Every golf fan has their favorite player, and sometimes that favoritism is made apparent by the way a fan defends their pick’s professional record. It’s always easy to make excuses for the players of yesteryear based on the archaic equipment and limited training resources available to them at the time. However, similar arguments can also be made for any shortcomings endured by today’s players, particularly in regards to the modern stresses of life under constant media scrutiny, hectic travel schedules, and a larger competitive field.
Because of the ever-changing variables the game of golf experiences on a year-to-year basis, it can sometimes be difficult to compare a legendary player from the past with one of today’s golfing greats; that’s why we thought we would let the highlights speak for themselves.
Below we have collected data on six of the best golfers to ever play the game: three from the past, and three from the modern era, just to see how their records stack up against one another. We’ll let you decide which ones come out on top.
Jack Nicklaus vs. Tiger Woods
These are two of the greatest golfers to ever play the game, regardless of the era. With Tiger’s ongoing chase of Nicklaus’ record 18 major victories, this matchup is as suitable as it gets.
- PGA Tour events won: 73
- Major championships: 18
- Best moment: The 1986 Masters, when the Golden Bear claimed his 18th major at the ripe old age of 46, with his oldest son Jackie caddying by his side.
- Biggest loss: Not winning the 1972 British Open at Muirfield, ending all hope to secure a calendar grand slam for Nicklaus. The one-stroke loss to Lee Trevino was one that Nicklaus has since described as “one of my biggest heartbreaks in golf.”
- PGA Tour events won: 79
- Major Championships: 14
- Best moment: The 1997 Masters, where the Nike Golf spokesperson made a name for himself early on in his career, taking his first in a long list of career major championships while setting a course record of 18-under par (a record now shared with newcomer Jordan Spieth).
- Biggest loss: It was just this year at the Phoenix Open that Tiger Woods shot a career-worst 82 during the second round of the tournament, putting him in last place.
Ben Hogan vs. Phil Mickelson
One of the greatest ball strikers to ever live, Ben Hogan has long been regarded by many as the greatest golfer to play the game, and has even gone on to create his own line of products including Ben Hogan golf balls. Phil Mickelson, on the other hand, has been a formidable presence on the PGA Tour throughout golf’s modern era. How do the two compare to one another?
- PGA Tour events won: 64
- Major Championships: 9
- Best moment: The story of Ben Hogan’s miraculous recovery from a near-fatal car accident that should have left him out of the game for life. Instead, Hogan returned to golf, playing his first tournament after the crash – the 1950 US Open – and winning. It was such an inspiring story that Hollywood made a movie about it a year later.
- Biggest loss: In an ironic twist, his biggest loss came from the same crash that made for his incredible story of recovery. Ben’s golf record was impeccable before his auto accident, but the challenges presented by subsequent surgeries, pain, and complications from the crash certainly cost the legendary player the best years of golf in the midst of his professional career.
- PGA Tour events won: 42
- Major Championships: 5
- Best moment: It was at the 2004 Masters that Mickelson, the best runner-up in the business, would finally land his first major victory, taking home the green jacket at Augusta National.
- Biggest loss: During the final round of the 2006 US Open, sitting at just a stroke under Geoff Ogilvy, Mickelson sliced his tee shot on the 18th into a hospitality tent adjacent to the fairway. From there, Phil’s decisions on the course only got worse, leading the golf pro to double-bogey the hole, and subsequently tie for second in the tournament.
Arnold Palmer vs. Rory McIlroy
You know you’ve made it as a professional golfer when a drink has been named after you; most of us were enjoying Arnold Palmers while Rory McIlroy was still drinking from a sippy cup. Still, the young No. 1 has made quite an impression on the game from an early age. Of course, it’s too early to truly compare these two, as McIlroy has many years ahead of him. But for the heck of it, let’s see how these two match up.
- PGA Tour events won: 62
- Major Championships: 7
- Best moment: During the 1960 US Open at Cherry Hills, Palmer found himself seven shots back, sitting in 15th place before teeing off on the 346-yard first hole. That hole – driven to the green with his legendary persimmon driver – would set the tone for Arnie’s only US Open win, shooting an incredible 65.
- Biggest loss: Palmer had a vastly contrasting US Open experience in 1966, when he carried a seven-shot lead at the turn during the final round, only to end up losing the tournament.
- PGA Tour events won: 10
- Major Championships: 4
- Best moment: Hopefully the best is yet to come for the young Irishman, but the current best moment of Rory’s career has to be during the 2012 PGA Championship. It was this tournament – Rory’s second major win – that he set the record for the youngest PGA Tour playoff winner ever.
- Biggest loss: The 2011 Masters went from promising to disastrous for the young golfer, when after heading into the final round with a four-stroke lead, McIlroy completely collapsed on Sunday, posting a final score of 80 and missing out on what would have been his first green jacket.
Again, we realize how hard this process is. But it doesn’t make it any less fun to look at the numbers and dream…