Top 15 Best Golfers of All Time

Jack Nicklaus

Golf is a sport with a long and rich history, making it difficult to choose just the 15 best golfers of all time. There have been several superstars, each inspiring a generation and entertaining millions with their unique personalities and jaw-dropping skill. Players like Jack Nicklaus, Sam Snead, and Byron Nelson set courses alight as far back as the 30s, molding golf into the sport it is today.

So, how can we pick just the 15 best golfers? While we would love to credit every golfer with being a legend, there are some who have truly earned that status. Players like Tiger Woods dominated professional golf, encouraging kids from across the globe to pick up a club and try golf. Each player included in our list has the stats and achievements to back up our selection.

Golf, as we know it, began at the first major golf tournament in 1860. From here, they added more majors and events to the calendar, eventually forming exciting tours for the entire world to see. Since there are well over 150 years of rich heritage, there will be a lot of fantastic golfers who narrowly missed out on a spot on our list. If you are curious about who didn’t quite make the cut for the best golfers of all time, check out the honorable mentions included at the bottom. Don't forget to check out the best golf courses in the world if you want to see where the pros made history.

15. Lee Trevino

One of the best golfers of all time was Lee Trevino. After turning professional in 1960, Trevino would set the PGA Tour alight, winning multiple golf Majors and even shining brightly on the Senior PGA Tour. It did not take long for Trevino to turn heads. In his second year on tour, he won the U.S. Open in 1968. In 1971, he went into the record books for an incredible winning streak. He defeated Jack Nicklaus in a playoff to win the 1971 U.S. Open, then won the Canadian Open two weeks later, before taking home the British Open title a week after that.

Trevino won six majors in his golfing career. Two PGA Championships, two U.S. Opens, and two British Opens. He missed out on a career grand slam by only coming tenth in the Masters in 1975 and 1985. The early 70s is when Trevino was at his best, winning the Vardon Trophy five times in total. He became the Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year and Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year in the same year, 1971. Even after he made the Champions Tour, his powerful performances followed him. He won the Jack Nicklaus Trophy and Byron Nelson Award three times, plus two Arnold Palmer Awards.

  • Professional Wins: 95
  • Major Championships: 6
  • Prize Money: $19,739,226
  • Major Runner-Up: 2

14. Byron Nelson

Players like Byron Nelson were few and far between. Nelson was born around the same time as Ben Hogan and Sam Snead, two of the best golfers to play the game. He turned professional in 1932 and won 64 professional golf events during a short but successful career. His retirement came as a surprise, making the announcement at 34. But he was still actively involved in the world of professional golf. He was a commentator and continued to play in the Masters, placing consistently in the top ten.

Nelson was the first player to have a PGA Tour event named in their honor, the Byron Nelson Classic. He is 6th on all-time PGA Tour wins with 52, even with a considerably shorter career than other professionals. Nelson played for 17 years, whereas players like Sam Snead played for 30. Winning is just part of Nelson’s game. He won five majors in his career, at least one of each except the British Open. He won two Masters, two PGA Championships, and one U.S. Open.

If you enjoy talking about the greatest golfers to play professional golf, then Byron Nelson is a name that often comes up. He was an unbelievable golfer who dominated the sport while making it all look easy. If he had a longer career, he might well have been towards the top end of our list.

  • Professional Wins: 64
  • Major Championships: 5
  • Prize Money: $190,256
  • Major Runner-Up: 6

13. Nick Faldo

You might have seen Nick Faldo on our list of the best golf commentators of all time, but there is more to the man than just insightful and unique commentary. Before he took over the booth, he was one of the best golfers to watch at any major tournament. He managed 43 professional wins in his career, nine on the PGA Tour and 30 on the European. His European tour tally leaves him fifth among the all-time European Tour winners.

Faldo is a six-time major winner, who was on top of the golfing world for a substantial period in the early 90s. According to the Official World Golf Rankings, Faldo reached the number one spot four times in his career. He managed 97 cumulative weeks at number one, with a streak of 81 between 1992 and 1994. His streak is the fourth best of all time, behind Greg Norman's 96, Tiger Woods at 264, and the current record held by Woods, at 281. Faldo won six majors, three Masters, and three British Opens. He joins an elite list of players to win three or more Masters, including Nicklaus, Woods, Sam Snead, Gary Player, Arnold Palmer, Phil Mickelson, and Jimmy Demaret.

