Tiger Woods and 50 Players Who Changed the Game of Golf
Ever since shepherds starting whacking dirt clods around with sticks in Scotland 500 years ago, the game of golf has had its pioneers and innovators that have changed the game.
From Old Tom Morris to Michelle Wie, different players have changed the game for different reasons.
Here are the top 50 players that have changed golf in the last 180 years or so and have brought it to the game we know and love today.
50. Ben Crenshaw
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In addition to a solid career professional career that included 19 wins on the PGA Tour and two Masters titles, Crenshaw is one of the great historians of the game and has spent a good part of his later life talking about and writing about the history of the game.
49. Lloyd Mangrum
Mangrum won 36 times on the PGA Tour, although that total may have been more had World War II not interrupted his career.
His only major win came at the 1946 U.S. Open, although he finished second four times and third five times in majors.
He had a remarkable 10 years in a row with a top 10 finish at the Masters.
In the war, he won two Purple Hearts and was wounded at the Battle of the Bulge.
48. Fred Couples
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A native of Seattle, Couples' grandparents came from Italy to the United States and changed their name from Coppola to Couples so it sounded less Italian.
Freddie had the honor of being the first American to hold the No. 1 spot on the official World Golf Rankings when he took over the top spot in 1992. Of course, many American golfers held the No. 1 golfer in the world title before Fred, but the official rankings, which are still used today, began in 1986.
Couples has always energized crowds and built up huge galleries on the golf course. He was one of the first big-time hitters of the modern era and thus earned his nickname Boom Boom.
47. Lee Trevino
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Trevino, of Mexican ancestry, won 29 times on tour, including six majors. The only major title he didn't win was the Masters.
Trevino gives hope to all golfers with an in-to-out swing, which was self-taught.
Lee used his quick wit, as well as his ability on the golf course, to become a gallery favorite for many years.
46. Y.E. Yang
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Yang has not won much since recently bursting on the golf scene, but his one major win was historic.
When Yang out-dueled Tiger Woods at the 2009 PGA Championship to win the title, he became the first Asian-born man to win a golf major.
Long overdue and certainly the first of many to come.
45. Padraig Harrington
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Harrington rose to the top of the golf world in 2008, winning player of the year when Tiger Woods was recovering from injury.
He has three major titles and 15 wins in Europe combined with five in the States.
The native of Dublin also belongs to a rather exclusive club in the world of professional golf.
Along with Tom Watson, Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus and Lee Trevino, Harrington won three of six consecutive majors.
44. Colin Montgomerie
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Many consider Monty to be the greatest player to have never won a major. That is debatable, but what isn't is his impact on golf, especially European golf, over the last 20 years.
Montgomerie has won a record eight Order Of Merit titles in Europe, including seven in a row from 1993 to 1999.
The native Scotsman has won 31 times in Europe, fourth all-time. He also has one of the great Ryder Cup records of all time and this year captained the Euro squad to a victory in Wales over the Americans.
Montgomerie is one of the more emotional figures to ever play the game, always wearing his heart on his sleeve.
43. Kathy Whitworth
A record 88 LPGA victories and seven times the LPGA player of the year.
She dominated the sport for women in the 1960s.
42. Gene Littler
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Littler was one of the players credited with changing the way golfers became professional by going to—and finishing—college before entering the pros.
In 1954 Littler completed the rare feat of winning a PGA event as an amateur. He won 29 times on the PGA Tour, although his only major title was the 1961 U.S. Open.
41. Walter Travis
The Australian was perhaps the most successful golfer in the United States in the early 1900s.
Not only a great player, Travis was also a noted journalist and architect, as well as a great teacher of the game.
He won the U.S. Amateur title three times and the British Open Amateur once.
40. Michelle Wie
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Wie has certainly influenced the game in the last four or five years, but more by her potential and her courage to play with the boys than winning golf tournaments.
Wie has inspired a new generation of young girls to pick up the game not only with her attempts to play with the men, but with her composure on and off the golf course as well.
