The 50 Best Golfers of All Time

Kathy BissellCorrespondent IDecember 18, 2010

The 50 Best Golfers of All Time

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    The 50 best.  How does one compare Old Tom Morris to Tiger Woods?  Ben Hogan to Babe Zaharias? Jack and Arnold to anybody? It's a tough task until you just do the numbers. 

    How many professional majors, how many pro tour victories, how many world wide victories even if it's the Legends of Golf or The Skins Game?  Those were our measuring sticks. 

    Amateur championships, if added, might change the order a little bit.  But that's a task for someone else at another time. These are our top 50 playing in professional events.

    The first two slides are for historic golfers who shot scores like 54-56-53=163 to win early British Opens. That's not quite the same challenge as today's players face. 

    However, they beat whoever showed up, and when the winning scores is 163, what was par? Was it just level 4s? It's a wonder we have the records at all.  

    Still, it doesn't make sense to give them higher standing than some of the modern players who contested over 72 holes, on great courses, with tough competition and then won in many tournaments around the world.

    When you see the modern era golfers are, you'll understand the reason for putting the historic gentlemen last. No disrespect meant.     

50. Walter Travis

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    Walter Travis is a name from the past, before there was a lot of professional golf played.  He was born in Australia but came to the US in 1866. 

    Like Bobby Jones, he was an amateur. He won the British Amateur once and the US Amateur four times, before 1905.

    As there was no professional circuit at that time in the US, his victories were in amateurs and opens, such as the 1906 Florida Open.

49. Willie Park

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    wikipedia

    Willie Park Sr. won the inaugural British Open in 1860 and three others before 1890.  

    Records in this era are incomplete. But his British Open records stand. 

48. Young Tom Morris

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    courtesy wikipedia, historic photo

    Young Tom Morris won four British Open championships with scores that look like 9 holes were played. 

    In 1868, he defeated his father, Old Tom Morris, 51-54-49=154 by three strokes, to win his first major championship. 

    His other British Open titles (all before his untimely death in 1875 at age 24) were similar.   His lowest score for victory was in 1870 at 47-51-51=149, and he won by 12 strokes. 

47. Old Tom Morris

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    zazzle

    54-56-53=163

    52-55-56=163

    54-58-55=167

    58-54-58=170

    Those were Old Tom Morris' winning scores in the four British Opens he won between 1861, the second one ever contended, and 1867.   In 1868, he lost the championship to his son, Young Tom Morris.

    Morris holds the record as the oldest winner of The Open Championship at age 46.

46. Nick Price

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    Stephen Munday/Getty Images

    Nick Price, with three major championships, won 18 PGA Tour titles and 48 worldwide victories including three on the Champions Tour.

    Nick Price, in addition to being a terrific guy, is a world-class golfer, even historically speaking.

45.Ernie Els

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    Stephen Munday/Getty Images

    Ernie Els with three major championships, two US Opens and a British Open, 18 PGA Tour victories, 25 European Tour titles and 63 worldwide shows there's a lot of fire in The Big Easy.  

44. Hale Irwin

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    Stephen Munday/Getty Images

    We might as well call Hale Irwin happy feet for the lap he took around the 18th green to get into a playoff at the 1990 US Open, which he went on to win.

    Irwin has 20 PGA Tour titles, and 87 victories in all with 45 of them coming on the Champions Tour, where he is No. 1 in career victories.  

43. Tommy Armour

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    tommyarmourgolf.com

    Tommy Armour.  They called him the Silver Scot.  But any name, his three modern majors qualify him as one of history's best. 

    In his era, the Western Open was counted as a major, and he won that also.  On that basis, he'd rank higher, but so would a passel of others. Armour had 25 US professional victories and 26 in all.

42. Jimmy Demaret

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    Hulton Archive/Getty Images

    Jimmy Demaret, with three majors, 31 US professional victories and three Champions Tour titles, was known as a flashy dresser. 

    He and Jackie Burke Jr., created Champions Golf Club in Houston.   

41. Nancy Lopez

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    David Cannon/Getty Images

    Nancy Lopez won three majors, all of them the Kraft Nabisco, which was then the Nabisco Dinah Shore. 

    However, she won the hearts of thousands and brought many people to the game. 

    With 48 LPGA victories and 52 worldwide, she is one of the best the LPGA has ever seen. 

