As an individual sport, being a fan of golf is different than other sports. Even if you have a favorite, you can't help but applaud when the other guys do well.
In sports where defense is allowed, you can at least criticize your favorites for not playing better.
Obviously, the sport has been around for hundreds of years. From a television sense, people didn't see much golf until the late-50's, when Arnold Palmer rose to popularity.
Palmer is a prime example of an obvious fact: While galleries (or Patrons, at Augusta), are generally respectful of all golfers, they like some a lot more than others.
It's tough to use a word like overrated to describe Arnold Palmer, because he did accomplish so much on the course alone. But if you were to ask fans to name a few golfers, active or not, Palmer would probably be one of the first three names that came out of their mouths, along with Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods.
Believe it or not, that is disproportionately high. Palmer is seventh in career majors and fifth in career wins.
Don't get me wrong, Palmer deserves to be the icon that he is today, but he is not a top-three golfer of all time.
For different reasons, some golfers are just more popular than others. Sure, winning is a big part of it, Palmer would easily rank in the top-10 of all time on that alone. But in this case, winning isn't the only thing.
A golfer can liked because of their good looks, aggressive style of play, good attitude in a big win (or a big loss), being identifiable, etc.
The game is more popular now than it was during Palmer's day, but no golfer has matched Palmer's popularity since the King was in his prime. Chances are, nobody ever will.
What we are looking for here are the 15 current golfers that come the closest.
He was a bit bold in calling out Tiger Woods in 2010. Any current golfer to make even a passing comparison to Tiger Woods is overstepping themselves a little.
Say what you will about Tiger now, but it is very unlikely that any current golfer will ever match his career.
Beyond that, there really isn't much about McIlroy to dislike.
He is young. Actually, he is probably the poster-boy of the current youth movement on tour.
Plus, while he has always been popular, the Masters have him one thing that he never had before: Sympathy, and a lot of it.
McIlroy handled himself well in a disappointing situation. In doing so, he made himself more appealing. No whining and no crying.
Actually, he showed himself to be quite a good sport, congratulating Charl Schwartzel, and even taking a picture with Schwartzel wearing the Green Jacket.
McIlroy has a very marketable look, attitude, and game. Galleries like him now because of all of that, and his potential.
When he starts to win on a regular basis, they will like following him for many years to come.
Fred Couples has 15 career wins in sanctioned PGA Tour events and two European tour events.
The 1992 Masters gave Couples his only career major. That's certainly not a bad career, but Couples has the fame of a guy with at least twice as many tour wins and five or more majors.
So, what does he have?
He has a good look to him, which always helps.
What's helping him now is that even in his late 40's and early 50's, he has remained competitive in regular tour events. As we will see later on, that's a big factor in getting the galleries behind you.
Even that doesn't tell the full story, as he is one of the more popular golfers on the Champion's Tour, where he doesn't stand out with his age.
Couples just looks so relaxed on the course. He doesn't wear a glove and he often wears deck shoes. In doing that, he looks like a regular guy trying to play a quick nine holes after work.
His swing is beyond smooth, which adds to his relaxed look. He looks like a guy out on the beach with a drink in his hand.
As long as he is on the course, the galleries will be behind him.
I wrestled with the idea of including him.
While he isn't a full time golfer on the PGA Tour, he made two cuts in the majors in 2010. I was actually following his group on the 18th green in the second round of the 2010 US Open at Pebble Beach.
I followed his group a lot that day, and I saw the ovations that he was getting. I saw the faces of the people who were cheering for him. They weren't just guys who grew up watching Watson.
The ovation that he got when he made the cut was the loudest I heard that day. Certainly the loudest cheer before Mickelson took the course.
Many of them were not even born when Watson's prime was complete. The reason that a gofer from the 70's and 80's is included on a list like this in 2011 is simple: The 2009 British Open.
I am a lifelong fan of the San Francisco Giants and Notre Dame football. The two worst experiences I have ever had watching a sporting event were the sixth game of the 2002 World Series and the 1991 Orange Bowl.