  • Professional Wins: 49
  • Major Championships: 6
  • Prize Money: $6,167,648
  • Major Runner-Up: 3

12. Gene Sarazen

Now that we are towards the top end of the best golfers of all time, we can talk about players who achieved something monumental. Gene Sarazen achieved what we consider to be a modern-day Career Grand Slam. That means he won each of the four majors at least once during his career. Sarazen turned pro in 1920 and won 38 events on the PGA Tour.

Sarazen first tasted Major success in 1922 when he won the U.S. Open and PGA Championship in the same year. He would go on to defend his PGA Championship title in 1923 but would have to wait the best part of a decade before winning another major. In 1932 he won both the British Open and the U.S. Open, followed by another PGA title in 1933. To achieve the career grand slam, Sarazen won the Masters in 1935, sealing his place in golf history. For those of you wondering, only five players have achieved a modern career grand slam. That prestigious list includes Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Ben Hogan, and Gary Player. There is one special player who won all four majors in one year, and we talk about him next.

  • Professional Wins: 48
  • Major Championships: 7
  • Prize Money: $76,815
  • Major Runner-Up: 4

11. Bobby Jones

Bobby Jones was a professional golfer born in Atlanta, Georgia. You may have heard of Jones just from the fact he helped design the Augusta National Golf Club and co-founded the annual Masters Tournament. He is the only player on our list to never turn professional. Jones competed as an amateur against some of the best golfers of all time. As a qualified lawyer, he could only play golf part-time. This contributed to his early retirement in 1930 when he was just 28.

Jones had an incredible record. In his meteoric career, he appeared in 31 majors. In those majors, he won 13 times and placed within the top ten on 27 occasions. He is the only player with an original grand slam; where you win each major once inside a calendar year. He won the U.S. Amateur five times, the U.S. Open four times, was a three-time British Open winner, and The Amateur in 1930. Seeing as he retired from golf to co-found the Masters, it was not possible for him to complete what we consider to be a modern grand slam. However, he returned to golf to play the Masters, managing 13th place in 1934.

Who knows how bright Jones’ career would have been if he focused only on golf. If he would have continued playing, he might be up there with the likes of Woods and Snead. However, after announcing his retirement, it was clear he did not feel the same way. When explaining his decision to retire in his prime, he said:

Championship golf is something like a cage. First you are expected to get into it and then you are expected to stay there. But of course, nobody can stay there.

- Bobby Jones
  • Professional Wins: 9
  • Major Championships: 13
  • Prize Money: N/a
  • Major Runner-Up: 6

10. Phil Mickelson

Phil Mickelson is a professional golfer born in San Diego, California. His professional career began in 1992, and he is the only player in our top 10 still playing at the top of his game. Mickelson won the 2021 PGA Championship, making him the oldest player to win a major at the ripe old age of 50. Fans of Mickelson will believe he is right to be included in a list of the best golfers. However, anyone who is not a fan of the LIV Golf League will want to see him removed from any list celebrating golfing greats. We here at Bet Station prefer to celebrate a player's achievements, which is why he makes our list.

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Mickelson is a six-time major winner, including three Masters, two PGA Championships, and one British Open. He has finished a record six times as a runner-up in the US Open, the only major to elude him. He has 68 professional wins, 45 of which are on the PGA Tour. One of the best records Mickelson achieved during his lengthy career is from his consistency. He spent 25 consecutive years inside the top 50 of the Official World Golf Ranking.

  • Professional Wins: 68
  • Major Championships: 6
  • Prize Money: $96,470,603
  • Major Runner-Up: 11

9. Tom Watson

Tom Watson was a professional golfer from Kansas City, Missouri. He turned professional in 1971 and had 78 career wins. Watson is famous for his long career, playing competitively until 2016. He was 59 when he was the runner-up at the 2009 Open Championship, making him the oldest player to lead after a completed round at a major.

Watson won eight major championships during his career, two Masters, five British Opens, and one U.S. Open. He narrowly missed out on a career grand slam, leading the 1978 PGA Championship for the first, second, and third rounds, but lost out at the playoff. He has 39 PGA tour wins, ranking him joint 10th on the all-time list.

Watsons’ other achievements include being a five-time PGA Tour leading money winner and six-time PGA Player of the Year. They inducted him into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1988. According to the McCormack rankings, Watson was world number one from 1978 to 1982 and was second for both 1983 and 84.