40. Vijay Singh

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    Andrew Redington/Getty Images

    Vijay Singh, with three majors to his credit, 34 PGA Tour titles, a stint at No. 1 in the world and 58 worldwide victories, has shown that hard work pays off. 

39. Billy Casper

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    USGA

    Billy Casper, another great gentleman of the game, won three majors, including the famous US Open battle against Arnold Palmer in a playoff at Olympic Club in 1966. 

    Casper has 51 PGA Tour victories, 68 worldwide and nine on the Champions tour.

38. Jim Barnes

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    pga.com

    Jim Barnes won the first PGA Championship in 1916 and he won all the majors that were contended at that time. 

    He has 21 US professional titles and 25 worldwide victories.

37.Donna Caponi Byrnes

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    A. Messerschmidt/Getty Images

    Donna Caponi Byrnes won four LPGA major championships, 24 LPGA titles and 28 worldwide tournaments. 

    She became a television commentator after her playing career was completed.

36. Raymond Floyd

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    Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

    Raymond Floyd retired from competition a few years ago. 

    With four major championships, 22 PGA Tour victories, 14 Champions Tour titles and 66 worldwide tournament in total, Floyd was always a fierce competitor. 

    He was known as The Stare for the look that he had with a chance to win. 

35. Bobby Locke

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    observatorygolfclub.co.za

    Bobby Locke won four British Opens and 15 US professional events despite the fact that, according to the tales, he was so good that after a short time, he was banned in the US. 

    In 1947, he won six tournaments on the US tour. Locke eventually collected 72 worldwide victories. 

34. Phil Mickelson

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    Harry How/Getty Images

    Phil Mickelson.  Do you remember when he was the best player never to have won a major? 

    Well, four majors after that, he's in the top 35 in golf history with a chance to move up before he's done playing. 

    Mickelson has 38 PGA Tour titles and 44 worldwide victories.

33. Sandra Haynie

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    Sandra Haynie, playing in the era of Mickey Wright and Kathy Whitworth, two of the top three LPGA tournament winners, won four majors, 42 LPGA titles and 43 professional events in all.

32. James Braid

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    wikipedia

    James Braid won five British Opens between 1901 and 1910. 

    His list of tournament victories is incomplete, but it is known that he won at least eight other events in Europe. 

    Braid was part of the "Great Triumvirate" along with J.H. Taylor and Harry Vardon. 

31. J.H. Taylor

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    Fallacies of Golf Part 3

    J.H. Taylor won five British Open titles between 1894 and 1913.   

    He is part of what was called the "Great Triumvirate" along with Harry Vardon and James Braid.

    Some credit him with the invention of the dogleg.

30. Amy Alcott

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    Gary Newkirk/Getty Images

    Amy Alcott won five major championships during her tenure on the LPGA.  She has 29 LPGA titles and 30 worldwide victories. 

29. Se Ri Pak

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    Scott Halleran/Getty Images

    Se Ri Pak, the inspiration for today's group of Korean golfers finding success in the US, has five major championships to her credit. She has also won 25 LPGA tournaments and 31 worldwide victories. 

    Pak competed in a men's event in Korea, finishing 10th, and becoming the first woman to make the cut in a professional men's tournament since Babe Zaharias.

28. Joanne Carner

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    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    Joanne Carner made her early statements winning five US Women’s Amateurs as JoAnne Gunderson. 

    She did not turn professional until she was 30, and after that, won two US Opens, 43 LGPA titles and 48 tournaments in all, worldwide. 

27. Peter Thomson

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    Chris McGrath/Getty Images

    Peter Thomson of Australia is one of few who have won five British Opens. 

    He played a limited schedule in the US, winning six times on the PGA Tour. 

    He has 81 total professional victories including 11 on the Champions Tour. 

26. Byron Nelson

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    hpbnc.org

    When we get to the likes of Byron Nelson, we go to elite status in the rankings. Nelson won five majors in his shortened career. 

    In 1946, he won 11 straight, without skipping a tournament, and he won 18 tournaments in that season. 

    Then he mainly retired to his ranch. In all, Nelson won 52 US professional events and 64 total events worldwide.

25. Seve Ballesteros

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    David Cannon/Getty Images

    Seve Ballesteros.  He was one of few who only needed a single name: Seve.  