The only experience that comes close to those two was the playoff between Stewart Cink and Tom Watson. And I have always been a big fan of Cink's.
It was clear that Watson was just out of gas, and the fans had the same reaction. In his press conference, he lightened the mood by telling the reporters that he wasn't dead. The fact that he had to tell them that told me that they all reacted the same way as me.
Watson carries a lot of respect with fans of different generations. He is well liked everywhere. For a guy who is currently 61 years old, he is still competitive.
As long as he is golfing, he will be admired by galleries across the globe.
Since turning pro in 1985, Rocco Mediate has recorded all of six wins. Of those six, none were in majors. Still, he's liked everywhere. He is well known.
He is ranked 285th in the World, but if I had to list golfers, I wouldn't name 284 before him.
So why is a guy with six wins, no majors, and no Ryder Cup or President's Cup appearances so well known? Rocco is a real life Rocky Balboa, that's why.
The 2008 US Open was one of the best golf tournaments ever played. On one leg, Tiger Woods forced a Monday playoff with a memorable birdie putt on the 72nd hole.
Then, on the 18th hole of that playoff, Woods again needed a birdie to force a sudden-death playoff. There, he finally put his opponent away. In doing so, he won his last major to date.
Who was this pesky opponent? Phil Mickelson? Lee Westwood? Another top-10 golfer? No, at that time you would have to go 158 spots in the rankings to find his opponent, Rocco Mediate.
He was a real life Rocky. He was a career journeyman, at best. Then, on the biggest stage, he took the best golfer in the World and possibly the best of all time all the way.
Tiger had to chase him down, twice.
We love the underdog. We especially love the underdog when they know they are the underdog. They are self effacing, funny, but confident. Mediate was all of those things for 91-holes.
That was three years ago. Since then, Mediate has won only one tournament, a late-season event at that.
But his US Open performance was unforgettable, that's why the galleries will always love to love him.
In 2010, Bubba Watson broke out, notching his first PGA Tour win, and losing in a playoff to Martin Kaymer in the PGA Championship.
But we knew about Watson before 2010. Why?
The simple answer is that he hits the ball a long way. Galleries love to follow a guy that will never lay up. If a par-four can be driven, or a par-five can be reached in two, we know that Watson will go for it.
As fans, we love that. We love a guy that will never play it safe, a guy who isn't afraid to crash and burn.
But to say that Watson is well liked just because of his long-ball prowess would be doing him a great disservice.
There isn't anyone who has a deeper selection of shots. He is willing to try any shot, at any time.
His swing is unorthodox, which we all love. We love seeing a guy that isn't robotic do well, and Bubba is anything but robotic.
Recently, we have also seen his personality on display. We saw how emotional he was when he won the Traveler's Championship in 2010.
We've seen his sense of humor, occasionally referring to himself in the third-person in interviews.
The long ball is what drew the fans in, it always has, and always will. But after being drawn in, we needed something to keep our interests. Bubba has done that.
It's hard to predict how good his career will be, but look for Watson to be another disproportionately well known and popular player for the rest of his career.
He started the 1991 PGA Championship as the ninth alternate. He finished that tournament as champion. Now, 20 years later, people still follow John Daly.
Like Bubba, the long ball is what drew us is. Now, all these years later, when listing things that made Daly famous (or infamous), his long drive ability may not even make the top-10.
We've seen some spectacular failures on the course, and off of the course. We know about the ex-wives, the gambling, the temper, the drinking, the smoking, and the partying.
There is a potential train wreck any time we see Daly. But because of all of the hurdles, it's also rewarding to see him succeed.
No he doesn't contend much anymore, but once a large fan base is built, it's nearly impossible to lose it.
Sure, some fans will fall off, others will get frustrated with the continued personal struggles, but once he contends in just one tournament, he is as popular as any golfer on tour.
Something else makes Daly popular. Despite the bad press he brings on himself, he is not a bad person, far from it.
His charitable donations are very generous, and he is generally gracious with the fans.
Also, he doesn't have the classic golfers look, far from it. That helps add to his popularity.
The struggles will likely continue. Odds are good that Daly will never win another PGA Tour event.