  • Professional Wins: 78
  • Major Championships: 8
  • Prize Money: $30,136,954
  • Major Runner-Up: 8

8. Seve Ballesteros

Seve Ballesteros was a Spanish professional golfer born in Pedreña, Cantabria, in Northern Spain. He turned pro in 1974, achieving a monumental 95 career wins. He came from a family of successful golfers and rose to the number one spot in world golf on five separate occasions. Before they introduced a new ranking system in 1986, Ballesteros was number one on the McCormack Ranking system from 1983 to 1985.

Ballesteros was prolific from the 70s up till the mid-90s, winning five major championships along the way. He holds the record for the most European Tour tournament wins with 50 and has 9 PGA Tour wins. The five majors he won include two Masters and three British Opens in 79, 84, and 88. He rose to fame by finishing second at the 1976 British Open at 19 years of age. From there, he became the greatest European golfer of all time.

Tiger Woods led the tributes to Ballesteros after his untimely death in 2011. Woods said on Twitter:

I was deeply saddened to learn about the passing of Seve Ballesteros, I always enjoyed spending time with him at the Champions dinner each year at the U.S. Masters. Seve was one of the most talented and exciting golfers to ever play the game.

- Tiger Woods
  • Professional Wins: 95
  • Major Championships: 5
  • Prize Money: $1,841,189
  • Major Runner-Up: 3

7. Gary Player

Gary Player was a professional golfer from Johannesburg, South Africa. Player turned pro in 1953 and enjoyed one of the longest and most successful careers in golf history. He has played in a record number of Masters, 52, and a record number of consecutive British Opens, 46. Player won an incredible 165 tournaments during his professional career, most of which were in South Africa.

Player won nine Majors and became the first non-American to win a career Grand Slam, winning at least one of each Major. He is famous for winning tournaments over six continents across a career that spanned seven decades. In 1974, he was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame and was the PGA Tour leading money winner in 1961.

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He has co-written and authored over 30 books about golf and has designed over 400 golf courses worldwide. While most players on our list of the best golfers have lived and breathed the sport, there is only one Gary player.

  • Professional Wins: 165
  • Major Championships: 9
  • Prize Money: $12,098,058
  • Major Runner-Up: 6

6. Walter Hagen

Walter Hagen was born in Rochester, New York, in 1892. He turned pro in 1912 and had 58 career wins, 45 of which came on the PGA Tour. We know him as the father of professional golf, bringing publicity, prestige, and prize money to the sport. Hagen was an 11-time major winner, winning the PGA Championship five times and the US Open twice. He was the first native-born American to win the British Open in 1922. Hagen captained the US in the first six Ryder Cups, winning four. He was the first player to earn one million dollars from playing golf professionally.

Hagen achieved a lot of what we consider important in modern-day golf. This is especially poignant given the vast sums of money being used to lure professionals to the LIV Golf league. Whether or not you agree with the new rival league, one aspect is certain. Without Walter Hagen’s contributions to the sport, golf would not of united to pay players fairly. Meaning the sport as we know it would of most likely split up and been sold it off long ago. Maybe history will repeat itself. All we need is a new Hagen to step up and save the day.

  • Professional Wins: 58
  • Major Championships: 11
  • Prize Money: $15,675
  • Major Runner-Up: 3

5. Arnold Palmer

Arnold Palmer was a professional golfer born in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. Regarded as a trailblazer and one of golf’s most popular stars, he is partly responsible for the increase in golf's popularity during the television age of the 50s. Palmer didn’t just play fantastic golf; he was plain-spoken and humble. His personality changed the conception of golf as an elite, upper-class hobby, popularizing the sport and making it more accessible to the middle and working class.

In a six-decade-long career, Palmer won 97 professional tournaments and seven majors. He won all his majors between 1958 and 1964, which included four Masters, one US Open, and two British Opens. He was a PGA Tour leading money winner on four occasions and was a two-time PGA Player of the Year. Palmer won the Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year in 1960 and the PGA Tour Lifetime Achievement Award in 1998.

  • Professional Wins: 97
  • Major Championships: 7
  • Prize Money: $3,670,463
  • Major Runner-Up: 10

4. Ben Hogan

Ben Hogan was a golfing icon born in Stephenville, Texas, in 1912. Hogan quickly gained a prolific reputation for perfecting what many consider to be the best golf swing. He also had a reputation for practicing far more than your average player, raising the competitive edge of the sport. He won 71 professional tournaments during his career, almost all of which while on the PGA Tour.

Hogan won nine major championships, achieving the fabled Grand Slam in 1953. Throughout his career, Hogan has won two Masters, two PGA Championships, four U.S. Opens, and one British Open. They inducted him into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1974, and he was the Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year in 1953. Lastly, he was a five-time PGA Tour leading money winner and a four-time PGA Player of the Year.

