Golf's Lost Career Grand Slams

Michael FitzpatrickFeatured ColumnistFebruary 4, 2011

Hulton Archive/Getty Images

It is common knowledge amongst golf fans today that five men have achieved the career grand slam (Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Ben Hogan, Gary Player and Gene Sarazen), while Bobby Jones also achieved a version of the grand slam during his historic 1930 season.

There’s just one small problem with this commonly accepted view—it’s not necessarily accurate.

Three other men have achieved the career grand slam, only it was done prior to the Masters era.

The Masters didn’t evolve into golf’s fourth major until the late 1930s, and even then it’s debatable as to exactly when the Masters was unequivocally considered to be a major championship.

Prior to the late 1930s, the Western Open was considered to be one of golf’s four professional majors, along with the U.S. Open, Open Championship and PGA Championship.

One could even debate that the North and South Open, which was held through 1951, was also considered to be a major, or at least very close to a major, prior to the mid-1930s.

Byron Nelson once said that even in his day (late 30s–late 40s) many players thought of the North and South Open as a major championship.

But for the sake of comparing apples to apples (four professional majors to four professional majors), let’s go with the tournament prior to the late 1930s that was clearly considered to be a major championship, and that’s the Western Open.

There are 10 men that, according to the way in which view the modern day career grand slam, have come within a single major of achieving the career grand slam.  

But three of those men actually did achieve the career grand slam.

Walter Hagen won the Western Open five times between 1916 and 1932.  Thus during Hagen’s era of golf, he irrefutably achieved the career grand slam with his wins at the U.S. Open, Open Championship, PGA Championship and Western Open.

Between 1927 and 1931, Tommy Armour won the U.S. Open, the Open Championship and the PGA Championship.  But, he also won the Western Open in 1929, which would account for the fourth leg of his career grand slam.

And finally we come to Jim Barnes, who won four major championships between 1916 and 1925, but he never managed to win the Masters.


Because the Masters was not played between 1916 and 1925.

However, Barnes did manage to win professional golf’s fourth major championship during that time—he won the Western Open three times, including back-to-back wins in 1917 and 1919 (the tournament was cancelled in 1918 due to World War I).

All those players that won the Western Open between 1899 and the late 1930s should technically have those wins added to their resumes as major championship victories.

In most cases, this would not dramatically alter our view of the greatest golfers of all time, except in the case of Hagen.

If you consider the Western Open to be a major championship, which it was in Hagen’s day, Hagen actually finished his career with 16 majors, which places him two ahead of Woods and just two behind Nicklaus.

For a sport that has been around as long as golf, it’s no surprise that the game has evolved so much that today’s topmost accomplishments are different to what was considered to be the game’s biggest accomplishments 100 years ago.

But that doesn’t mean we should altogether forget about those players that won a tournament that was considered be a major during the early part of the 20th century.

It’s quite possible that a tournament could arise over the next 50 years that either takes the place of a tournament currently considered to be a major, or evolves into a true fifth major.  

If, for example, the Players Championship somehow takes over for the PGA Championship as golf’s fourth major, would we take away Woods’ four PGA Championships and Nicklaus’ five?

Would we consider guys like Craig Perks, Adam Scott, Stephen Ames and Sergio Garcia to be major champions (all have won the Players Championship)?

Today it is clear what four tournaments constitute golf’s major championships.

And prior to the late 1930s, it was also clear what four tournaments constituted golf’s professional majors, and the Western Open was undeniably one of those tournaments.