She has handled the fame and promise with an exceptional amount of poise, even when struggling on the course.
39. Craig Wood
The American-born Wood played in the '30s and '40s and won 21 tournaments and two majors.
Although he did win the two majors, he finished second at a major five other times.
38. Nancy Lopez
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Lopez, perhaps the most recognizable name in women's golf until Annika Sorenstam came around, could have won a lot more than she did.
She devoted much of her time during her playing career to having children and raising them, and although she won 52 events and three majors, it could have been more.
Lopez is the only woman golfer to have won the LPGA Rookie of the Year, Player of the Year and the Vare Trophy in the same season (1978).
37. Payne Stewart
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Stewart won 24 times in his shortened career, including three majors.
He was known as much for his game as for the knickers he wore that become a part of his persona.
At the time of his death in 1999 Stewart was in his prime and ranked third on the all-time money list.
36. Lee Elder
Lee Elder was one of the first black men to make a mark in the game of golf. He was the first African American to play in the Masters in 1975.
Lee's father died in World War II when he was nine, and his mother died three months later. He lived in ghettos for a while before ending up with his aunt in southern California.
Elder dealt with racism on a weekly basis through much of his career. He has paved the way for men like Tiger Woods to be able to do what he has done in the game.
35. Harry Cooper
Born in England but raised in Texas, Cooper had his best years in the '20s and '30s.
He won 31 times on the PGA Tour, which was a record for players born outside the U.S., until Vijay Singh surpassed him in 2008.
He never won a major.
34. Julius Boros
24 professional wins, including three majors. His victory at the 1968 PGA Championship at the age of 48 still stands as the oldest player to win a major.
Jack Nicklaus was 46 when he won the 1986 Masters.
Boros was the one who said, "Swing easy, hit hard."
33. Tony Jacklin
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Jacklin won 28 times as a professional, including two majors. However, he is best remembered for his Ryder Cup success—not only as a player, but as a captain as well.
Jacklin captained the European team to victory in 1985, their first victory in 28 years, and then to their first ever victory in the United States two years later.
His influence on European golf is immense.
32. Jose Maria Olazabal
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His 23 wins on the European Tour and two majors (both Masters titles) don't tell the whole story.
At age 18, Olazabal won the British Amateur Championship and a year later finished second on the European Order of Merit.
The Spaniard was part of seven Ryder Cup teams from 1987 to 2006, and his partnership in the Ryder Cup matches with fellow countryman Seve Ballesteros is the stuff of legends.
31. Bernhard Langer
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The German has won 42 times on the European Tour, second overall. His two major victories were both at the Masters, taking the green jacket in 1985 and 1993.
He was the inaugural world No. 1 when the official World Golf Rankings came out in 1986.
He has played in 10 Ryder Cups and and captained the Euro team to Ryder Cup victory in 2004.
30. Billy Casper
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He won a ton from the '50s through the '70s.
Casper has 51 PGA Tour victories, seventh all-time. In fact, between 1964 and 1970 Caper won 27 PGA events, more than Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player.
Known as one of the great putters of all time, Casper and his wife have 11 children and have been active in charitable work for children over the years.
29. Patty Berg
One of the true pioneers of women's golf, Berg was a founding member of the LPGA.
She won 27 times as an amateur and then 60 times as a professional on the LPGA, fourth all-time.
In 1963 Berg was voted the recipient of the Bob Jones Award, the highest honor given by the United States Golf Association in recognition of distinguished sportsmanship.
28. Tommy Armour
The Scotsman won 25 times on the PGA Tour.
Armour fought in World War I and lost sight in his right eye due to a mustard explosive. He later regained sight in the eye and took up golf after the war.
Tommy co-wrote the book How to Play Your Best Golf All The Time, which became a bestseller and for many years was considered the bible of golf how-to books.
27. Ralph Guldahl
Guldahl had a very short but very impressive stint as a professional golfer. He broke into the game in the early '30s but gave up the game in 1935 to sell cars. He made a comeback midway through the 1936 season and ended up second on the money list.
