Ranking the 6 Best Short-Game Artists in Golf History

Steve SilvermanFeatured ColumnistSeptember 15, 2012

Ranking the 6 Best Short-Game Artists in Golf History

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    The greatest golfers in the history of the game wouldn't have gotten there if they didn't excel at the short game.

    Golfers learn quickly that it's about developing a complete game and not just bombing the ball down the fairway.

    Golfers have to not only execute great shots, they also have to think of them. There are times when good golfers see a shot 30 yards from the flag stick and would take a pitching wedge and land it softly within 10 feet of the flag stick.

    But when a golfer is a good shotmaker who excels at the short game, he may see a chip shot that few other golfers would attempt.

    Creativity is a big part of excelling in the short game.

No. 6 Tiger Woods

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    Since Tiger Woods' personal life went public in 2009 and his marriage came to an end because of the resulting scandal, he has not been at the top of his golf game.

    The 2010 and 2011 seasons were disasters for him, and while he won three tournaments in 2012, he did not win a major. When he had a chance to win majors after playing well in the first two rounds, he played poorly on Saturdays and Sundays.

    But while he has not been at the top of his game recently, he is clearly one of the best golfers of all time, and he is second to Jack Nicklaus with 14 majors won.

    Woods' ability around the greens and with the putter have created signature moments for him. There have been many of them, but this chip during the 2005 Masters demonstrates his creativity and his ability to execute what he sees in his mind.

No. 5 Tom Watson

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    For Tom Watson, the short game has always been a matter of "practice makes nearly perfect."

    Watson would spend hours working on his short game, and he would try to practice the most difficult approach and chip shots that he thought he might come across in a particular tournament.

    He did not want to be surprised or shocked by anything he would come across in a particular tournament. He would make a point of practicing his chip shots with a number of different clubs. That extra practice would often help him.

    One of Watson's most famous shots was the chip shot he made at the 17th hole of the 1982 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. He used a cut shot and opened his club face so it was pointed right at the flagstick.

    Few golfers would have ever conceived of this shot, let alone executed it. His famous shot at the 17th (1:00 mark) went in the hole and he birdied 18 to win the U.S. Open that year.

No. 4 Sam Snead

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    Sam Snead had one of the most fluid golf swings in the history of the game.

    Everything appeared easy for him because of his natural athletic ability.

    When he combined his athleticism with excellent concentration, he excelled in all aspects, including the short game.

    Snead emphasized the hands as the key impetus for the golf swing. That gave him the ability to outdrive bigger men, and it gave him a great touch around the green.

    Snead won 82 events on the tour and his picture-perfect swing was his signature. As good as his short game was, he struggled in his later years to make short putts.

No. 3 Gary Player

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    Gary Player excelled at all aspects of the short game. Approach shots, chip shots, wedge shots, bunker play and putting.

    The South African star was a small man at 5'7" and 160 pounds. He won the Masters three times, three British Opens, one U.S. Open and two PGA championships. His peers were Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer.

    Player's ability to come through with the big shot at the key moment was what made him succeed. Nicklaus told the World Golf Hall of Fame that Player's burning desire separated him from other golfers. "Gary, as much as anyone I ever saw, has that thing inside him that champions have," Nicklaus said.

    Player's third British Open championship came in 1974, and on the final hole he was forced to use a left-handed chip shot because he was up against the clubhouse wall. He came through in spectacular fashion (:58 second mark).

No. 2 Bobby Jones

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    Bobby Jones was unquestionably the greatest amateur golfer in the game's history. He won four U.S. Opens and three British Opens. He also won six amateur majors.

    He had a magnificent swing and he excelled at all aspects, from driving the ball to putting.

    Jones had a certain freedom to his swing and that allowed him to get great touch on all his close shots.

    One of the great lessons that Jones used to teach was not to overswing. He made a point of showing that it was the golfer's ability to lead with the left side and not overswing with the powerful right arm that would allow golfers to hit the ball straight.

No. 1 Jack Nicklaus

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    Jack Nicklaus is regularly considered the best golfer of all time. He has many noteworthy credentials, but winning 18 majors is probably the top accomplishment in golf history.

    Tiger Woods has been in a position where he can conceivably run Nicklaus down, but Woods has been at 14 and holding since the 2008 U.S. Open. While he certainly still has an opportunity to beat Nicklaus's extraordinary record, it is not a given that he will do it.

    Nicklaus was known for his great strength and his ability to boom the golf ball off the tee. That may have given him the "wow" factor, but he excelled in all aspects of the game. He was a fantastic bunker player, and he knew how to execute on and around the green.

    His putting style may have looked awkward at times because he appeared uncomfortable and hunched over. However, Nicklaus rarely missed from six feet or less (source: World Golf Hall of Fame) and made his share of long putts as well. Perhaps his most famous putt is the one on the 17th hole at the 1986 Masters that gave him the lead and allowed him to win his last major championship.