Golf — all-time peak ratings

Each player’s peak rating is based on the average standard deviation of his or her performance in his or her 10 best performances from 20 consecutive major tournaments. Major tournaments are as identified by the PGA and LPGA with the following additions: For the pre-1958 era, the Western Open is included. For pre-World War II amateurs, performances in major amateur competitions are included at a value of one-half the player’s actual score.

Listed below are the 200 best players based on their peak Z Score. Players are listed at a rate of four per week throughout 2018. Ratings are as of the conclusion of the 2017 season.

 

73. Bobby Locke, -1.56, 1948-1952*

*The Bobby Locke sketch is contained in “The Hole Truth,” a book by Bill Felber that will be published in the fall of 2018 by Bison Press.

 

T-74. Johnny Farrell, -1.55, 1925-1929

There weren’t many golfers who could say they stared down Bobby Jones in his prime. Johnny Farrell did.

Farrell was a 27-year-old out of Baltusrol when he battled Jones through 108 dramatic holes at Olympia Fields in June of 1928. At the time, Jones was the defending British Open champion and the game’s pre-eminent figure. But Farrell wasn’t too bad, either, having won six consecutive tournament titles in 1927 – a record that would stand until Byron Nelson broke it in 1945.

That set Farrell as a serious threat to Jones as the tournament began. “(Farrell) has been knocking at the door for years and played fine enough golf in many other tournaments to win the Open with shots to spare,” wrote the Chicago Tribune’s Harold Rohm a few days before play began. For two days that estimate looked overly ambitious. Farrell lingered seven shots off the 36-hole pace set by Jones, who turned in rounds of 73-71 for a two-over-par 144 and two-stroke edge over amateur George Von Elm. Jones held his two-stroke advantage through the morning round of the 36-hole Saturday wrapup, Farrell still five back. But Jones fumbled his way through the final round, allowing Farrell to make up all five strokes between the seventh and 12th holes Saturday afternoon. Still, Jones came to the final hole with a chance to win if he could hole a 25-foot birdie putt. It lipped out.

Jones trailed Farrell by a single stroke through 34 holes of the next day’s 36-hole playoff, but he birdied both of the final two holes. That, however, was not good enough against Farrell, who matches both of Jones’ birdies. That is the definition of grace under pressure. On the final par 5, with Jones facing a 15-inch birdie putt, Farrell drained his own 7-foot birdie putt to claim the championship. In the press room, Jones put it simply: “Any time any player finishes with two birdies to beat me, I take my hat off to him.”

The victory was the obvious highlight of Farrell’s career, but he was hardly a one-shot wonder. A regular among the top 10 at the Open and PGA for most of the 1920s, Farrell traveled to Britain with the winning 1929 Ryder Cup team, in the process finishing second behind Walter Hagen at the Open. That year’s PGA was played in Los Angeles in December and Farrell again finished second, losing the title match 6 & 4 to Leo Diegel. They were the fifth and sixth of seven top five finishes in Farrell’s career.

Farrell at his peak

Tournament              Finish      Score       Z Score

1925 U.S. Open          T-3             292         -1.74

1925 Western Open  T-2            288         -1.61

1926 U.S. Open          T-3            297         -1.60

1926 PGA             semi-final  match play-1.22

1926 Western Open T-6             291         -1.27

1927 U.S. Open          T-7            308         -0.95

1927 Western Open T-9            293         -1.14

1928 U.S. Open         1st            293         -1.94

1928 Western Open  2nd          294         -2.01

1929 British Open     2nd          298         -2.03

Score: -1.55

 

T-74. Retief Goosen, -1.55, 2001-2005

For the first decade or so of Retief Goosen’s professional existence, the notion that he might be considered among the world’s great players would have seemed fanciful. Turning pro at age 21 in 1990, he medaled at the European tour’s Q-School in 1992, but spent the next several seasons plucking off a very occasional title in events nobody ever heard of. The 1996 Staley Hill Northumberland Challenge Champion? Retief Goosen, of course.

With gradually improving performances on the European Tour, Goosen turned that image. Ranking 82nd in the world at the conclusion of the 1998 season, he tied for 10th at the 1999 British Open, finished second at the Volvo Masters, and closed 1999 in 33rd spot worldwide. In 2001, his breakthrough victory at the U.S. Open at Southern Hills fueled a climb into the top 10, where Goosen continued to reside more or less as a fixture for six seasons. Encapsulated in that period of dominance was a second U.S. Open title, this time at Shinnecock Hills.

Between 2001 and 2006, in fact, Goosen placed among the top 10 at 10 majors, making his one of the most consistent contending faces – other than Tiger Woods — during that six-season window.

