic victory. While he fell short, his career is defined by triumphs, such as his two Masters wins and remarkable performances at The Open. Notably, he triumphed over Nicklaus at the 1982 U.S. Open, punctuated by an iconic chip-in on the 71st hole.

This Kansas City native, mentored by Byron Nelson, forged an indelible mark on golf, achieving greatness with an enduring spirit that shaped the sport’s history.


These remarkable golfers, each showcasing their own strengths and accomplishments, have not only made a lasting impact on the courses but have also motivated countless fans to embrace golf with heart and expertise. As we reflect on their journeys, we’re reminded of golf’s timeless allure and its ability to captivate and inspire people from one era to the next. Their legacy continues to fuel the enduring charm and fascination of the game, spanning through the years and reaching new generations.