Jack Nicklaus was the originator of the idea that performance in major championships should be the standard to measure a professional golfer’s career.
He adopted that from following the careers of Bobby Jones, Walter Hagen, Ben Hogan, Sam Snead and Byron Nelson.
Tiger Woods’ father, Earl Woods, instilled the goal of exceeding Jack Nicklaus’ 18 major victories in Tiger at a young age.
Bobby Jones was famous for winning the “Grand Slam” in 1930. It consisted of the four major championships of his time, the U.S. Open, U.S. Amateur, British Open and British Amateur.
He retired from competitive golf at age 29 and won a total of 13 major titles in an eight-year stretch (1923-30). He set the standard by which golfers are still measured today.
Jones was an amateur golfer and only concentrated on winning major championships, although he did play in several tournaments annually.
Sam Snead won his first professional golf tournament in 1937 and his last in 1965 at the age of 52. He amassed a total of 82 official PGA Tour wins over his career.
Although Snead won seven major titles in the '40s and '50s, he was never able to win a U.S. Open and he finished runner-up four times in that event.
Byron Nelson won five major titles in just eight years but is remembered mainly for winning 11 consecutive PGA tournaments in 1945. He won a total of 18 tournaments that year. These are two records that have stood the test of time and will never be broken.
Ben Hogan won nine majors in a period of just seven years from 1946-53, but he won 63 career tournaments. Serving in the Army Air Corps, he missed 1943-45 and, due to a terrible car accident and subsequent recovery, missed most of the 1949 golf season.
In Snead's, Hogan's and Nelson’s time, if a player did not win or finish in the top five every week, he made very little money. The pressure to win any tournament was immense for the professional golfers of that time.
Only six golfers have won all four major championships throughout their careers: Bobby Jones, Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods.
If you could ask Tom Watson, Arnold Palmer, Lee Trevino, Sam Snead, Byron Nelson and Greg Norman—all players who have been recognized as the greatest of their generations—if they felt their careers were lacking because they did not win all four majors, they would all answer in the affirmative.
While announcing the Arnold Palmer Invitational for the Golf Channel, Johnny Miller said he felt the importance of major championships has been exaggerated by the media and Tiger Woods.
Miller won 25 PGA Tour events in his career but only two major titles. He never won the Masters but was runner-up on three different occasions. It was a tournament he dearly wanted to win.
I would be willing to wager that Johnny Miller would gladly trade five of his 25 career PGA Tour wins for just one green jacket.
Lee Westwood and Luke Donald have both spent time as the No. 1 golfer in the world, but neither has won a major championship yet.
Both are respected as top professionals, but if they fail to win majors before their careers are over, their resumes will be lacking.
Colin Montgomerie had an outstanding career and earned induction into the World Golf Hall of Fame, but he will be forever known as a great player who never won a major championship.
Tiger Woods has ascended once again to the No. 1 spot in the Official World Golf Ranking, which he has already held more than twice as long as any other golfer.
With 77 career wins, he is closing in on Sam Snead’s record of 82.
Woods is the only golfer other than Bobby Jones to hold all four major trophies concurrently. The media will not give him credit for a “Grand Slam” because he won the U.S. Open, the Open Championship and the PGA Championship in 2000 and the Masters in 2001. They have dubbed it the “Tiger Slam.”
Whatever you call it, four consecutive major titles is a phenomenal accomplishment.
Byron Nelson’s 18 wins in 1945 was golfing excellence for an entire season. Luke Donald winning the money titles on both the PGA and European Tours in 2011 was another accomplishment spanning an entire season.
To win a major championship, a golfer has to play well for just four rounds. To win more than 20 tournaments over an entire career demonstrates consistency.
Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods have placed emphasis on major titles, and they will continue to be the gold standard by which all golfers are measured.
Multiple tournament wins over an entire season or even several years should count just as much, but they never will.