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25 Best Golfers of All Time Who Changed the History of the Sport

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In golf, as in all sports, there exist key moments and top personalities whose contributions cannot be understated. Here are 25 best golfers of all time, whose remarkable careers have changed the history of the sport. 

A sport without a hero is like a body without a soul. Research has it that the pull of icons that tower above the rest is based on three characteristic traits — talent, perseverance, and an insatiable appetite for taking risks. 

Riding on the strength of these traits, these giants create a legacy for themselves and the sport they excel in. There’s more to it, however, as their imprint spills over to inspire lives outside the realm. Sports and their corresponding personalities have the ability to capture attention, inspiring viewers to chase their own dreams. 

Over time, Golf has hosted many highly skilled exponents who have crafted moments to remember on the pristine greens.  The list is long and illustrious, but the top name that has redefined the perception and play of the sport is Tiger Woods. With a cumulative streak of over 13 years atop the world rankings in pro Golf, Woods’ run wasn’t just about talent. A heady mix of exceptional work ethics also made his Golf clubs that much more potent. 

It’s no wonder he tops our list of the world’s top 25 golfers that have redefined the sport. Let’s dive in. 

25 best golfers of all time who have redefined the sport 

1. Tiger Woods 

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The man to transform golf into a global phenomenon in the 21st century, Tiger Woods was a prodigy who dominated amateur golf, winning three US Amateurs to become the event’s only three-time winner. Woods went on to clock 82 PGA Tour wins, 15 Major championships, and innumerable accolades. 

2. Jack Nicklaus 

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Dubbed ‘The Golden Bear’, Jack Nicklaus had an unparalleled career playing alongside some of the best golfers of all time. Through his physical prowess, mental fortitude, consistent brilliance, Nicklaus elevated the game to a new level, amassing 117 professional wins and a record 18 Major championships. 

3. Arnold Palmer 

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In the long history of golf, Arnold Palmer, the King, will forever be remembered as a legend. His seven Major triumphs, combined with his charm have both contributed to the popularity of golf today. During his six-decade career, Palmer had 62 PGA Tour wins and 92 professional victories. 

4. Sam Snead 

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Nicknamed ‘Slammin Sammy Snead’, Sam Snead garnered global admiration for having the ‘perfect swing’. Alongside Tiger Woods, Snead holds the joint record for the most PGA Tour titles with 82 wins. He has also won seven Majors over his 30-year playing career. 

5. Bobby Jones 

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One of the most influential figures in golfing history, Bobby Jones was the first to win ‘The Double’, the US Open and British Open, in the same year. He was also the first to win the Grand Slam and all four Majors in a calendar year, a feat that has only been achieved by a handful of players. 

6. Ben Hogan 

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Often known as ‘The Hawk’ and ‘Bantam Ben’, Ben Hogan was all about golf strokes and is still considered the greatest shot maker in golfing history. He won 64 PGA Tour events and is one of just five players with a modern-career Grand Slam. 

7. Tom Watson 

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With eight Major wins, Tom Watson dominated golf’s oldest tournament, the British Open, winning five times in a nine-year span and coming within a whisker of an unprecedented sixth win in 2009 at the age of 59. He defeated Jack Nicklaus in four outstanding matchups for Major championships, the most notable of which was the British Open in 1977. 

8. Gary Player 

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Dubbed the ‘Black Knight’, Gary Player is recognised as golf’s first great international ambassador, having won nine Majors. He is the only player in the modern era to have won the Open Championship in three different decades. Player achieved the career Grand Slam and is the only non-American to have won all four Majors in one calendar year. 

9. Gene Sarazen 

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One of just five players to win all four Majors at least once, Gene Sarazen has won 37 events over his career, which spans over 40 years. It is commonly acknowledged that Sarazen invented the sand wedge in the early 1930s. 

10. Phil Mickelson 

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Considered from his initial days as the ‘Next Nicklaus’, Phil Mickelson is one of just 17 golfers to have won three or more Major championships. Apart from the U.S. Open, where he has a record six runner-up finishes, he has won every Major. Mickelson has 45 PGA Tour victories, including six Major titles. 

11. Seve Ballesteros

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Widely recognised as one of the best golfers of all time, as well as the greatest golfer ever produced by Europe, Seve Ballesteros was a self-taught player who achieved remarkable success in his day while using unconventional methods. He is largely responsible for the Ryder Cup’s tremendous popularity. 

12. Lee Trevino 

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A six-time Major champion and 29-time winner on the PGA Tour, Lee Trevino is one of only four players to have won the US Open, Open Championship, and PGA Championship twice. Trevino solidified his legacy by defying Jack Nicklaus four times in a Major tournament. 