His book, Ben Hogan’s Five Lessons: The Modern Fundamentals of Golf, is one of the most widely read tutorials for developing a proper golf swing. It breaks down every aspect of his swing and how he adapted his stance for each club. It is a fantastic starting point for any new players as it helps you think about each part of your body before you even pick up a club.

  • Professional Wins: 71
  • Major Championships: 9
  • Prize Money: $332,516
  • Major Runner-Up: 6

3. Sam Snead

Sam Snead was born in Ashwood, Virginia in 1912 and is famous for being one of the greatest golfers of all time. He maintained his spot near the top for four decades, thanks to his perfect swing and ability to hit the ball long. His peers revered him, including many golfing legends on our list. Jack Nicklaus described Snead’s golf swing as perfect, and Gary Player said he had the greatest golf swing of any human being that ever lived.

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Snead is the joint record holder for the most PGA Tour tournament victories at 82. He also has an incredible 142 professional wins, including 17 victories at the West Virginia Open. Snead was the first player to win a PGA Tour event in four different decades and was the oldest player to make the cut at a major, 67 years of age. He won seven majors, three Masters, three PGA Championships, and one British Open. He finished runner-up in the US Open four times, narrowly missing out on a career Grand Slam. Also, Snead was the PGA leading money winner on three separate occasions and was the PGA Golfer of the year in 1949.

  • Professional Wins: 142
  • Major Championships: 7
  • Prize Money: $820,729
  • Major Runner-Up: 8

2. Jack Nicklaus

Jack Nicklaus was born in Columbus, Ohio, in 1940. He was a professional golfer that turned pro in 1961. He competed in a record 164 major tournaments, resulting in 73 PGA Tour victories, the third most of all time. Nicklaus rose to fame after finishing second at the 1960 US Open, two shots behind Arnold Palmer. His first professional victory came at the 1962 US Open, getting revenge on Palmer in an 18-hole playoff, igniting an exciting rivalry.

Nicklaus holds the record for the most Majors, winning 18 in his extensive professional career. He became the first player to win two Masters in succession in the same year where he achieved the Grand Slam. He won the double and triple career Grand Slam and topped it off with a last Major title in 1986, making him the oldest Masters winner.

Jack plays such sensational golf with such apparent ease that many people gain the impression that his skills were heaven-sent. That isn't true. No one ever worked harder at golf than Nicklaus during his teens and early 20s.

- Jack Grout

Nicklaus was an eight-time PGA Tour leading money winner and a five-time PGA Player of the year. He made 39 consecutive cuts at the Majors, running from the 1969 Masters to the 1978 Open. He also holds the record for the most wins at the Masters, six.

Few players even come close to the legacy left by Jack Nicklaus, but there is one who is arguably even more notorious.

  • Professional Wins: 126
  • Major Championships: 18
  • Prize Money: $9,108,351
  • Major Runner-Up: 19

1. Tiger Woods

Tiger Woods is the most well-known and successful golfer of all time. He was born in Cypress, California in 1975 and he turned pro in 1996. Woods started strongly, winning his first Major in 1997, the Masters, by 12 strokes. He leaped to the top of the golf rankings in June 1997, taking him less than a year as a pro to reach the number one spot.

He got used to sitting at the top of the rankings, managing a 264 consecutive week streak between August 1999 and September 2004. Incredibly, he beat his own streak reaching 281 consecutive weeks between 2005 and 2010. He won a record-equaling 82 PGA Tour wins and is third on the list of European Tour winners, with 41.

Woods is second for the most Majors won with 15 and is the youngest golfer to achieve a Grand Slam. He has won a double and triple Grand Slam; the only other player to do so is Jack Nicklaus. Woods was PGA Player of the Year, a record-breaking 11 times from 1997 to 2013. He was also PGA Tour leading money winner ten times and won the Vardon Trophy nine times.

  • Professional Wins: 148
  • Major Championships: 15
  • Prize Money: $120,895,206
  • Major Runner-Up: 7

We could go on and on about Tiger Woods and his remarkable achievements, but we think it’s best to leave you with a clip of one of his most iconic moments.

Best Golfers: Honorable Mentions

No list is complete without mentioning the incredible players who just missed out. Although each player has a fantastic range of stats to back them up, they fell just short of our list.

  • Harry Vardon
  • Billy Casper
  • Greg Norman
  • Rory McIlroy
  • Bobby Locke
  • Peter Thomson

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