One Is the Loneliest Number: The Best Players Who Won Only One Golf Major
Continuing the run-up to the Masters (now only 24 days away), here is the second article in a series of five leading up to my pick to win the first major of the year.
Winning one of golf's major championships is a daunting task, to say the least.
Most of the time, about 150 players enter and only one will win. (The field of the Masters is typically much smaller than that, only about 80 players). NFL teams have a one-in-32 chance. NBA and NHL teams have even better odds. In fact, no sport has the level of competition golf can claim every week on Tour.
Since 1960, there have been four majors played every year. That's 200 majors that have been played. 141 of those were won by men who would eventually win more than one major. (77 of those 200 have been won by nine men. Those men are Jack Nicklaus with 18, Tiger Woods (14), Gary Player (nine), Tom Watson (eight), Nick Faldo (six), Lee Trevino (six); Arnold Palmer (six of his seven), Seve Ballesteros (five), Peter Thompson (five). 38.5 percent of the majors in last 50 years won by nine men!
So, we have 59 majors won by men who only won one. Some of those had to be pretty good players who simply did not live up to their potential or couldn't find a way to break through for that second major win.
Let's count down the top 10 of those men over the last 50 years who had all the game in the world, but just couldn't figure out a way to win more than one major championship. (Note: I tried to stay away from most current players. I figure they could still win another major)
Honorable Mention: Mike Weir
Wier has amassed 15 wins worldwide and was the first left-handed player (as well as the first Canadian) to win the Masters.
He has finished in the top-10 of a major 11 times and all of those came in the ten years between 1999 and 2009.
Weir has won a World Golf Championship event, and has won the Tour Championship.
He is a likable guy and continues to be a good player on Tour to this day and one can only hope he can find a way to get himself off this list.
No. 10: Corey Pavin
Pavin is known on Tour as the Bulldog and rightly so. He is as tenacious and unrelenting as his canine nickname would imply.
At 5'9" and barely 150 pounds, he is dynamite in a small package. His lone major win, the 1995 U.S. Open, was sealed with an incredible 4-wood on the 72-hole.
Pavin has 15 Tour wins, including that Open, and 11 other top-10 finishes in major championships. He has also played in five Ryder Cup and President's Cup teams.
He is the holder of the record for the fewest number of strokes to complete nine holes on Tour at 26 strokes. In that same event, he would go on to tie the record for fewest strokes in the opening 36 holes of a Tour event, 125. He won that tournament, the U.S. Bank Championship in Milwaukee (2006), which was his last win on Tour.
Known as a shot-maker in a world of long-hitters, Pavin is our number 10 best player to have only ever won a single major.
No. 9: Fred Couples
Fred Couples is one of the most beloved players on Tour and there is no one reason why.
Players like him because of his silky-smooth swing and the incredible power it produces. His nickname isn't "Boom Boom" for nothing.
Women like him because his good looks and his laid back, very confident attitude.
Basically, Couples is what you would get if Peter from the movie "Office Space" and Sam Snead had a kid. (After Peter sees the "Occupational Hypnotherapist")
His career was nothing to laugh at. He had 15 wins and 26 top-10 finishes in majors, was number one in the world for a while, and was the undisputed king of the Skins Game.
He has played on nine Ryder and President's Cups.
A rickety, injury-prone back, a streaky putter and the seeming lack of any real desire to be the best who ever played, kept Couples from winning more than one major, the 1992 Masters.
No. 8: Jim Furyk
In the movie "Tin Cup," Kevin Costner's character, a down and out driving range pro from west Texas by the name Roy McAvoy, finds himself on the driving range practicing the day before he plays the first round in the U.S. Open.
As he shanks "chili peppers up Lee Jansen's ass," (as his caddy so eloquent puts it), McAvoy proclaims, "My swing feels like an unfolded lawn chair!"
That is what it is like to watch Jim Furyk swing the golf club. You get the impression that he is just...doing it wrong.
