It seems that golfers, on the whole, are less polarizing figures than athletes in most major sports. It follows, then, that there are more lukewarm feelings towards those who toil on the fairways of the PGA Tour than, say, those battling it out on the NFL gridirons.
However, throughout history there have been extremely likeable golfers with legions of devoted fans. Arnold Palmer is certainly the best example of such a player, and there is no golfer on tour today so loved and admired as Mr. Palmer.
Regardless, there are PGA Tour golfers who are incredibly likeable presently.
But first, a disclaimer: As Fred Couples, Rocco Mediate and Tom Watson do not play primarily on the PGA Tour, they aren’t eligible for this list. John Daly and Tiger Woods stir passions on both sides of the aisle, so while they may be loved by many, neither are among the most broadly likeable golfers on tour.
With that said, on to the top 10!
2012 Q School graduate and perennial Monday qualifier, Patrick Reed is an immensely likeable fellow. Really, the vast majority of players on the PGA Tour are congenial, polite individuals. In a sense Reed is a stand-in for the innumerable amiable golfers not mentioned here.
Reed makes the list because of a unique situation with his wife; namely that she is his full-time caddie. Perhaps, from a chauvinistic point of view, having one’s bride on the bag is less than desirable—and it’s certainly a break with tradition. However, it’s difficult not to both like and root for a husband and wife team on tour.
Though likely not a favorite of the European Ryder Cup squad, Keegan Bradley’s repeat eruptions—and exceptional play—at Medinah last year earned him a place in the hearts of American golf fans.
Bradley is also an entertaining presence on Twitter, routinely engaging his 147,000 followers with comments like this one:
"If anyone is wondering what u do after u win a major. 3 bud lights in the fridge cereal and ppj's. #goingwild!!http://t.co/sHMe6PA."
Since he joined the tour in 1994, Steve Stricker has had a broad appeal amongst golf fans. He’s not a flashy, dynamic or profoundly exciting player, but his determination and work ethic are respectable.
A recent forum discussion at GolfWRX regarding the most likeable players in golf saw many posters singing the praises of Steve Stricker. As one user said, “Steve Stricker is one of the most down to earth, genuinely nice guys you'll ever meet.“
After his final round at the Deutsche Bank Championship last year, I saw Stricker, one of the best putters on tour, practicing five-footers alone on the putting green. He stopped occasionally to chat with fans and then returned to his work for the better part of an hour.
G-Mac’s status as one of the more likeable players on tour has only been improved by stories like the following: Whenever McDowell wins a tournament, he phones his home courses, Lake Nona in Florida and Rathmore in Northern Ireland, and opens a tab...for everyone.
Quick to give an interview and always responding to his fans on Twitter, McDowell is both immensely likeable and personable.
If this isn’t enough, McDowell has resurrected the cardigan sweater from golfing attire obscurity. What’s not to like about that?
At the Deutsche Bank Championship, Jason Dufner approached the ninth green, where I was standing, as a number of visibly intoxicated bros cheered loudly. The crew of doofuses discussed the merits of the Duf, indicating, between puffs on their cigars, that the golfer’s Twitter profile picture at the time featured the Auburn grad packing a dip.
“He’s just a good old boy,” one of them leaned over and said to me approvingly.
The two-time PGA Tour winner is engaging and entertaining on Twitter. His avatar photo was recently a side-by-side photo of himself and Lebanon Levi from Amish Mafia. The guy has a great sense of humor (and the two do look quite similar).
And of course there's the koala photo...
Brandt Snedeker is a modest, agreeable, down-to-earth husband and father. He was born, raised and went to school in Nashville, Tennessee, which he continues to make his home. He also happens to be one of the best golfers in the United States and the 2012 FedEx Cup Winner.
Testament to the proud Tennessean's good nature is the that fact that he plans to give most of the $10 million annuity, awarded to the FedEx Cup Champion, to charity.
The video in the slide is a better illustration of Snedeker’s likeability than anything I could put forth. As he continues to play well, look for the affable Snedeker, with his trademark mop-top, to become one of the most likeable players on tour.
The Big Easy has been a fan favorite throughout his many years on tour. His large stature, eternally messy blond hair and somewhat goofy appearance have endeared Els to golf fans. So, too, has his relaxed attitude.
A velvety smooth swing the envy of amateurs across the globe and a charming South African accent are additional components which draw fans to the man from Johannesburg. It doesn’t hurt that Els is a tremendously gracious individual, as evidenced by the way he handled his win over Adam Scott at the Open Championship last year.
A late adopter of Twitter, David Duval has cemented his status as a likeable golfer. In the early 2000’s, Duval played spectacular, almost machine-like, golf. However, the Georgia Tech grad always seemed somewhat aloof, consistently obscured behind a pair of Oakleys.
During the course of the gradual unraveling of his game, though, Double D became a sympathetic figure. Fans who once admired his technical precision and approach to the game began to respect the golfer for his humanity and increasing openness. Duval worked as an analyst during the U.S. Open last year, and he has been candid and immensely likeable (even creating a bit of controversy) on Twitter over the past few months.
A former World No. 1, who routinely interacts with his fans and thanks them for their support, Duval is very likeable indeed, and one of the few players that everyone seems to root for.
As the top-ranked golfer in the world, and an incredibly popular player in his native Northern Ireland for some time, Rory McIlroy is one of the most likeable golfers on the PGA Tour.
Really, all McIlroy ever had to do, given his prodigious talents, was smile, appear congenial and give standard responses in press conferences. He has done more than this, though, and works to stay in the good graces of his fans.
The golfer’s letter regarding his nationality and the difficulty presented by the Olympics is an example of this. McIlroy chose to nip an issue in the bud and speak with his fans directly via Twitter and his personal website. The decision was at once a savvy PR move and one that made the golfer appear quite human, conflicted and honest.
Nike is betting $200 million that Rory McIlory is the most visible and broadly appealing golfer in the world, and that he will continue to be for some time. Who are we mere mortals to argue with their assessment?
Another tour player incredibly active on Twitter, Rickie Fowler, is a little different breed of golfer than, say, Steve Stricker (also an immensely likeable PGA Tour player).
Fowler seems to connect with young fans in a way which no other golfer on this list can. He also seems to have the broadest crossover appeal; perhaps due to the fact that he looks and acts more like a BMX rider (which he is) than a traditional golfer.
The greatest testament to Fowler’s likeability and the strength of his following are the numerous young children that show up wearing Fowler’s signature flat-brimmed orange Puma hats at every golf tournament.
It’s difficult to think of another golfer in the Tiger Woods era who has created such a cult of personality and developed such an enthusiastic fanbase.
Any golfer who averages 315 yards off the tee and has a pink-shafted (and now headed) driver is going to attract some attention. When that golfer is also a self-taught shotmaking genius and a happy-go-lucky Southern boy, the odds of likeability improve even further.
Bubba Watson’s Masters triumph of 2012 cemented his position as a fan favorite. From the final-round 68, to the amazing recovery shot on the second playoff hole, to the torrent of tears the golfer unleashed as he embraced his mother, Bubba’s green jacket march elevated the profile of a golfer already beloved by his fans.
An engaging personality, a great Twitter account, some quality marketing and innumerable other things make Bubba Watson an incredibly likeable individual. However, the fact that it's so much fun to watch him play the game makes Watson the most likeable golfer on the PGA Tour.