He did a lot of winning from 1937 to 1939, and then his game fell apart. He never won again after 1940.
In that short window he won 16 PGA events and three majors.
26. Willie Park Sr.
One of the true founders of the game. Born in Scotland in 1833, he played in "challenge matches" that were very popular against such famous golfers like Old Tom Morris and Wille Dunn.
He was a tall man and a big hitter, as well as a great putter. He won the British Open four times.
25. Mickey Wright
Wright is best known for her 13 major titles, second only to Patty Berg, who won 15.
The American-born Wright also won 88 times on the LPGA Tour, second only to Kathy Whitworth.
She is the only player in the history of the LPGA Tour to hold all four majors at the same time.
24. Nick Faldo
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The legendary English-born Faldo won 30 times on the European Tour and nine times on the PGA Tour. He also holds six major titles: three Masters and three British Opens.
In the late '80s and early '90s, when golf was looking for someone to take over the sport after Tom Watson had faded a bit, Faldo stepped up and was considered the best player in the game.
23. Greg Norman
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20 PGA Tour wins, 14 in Europe and 31 in his native Australia.
Norman won two majors but of course is perhaps best known for all the majors he didn't win.
Seven times he finished second at a major, and three more in third.
Norman, in addition to his golf career, is a architect and noted entrepreneur.
22. Babe Didrikson Zaharia
She won 41 times on the LPGA but was also known as a great in basketball and track and field.
She came to golf late, but it would be the sport she was most known for.
She liked to compete with men in PGA Tournaments, and in 1945 she made the cut at the Los Angles Open. She is still the only woman to make a cut at a PGA event.
She holds 10 major titles.
21. Francis Ouimet
One of Ouimet's honors is being the first American elected as the Captain of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews.
The American is best known for getting asked to play in the 1913 U.S. Open at Brookline Country Club, where he caddied. Ouimet won the Open with a 18-hole playoff win over famous British golfers Harry Vardon and Ted Ray.
He would win only three professional tournaments, but his U.S. Open win inspired many boys to take up the game.
20. Willie Anderson
The Scottish immigrant became the first golfer to win four U.S. Opens (1901, 1903, 1904 and 1905). He is still the only man to win three in a row.
Anderson died at the age of 31 from epilepsy.
19. Calvin Peete
Peete won 12 times on the PGA Tour, the most for an African American until Tiger Woods came along.
Peete was known for his accuracy with his irons while he played on tour.
His wife is the manager of the First Tee program in Jacksonville, Florida, which helps kids get started in the game even if they can not afford it.
18. Sam Snead
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Snead's 82 wins on the PGA Tour still have him with the most of all time. Tiger Woods figures to pass him eventually, trailing Snead by 10 PGA victories.
He also won seven major titles, although the U.S. Open would always elude him. Four times he finished second at the U.S. Open.
In his first year on tour, in 1937, the native of Virginia won five times. In 1950 he won 11 tournaments, still the most by any player in a single year.
He was a long hitter who was also very accurate and known to be outstanding with long irons. He was also said to be very creative around the greens.
17. Gary Player
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One of the great golfers of all time, the native of South Africa won 24 times on the PGA Tour but is credited with 165 professional wins in his career worldwide.
He also is the holder of nine major titles.
Player, along with Arnold Palmer and later Jack Nicklaus, dominated golf in the '50s and '60s.
Player's success in the sport led others from his country to take up the game, including Ernie Els.
16. Young Tom Morris
The son of Old Tom Morris and one of the pioneers of the game, Young Tom was himself somewhat a founder of the game and one of the sport's first great players.
His challenge matches drew spectators in droves, and he and a few others are most credited with developing the interest in the game from these challenge matches.
Although he won a lot, he was friendly and liked by all, which allowed him to keep attracting challengers to his matches.
Young Tom met tragedy at an early age. Just 24 years old, Young Tom got a telegram while he and his father were golfing. They rushed home to his pregnant wife, who was in labor. Both his wife and the baby died during childbirth. Young Tom was heartbroken and actually died of a heart attack four months later, on Christmas day.