Make no mistake, though, Furyk is a player. He has been earning money on Tour since day one. He has 16 wins, 18 top-10s in majors, and 13 Ryder and President's Cup appearances to prove how good he is.
The real mystery isn't how he can hit the ball like that. The real mystery is how he has only won a single major, the 2003 U.S. Open.
Furyk is a great putter of the ball and his swing, while awkward looking, is repeatable and produces a consistent ball flight. There is a lesson in there somewhere.
No. 7: Davis Love III
Davis Love III, or DL3 as he is known, has had a wonderful career more the 25-years long.
Known for his prodigious length, (a trait he shares with his friend Fred Couples. Together, the men won four straight World Cup Of Golf events from 1992-95), Love is a soft-spoken man from North Carolina.
His first win on Tour of the 20 he has had was at the MCI Heritage Golf Classic. Held at the prestigious Harbor Town Golf Links, Love would win the event four more times during his career. This is the most times anyone has won that event.
Love has finished in the top-10 in a major a remarkable 20 times, but he also has a remarkable, albeit dubious, history of missing the cut in major events.
Clearly, he should have won more majors than the 1997 PGA Championship, and that is why he is on this list.
No. 6: Tom Kite
On a wind-swepted weekend in June, 1992, Tom Kite went from the best player never to win a major to number six on the list of best players to have won only one, when he took the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach.
It could be argued that no one got more out of their game than Tom Kite. He was 5'9" and weighed only 170 pounds. On top of that, he could barely see. Check out any pictures of Kite during that time and you will see his trademark, Coke-bottle glasses.
He was an innovator. He is regarded as the first player to put more than two wedges in his bag, and one of the first to use a sports psychologist.
During a PGA Tour career that lasted more than 30-years, Kite picked up 19 wins and an incredible 27 top-10 finishes in majors.
He was a fixture in the Ryder Cup, playing seven times.
He was Player of the Year on Tour in 1981 and won the Vardon Trophy twice (which goes to the leader in scoring average on Tour).
He is also a member of the Golf Hall of Fame.
When you talk about guys who should have won more often in the majors, Tom Kite is one of the first guys who comes up in the conversation.
No. 5: Lanny Wadkins
Lanny Wadkins was one of the best players of the '70s and '80s, and if it weren't for guys named Nicklaus, Player and Watson there is a very good chance he wouldn't have been on this list.
Wadkins won in his first full year on Tour, 1972. He would go on to win 20 more times, including the 1977 PGA Championship. Amongst his 18 major top-10 finishes, he has four third place and four second place finishes.
He was Rookie of the Year in 1972 and won Player of the Year in 1985.
Wadkins played on eight Ryder Cup teams, which ties the record for most Ryder Cup appearances by an American, and his 21.5 points in Ryder Cup play is one of the highest totals by a player on either side.
Wadkins was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2009.
With all those accomplishments, the real question is how he managed to only win one major.
No. 4: Tony Lema
Sometimes it isn't that the player is playing against the best players who ever played.
Sometimes it isn't that the player can't seem to find a way over the hump in the biggest events.
Sometimes it is simply a cruel twist of fate that can shorten or end a career just as it is getting started.
Tony Lema might have been one of the best to ever play, but we never got a chance to find out. While he was on his way from Ohio to Illinois, his chartered airplane ran out of gas and ironically crashed into a water hazard on a golf course in Lincolnshire, IL, not far from his destination. His wife also lost her life in the crash, along with two others.
Lema began his career in 1957, but it really started to come together for Champagne Tony, as he was known, in 1962.
From 1962 until his untimely death in 1966, Lema won an incredible 12 PGA Tour events, finished second 11 times, and third four times.
During that same span, he finished in the top-10 in a major eight times including his Open Championship win in 1964.
Lema played on two Ryder Cup teams for the USA and produced a record of 9-1-1. This is the best record of any player who played in more than one Ryder Cup.
