Tom Watson, Jack Nicklaus and the Top 15 Golfers from the 80s

Ron FurlongAnalyst IISeptember 24, 2010

Tom Watson, Jack Nicklaus, and the Top 15 Golfers from the '80s

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    The 1980s were a turning point in golf. A handing down of the torch, if you will. A changing of the guard. 

    This was not just with golfers, but with golf courses themselves and how they were maintained. Green speed, not much of a topic before the '80s, became a term everyone in golf soon learned.

    More television coverage than ever also helped bolster the popularity of the game. Even though Jack Nicklaus no longer dominated the game like he had in the '70s and Arnold Palmer's heyday was long over, the popularity of the sport grew like it never had before.

    So, looking back at the pivotal decade of the sport of golf, here are the top 15 players from the '80s.

    Who was No. 1? Watson? Jack? Seve? Maybe Faldo?

15. Craig Stadler

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    The Walrus had a good decade, winning eight times on the PGA Tour and also winning his one and only major, the 1982 Masters.

    In the Masters, Stadler beat Dan Pohl in a playoff.

    Interestingly, after winning the green jacket in '82, he never again finished higher than sixth in any major.

14. Lee Trevino

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    Although it seems like perhaps Trevino's best golf had been played before the '80s, he was very effective in that decade as well.

    He had five wins overall, one of those his sixth and final major title, the 1984 PGA Championship. Trevino played well in majors, especially in the first half of the decade, finishing in the top 10 eight times at the majors and five times in the top five.

13. Fuzzy Zoeller

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    Fuzzy had eight wins in the '80s, including his 1984 U.S. Open title.

    In that '84 U.S. Open, Fuzzy and Greg Norman tied for the lead, five shots better than anyone else. On Monday in the playoff, Zoeller beat Norman by an astounding eight shots.

    Zoeller played for the U.S. on the '83 and '85 Ryder Cup teams.

12. Payne Stewart

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    When we think of Payne, we tend to think of the '90s, although he did quite well in the decade that preceded them.

    He had five wins including the 1989 PGA Championship, the last major of the decade and the first of his three.

    At the Kemper Lakes Golf Club in Long Grove, Illinois, Stewart bested Andy Bean, Mike Reid and Curtis Strange by one shot.

    Payne played his first two Ryder Cups in the '80s, in the '87 and '89 competitions.

11. Greg Norman

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    It could have been a whole lot better, yet still it was pretty good. The Shark won eight times including one of his two major championships, which were both British Open titles.

    Norman won the 1986 British Open at Turnberry by five shots.

    But it should also be noted that with the win at the major at Turnberry in '86 came second place finishes four times at major championships in the decade. These included the '86 and '87 Masters, the '84 U.S. Open, and the 1986 PGA Championship.

    Oh, what could have been.....

10. Bernhard Langer

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    Most of Langer's wins came on the European Tour, but he was always a factor at majors.

    In the '80s, Langer won one of his two majors, the 1985 Masters. His other major title also came at Augusta, in 1993.

    In the '85 Masters, the German outdueled Seve Ballesteros, Ray Floyd, and Curtis Strange, winning by two shots over the talented trio.

    Langer played in 10 Ryder Cups overall, including all six that were played in the 1980s.

9. Ben Crenshaw

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    The native Texan Crenshaw won seven times in the '80s, including the 1984 Masters.

    In that 1984 Masters, he outdueled Tom Watson, beating him by two shots.

    Crenshaw spent 80 weeks in the top 10 of the World Golf Rankings, from 1987-1989. Ben is considered one of the great putters of all time.

8. Sandy Lyle

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    The Scottish-born Lyle was a dominant figure on the world golf stage in the 1980s, with six wins on the PGA Tour but three times that many in Europe. He also won two majors, both in the '80s: the 1985 British Open and the 1988 Masters.

    In the '88 Masters, Lyle birdied the 72nd hole to beat Mark Calcavecchia by one stroke.

    His '85 Open title was just as close, as Sandy edged Payne Stewart by a stroke at Royal St. George's.

7. Ray Floyd

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    Raymond Floyd had a nice decade as well. Ten PGA wins in the '80s, with two majors: the '82 PGA Championship and the '86 U.S. Open.

