July 30, 1997 in Sports

Who’s Greatest-Ever Golfer?

Ron Sirak Associated Press
 

The death of Ben Hogan provided an opportunity to kick around the irresolvable argument: Who was the greatest golfer ever?

While it is difficult to compare athletes of different generations, five golfers jump out as the best of their eras.

Young Tom Morris won four consecutive British Opens beginning in 1868 and at Prestwick in 1870 turned in one of the greatest tournament performances ever.

His 149 broke his own record by five strokes and held up as long as the British Open remained a 36-hole tournament - 21 more years. And when the tournament went to 72 holes, it wasn’t until 1904 - when a much better ball was being used - that anyone broke 300.

Doubling Morris’ 36-hole score of 149 to 298 for 72 holes would mean his 1870 effort lasted 34 years.

And consider what might have been if Morris had not died when he was 24 years old, not long after his wife and child died during childbirth.

Harry Vardon came next. He won a record six British Opens and one U.S. Open between 1896 and 1914, after which he missed five years because of World War I.

The three golfers who lend the best comparisons are Bobby Jones, Hogan and Nicklaus because all can be judged against the standard of the Grand Slam events, although Jones gets a bit of a break because two of his four majors were against amateurs.

In any case, Jones played in 31 majors before his retirement in 1930 and won 13, or 42 percent. Strangely, he did his best work against the pros, winning the U.S. Open and British Open seven times in 15 tries.

The biggest surprise comes in the comparison between Hogan and Nicklaus.

Nicklaus won 18 professional major championships to Hogan’s nine. But from the time of Nicklaus’ first major as a professional (1962) through the year of his last major victory (1986), he played in 100 majors - a winning rate of 18 percent.

From the time of Hogan’s first major as a pro (1934) through the year of his last major victory (1953), he played in 33 majors. His nine victories in that time period was a victory rate of 27 percent.

Remember, Hogan played only in one British Open and had to skip the PGA during 10 peak years (1949-58) because his legs couldn’t handle the double rounds match play required.

Most remarkable, beginning with his victory in the 1946 PGA Championship - his first major victory - Hogan won nine of the next 16 majors in which he played, 56 percent.

Young Tom Morris, Harry Vardon, Bobby Jones, Ben Hogan and Jack Nicklaus. Not a bad starting point in arguing who the greatest golfer ever was.


Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email