It was a relatively quick and stunning breakthrough. Through 2000, Goosen had won about $4.2 million during nine seasons of playing golf professionally in America and Europe. In 2001 alone, he won $4.3 million.

Ironically, Goosen narrowly averted becoming well known in 2001 for his collapse rather than for his accomplishment.  A contender all week, he battled Mark Brooks and Stewart Cink down the stretch on a course known for its testing finish, which included the 466 yard 18th. Of the five previous major champions crowned at Southern Hills, only one had managed so much as a par at the 72nd hole. Goosen appeared to have an easy path, sitting just 12 feet from the cup in two and needing only that par to win. Instead he three-putted, throwing himself into a playoff with Brooks. Fortunately for Goosen, he persevered through that playoff, defeating Brooks by two strokes with an even par round

The victory marked a breakthrough for Goosen, who followed up with a 13th place finish at the next month’s British Open, and a runner-up behind Woods at the Masters.  The showings were all the more remarkable given Goosen’s travel schedule; he never fully committed to the American tour, playing 96 events in the U.S. as well as 77 elsewhere between 2001 and 2006. He won the European Order of Merit in 2001 repeated in 2002, and came to the 2004 U.S. Open at Shinnecock considered a plausible option for anybody wanting to back an alternative to Woods or Phil Mickelson, the betting favorites.

Goosen fired a second-day 66, equaling the week’s best score, and backed that up with a Saturday 69 to take a two-stroke lead over Mickelson and Ernie Els into Sunday’s final round. During that final round, Goosen navigated Shinnecock’s famously challenging greens in just 24 putts, holding off Mickelson by two strokes to become a repeat champion.

The South African nearly made it three titles and two straight in 2005. Leading by three strokes entering the final round at Pinehurst in 2005, he shot an inexplicable 81 and collapsed to a tie for 11th.

Goosen’s PGA Tour career concluded with seven victories, which he could add to another 12 on the European tour and dozens more on smaller tours. Although branching out into golf course design and into his off-course passion – wine-growing – Goosen has continued to dabble in professional competition, winning the equivalent of more than $1 million in 2015.

Goosen at his peak

Tournament              Finish      Score       Z Score

2001 U.S. Open          1st          276         -2.46

2002 Masters             2nd         279         -1.96

2002 British Open     T-8         280         -1.24

2003 British Open     T-10        288         -1.06

2004 U.S. Open          1st          276         -2.66

2004 British Open      T-7         280         -1.34

2005 Masters              T-3         283         -1.22

2005 U.S. Open           T-11        288         -1.00

2005 British Open      T-5         281         -1.25

2005 PGA                    T-6         279         -1.34

Average Z Score: -1.55

 

T-74. Jimmy Demaret, -1.55, 1946-1950

With a flamboyant personality, a baritone voice of passable entertainment value, and a passion for brightly colored clothes, Demaret’s personality might have overshadowed his talent … if not for those three Masters championships. He won his first green jacket in 1940, repeated in 1947, and in 1950 became the tournament’s first three-time champion.

Demaret came out of Texas fully steeped in golf culture. A caddy as a youth, he turned pro at age 17 while still in high school, learning his trade in Houston pro shops while moonlighting as a nightclub singer. He played regionally during the Depression, eventually graduating to the PGA Tour and winning his first significant tournament, the San Francisco Open, in 1938. That victory earned him an invitation to the 1939 Masters, where his score of 304 tied him for 33rd, 25 shots behind Ralph Guldahl.

The favorites in 1940 included former champions Guldahl, Gene Sarazen, Horton Smith, Lloyd Mangrum, Byron Nelson and Sam Snead. Demaret’s 139 left him tied with Mangrum for the lead after 36 holes, with Snead, Nelson and two other players within four shots. But of that group, only Demaret managed to traverse the final 36 holes under par, beating Mangrum by four shots and Nelson by five. It was one of seven tournament victories for Demaret that season.

With the war essentially shutting down the PGA tour, Demaret served a stint in the Navy, and played when he could. But unlike several pros – notably Nelson, Lawson Little and Guldahl, he was both physically and mentally ready when play resumed in 1946. He won three tournaments by April, tied for fourth in the Masters, and for third a month later at the Western Open. A month after that, he tied for sixth in the U.S. Open. At the semi-advanced age of 36, Jimmy Demaret was in the process of asserting his presence as one of the dominant tour figures of the truncated 1940s.

