I am going with the same criteria as I did for the 25 worst golfers to win a major championship, with one change: I am making it a top-26.
Why 26? It's simple. Steve Elkington is not in the same class as these other golfers, but his accomplishments make him appear to be. While everyone else arguably underachieved winning only one major, Elkington overachieved. But unlike every other overachiever in golf, Elkington time and time again stepped his game up in prestigious events. That deserves a mention, and thus he makes this list.
No winners since the 2002 PGA Championship are eligible. Yes, Jim Furyk will be on this list if he doesn't win another major, but I'm giving him more time since he won in 2003. Padraig Harrington also has a chance to get on here some day.
Also, the rankings are done based on performance. I don't care if you think someone was talented; if he didn't perform, he doesn't make the list. I am looking at how the players did in other majors and how they did overall. I got some flack for having John Daly on my last list because he was more talented than most of the other players. But statistically, he has been a mediocre golfer, one of the most mediocre to win a major championship, let alone two.
Anyway, I hope you enjoy.
26 Best Golfers to Win Only One Major Championship Since World War II
26. Steve Elkington – 1995 PGA Championship
Elkington is an interesting character. He won 10 PGA Tour events, one Asian Tour tournament, and once more on the Australasian Tour. Among his PGA Tour victories are two PLAYERS Championship and two triumphs in the winners-restricted event that begin each season. Elkington only won five normal tour events. He has been runner-up in the both the Open Championship and the PGA Championship, as well three other times in which he has finished third in a major. More so than any mediocre golfer, Elkington has stepped it up big time in the important tournaments and that earns him a place on this list. Most of the other golfers got on here because they underperformed; Elkington is a classic over-performer.
25. Al Geiberger – 1966 PGA Championship
Geiberger won 11 times on tour, including a Tournament Players Championship and MONY Tournament of Champions. He did not win an event after his PGA in 1966 until 1974, although he was runner-up in the 1969 U.S. Open. Overall, he recorded six top-five performances in majors. In 1977, he became the first player ever to shoot a round in the 50s.
24. Gay Brewer – 1967 Masters Tournament
Brewer recorded 11 top-10s in majors besides his one victory, at least two in all four majors. He also won 11 PGA Tour events. After his only major victory, Brewer never finished better than sixth in a slam and did not win a PGA Tour event for five years.
23. Bobby Nichols – 1964 PGA Championship
Besides his one victory, Nichols recorded four top-four finishes in majors, including losing by one stroke to Gay Brewer in the 1967 Masters Tournament. He too won 11 times on the PGA Tour, none bigger than his lone PGA Championship. He also won once on the Senior Tour.
22. Don January – 1967 PGA Championship
January finished in the top-10 16 times in major tournaments, including seven top-fives. He won 10 PGA Tour events, two of which were winners-restricted events. Although it doesn't affect his placing, he won 23 times on the senior tour, including one major.
21. Bob Charles – 1963 Open Championship
The Kiwi won five times on the PGA Tour, not including his 1963 Open Championship victory. He won eight times in his native New Zealand and four times on the European Tour. He was thrice the runner-up in a major, including twice in 1968. Overall, he had seven top-five finishes in major championships.
20. Tom Lehman – 1996 Open Championship
Lehman is the only person to be the 54-hole leader three consecutive years in the U.S. Open. Somehow, he has never won a U.S. Open. Despite being ranked number one in the world, Lehman has only five PGA Tour titles and two European Tour victories, one of which on each tour is the 1996 Open Championship. He also won THE TOUR Championship that same year. Six times Lehman finished in the top-three in a major, but only once on top.
19. Paul Azinger – 1993 PGA Championship
Azinger has won 12 PGA Tour events and two European Tour events. He has also finished in the top-10 10 times in majors, six of which were top-five performances. He was runner-up in the Open Championship in 1987 and the PGA Championship in 1988. He has finished in the top-five at every major at least once. Among his tour wins are the MONY Tournament of Champions and THE TOUR Championship.
18. Dow Finsterwald – 1958 PGA Championship
Finsterwald lost in the finals of the 1957 PGA Championship, but was able to get revenge in 1958 by winning the first year in which it was a stroke-play format. That 1957 defeat was the only runner-up Finsterwald ever had in a major, but he did finished third four times and in the top-five eight times. Overall, he won 11 PGA Tour events, but just the one major.
17. Justin Leonard – 1997 Open Championship
Leonard has been the runner-up three times in majors so far, all since his lone victory. There's still time for him to get off this list, but he hasn't been in contention since the 2004 PGA Championship, where he finished second. He has won 12 PGA Tour events, including THE PLAYERS Championship in 1998. His most recent victory came in June.
16. David Duval – 2001 Open Championship
Duval finished in the top-11 of all but four majors from 1998 until 2001. He never did so even once before or since. He was twice the runner-up in the Masters and also finished tied for third once. He also won 13 titles, all in a period of less than four calendar years. A number of factors led to Duval completely losing his game, but that doesn't matter. Just what he accomplished, even if it was only for a short time, was remarkable. Remember, he was the last player to take the top ranking away from Woods before Vijay Singh in 2004.
15. Jim Ferrier – 1947 PGA Championship
Ferrier finished in the top-10 15 times in majors, including seven top-fives after his lone victory. He was runner-up in the 1960 PGA Championship, thus denying what would have been the only person to win the PGA both in stroke-play and match-play. Ferrier won 14 individual PGA Tour events over his career in addition to four titles in four-ball competitions.
14. Ian Woosnam – 1991 Masters Tournament
Woosnam won 28 European Tour events, more than any other player with exactly one major title (Colin Montgomerie has won more titles but has zero majors). Twice he was awarded the European Tour order of merit. He had five top-five finishes in majors outside of his triumph and is one of 12 people to have been ranked number one in the world since the rankings debuted in 1986.