    In the '82 PGA Championship, he beat Lanny Watkins by three shots. And in the '86 U.S. Open he again beat Lanny Watkins, as well as Chip Beck, this time by two shots. He was the only player under par at Shinnecock for the week, finishing at -1.

    Ray also captained the 1989 Ryder Cup team. Europe and the U.S. split the points with 14 each, but Europe retained the cup by virtue of their win in 1987. By the way, Floyd played on Ryder Cup teams up until 1993, when he was 51.

    Floyd may best remembered as one of the great chip artists of all time. Perhaps his most famous chip came in a sudden-death playoff at the 1980 Doral Eastern Open, beating Jack Nicklaus with the chip-in.

6. Larry Nelson

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    The unassuming Nelson won eight times in the '80s, including three major titles.

    The majors came at the 1983 U.S. Open, the 1981 PGA Championship, and the 1987 PGA Championship.

    In the '83 U.S. Open, Nelson beat Tom Watson by one shot at Oakmont, shooting an incredible 65-67 the last two rounds. The -10 score for the two days is still a U.S. Open record.

    Nelson played on two Ryder Cup teams in the '80s, in 1981 and 1987.

    Perhaps most remarkable is the fact that Nelson did not take up the game of golf until he was 21.

5. Curtis Strange

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    Strange won 18 times in the '80s, including two majors.

    His major victories both came at the U.S. Open, in back-to-back years. He won in 1988 and 1989.

    At the Brookline Country Club in 1988, Strange tied with Nick Faldo after 72 holes of the U.S. Open. Strange beat Faldo in the playoff the next day.

    At the 1989 U.S. Open at Oak Hill, Curtis beat Ian Woosnam, Chip Beck, and Mark McCumber by one shot.

    Strange played on four Ryder Cup teams in the decade, in '83, '85, '87, and '89.

    Oddly, after his second U.S. Open victory in 1989, Strange never again won on the PGA Tour.

4. Nick Faldo

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    English-born Sir Nick Faldo had a great decade: only three wins on the PGA Tour, but seven times that many in Europe.

    He won six majors in all, with two of them coming in the '80s.

    His first major title was the 1987 British Open at Muirfield, won by one shot over Paul Azinger and Rodger Davis.

    His second came at The Masters in 1989, won over Scott Hoch in a playoff. Hoch could have won the green jacket with a two-foot putt on the first playoff hole, but he missed it.

    Faldo played on every Ryder Cup team of the '80s for Europe and is still the single greatest Ryder Cup player in the history of the event for either side. He played in 11 Ryder Cups over his career and holds the record for most matches and most points.

3. Jack Nicklaus

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    Although Jack's best two decades were the '60s and '70s, Nicklaus wasn't too shabby in the '80s either, winning five PGA Tour events and three majors.

    He won the 1980 U.S. Open and PGA Championship, and in remarkable fashion at the 1986 Masters.

    In the '86 Masters, the 46-year-old Nicklaus stunned the golf world by conjuring one final miracle, beating Tom Kite and Greg Norman by a single shot. It was Jack's 18th and final major, still the record.

    Jack's final Ryder Cup appearance came in 1981. He captained the team to victory in 1983.

2. Seve Ballesteros

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    Ballesteros won seven times on the PGA Tour in the '80s but made his mark in Europe. He is still the all-time leading player in Europe, with 50 career wins.

    Seve won four of his five majors in the 1980s; his first came at the 1979 British Open.

    His four major wins of the '80s were at The Masters in 1980 and 1983 and the British Open in 1984 and 1988.

    Seve spent 61 weeks at the end of the decade as the world's top-ranked player. He was also a regular on the European Ryder Cup teams of the '80s. He scored 22.5 points for Europe over the years.

1. Tom Watson

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    If the '70s were Jack's decade, the 80's without a doubt belonged to Tom Watson.

    Watson had 19 wins and five majors in the decade. In addition to the five major titles, he finished in the top five eight other times, and four of those five were second-place finishes. As many majors as he won, it could have been oh-so-many more.

    One of the seven or eight best golfers of all time, Watson is perhaps the greatest bad weather player of the modern era, and undoubtedly on the short list of the greatest links players ever.