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Golf's 10 greatest players

Updated on January 15, 2015

I know for many of you around the country, it's hard to even think about golf these days. Most of you are simply trying to survive the cold and snow. Heck, the closest thing to a golf club you've held in your hand in weeks is a snow shovel.

Ahh, but nonetheless, we can dream can't we? Every passing moment draws us closer to spring. And this is going to be the year you break 80, 90, 100....or your clubs in half. Hopefully, it won't come to the latter. And, as we wait on winter's thaw what better than to think golf?

Below is my list of the 10 greatest golfers ever, which I think will provide for good debate as we countdown to golf season.

Going I know going that a list of the 10 greatest golfers of all time is really an impossible task. There have been so many great players over the years that 10 is simply not enough space to put them all.

For example, the most notable exception on my list is Bobby Jones. One look at his elegant swing will tell you of his greatness. From 1923 to 1930, Jones played in 31 major championships, and won 13, as an amateur. He beat everyone, pros and amateurs alike, and he retired at age 28. He was one of the original founders of Augusta National, which of course, is the home of the Masters.

However, Jones' contribution to the game as a champion and ambassador in a sport that was segregated, and primarily open for only the well to do at that time, is not enough to put him in the top 10.

There are others worthy of consideration such as Byron Nelson, who once won 11 consecutive PGA Tour events, and the brilliant Teddy Rhodes, the African-American golf pioneer, who never got a chance to compete on the PGA Tour on a regular basis because of the discrimination. The PGA Tour “Caucasian Only” rule prohibited African-Americans from competition.

Rhodes won 150 tournaments on the United Golf Association tour. He was to black golf what Josh Gibson was to the Negro Leagues. Sadly, we will never know how good he could have been.

With all due respect to Mr. Jones, Mr. Rhodes, Mr. Nelson, and others, here are the 10 greatest golfers ever.

10. Billy Casper _ “Buffalo Bill”, as Casper was called because of his fondness for Buffalo meat, often played in the shadows of Golf's Big 3 _Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player (who are all on this list). However, Casper was a dynamic shot maker. He won 51 tournaments, including three majors (1959, '66 U.S. Open, '70 Masters). He is regarded as one of the best putter's of his generation. A three time winner of the Vardon Trophy (for lowest scoring average), when Casper was on his game, he took a back seat to no one.

9. Annika Sorenstam _ It is impossible to put a list of the greatest golfers in the world together and not have Sorenstam on it. She dominated modern day women's golf like no one before her. She won 72 LPGA events, and 10 majors. Internationally, her victory total is 93. What is so impressive about her records is she did it between the span of 1992-2008, before deciding to retire to spend more time with her family. It is hard to find anyone who will dispute the fact she is not only the greatest female golfer of all time, but one of the greatest of all time, regardless of gender.

8. Tom Watson _ This eight time major champion nearly made it nine at age 59 at the 2009 Open Championship. Watson's quick, snappy, compact swing, made for consistent shot making year in and year out. And it helped him thrive in the often windy conditions at the Open, where he won five times.

He out dueled the great Jack Nicklaus to win the '77 Masters, the memorable '82 U.S. Open, and again in the Duel in the Sun at Turnburrey at the '77 Open Championship. Watson shot 65-66 in the final two rounds to edge Nicklaus, who shot 66-66.

7. Sam Snead _ You have to wonder what 'Slamming
Sammy' would say about today's professionals, and all their swing coaches and mental coaches? He would probably laugh, considering that his swing, arguably the best in the history of the sport, was self made. Snead won 82 PGA Tour events, despite being a poor putter for much of his career.

6. Gary Player _ The 'Black Knight' was a fearless competitor, and golf's first true globetrotter. Hailing from South Africa, Player traveled the world winning golf tournaments.

He won more than 165 tournaments around the world, including nine major championships, that also include a career Grand Slam (U.S. Open, PGA, Masters, British Open). Only Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Ben Hogan and Gene Sarazen can make that claim.

Player won The Open title in three different decades, (50s, 60s, 70s).

5. Arnold Palmer. Without this man, golf would not have the global presence it enjoys today. Arnie, and his Army of fans, took golf from the plush country clubs and brought it to the masses.

Palmer was a daring player, with a swashbuckling swing that you would never try to teach today. His go for broke style helped him win as many tournaments as he lost.

Layups and conservative shot selection simply were not in his vocabulary. Palmer won 62 tournaments on the PGA Tour, including seven majors. As great as he was as a player, his contribution to the growth of the game _ television, attendance, national and international media coverage _ may be even more significant.

4.Phil Mickelson. Surely, a lot of you will think the No. 4 spot is too high for the man they call 'Lefty'. But in a time where golf has become a worldwide game, Mickelson has been a major factor. He has won 51 tournaments, and five majors. While his numbers certainly are impressive, they don't seem to be enough to jump ahead of greats like Player or Palmer.

But a caveat comes here. Mickelson has played not only in the era of Tiger Woods, but the prime of Tiger Woods. The simple fact Tiger Woods chose this game as a sport has cost Mickelson at least three majors, and some great play by others such as Payne Stewart, not to mention Mickelson's own mistakes, have cost him others. Still, there is no denying his place among the greats.

3. Ben Hogan. OMG, _ Oh, My, Gosh _ that man could play. The Hawk was a late bloomer. It took him 10 years to win his first PGA Tour event. It took him another six years to record his first major.

However, once Hogan got to rolling, it was over. He went on to win 64 PGA Tour events, including nine majors. His game was built on deadly accuracy and efficiency, which he honed by putting in hours and hours on the practice tee. When asked about the secret to his success, Hogan often replied, “It's in the dirt.” That meant he hit practice ball after practice ball until he got it right.

2. Jack Nicklaus. Perhaps the most amazing stat about the Golden Bear in his illustrious career is something he didn't do.Nicklaus never won the Vardon Trophy, which goes to the player with the lowest scoring average each season.

That is just an unbelievable stat, considering all the remarkable things he did do. You can certainly make the argument that Big Jack is the greatest player of all time, and you wouldn't even get an argument from this space. He won 73 PGA Tour events, and a record 18 majors. Big Jack played against and beat some of the game's very best players. He took the mantle from Palmer, and held off the likes of Player, Casper, Lee Trevino and Watson.

In his youth the 'Golden Bear' simply overpowered the courses and the field. As he got older, he played with intelligence, skill and fearlessness.

The reason he does not get the nod over the No. 1 player on this list is he played when golf was not the international sport that it is today. Only Player was a world traveler during that time.

1. Tiger Woods _ When you think about the time and era in golf, and in the world, Is there really a debate about this? If the best argument you can give is that Nicklaus won 18 majors, and Woods is second with 'only' 14 majors, that simply is not good enough.

Along with his majors, Woods has won 79 tour events. His win total jumps to a stunning 139 world wide, since turning pro in the fall of 1996. Woods gets the edge over Nicklaus for the quality, and the quantity of his victories, against almost always elite fields. Consider that Woods has won 18 World Golf Championships, which only draw the top players in the world.

Woods has been so good that his greatest rival has not been his contemporaries, but history (Nicklaus) and himself. His years are often compared to the 2000 season, when he won 11 times, including the final three majors of the year. He actually went on to win the 2001 Masters, giving him all four major titles at one time, and coining the new reference of Tiger Slam.

Although his game isn't what it was in his prime, expect Tiger to continue to his historic march. And when it is over, there won't be any doubt to who is the greatest of all time.


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