Still, whenever he is in one, he will attract one of the biggest crowds.
His 2008 Ryder Cup performance was unforgettable.
He won all three of the matches that he was involved in, helping the USA win its first Ryder Cup in nine years.
Unfortunately, he hasn't won a tour event since, as injuries have kept him off of the course for much of the last nearly three years.
Fortunately, his personality will allow him to remain one of the most popular golfers in the World, even when he is miles away from the nearest course.
I couldn't even try to repeat some of the expressions that he has come up with in his career. All that anyone can do is laugh. But it doesn't stop there.
While playing the British Open, he didn't know that Scotland was the home of golf. He thought it was where he was from.
He wore hunting clothes on the golf course.
His goal in golf is to make enough money to fish and hunt for the rest of his life.
Who can forget him pretending his driver was a horse off of the first tee on Sunday of the 2008 Ryder Cup?
It's hard to not laugh. Even his name is so easy and natural for fans to chant.
As a golfer, he isn't bad. I truly hope that he can find his form again.
The thought alone of Boo Weekely contending in the final round of a major gets me pretty excited.
The Japanese media follows him everywhere he goes. This is common. When Japanese athletes succeed in America, their home country's media follows them everywhere.
But Ishikawa isn't just popular in Japan. He isn't just popular with teenage girls. In a short time, he has developed one of the biggest followings from fans around the world.
Frankly, it's hard to not like a guy who pledged all of his winnings to the Japanese earthquake relief efforts.
Even beyond all of that, he has the same appeal that guys like Rocco Mediate, Tom Watson, and Fred Couples have. He just has it on the other side of the spectrum.
Even with a big youth movement in the game of golf, Ishikawa is younger than any of the big names, with the exception of Matteo Manassero.
It's not often that Rory McIlroy isn't the youngest person in his group, but that's what happened when he was paired with Ishikawa for the first two days of the 2010 US Open.
By the way, Watson was the third person in that group, showing just how unique the sport of golf is.
The instant attraction is the novelty. He is young and he is from a country that hasn't produced many top golfers. With that, people follow him, and not just Japanese fans.
When they follow him, they see how good he is. They see glimpses of the guy who shot a final-round 58 to win a tournament in Japan. The game is what keeps them there.
Since his age attracts younger golfers, they will continue to follow him for the next two decades.
He is unique, and as long as he is unique, he will have a following, basically no matter how well he does.
But when he starts to win, he will have a following of fans for years to come. Fans who saw him develop as a pro golfer.
He may never be the world's best golfer, but in a short period of time, he may well be the world's most popular golfer.
Unfortunately, he hasn't had great success on tour since winning the Honda Classic in 2010.
Still, we see him in commercials and we see him in magazines. That is a sign that his popularity extends well beyond the 18th green.
First, he comes from a country that has produced very few well known athletes in the USA. Golf isn't exactly the first thing that comes to mind when we think of Columbia.
Second, he has a lot of talent. He averages close to 300 yards off of the tee, and isn't even 5'10.
He has a great look to him. Even when he isn't playing well, he will be marketable for a long time, which means that the fans love him.
For most golfers, the way that they read a putt will go unnoticed. For Villegas, it is an attraction.
The average fan connects with a guy like John Daly because they can identify with him. While he obviously has talent, they look at Daly and think, "If he can do it, I can do it."
Villegas has the opposite effect. He is in great physical condition and he shows it off. I doubt that many people can read a green the way that he does. He's Spiderman.
While he is struggling right now, he has shown that he does have the ability to be a great golfer. He isn't just a cover boy who reads his putts like Spiderman; he is actually a good golfer.
Also, he is only 29-years-old. He does have plenty of time to find his form again. With the shape that he is in, he will be a force on tour for the next 15 years, or more.
That means that he will be popular on tour for the next 15 years, or more.
With a nickname like Johnny Vegas, a decent marketing guy can have him in more advertisements than just about anyone.
He has that attraction to him, but also so much more.
Like Villegas, Vegas comes from a country that hasn't produced many well known athletes, although Venezuela has produced a few more than Columbia.