    Winner of five majors and nine PGA Tour events, he still has the highest number of European Tour victories with 50.  Ballesteros has 91 worldwide victories in all.

24. Pat Bradley

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    Gary Newkirk/Getty Images

    Pat Bradley jumps the listing up a notch beginning the five players in history who have won six majors. 

    Bradley did more than that, of course.  She won 31 LPGA events and 36 professional events around the world.

23. Nick Faldo

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    Stephen Munday/Getty Images

    Nick Faldo remade his swing to become one of the most methodical and successful golfers ever to play the game. 

    He won six majors, nine PGA Tour events, 30 European events and 40 professional tournaments in all. 

22. Lee Trevino

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    David Cannon/Getty Images

    Lee Trevino, with six major championships, 29 PGA Tour event titles,  29 Champions Tour victories and 89 worldwide wins to his credit, played like it didn't matter. 

    Fan favorite, Trevino, it seemed would talk to anything and anybody.  Some people need quiet to play well,  Trevino needed chatter, so he supplied it.   

21. Kathy Whitworth

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    getty images

    Kathy Whitworth has more professional titles than all other male and female players to have played the game except for Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Roberto De Vicenzo. 

    She is tied with Tiger Woods at 97 worldwide victories.  She won six major championships and an astonishing 88 LPGA events between 1962 and 1985. 

20. Sam Snead

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    Don Morley/Getty Images

    Sam Snead still leads the PGA Tour in total victories, with 82. One of his great professional regrets was finishing not first, but second, in the U.S. Open four times. 

    However, he did win six majors, 14 Champions Tour events and 165 worldwide titles overall. 

19. Harry Vardon

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    Llandrindod Wells Golf Club

    Harry Vardon was the third part of the "Great Triumvirate," which included James Braid and J.H. Taylor. Vardon won seven majors, six British Opens and one US Open, between 1896 and 1914.  No one has a record of his other victories, at least not one that is easy to locate. 

    Vardon was so good, he won 70 exhibition matches in 1900.  His grip, the Vardon grip, is the main one used by golfers today.  It is also called the overlapping grip.  Not everyone uses it, but most do. The PGA of America scoring trophy is named in Vardon's honor.

18. Bobby Jones

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    Bobby Jones Open

    Bobby Jones was a legend, perhaps made more so because he never played as a professional.  He won seven professional majors and six amateur majors, and in 1930 did what no other person had done before or since: winning the US and British Opens and US and British Amateurs.

    It was called the Impregnable Quadrilateral and became known simply as the Grand Slam, after baseball's bases loaded home run.

    Because Jones did not play as a professional, it is more difficult to measure him against those who did. Does he belong in a category of 13 majors because of his US Amateur titles?  Well, then we would be giving Jack Nicklaus 20 right now and Tiger Woods 17. 

    So, because Jones did not play professionally, and gave up playing to build Augusta National and practice law, it's hard to say he's a better golfer than the others who won more.  He stopped competing at age 30.  If Jack Nicklaus had remained an amateur, if Tiger Woods had remained an amateur, there is no doubt that at age 28 they could have won the US Amateur and the British Amateur. 

    Could they have won both Opens?  We will never know. No one can afford to do it.  Putting Jones with other professionals who won seven majors does not make him a lesser legend.   

17. Betsy King

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    Ken Levine/Getty Images

    Betsy King did not win on the LPGA for seven years. Then, the floodgates opened. Seven majors, 34 LPGA titles and 37 worldwide victories later, she had created a Hall of Fame Career. 

    King, in the right in the photo above, is with Dinah Shore as winner of the 1990 Nabisco Dinah Shore.  

16. Juli Inkster

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    Harry How/Getty Images

    Juli Inkster is a one of a kind professional golfer.  Married for 30 years, with two daughters, now ages 20 and 16, she won before and after motherhood, becoming a role model for all women athletes. 

    Inkster won seven majors, the most recent of which was the 2002 US Women's Open.  She has 31 LPGA victories, 39 professional titles, and she also won three consecutive US Women's Amateurs.   

15. Gene Sarazen

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    David Cannon/Getty Images

    Gene Sarazen lived an amazing life.  He was friends with Howard Hughes and invented the sand wedge after being in an airplane with Hughes and being inspired by the "stick" that was used to control flight altitude changes. 