It has been opined that at the time of his death, he was second in popularity on Tour only to Arnold Palmer, such were his handsome looks and lively personality.
One thing is for sure, the sport of golf, and the sporting world in general, lost a great player far earlier than they should have.
No. 3: Ian Woosnam
If you do not follow golf regularly, you might not be as familiar with the "Wee Welshman" as you should be. Woosnam stands about 5'4", but has a very powerful swing, out-driving men who are taller and more athletic on a regular basis.
Woosnam is a member of the "Big Five" of European golf, a group that includes star players, Nick Faldo, Seve Ballesteros, Bernhard Langer and Sandy Lyle. All five of those players were born within 12 months of each other and have won major championships.
Woosnam has 29 European Tour wins, including the 1991 Masters, and one win (other than the Masters) on the PGA Tour. He represented Wales in the World Cup of Golf an unbelievable 14 times. He has 10 top-10 finishes in major championships.
He also helped bring the Ryder Cup back to prominence by competing eight times and winning 16.5 points for Europe. This is in spite of the fact that he never won a singles match in Ryder Cup play.
Woosnam had a real chance not to be on this list. During the Open Championship in 2001, Woosnam played the first hole of the final round with 15 clubs in his bag. The two-stroke penalty may not have cost him the title as he finished four back of eventual winner, David Duval, but who knows the psychological effect the mistake had on him at the time?
No. 2: Gene Littler
Like Ian Woosnam, Littler had 29 wins on his home Tour, including the 1961 U.S. Open.
He was known as "Gene the Machine" for his rhythmic swing.
When you add to that formidable number of wins his impressive 20 top-10s in majors, it starts to become clear why Littler is on this list. In fact, Littler lost the Masters and the PGA in playoffs, so it was a very near thing that he wasn't on this list.
Littler completed on seven Ryder Cup teams amassing a record of 14-5-8. That total includes a record of 5-2-3 in singles matches.
While certainly not the only reason, part of the problem for Littler was that he played in an era when a lot of American players did not travel to Great Britain to play in the Open Championship. Indeed, Littler only played in the oldest golf championship three times with his best finish a tie for 18th in 1974.
What might have been if he had played in a few more Open Championships? Would have won one of those if he had played in more of them?
No. 1: Roberto Di Vicenzo
Robert Di Vicenzo may be on this list because of one stroke, but it was the stroke of a pencil, not a golf club.
In the 1968 Masters, Di Vicenzo famously signed an incorrect scorecard. Forced by the rules to accept the four he wrote on the card instead of the three he actually made on the 17th hole, Di Vicenzo finished second, instead of a tie for first, which would have resulted in a playoff with Bob Goalby.
Goalby won the Masters and Di Vicenzo said afterward, "What a stupid I am!"
Obviously, we will never know if Di Vicenzo would have won that playoff, but that has to be one of the worst ways not to find out.
However, that only tells part of the story of this excellent player from Argentina.
Di Vicenzo only won seven PGA Tour events, including the 1967 Open Championship, but he also won eight times on European Tour.
What is most impressive about him, though, is the absolute domination he exhibited on the continent of South America during his day.
Di Vicenzo won 62 times in South America and an incredible 131 times in his home country of Argentina. You read that right. The man had 193 wins in South America during his career.
Gary Player is considered the best player on a worldwide scale in history. Player had 144 worldwide wins. Even the immortal Jack Nicklaus has nothing on Di Vicenzo in terms of career victories. Nicklaus "only" had 95 worldwide wins on the PGA and other tours around the world.
Admittedly, Di Vicenzo was not playing against the stiffest of competition in those events, but a win is a win, and if you accumulate more than 200 worldwide wins, you deserve a high spot on any list of the best to ever play the game.
The truly remarkable thing is that Di Vicenzo finished in the top-10 of majors 17 times, including two runner-ups and six third-place finishes, but never won another one.
The talent was clearly there. He just couldn't find a way to get that second major.
Because of that, he is the best player to have ever won only one major golf championship.
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