Entering the 1947 Masters as both a former champion and favorite, Demaret fired an opening 69 to tie Nelson for the lead, then steadily pulled away, winning by two shots. At the 1948 U.S. Open at Riviera, he broke the tournament record by three strokes, shooting 278, only to lose to Ben Hogan’s stunning 276. He tied for 8th at the 1949 Masters, and at that year’s Western Open he finished in the top five for the fourth consecutive year.

At the 1950 Masters, Demaret worked a facility with the par five 13th hole to great advantage. Playing that hole in six under par, he posted a final round 69 for a score of 283 on Sunday, then waited to see how third round leader Jim Ferrier would finish. When Ferrier bogeyed five of the final six holes, Demaret won by two strokes.

Gradually cutting back his tour commitments after 1950, Demaret became one of golf’s first media celebrities. He guest-starred on an episode of “I Love Lucy” in 1954, established his credibility as a golf announcer, and in the mid 1960s became lead announcer for Shell’s popular “Wonderful World of Golf” series. His principal focus, however, was management of the Champions Golf Club in Houston, which he co-owned with his lifelong friend Jack Burke.

He died in 1983 of a heart attack, never having lost his reputation as one of the best-loved pros on tour. “I think (Demaret) was more well-liked than anybody, by the pros and the fans both,” eulogized Snead.

 

Demaret at his peak

Tournament              Finish      Score       Z Score

1946 Masters              T-4         289         -1.22

1946 Western Open   T-3         278         -1.43

1946 U.S. Open          T-6         286         -1.52

1947 Masters            1st         281         -1.81

1947 Western Open  T-4         273         -1.32

1948 U.S. Open          2nd         278         -2.21

1948 Western Open  T-4         285         -1.17

1949 Masters             T-8         292         -1.02

1949 Western Open T-3         273         -1.79

1950 Masters            1st         283         -2.20

Score: -1.56

 

T-77. Dottie Pepper, -1.54, 1989-1993

Like Henrik Stenson, Dottie Pepper is best remembered for one glorious weekend.

Hers came during the 1999 Nabisco Dinah Shore championship. The 1992 champion, she opened with a passable 70, then followed that with rounds of 66-67-66 to win by six strokes. Against the field average of 290.35 for players completing 72 holes, Pepper needed only 269, a margin of 3.57 standard deviations below the field average. When she did it, Pepper’s was the most dominant showing in major tournament history, although it has since been bettered four times, by Cristie Kerr, Tiger Woods, Yani Tseng and Karri Webb.

The odd thing is that Pepper was 33 and several years past her playing prime at that point. Her best seasons came earlier in the decade,

Pepper came out of Furman toward the end of the 1980s, hit the tour and found stardom. She tied for third in the 1988 U.S. Open, won her first event in 1989, and her second less than a year later. At the 1990 U.S. Open, she tied for third again, this time losing out to Betsy King by just two strokes. Unlike many pros, Pepper was not intimidated by the big events, a trait she displayed in 1991. She was runner-up, albeit by a healthy eight shots, at the Nabisco Dinah Shore, registered her fourth top 5 in the Open, and tied for sixth at thee duMaurier. At the 1992 Nabisco Dinah Shore, Pepper trailed Juli Inkster by two strokes entering the final round, but caught her and clinched the victory with a par on the first playoff hole. Between 1991 and 1993, Pepper played in 12 LPGA majors, won one of them, and finished top six in seven.

Her 1999 victory at the Kraft Nabisco highlighted something of a renaissance to Pepper’s career. In her mid 30s by then, she tied for second at the 2000 Nabisco behind Karri Webb, tied for second again in 2001, and finished third at that season’s U.S. Open. By the time of her 2004 retirement, Pepper had accumulated 11 top 5s in majors.

Pepper at her peak

Tournament              Finish    Score    Z Score

1989 U.S. Open          T-5            284         -1.41

1990 Nabisco            T-11           290         -0.94

1990 U.S. Open          T-3            286         -1.55

1991 Nabisco            2nd            281         -1.75

1991 U.S. Open          T-5            288         -1.48

1991 duMaurier       T-6            286         -1.35

1992 Nabisco           1st             279         -2.06

1992 U.S. Open         T-6            289         -1.35

1992 LPGA                T-5            279         -1.60

1993 duMaurier      4th            279         -1.90

Score: -1.54

 

 

T-77. Henry Cotton, -1.54, 1934-1948

“To be a champion, you must act like one,” Henry Cotton once famously observed. That meant dressing properly, emerging from the proper automobile, using appropriate language and dining at only the finest establishments. But it also meant practicing long hours, a less ostentatious trait Cotton also cultivated. The result was one of the most lengthy, stable and recognizable careers by any British player for the three-quarters of a century between Harry Vardon and Nick Faldo.