He is a great rags-to-riches story. Those have always been well popular with fans, and will continue to be popular for the rest of time.
His golf game is also superb, as he won the 2011 Bob Hope Classic and then finished T3 at the Farmer's Insurance Open.
His story is short because he is just a rookie. But in a short time, he has been successful on the course, and proven to be a good influence off of it.
Generally speaking, if a golfer is from a country that has historically produced little talent, they will be popular when they are playing in that country, that's natural.
For Americans, the best comparison would be a golfer who is playing in their home state, or home town.
But the real test of the popularity of someone like that is if they are still well liked and well respected outside of their home country.
Like every other golfer on this list that meets that criteria, Vegas qualifies.
He hasn't been around long enough to get many commercial deals, but when he does, his popularity will continue to grow, even if his game is struggling at that moment.
The majority of Ian Poulter's early fame came from his clothing.
At the US Open, he wore pants designed like Stars and Stripes.
At the British Open, he wore pants designed like the Union Jack.
Even now, with a more toned down outfit, his clothes are routinely some of the most outlandish in the world.
Poulter is also brash, saying that at one point, it will be him, Tiger, and then everyone else.
He wears his heart on his sleeve on the course. His personality is made for The Ryder Cup, an event that he has been in three times.
Even though I cheer against him in the Ryder Cup, I am a big fan of Poulter's, and I am not alone.
Wherever he is playing, his galleries are routinely some of the loudest in the World.
While he hasn't won a major, he has won 10 times in Europe, and once in the USA.
Galleries love him because he is fun to watch. He is outspoken, which means that he isn't afraid to be disliked.
Yes, that means that on occasion, he will be disliked. What makes Poulter fun to follow is that he is fine with that.
Golf would not be a fun sport to follow if there were a lot of golfers like Ian Poulter. It would be too brash.
But there aren't a lot of people like Poulter. It's not that he is a bad guy, but he separates himself from the pack. He isn't afraid to come off as a bad guy every now and then.
Rickie Fowler represents one of the best hopes for the future of American golf.
People are instantly drawn to him because of his bright outfits and Puma hats. In a lot of ways, he can be thought of as an American Ian Poulter.
On that note, a Ryder Cup singles match between Fowler and Poulter would be worth the price of admission alone.
We know Poulter's emotion and Fowler's play and emotion in the 2010 Ryder Cup was strong.
His haircut is also unique, for the golf world anyway. Sometimes, he looks more like a pop star than a golfer.
Despite that, he is a golfer, and quite a good one.
Although he has been close, he hasn't won on tour yet. When that happens, particularity at a major, his popularity will skyrocket, especially if it happens in the next few years.
While he is young, he isn't a stereotype. A stereotypical young golfer would be someone that always takes the bold chances, goes for the par-five in two, even when he has little shot to make it.
Fowler is actually the opposite, which is part of the reason he hasn't won yet.
At Scottsdale, he thought too much, not going for a par-five that he probably could have reached. When asked about it, he said that his only regret was that he didn't hit a better chip.
That's a little refreshing to see. While fans like the bold play, they also like guys who don't follow stereotypes.
Don't get me wrong, that's not what drew people to Fowler. The clothes and the looks did that, and they will continue to do that.
Eventually, he will need to win to keep the big galleries long term. My guess is that that will come soon. But for now, the galleries love this guy.
It's unfortunate that Stewart Cink's biggest career win to date is not remembered as his win. The 2009 British Open will always be Tom Watson's tournament.
Actually, the fact that Cink won it could have made him somewhat of a villain. That didn't happen because he handled himself with a lot of class, as did Watson.
Cink is known as one of the one of the nicest guys on tour, and that reputation carries to the galleries.
He is also an exemplary player, as he has played in all but one President's Cup since 2000 and in every Ryder Cup since 2002.
Cink has been one of the most consistent golfers in the world in the 21st century. That will always a guy become popular.
Fans like to know that their guy will be in contention. Cink generally is, although he hasn't had great success since winning the British Open.
Twitter has helped Cink's popularity.
