25 Worst Major Champions Since World War II

Burton DeWitt@bsd987Senior Analyst IJuly 14, 2008

Okay. I've looked at every golfer to win one of golf's four male major professional tournaments and picked out the 25 worst to win a title. There have been some very obscure champions, three of which even won multiple titles. But these were the worst.

Now, there were some that were less accomplished. Ian Baker-Finch didn't achieve that much in his career, but before his mental collapse he was a top-ten golfer and many thought he would win multiple titles. He was not one of the 25 worst.

I looked at how many titles each golfer won, the caliber of those championships, and how he performed in other major titles. Claude Harmon only won one title, the 1948 Masters Championship, but he never played full time on the PGA Tour and had numerous close calls for a second major championship. He's on the list, but behind people who have won numerous more titles.Also, I have excluded every major from the 2003 Masters Tournament onward. It is too soon to judge these people. Yes, Shaun Micheel, Todd Hamilton, Ben Curtis, Angel Cabrera, and Zach Johnson are all mediocre golfers, but until 5 years have passed, I'm not ready to put them on this list.

Anyway, enjoy.

25 Worst Major Champions since World War II:

25. Bill Rogers – 1985 Open Championship
The Open Championship had a good streak of producing solid champions until the 1990s, with the obvious exception of Bill Rogers. Rogers won only five times on the PGA Tour (his Open Championship was not counted as a PGA tournament until 1998, giving him six titles), including three in 1981. He won thrice on the Japanese Tour and also won the PGA Grand Slam of Golf. He also had three top-four finishes in the U.S. Open.

24. Jim Turnesa – 1952 PGA Championship
Some players just prefer match-play, and I did not want to punish them for that. But Turnesa was clearly among the least accomplished of the PGA Champions before the switch to stroke play in 1958. He was runner-up in 1942 and had four other top-five finishes in majors, showing that he wasn't just a match-play specialist. But he also wasn't a winning machine. His only other PGA Tour victory came in the 1951 Reading Open.

23. Scott Simpson – 1987 U.S. Open
Here is a perfect example of a golfer who was statistically a lot better than expected. Simpson made the cut over 80 percent of the time in his career and put together a respectable 32 top-three finishes. That's more than five percent of all starts. But he only won seven tournaments. And that has to count for something. Simpson had nine top-10s in majors, including a runner-up in 1991.

22. Jerry Barber – 1961 PGA Championship
Tucked almost forgotten in the annals of history is the answer to one of the best trivia questions: What golfer won PGA Player of the year in-between Arnold Palmer's two awards in 1960 and 1962? Barber defeated Don January by one stroke in an 18-hole playoff to win the 1961 PGA Championship, a mere two years after Barber finished one stroke behind Bob Rosburg in the same event. Barber won seven PGA Tour events, only one of which came after his only major. Given, he has an excuse for not performing after that win. Who was the oldest first-time major champion? Two trivia questions, one person.

21. Mark Brooks – 1996 PGA Championship
Brooks has had five top-five major championship showings. He also has had five top-14 showings. He lost a playoff to Retief Goosen in the 2001 U.S. Open, which would have been his eighth PGA Tour victory and first since his win in the 1996 PGA Championship. Brooks has made the cut 54.8 percent of the time on tour and has had only 57 top-10 finishes from 749 starts. With each passing year, it becomes
harder and harder to remember a time in which Brooks was even mediocre.

20. Max Faulkner – 1951 Open Championship
Back in a time when mainland European golf was much inferior to American golf, Faulkner won seven tournaments, including the Open Championship of 1951. Four of those wins were in mainland tournaments. He never played in a major across the pond, but did accumulate five top-10s in the Open, four of which came before Arnold Palmer made the trip in 1960.

19. Claude Harmon – 1948 Masters Tournament
I thought long and hard about whether or not to put Harmon on the list. He never played full time on the PGA Tour, which explains how this was his only individual title. But since this list is slanted towards what the player accomplished, I had no choice. Harmon thrice made the semifinals of the PGA Championship and totaled 11 top-10 finishes in major championships. Had he chosen to tour, he probably would have won a handful of tournaments. Instead, he only won once: the 1948 Masters Tournament.