Born in 1907, Cotton learned early the importance of standing up for his societal place. A talented cricketer as a youth, he quit both the sport and his prep school over demands that he perform tasks he believed to be demeaning. With time suddenly on his hands, Cotton tried golf and in 1926 was named head professional of a club outside Brussels.

His British Open debut – at St. Andrews in 1927 – was solid if not exceptional. He shot 298 to finish alone in ninth place, although 14 strokes behind the winner, Bobby Jones. When Jones won again on his way to the Grand Slam in 1930, Cotton finished eighth; his first of nine consecutive appearances in the top 10.

At the start of the 1934 Open at St. George’s, Cotton was considered the best British hope to end a string of American victories that had grown to 10 – assuming you counted 1925 champion Jim Barnes as an American – and 12 of the 14 contested since World War I. He had one big advantage: In the deepening depression, only Gene Sarazen and defending champion Denny Shute made the trip. A year earlier, by contrast, 10 Americans had entered, with Shute, Craig Wood, Leo Diegel and Sarazen finishing first through fourth.

Whatever one thought of the field, Cotton made short work of it. His opening 67 built a four-shot lead, which rose to eight on the strength of a second-day 65. Even a final round 79 in a drenching rain made more miserable by a bout with stomach cramps only reduced his victory margin to five strokes over South African Syd Brews.

Cotton’s bid for a second title in 1936 failed when a final round 74 sent him out of a tie for the lead and into third place, two strokes behind Alf Padgham. He came to Carnoustie in 1937 facing one of the best fields since the days of the Triumverate, its ranks swelled by the presence of the entire U.S. Ryder Cup team: stars of the magnitude of Byron Nelson, Sam Snead, Ralph Guldahl, Denny Shute and Horton Smith. As in 1974, a cold, drenching rain pervaded the final day’s play, particularly hampering the leader. This time, though, that leader was Englishmen Reg Whitcombe, who had taken a three-stroke lead over Cotton into the final 18 holes. On the seventh tee, Whitcombe’s grip slipped, resulting in a badly topped shot and a double bogey. Cotton seized the lead and finished in 71, beating Whitcombe by two strokes. The top American, Charles Lacy, was three behind.

Cotton was in his late 30s and beyond draft age when World War II broke out, but he volunteered for the RAF, which used him largely to give fund-raising golf exhibitions. Named a Member of the Order of the British Empire in 1946, he returned to the competitive game at the war’s end, placing fourth to Sam Snead in 1946 and tying for sixth in 1947.

The following April, Cotton accepted an invitation to play in the Masters, his first competitive visit to U.S. soil. His score of 297, tying for 25th place, was credible for a player in his 40s. Determined to demonstrate that he still deserved a place at the forefront of British golf, Cotton stepped up his already legendary practice regimen in advance of the Open, which King George VI had announced he intended to attend at Muirfield. Never did a subject demonstrate more proper behavior before his king than did Cotton, firing a second round 66 as George walked with the gallery. Four shots ahead after two rounds, Cotton led throughout the final 36 holes and won by five. The 11-year gap between Cotton’s second and third championships remains today the longest stretch between victories in Open history.

Never a stylist, Cotton relied on unusually large and strong hands to offset a weak grip, which in most players would produce a consistent slice. Much of his laborious practice routine was dedicated to strengthening those hands. In one of his instructional books, he identified three keys to a good golf game: “First train and educate the hands. Second train and educate the hands. Third, train and educate the hands.”

Cotton reduced his playing activity for five years after 1948, diverting his attention to golf course design and instructional work, both of which would increasingly occupy him in retirement. He took up his clubs again in 1954 and made his only U.S. Open appearance in 1956. Inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1980, he was knighted shortly before his death in 1988.

Cotton at his peak

Tournament             Finish   Score    Z  Score

1934 British Open    1st        283        -3.13

1935 British Open    T-7        293        -1.24

1936 British Open    T-3        289        -1.86

1937 British Open    1st        290        -2.29

1938 British Open    3rd        298        -1.72

1939 British Open    T-12       298        -0.27

1946 British Open    T-4        295        -1.36

1947 British Open    T-6        297        -0.99

1948 Masters            T-25       297        -0.21

1948 British Open    1st        284        -2.33

Score: -1.54

 

  1. Henrik Stenson, -1.52, 2013-2017

An analysis of Henrik Stenson’s peak performance could begin at several entry points. He was 36 and had been a professional for 15 seasons when his peak sequence began…what took him so long? Is he the best golfer ever produced by Scandinavia? (If we are limiting the discussion to males, yes.) But perhaps the most attention-getting aspect of Stenson’s career involved that magical week at Troon in 2016 when he battled Phil Mickelson in an epic British Open.