13. Tommy Bolt – 1958 U.S. Open
Bolt finished in the top-10 14 times in major championships, nine of which were top-five performances. He also won 14 individual PGA Tour titles. At the age of 52, he almost won the PGA Championship, as he was tied with Jack Nicklaus heading to the back nine. He finished third. That PGA Championship was held in February, not summer like tradition now dictates. Bolt is also one of the Hall of Fame's bigger snubs.
12. Ken Venturi – 1964 U.S. Open
Injuries derailed Venturi almost immediately after his only major title. He was twice the solo runner-up in the Masters Tournament, the first as the low amateur in 1956. Playing during one of the toughest eras in golf history, Venturi managed 14 PGA Tour titles and 10 top-10s in major championships. If he played in any other era or did not get carpal tunnel syndrome in both wrists, he probably would have won much more.
11. Fred Couples – 1992 Masters Tournament
Couples had 25 top-ten performances in major championships and tied a record by making the cut 23 consecutive times in which he teed it up at Augusta National. He's had 12 top-five finishes, but only that one maiden triumph. Couples has won 15 PGA Tour events, including what is now known as THE PLAYERS Championship twice, and two European Tour events.
10. Tom Weiskopf – 1973 Open Championship
Weiskopf was four times the bridesmaid at the Masters Tournament among eight second and third place finishes at major championships. He won 16 times on tour, including five times in 1973. He tacked on a Senior U.S. Open in 1995 for what it is worth, which is something. But in lists like these it is worth nothing.
9. Kel Nagle – 1960 Open Championship
Nagle had seven top-five finishes in major championships, six of which came in a seven year period in the Open Championship. A native Australian, he had only played in majors twice before his 39th birthday, but defeated Arnold Palmer to claim one in 1960. He won 61 times in Australia and New Zealand, including once every year from 1949 through 1977 with the exclusion of 1961 and 1976.
8. Davis Love III – 1997 PGA Championship
Not including his win, Love has had eight top-five performances in major championships, including solo seconds in the Masters Tournament in both 1995 and 1999. He has won THE PLAYERS Championship twice among his 19 wins on tour, but that's not a major. Yes, some people call it the fifth major, but it's not. Calling it so would be calling Craig Perks a major champion, and nobody wants to do that.
7. Tony Lema – 1964 Open Championship
What can be said about Tony Lema? There is no doubt in my mind that he would not be on this list if his plane did not run out of fuel in 1966 on his way to a tournament when he was only 32. He had already won 12 titles, including five in 1964. He had already had eight top-10 finishes in majors over the past four years, including a second place in the 1963 Masters Tournament. Unfortunately, tragedies do occur and thus Lema has to make the list.
6. Lanny Wadkins – 1977 PGA Championship
Wadkins had eight other top-three finishes in major championships and 21 titles overall on tour, but only one major. He won the Tournament Players Championship once and the MONY Tournament of Champions twice. Wadkins's PGA triumph came in a playoff that greatly affected this list. Had he lost, he obviously would not be on this list. But neither would have Gene Littler...
5. Gene Littler – 1961 U.S. Open
Littler finished second in the U.S. Open in 1954, his first time in the field. It was one of nine top-five finishes in major championships, not including his win in 1961. He was a runner-up three times, including a solo second at the 1977 PGA Championship, giving him a remarkable 23-year top-two longevity. He won 29 PGA Tour events, the first oddly enough as an amateur in 1954 and last in 1977. To put that in perspective: he won his first event before Arnold Palmer won his first and his last after Palmer won his last. But Palmer had seven majors; Littler only had one.
4. Jerry Pate – 1976 U.S. Open
Besides his win, Pate had seven top-five finishes in majors, including two runner-ups. His career was basically over by 30, but not before he won 8 times on the PGA Tour. One of those victories was the Tournament Players Championship. Pate is a great example of a person who could have been so much more. Unfortunately, shoulder problems derailed him. He won his U.S. Open at the age of 23, one year after he took low amateur. Impressive.
3. Roberto DeVicenzo – 1967 Open Championship
What a stupid he is. DeVicenzo signed for the wrong score in the 1968 Masters Tournament, giving Bob Goalby the victory and keeping DeVicenzo out of a playoff. If you don't believe me, check out the picture at the top of the article. He had eight second or third place finishes in major championships and 17 top-10s over a 23-year period, despite playing in three or four majors in one year only twice. He won all over the world, including five times in individual events on the PGA Tour.
2. Tom Kite – 1992 U.S. Open
Kite had 27 top-10 performances in majors over four different decades, 16 of which were top-five. He was thrice the runner-up in the Masters Tournament and once in the Open Championship. He won 19 times on the PGA Tour and is the oldest player to lead a tournament through three rounds (2005 Booz Allen Classic at the age of 55). Kite could have easily won five majors; he didn't.
1. Lloyd Mangrum – 1946 U.S. Open
Who knows if Mangrum would have won a second title if not for World War II, but it's a moot point. Besides his victory in the 1946 U.S. Open, Mangrum finished in the top-three nine times and the top-10 25 times. He won 36 PGA Tour events, more than any player with only one major championship. And if it weren't for the war, he would have won more. He was one of the five best players of his era, an era that included Ben Hogan, Jimmy Demaret, and Sam Snead. He was their Phil Mickelson.
As a side note, no major champion from the 1980s made the list. Most people who won majors in the 1980s won two or three, keeping there from being that many people eligible. The only ones to get serious consideration were Hal Sutton (1983 PGA Championship) and Craig Stadler (1982 Masters Tournament).