    Sarazen took his invention to the 1932 British Open and said he actually slept with the club because he did not want anyone to see it for fear it would be disqualified.  He won the tournament and six other majors.

    He was the first to win a modern career Grand Slam with the 1935 PGA championship.   Sarazen won 39 US professional events and 42 worldwide events. 

    After leaving competition, he was seen on Shell's Wonderful World of Golf and even played one match against the legendary Henry Cotton at St. Andrews. 

    At the end of that match, Sarazen gives a sand wedge lesson.  Cotton, who was famous as a chip and run expert, demonstrates the finer points of that technique. 

14. Karrie Webb

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    Craig Jones/Getty Images

    Karrie Webb is certainly the most successful woman golfer from Australia.  With seven majors, 36 LPGA titles and 50 worldwide victories, she was the youngest LPGA player to win the all five recent LPGA majors, including both the Women's British Open and the du Maurier.  

    Webb competed with Annika Sorenstam when they were both playing at top form, which makes Webb's accomplishments even more amazing. 

    She reached the LPGA qualifying standards for the World Golf Hall of Fame after just five years, but she had to play 10 seasons, which is the final qualifier for induction for the women. 

13. Arnold Palmer

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    orlando city guide

    Arnold Palmer went from the Coast Guard to a US Amateur title in 1954, one of four amateur titles he captured that season.  He shook hands with Mark McCormack, founder of IMG, and the rest of the time made history of one kind or another. 

    Palmer is credited for bringing everyman to the sport, much the way Tiger Woods has done. Palmer and television are credited for making the Masters popular. The story goes that when Palmer came, the tournament was a sellout.  Before that, they were giving away tickets. 

    While he has retired from professional competition, Palmer's record is still one of the best ever.  he has seven professional majors, won 62 times on the PGA Tour,  10 times on the Champions Tour, and has 94 worldwide titles. 

    He, Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus became known as The Big Three. Palmer and Nicklaus were instrumental in the formation of what we know today as the PGA Tour. 

    There are many famous Palmer quotes, but one of the best was his answer when someone asked him at an early Presidents Cup what the President said. "Which President?" Palmer asked.  He has known and played with Presidents played golf with them since IKE. 

    We don't know for certain if he and President Obama have played a round of golf yet, but those at Bay Hill say that Palmer still plays nearly every day.    

12. Betsy Rawls

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    USGA

    Betsy Rawls began playing on the LPGA in 1951 and she had at least one victory every year until 1970 when she earned her 54th title out of 55 on the LPGA. 

    Rawls has eight major championships and 58 worldwide victories. 

11. Tom Watson

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    Bob Martin/Getty Images

    Tom Watson is as fierce a competitor as any of the best. With eight major championships, five of them British Opens, he became known for Watson Pars because he was such a skilled scrambler. Pars from bunkers, pars from behind trees, pars from seemingly impossible locations.

    Watson became a "student" of Byron Nelson and eventually won Nelson's tournament four times.  To win his 39 PGA Tour titles, he played against Lee Trevino, Johnny Miller and Jack Nicklaus on a regular basis. Watson has 13 Champions Tour titles and 68 worldwide in all. 

10. Gary Player

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    Player, Nicklaus and Palmer, The Big Three at Augusta NationalStreeter Lecka/Getty Images

    Gary Player  became part of one of the most famous threesomes in golf.  Along with Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer, they became The Big Three. 

    In spite of playing at the same time as the two other legends, Player won the career Grand Slam and 24 PGA Tour events in all.  He was leading money winner the year before Jack Nicklaus turned pro. 

    On the Champions Tour, Player won 19 times, and he counts 165 worldwide victories, many in his native South Africa. 

9. Ben Hogan

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    Ben Hogan Company

    Ben Hogan was the kind of golfer who had to concentrate on what he was doing.  As such, it was said that he didn't even notice the scores or rounds of his playing partners. But since we know professional players keep each other's scores, those stories are probably just that.  

    Hogan won nine majors: some say 10 if the Hale America Victory Open is counted.  He is one of five to have won the career Grand Slam. 

    In 1953 he won the Masters, the US Open and the British Open and did not compete in the PGA because he didn't feel his legs (injured in the famous auto/bus crash) would be able to take the 36 hole matches. 

    It was also held close to the same time as the British Open that year, and jet planes for passenger service were not available then. 