18. Lee Janzen – 1993 & 1998 U.S. Open
Janzen twice beat Payne Stewart by two shots to win the U.S. Open. He also won The Players Championship. Besides that, Janzen had only five wins on tour and merely 62 top ten finishes. He has made the cut two out of every three starts, but he usually finishes down the leaderboard. He is in severe danger of losing his tour card after this year.

17. Lew Worsham – 1947 U.S. Open
Worsham blossomed quickly after World War II into a top-level golfer. He won five titles, including a U.S. Open in a playoff over Sam Snead. He finished third in the 1951 Masters Tournament, the closest he ever came to winning a second major. He also won the World Championship of Golf in 1953, which was as close to a major as anything.

16. Herman Keiser – 1946 Masters Tournament
Keiser gets a reprieve of sorts. He missed four years due to World War II and retired in the early 1950s while still young. Still, he won only four individual PGA Tour events and never finished better than tenth in a major championship besides his win at the 1946 Masters Tournament.

15. Lou Graham – 1975 U.S. Open
Graham had three top-three performances in the U.S. Open from 1974 until 1977, winning it in 1975 in a playoff over John Mahaffey. In 1979, he would win three times on the PGA Tour, half of his six lifetime victories.

14. Dave Marr – 1965 PGA Championship
Marr is one of quite a few players on this list to win only three times on the PGA Tour. The 1965 PGA Championship was his last triumph, but it was big enough to propel him to PGA Tour player of the year for 1965. Marr was runner-up in the 1964 Masters Tournament and finished fourth in the 1966 U.S. Open.

13. Lionel Hebert – 1957 PGA Championship
Hebert's first PGA Tour victory came in the last PGA Championship held in the match-play format. He would go on to win another four times on tour, his last title coming in 1966. He accumulated 13 top-25 finishes in majors, six times finishing in the top-10. Neither of those stats are too shabby. His brother gained consideration of the list too, as Jay Hebert won the 1960 PGA Championship. Jay would win seven PGA Tour events and have 10 top-10s in major championships, good enough to just miss.

12. John Daly – 1991 PGA Championship & 1995 Open Championship
Talent is nice, but success is sweeter. Daly's “zero-to-hero” story is swell, but his record isn't. Outside of his two major titles, he has only four top-25 finishes in majors. He also has only three other PGA Tour titles, one European Tour triumph, and a victory on the Asian Tour. He has made the cut 54.4 percent of the time on the PGA Tour, finishing in the top-ten less than eight percent of the time he starts on event. The PGA Tour average is slightly over eight percent. Daly is statistically a below-average golfer for his career. Even when compared to many of these other golfers, that's bad.

11. Tommy Aaron – 1973 Masters Tournament
Aaron had already had eight top-25 finishes at Augusta, including four top-eight showings, before he won in 1973. His best finish in a major anywhere afterwards was 29th. His success outside of the state of Georgia is entirely lacking. He won only two other PGA Tour events, one each in 1969 and 1970, one of which was played in Atlanta. He won the Georgia Open, a non-tour event, three times. His best win outside of the state was the Western Amateur in 1960, one year before Jack Nicklaus took the event. That event was played in Illinois.

10. Charles Coody – 1971 Masters Tournament
As the hardest major to get into, it's a lot harder for someone to win the Masters by sheer fluke. He would have had to do something to get into the field. Charles Coody? Not so much. Coody had finished in the top 12 in his last two voyages to Augusta National, but he required Johnny Miller to falter down the stretch to win his green jacket. It was the last of three PGA Tour titles for Coody, although he would go on to beat the other major champions in the World Series of Golf that year. He made the cut almost 80 percent of the time during his PGA Tour career and earned 84 top-10 placings, but three wins and only eight top-10s in majors will get you high on this list.

9. Steve Jones – 1996 U.S. Open
No player was worse five days before his triumph than Steve Jones. He had mild success in the late 1980s, winning four PGA Tour events and having four top-20 finishes in majors by 1990. Jones successfully went through qualifying for the U.S. Open, earning him his first major slot since the 1991 Open Championship. Remarkably, he won. He would go on to win three more times on the PGA Tour, but never better than 24th in a major. His eight wins despite only 44 top-10 finishes is one of the better ratios in PGA Tour history.