15. Vijay Singh
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Vijay tells the story of how, as a kid, he used coconuts for golf balls, as his family was too poor to afford golf balls.
Singh was born in Fiji. His 34 PGA wins rank him 34th all-time, and his 13 European Tour wins rank him 18th of all time there.
Vijay has won three majors, one Masters and two PGA Championships.
Singh has inspired many in his country to take up the game.
14. Byron Nelson
The gentle Texan won 52 times on the PGA Tour, including five majors.
At the age of 11 Byron barely survived typhoid fever.
Nelson once made 113 straight cuts, which for many years stood as the record. Tiger Woods has since passed him with a streak of 142.
He was known as such a gentleman on and off the course that he was often called Lord Byron.
He is also known to have mentored and helped Tom Watson become a great golfer.
13. Charlie Sifford
Along with Lee Elder, Sifford helped desegregate professional golf.
Although he won 21 times as a professional, only two of those wins came on the PGA Tour.
In 2004 Sifford became the first African American elected into the World Golf Hall of Fame.
Sifford broke down barriers and paved the way for a new generation of African-American golfers.
12. Gene Sarazan
Sarazan was at the top of the golf world in the '20s and '30s.
He compiled 39 PGA Tour victories and seven major titles.
In 1922, at the age of 20, he won the U.S. Open and the PGA Championship.
Sarazan was a great rival of Bobby Jones. The two were born in the same year.
Another accomplishment is his invention of the sand wedge, which he debuted at the British Open in 1932—a tournament he won, by the way.
11. Tom Watson
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Winner of 39 PGA Tour events and eight majors, Watson is one of the great players of all time.
He is similar in many ways to Byron Nelson in that Watson, especially in his later years, is the gentleman of gentlemen.
Jack Nicklaus' rival through the '70s, Watson dominated the game from the late '70s into the early '80s.
In 2009 at the British Open, Watson almost pulled off a victory for the ages. At age 59 he went to the final hole of the Open up a shot over Stewart Cink, but a bogey on the last hole by Watson forced a playoff with Cink, which he lost.
10. Harry Vardon
Winner of six British Opens, a record which still stands today, Vardon was perhaps the game's second superstar, following after Young Tom Morris.
In 1900, he toured the United States, playing in more than 80 matches. He also won the U.S. Open that year.
In 1920, at age 50, he finished second in the U.S. Open. At one point in his career he won 14 tournaments in a row, a record that still stands.
Vardon is perhaps more responsible than anyone in bringing the game's popularity in Great Britain to the U.S. at the turn of the century.
9. Seve Ballesteros
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A golf legend, Ballesteros dominated the game from the mid '70s to the mid '90s.
The Spaniard holds the record for most wins on the European Tour with 50. He also won nine times on the PGA Tour with five major titles, three of those at the British Open.
He became involved in golf course design after his playing career, which was shortened because of nagging back problems.
Charismatic and dashing, Seve was exactly what the sport needed in the '80s to get it up and running again.
8. Annika Sorenstam
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Little question that Annika is the best woman golfer to have ever played the game.
She has won 72 LPGA tournaments and more than 90 as a professional. She holds 10 major titles.
The Swedish-born Sorenstam surprised many by stepping away from the game in 2008 at the age of 38.
She has undoubtedly influenced more girls to play the game than any other person.
7. Arnold Palmer
He revolutionized the game and brought it into the modern era. Palmer won seven majors and 62 PGA events in all.
His gallery (Arnie's Army) became a weekly hoard on tour. Arnie brought the game into the television era, gathering countless fans no doubt with his charisma and winning ways on TV.
His best years were 1960 to 1963, when he won 29 PGA events. He played strong golf well into the mid '70s.
Palmer has continued to be a recognizable face for the game to this day, still promoting the sport he loves.
