You Gotta Know These Golfers
- Tiger Woods (1975–present) Born to an African-American father and a Thai mother, he appeared on The Mike Douglas Show with a golf club at age two. Woods won three straight U.S. Junior Amateurs, and then became the only golfer to win three straight U.S. Amateurs (1994–1996). In 1997 Woods became the youngest ever to win the Masters — by a whopping 12 strokes. At the 2000 U.S. Open, when he won by 15 strokes, Woods began a remarkable run of four straight major championships: British Open (by eight strokes, making him the youngest ever to complete the career Grand Slam), PGA Championship, and the 2001 Masters. Woods added a third Masters in 2002, giving him seven major pro titles.
- Jack Nicklaus (1940–present) Nicknamed “The Golden Bear,” he won the U.S. Amateur twice (1959 and 1961), and was the 1961 NCAA champion at Ohio State. He took his first major the following year at the U.S. Open, beating Arnold Palmer on Palmer’s home course. Nicklaus became the youngest Masters champion at the time in 1963, and 23 years later became the oldest champion with a final round 65 in 1986. He has a record 18 major pro championships overall, including six Masters, five PGA Championships, four U.S. Opens, and three British Opens. Nicklaus is still somewhat active on the Senior PGA Tour, and as a golf course architect.
- Arnold Palmer (1929–2016) A native of Latrobe, Pennsylvania, Palmer made golf popular with the masses, as his fans were known as “Arnie’s Army.” He won seven majors, including four Masters, and was the first golfer to earn one million dollars on the PGA Tour. Later Palmer became one of the stars of the Senior Tour, winning the Senior PGA Open in 1980 and 1981. In 2002 he played in his last competitive Masters.
- Ben Hogan (1912–1997) The PGA Tour’s leading money winner from 1940–1942 and in 1946 and 1948, two events interrupted his playing career: service in World War II and a near-fatal 1949 head-on car accident. After each, though, Hogan rose to the top of his game; he won nine majors overall (six after the accident), including four U.S. Opens. In 1953 he accomplished a feat matched only by Tiger Woods: winning three modern major championships in one season (the Masters, U.S. Open, and British Open).
- Robert Tyre “Bobby” Jones (1902–1971) An Atlanta native, and the greatest amateur golfer of all time, Jones never turned pro, but won thirteen major championships in eight years, including four U.S. Amateurs. In 1930 he won what was then considered the Grand Slam, taking both the British and U.S. Amateur and Open Championships. After that season, Jones retired from golf to practice law, but helped design a golf course in Augusta, Georgia that became the permanent site of the Masters in 1934.
- Sam Snead (1912–2002) No golfer has won more PGA Tournaments than Snead’s 81, and he amassed 135 victories worldwide. Nicknamed “Slammin’ Sammy,” he won seven major professional championships between 1942 and 1954, but he is known more for the one he never won: the U.S. Open. In 1939 Snead led the Open for 71 holes but lost on the last hole when he took an eight. In the 1960s and ’70s he won a record six Senior PGA Championships.
- Byron Nelson (1912–2006) He won five major championships overall, but Nelson is best known for having the single most dominant year in golf history. In 1945 he won a record 18 tournaments in 30 starts, including 11 consecutive tournaments, a feat no one has come close to matching. Nelson was so even-tempered and mechanically sound that the USGA named its mechanical club and ball-testing device, the “Iron Byron,” after him.
- Tom Watson (1949–present) He became the major rival to Jack Nicklaus in the second half of the Golden Bear’s career. Watson’s greatest achievements were at the British Open, a tournament he won five times between 1975 and 1983. He took eight major championships overall.
- Lee Trevino (1939–present) Nicknamed “Supermex” for his Mexican-American heritage, Trevino came from a poor Dallas family and served in the Marines, but came from nowhere to win the 1968 U.S. Open. He won six majors: the U.S. Open, the British Open, and the PGA Championship twice each, his second PGA in 1984 at age 44. That last win was most impressive because it came after the 1975 Western Open, where Trevino was struck by lightning on the golf course.
- Gary Player (1935–present) The most successful non-American golfer in history, this South African has won nine majors. When Player took his only U.S. Open crown in 1965, he not only became the first non-American to win that tournament in 45 years, but he also became one of three (now five) golfers (along with Nicklaus, Woods, Hogan, and Gene Sarazen) to win all four modern Grand Slam events. Nicknames include “The Black Knight” for his dress and “Mr. Fitness” for his devotion to exercise.
- Gene Sarazen (1902–1999) Born Eugene Saraceni, he came to prominence in the early 1920s, winning the PGA Championship in 1922 and 1923, as well as the U.S. Open in 1922. Bobby Jones and Walter Hagen then dominated golf until the early 1930s, when Sarazen returned to form, winning four more majors. At the 1935 Masters, he carded an albatross (three under par) from the fairway of the par-5 15th hole to force a playoff; when he won, Sarazen became the first golfer to complete the modern career Grand Slam.
- Walter Hagen (1892–1969) Nicknamed “The Haig,” he was the first great pro golfer, appearing in over 2,500 exhibitions. A five-time PGA Champion, including four straight from 1924 to 1927, Hagen won eleven majors overall, and he was known most for his showmanship and his ability to recover from poor shots with spectacular ones. Hagen captained the U.S. Ryder Cup team six of the first seven times the event was held.
This article was contributed by Adam Fine.