13. Byron Nelson 

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Revered as one of the game’s foremost gentlemen, Byron Nelson was honored for showcasing outstanding sportsmanship throughout his career, garnering five Major titles and 52 professional victories. Despite his limited career, he is remembered for his 11 straight victories in 1945. 

14. Walter Hagen 

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One of the most colourful figures in the history of the sport, Walter Hagen is recognised for having contributed more than any other golfer to advancing the social status of the game. He is regarded as the ‘Father of Professional Golf’, having brought the sport recognition, reputation, and lucrative endorsements. 

15. Kathy Whitworth 

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The most successful golfer in history, Kathy Whitworth won more LPGA Tour events than any other player on either the PGA or LPGA Tours with 88 victories. She was named ‘Golfer of the Decade’ by Golf Magazine several times and has also won seven LPGA Tour Player of the Year awards. 

16. Nick Faldo 

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Known to current golf fans as a television pundit, Sir Nick Faldo was also one of the best golfers of all time and a highly accomplished sportsman. He won six Major championships and thirty European Tour events across 41 professional wins. 

17. Rory McIlroy 

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Four-time Major champion Rory Mcllroy is one of three players, along with Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods, to have won four Majors by the age of 25. With 37 career victories, he became the youngest player on the PGA Tour to surpass USD 10 million in career earnings in 2012. 

18. Ernie Els 

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Nicknamed ‘The Big Easy’ because of his 6’3″ height and fluid golf swing, Ernie Els has more than 70 professional victories. He is one of only six golfers to have won both the US Open and Open Championship on two separate occasions. Els achieved additional career highs when he won the World Match Play Championship a record seven times. 

19. Billy Casper 

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While Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, and Gary Player dominated the headlines, Billy Casper was the forgotten fourth man of the 1960s, but garnered three Major championships and 51 PGA Tour event wins. In the 1966 U.S. Open, he faced off against Palmer and prevailed, marking his biggest victory. 

20. Nancy Lopez 

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One of the first LPGA Tour players to receive widespread media attention, Nancy Lopez won nine events in her debut season, and 48 LPGA Tour tournaments in total. She is the first woman to have won Player of the Year, LPGA Rookie of the Year, and the Vare Trophy (lowest scoring average) all in one season. 

21. Greg Norman 

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Popularly known as ‘The Great White Shark’, Grey Norman is considered one of the best Golfers of all time and greatest Golf ball drivers of his generation. Enjoying immense success on a global scale between the 1970s and 1990s, Norman won 88 professional events and held the top spot in the world rankings for 331 weeks. 

22. Annika Sorenstam 

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Regarded as one of the best women golfers of all time, Annika Sorenstam has won 72 official LPGA tournaments, including ten Majors, as well as 24 other international tournaments. As of the end of 2022, she dominated the LPGA’s career money chart with earnings of nearly USD 22 million, despite having retired in 2008. 

23. Vijay Singh 

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Nicknamed ‘The Big Fijian’, Vijay Singh has won three Major championships, the first South Asian-born athlete to win one. He has also won 34 PGA Tour events, the most by a player from outside the United States. Singh was named a goodwill ambassador for Fiji in May 2005. 

24. Young Tom Morris 

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The son of one of golf’s pioneers, Old Tom Morris, Young Tom Morris was one of the game’s early greats. He still holds the record for being the youngest champion to win four straight Open Championships, having won his first Major at the tender age of seventeen. 

25. Mickey Wright 

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One of the LPGA Tour’s early stars, Mickey Wright is second only to Kathy Whitworth on the all-time victory list with 82 wins on the LPGA Tour. She is the only player to have held all four Major trophies at the same time in LPGA History, and is widely recognised as one of the best Golfers of all time. 

(Main image: Tiger Woods/Instagram, Arnold Palmer/Instagram; featured image: Tiger Woods/Instagram)

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) 

How much change did Tiger Woods bring to Golf? 

Since making his debut, Woods has shattered every record and transformed the game by bringing youth, style, and athleticism that had never been seen before. 

– Who is the most decorated golfer in history? 

Tiger Woods shares the record for most PGA Tour wins ever with Sam Snead, having won 82 times overall. 

– Who is the greatest male golfer of all time? 

Tiger Woods takes the lead. He’s so well-known that even those who don’t play golf are aware of him. 

– Was Jack Nicklaus better than Tiger Woods? 

Despite the vast differences in their careers, Woods and Nicklaus are two different legends who have each worked relentlessly for decades, each in their own way, to revolutionise golf. 

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