    Hogan set new scoring standards at many events such as at The US Open and The Masters, both of which were eventually broken by Jack Nicklaus and then Tiger Woods. Hogan won 64 US professional events and 68 worldwide.

8. Babe Zaharias

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    Babe Didrikson Zaharias Foundation

    Before there was an LPGA, Babe Zaharias was playing golf and winning tournaments.  If she had not succumbed to an early death from cancer in the 1950s, it is difficult to tell how many tournaments she would have won. 

    Zaharias had been an Olympic athlete and turned to golf where she gained international fame. She won 10 majors and 41 LPGA events, 48 tournaments worldwide in all. She was one of the founding members of the LPGA in 1950. 

    Zaharias was the first woman to play in a men's professional event, the LA Open in 1945.  She shot 76-81 to make the two-day cut, but there was a three day cut and she did not make that.

    She played in the Phoenix Open, where she shot 77-72-75-80 finishing in 33rd place. In Tuscon, she shot 307 and finished tied for 42nd. 

    While she was given an exemption to LA, she qualified for the Phoenix and Tucson events.

7. Annika Sorenstam

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    Nick Laham/Getty Images

    Annika Sorenstam is one of the top five women golfers of all time.  With 10 major championships, 72 LPGA victories and 93 worldwide events, she became a one-word star in professional golf.

    Sorenstam retired to get married for the second time and have children. She has not ruled out a Juli Inkster-like comeback at a later date.   

6. Walter Hagen

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    Hickock Sports

    Walter Hagen won 11 major championships, including the PGA five times when it was contested at match play.  He was the first captain of the US Ryder Cup team and continued as its captain for the first six times the event was held, beginning in 1927 and ending in 1937. 

    Hagen won 45 times on the US professional tour and had 52 worldwide victories. However, he did something very important for the professional players. 

    In the first two decades of the 20th century, golf professionals were often not allowed to use the golf clubhouses and many times could not enter the clubhouse by the front door. 

    A turning point came in 1920 with the US Open in Toledo at Inverness Club. The players donated a large grandfather clock to the club in appreciation having access to the clubhouse during the tournament.  The clock still stands today.

5. Louise Suggs

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    Georgia Info

    Louise Suggs won 11 women's majors, five of them before being one of the founders of the LPGA.  Suggs beat Sam Snead in a 54 hole competition on a 9-hole executive course in Palm Beach. Snead finished third and, according to Suggs, never forgot it.  

    Suggs also bested Ben Hogan by a shot once over 9 holes during a tournament in Chicago.  She was playing with him at the time. 

    Suggs won 58 LPGA tournaments and 60 titles worldwide.  She won the Women's Western Open, a major at the time, as an amateur. 

4. Mickey Wright

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    LPGA

    Mickey Wright didn't just play golf, she dominated it, at least for a few years in the 1960s. 

    Wright has 13 major championships, had victories in 14 straight seasons, the best of which was 1963, when she won 13 times. 

    Wright won 82 LGPA events and 91 tournaments worldwide in all.  Her swing is still said to be one of the best ever in golf. 

3. Tiger Woods

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    Woods Completes Tiger SlamHarry How/Getty Images

    Tiger Woods has already eclipsed every golfer in history except two, and he's still playing.  Most believe it will not be long before he overtakes the top spot. 

    With 14 major championships, the career grand slam three times, three US Amateurs, 71 PGA Tour victories and 97 worldwide wins in all, he may in fact become the greatest golfer who ever played the game.

2. Patty Berg

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    UPI

    Patty Berg turned professional in 1940 after winning 29 amateur titles, including three women's majors. During World War II she was a lieutenant in the Marines (1942-45) and found time to win another two major titles.  

    In 1946 she added another major and with the war over, her focus was on golf.  She completed her total of 15 major championships in 1958, but her last victory was in 1962.  

    While the LPGA was founded officially in 1950, Berg was president of the organization that preceded it. Between 1937 and 1962, she won 60 women's events, 63 worldwide.

1. Jack Nicklaus

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    David Cannon/Getty Images

    Jack Nicklaus sets the "Golden" standard when it comes to golf.  With 18 professional majors, two US Amateurs, three Players titles, 73 PGA Tour victories, 10 Champions Tour trophies and 115 worldwide victories in all, Nicklaus is the best golfer in history. 

    Until someone breaks his record, he retains that stature.