He was one of the first golfers in the world to embrace Twitter and now has over a million followers.
Many of the same things that were said about Cink can be said about Furyk.
He has been a part of every Ryder Cup or President's Cup team since 1997. While he is not flashy, he has been one of the best players in the World every year.
Furyk has two noteworthy accomplishments to show for that. The first was his 2003 US Open win; the second was his 2010 FedEx Cup Championship.
But this isn't a list of the best golfers in the world, although there is certainly some overlap. What makes Furyk popular?
Sure, he is a nice guy, but so are most golfers on tour. What makes Furyk stand out is his swing.
Take Tiger Woods. Right now, much of the talk around him concerns the swing changes that he is going through.
Still, the average golf fan needs to see the two swings side-by-side, in slow motion, with a professional golfer going step-by-step, to even notice the difference.
That is not the case with Furyk. His swing has a noticeable loop at the top of it, and that's appealing.
See, the average golfer knows that it can't compete with Jim Furyk on the course. But his swing looks similar to what the average golfers see on their home courses.
While the swing is far from a textbook one, the results that Furyk produces are consistently great.
It's fun to follow a guy who succeeds despite not doing everything by the book.
His popularity has taken a hit since his affairs became public knowledge. Even with that, Tiger Woods is still one of the most followed golfers on tour.
The galleries that follow him are still huge. Watch his front-nine at Augusta. Listen to the reaction of the patrons when he was making that charge.
Without seeing what had happened, golfers knew exactly who was producing those roars.
He has been that way his entire career. He draws the biggest galleries on tour, whether he is in contention or not.
While this isn't a list of the best golfers in the world, galleries will not routinely follow people that don't win.
Say what you want about his personal life and have whatever opinions you want on the kind of man that he is, but he has already won at a rate that few in the history of the game have won at.
That's what draws the galleries to his group, regardless of what is happening in the tournament.
It's also what draws people to buy his equipment, his apparel, or wear red shits.
Personally, I don't think Tiger is a bad person. He did a bad thing, there is no denying that, but I don't think he is a bad guy.
Good guy or not, he is far from the most personable guy on the golf course. Fans don't follow him thinking that he will give them a high five as he walks the course.
They follow him because they want to see a guy that may go down as the best who ever played. They follow him because they can see a shot that they have never seen.
Any time someone is arguably the greatest of all time in their sport, fans will follow them, and they will love to do so.
It's hard to find a place to start with Phil Mickelson.
Now, he is the second most accomplished golfer of his era, behind only Woods. Before 2004, a valid case could still be made that he was the second most accomplished golfer of his era, and he hadn't won a single major.
For years, fans hoped that he would win the big one, just once. He came close on so many occasions. Payne Stewart and David Toms both made long putts to beat Mickelson in majors.
Then, in 2004, it happened, and it opened the floodgates. As much as the fans struggled when he came up short, they celebrated with him when he won. Now, he has won four majors.
Tiger Woods is this generation's Jack Nicklaus. There is no doubt about that. Mickelson will never be close to Woods' career accomplishments.
Mickelson is the closest thing that this generation has to an Arnold Palmer. Although, chances are, he won't reach Palmer's career numbers. Other golfers that I have listed take similar chances on the course, but none of them are as good, not yet, anyway.
At the 2006 US Open, Mickelson failed spectacularly on the 72nd hole. At the 2010 Masters, he succeeded, just as spectacularly on the 13th hole on Sunday, reaching the green in two shots from the pine straw.
Additionally, Mickelson is personable with the fans. He is a guy who will give a ball or glove to a kid. He will give high-fives as he walks the course.
He interacts with the fans like he is running for office. He makes us feel connected to him, and we do.
We do when he succeeds, like at the 2010 Masters, when he walked off of the green and gave his wife, Amy a long hug. It was hard to not get choked up.
We feel connected to him when things don't go right. Like at the 2006 US Open or more importantly, when his wife and mother were diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009.
The personal connection that we feel makes Lefty a golfer that galleries love. He will never be Tiger Woods, but he doesn't need to be.