6. Walter Hagan
Of Hagan's considerable achievements on the golf course, perhaps one of his greatest was becoming the first American-born player to win the British Open in 1922.
In all Hagan won 11 majors and 45 PGA Tour events.
Hagan was a key figure in the popularity of golf in the United States. He liked to play exhibition matches all over the world, but especially in the U.S. These matches helped make the game popular.
He was a bold, charismatic figure. He dressed in bright clothing and was nothing less than a superstar in the sport. He also helped design clubs and was instrumental in designing the first set of irons with the Wilson company.
5. Ben Hogan
Of Hogan's great golf achievements, perhaps his influence on the theory of the golf swing is the most profound.
Generally considered one of the five or six best players to have ever played the game, Hogan was a figure liked by all.
He won 64 times on the PGA Tour and 9 majors.
Not as charismatic as many of his day, Hogan was a bit of an introvert
In 1949, at age 36, Hogan and his wife were involved in a serious car accident that left him with numerous injuries that kept him in the hospital for two months.
Some believed he would never play again. He proved them wrong and in 1953 won the Hogan slam. He won three of the four majors but was unable to try for all four because in that year the PGA Championship and the British Open overlapped.
Hogan elected to play in the Open and won it.
Tiger Woods, considered by many the greatest golfer ever, recently said that he wished he could "own his swing" the same way Hogan did. Woods believes that Hogan and Moe Norman were the only two golfers to have ever "owned" their swing and thus had complete control over it and the flight of the ball.
4. Old Tom Morris
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Born in St. Andrews in 1821, you could very well consider Old Tom to be golf's first true pioneer.
Old Tom, at age 14, was hired as an apprentice for Allan Robertson, who is considered by many the world's first professional golfer. Robertson and Morris often played matches together.
Morris become the greenskeeper at St. Andrews in 1865. When he returned there it was in poor condition, and Old Tom was instructed to bring the Old Course back to glory. He did this by widening the fairways, enlarging the greens, using modern greenskeeping techniques and building two new greens (No. 1 and No. 18).
He stayed on as the head greenskeeper as the world's most famous golf course until 1903—38 years.
In addition to his greenskeeping, Old Tom was a very fine golfer, a club and ball maker, a golf instructor and, of course, designer.
His son, Young Tom, was considered by many the best golfer of his time but died tragically at age 24.
3. Jack Nicklaus
What can you say about Jack that hasn't been said?
Perhaps the greatest golfer that ever lived.
Along with Arnold Palmer and Gary Player, he brought golf into the modern era.
Jack's 18 major titles are still the record. Overall he won 73 PGA events, second overall.
His golf course design has been nearly as influential as his game.
2. Bobby Jones
The scary thing looking back at the career of Bobby Jones is that he retired at the age of 28. Just think what he could have done had he continued to play.
Jones refused to turn professional like some of his rivals, namely Walter Hagen and Gene Sarazan, and would always remain an amateur.
Jones is most famous for winning the slam in 1930. Back then it was the Open and Amateur Championships in both the U.S. and Great Britain.
After his playing career he stayed in the game as a instructor and equipment designer.
As well, following his early retirement from competitive golf, Bobby Jones helped found Augusta National and the Masters Tournament.
Jones won seven majors in his short amateur career, but throw in his amateur titles and it goes up to 13.
He had a profound influence on American golf in the '20s and '30s, to say the least.
1. Tiger Woods
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It matters not if you think Tiger Woods is the greatest golfer of all time or Jack Nicklaus was. There is no denying the impact Woods has had on the game of golf in the last dozen years.
He has taken a sport and elevated it to a new level, bringing with him scores of fans who never watched or played the game before.
He has taken golf out of upper-class America and spread it out through the land.
His domination of the game during the first decade of this century is almost unmatched in sports history.
71 PGA wins (third all-time) and 38 wins in Europe (third all-time), as well as 14 majors (second all-time).
His influence on television ratings, comparing when he plays in a tournament or doesn't, is staggering.
There is little argument Tiger Woods has influenced the modern game of golf more than any one person.