8. Wayne Grady – 1990 PGA Championship
Imagine if Grady had won the 1989 Open Championship. Just fathom that. Grady lost to Mark Calcavecchia in a playoff, which ended up keeping him from being a two-time major champion. He won twice on the PGA Tour, including his triumph in the 1990 PGA Championship. He also won a European Tour event and thrice on the Australasian Tour. Overall, he made the cut 55.6% of the time on the PGA Tour and only 4 out of 26 times on the minor-league Nationwide Tour.

7. Dick Mayer – 1957 U.S. Open
Mayer triple-bogeyed the final hole of the 1954 U.S. Open when he needed only a par to win. No worries. He came back and won the event in 1957. Over his career, Mayer won only six individual PGA Tour events, but he won two big ones. Besides the U.S. Open, he also won the World Championship of Golf in 1957, earning $50,000 for that paycheck single-handedly won him the money title for 1957. That's all nice, but take away 1957 and this guy was a nothing.

6. Andy North – 1978 & 1985 U.S. Open
In his career, Andy North had 50 top-10 finishes from nearly 500 PGA Tour starts. He only had three wins. He had five top-10 finishes in majors, four in the U.S. Open. Of course, he won two of those. No man who has won multiple major titles was as inherently mediocre as Andy North. World-wide, including his time on the senior tour, he has four professional wins in individual competitions. Half of those were majors. Okay, he was runner-up seven times, but besides his win in Westchester in 1977, he never won a non-major. That's just remarkable.

5. Larry Mize – 1987 Masters Tournament
Between the 1983 and 1993 PGA Tour seasons, Mize won only once on American soil. That came on a miracle, 1 in 100 chip at Augusta to beat Greg Norman. It wasn't surprising that he won the Masters Tournament; he has always been competitive on his home course. But that doesn't make him a good golfer. Mize has been consistently mediocre, doing enough to keep his card. He has an impressive 86 top-10 finishes on tour, but only four victories is alarming. Especially when you consider he was at his peak when the PGA Tour lacked a dominant player. He becomes eligible for the senior tour in September.

4. Paul Lawrie – 1999 Open Championship
The 1999 Open Championship was saved from having the worst major champion ever by Jean van de Velde's collapse on the 18th hole. Instead, it settles for the fourth-worst. Lawrie has only had two top-10s in majors, none since his win. He has also won only five European Tour events, including the major. He has never won on American soil. About to turn 40 and with a ranking well into the three figures, it's a longshot for him to challenge again.

3. Rich Beem – 2002 PGA Championship
Beem won the INTERNATIONAL and came right back to win the PGA Championship in 2002, beating Tiger Woods by one shot. That defeat spiraled Woods into a tailspin that dropped him all the way to #2 in the world by the end of 2004. It did not mark a new beginning for Beem. He has made the cut in only 8 of 21 major championships since his triumph, and only 8 top-ten performances. In his career, Beem has three titles and 16 top tens, making the cut in only one more than 50% of 266 lifetime starts. That is just bad.

2. Jack Fleck – 1955 U.S. Open
Jack Fleck didn't start playing full-time on the PGA Tour until 1955, when he was already 33 years old. No worries. He decided to break his maiden by winning the U.S. Open in an 18-hole playoff over Ben Hogan. Instead of being poised for greatness, however, he went on to mediocrity. Over the rest of his career, he would win only two more times and finish in the top-ten of a major only thrice. He lost his PGA Tour card when his exemption for winning the U.S. Open ran out ten years later.

1. Orville Moody – 1969 U.S. Open
This one wasn't even difficult. Moody won only one PGA Tournament and only two non-senior events worldwide in his career. He only had two top tens in majors, both in 1969. Sure, he became a legend on the senior tour, winning two major titles among 11 tour wins overall, but that is irrelevant in my criteria. Moody was clearly the least successful golfer to win a major. I'm going to go beyond that and say he was the worst. But he did win a major, which is more than can be said about Colin Montgomerie.


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