Statistically, the victory put Stenson in golfing company well above what we think of as his grade. In victory – by three strokes over Mickelson and by 14 over everybody else — he performed at a rate 3.50 standard deviations better than the field that week. That’s the 10th best major tournament performance in history, and the third best ever in a men’s major. (Only Tiger Woods in the 2000 U.S. Open and Davis Love in the 1997 PGA were more exceptional.) So Henrik Stenson – for one week anyway – was more dominant than (pick one) Arnold Palmer, Bobby Jones, Jack Nicklaus, Ben Hogan, Walter Hagen, Harry Vardon or Sam Snead ever were.

That’s a credential.

In that context, the original question – why did it take Stenson so long to achieve greatness – becomes even more intriguing. After all, the 2016 British Open was hardly his only achievement; between 2013 and 2016 he registered five top 5 finishes in majors.

Part of the answer lies in the issue of personal choice. Although Stenson enjoyed success more or less from the outset of his career – he won the Benson and Hedges International in 2001 and hit the World Golf Ranking’s top 10 in 2006 – he maintained a low profile in the major events. Through 2004, in fact, he had entered only one of them – a missed cut in the 2001 British Open – and he did not play a full slate until 2006. The immediate result suggested he was stepping up in class and not necessarily adapting well. Between April of 2006 and June of 2008 Stenson played 10 majors, missing the cut in half and achieving nothing better than a tie for 14th. His breakthrough came at the 2008 British Open when, largely unnoticed, he tied Greg Norman for third a deferential six strokes behind the defending champion, Padraig Harrington. A month later at the PGA, Stenson chased Harrington again, this time finishing four strokes back in a tie for fourth.

The performances showed what Stenson was capable of. But not until 2013, at the advanced golfing age of 37, did he once and for all step to the forefront. Through three rounds of that year’s British Open at Muirfield, Stenson stood in a tie for fifth, four strokes behind Lee Westwood with such notables as Tiger Woods, Hunter Mahan and Adam Scott between them. Sunday brought a stirring multi-player jockeying that saw Stenson close within a  stroke of Westwood twice on the front nine, then catch him with a birdie at the 9th green. Others, however, were also moving. Eventually Phil Mickelson birdied four of the final six holes to move past both of them and win, Stenson three back in second place. One month later at the PGA, Stenson again moved within one stroke of the lead on the front nine on Sunday, but never could close that gap. Jason Dufner won and Stenson finished third, three behind.

The exhibition jointly put on by Stenson and Mickelson has rarely been approached on the men’s tour. When Woods won at Pebble Beach in 2000 and Love at Winged Foot in 1997, they were hardly challenged. The closest antecedents were Palmer and Casper at the 1966 U.S. Open at Olympic and Nicklaus and Watson at the 1977 British Open at Turnberry. At the 36-hole mark, it was already evident that Stenson and Mickelson both were playing at a level not to be approached by any of their peers. Through three rounds Stenson led Mickelson by one, with the field six back or more and quickly receding. On Sunday, one or the other or both of them birdied or eagled 12 of the 18 holes, collectively playing those 18 in 14 under par. And it wasn’t as if the course had been set up easy. Their scores of 63 (Stenson) and 65 (Mickelson) were the lowest of the day by six and four strokes. The twosome approached the 14th tee in a flat tie, both -16, when Stenson birdied four of the final five holes to finally settle the issue.

Stenson at his peak

Tournament              Finish      Score       Z Score

2013 Masters                T-18        288         -1.21

2013 British Open       2nd         284         -2.03

2013 PGA                       3rd         273         -1.88

2014 Masters               T-14        289         -0.54

2014 U.S. Open            T-4         281         -1.16

2014 PGA                      T-3         270         -1.74

2016 British Open     1st         264         -3.50

2016 PGA                      T-7         272         -1.35

2017 British Open       T-11        277         -1.09

2017 PGA                     T-13        284         -0.68

Score: -1.51

 

 

  1. Billy Casper, -1.51, 1964-1968

Although Arnold Palmer, Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus dominated the early 1960s game, Billy Casper routinely competed successfully against them. Casper’s problem was his image, which did not stand up at all well against the more glamorous tour stars. Early in his career, including his 1959 victory at the U.S. Open, Casper tended toward the rotund. Combined with an unusually quiet personality and the fact that his strength was putting, Casper seemed almost wrongly cast on a tour where length, physicality and personality were the prevalent characteristics.

It is easy to under-rate Casper, but only if one overlooks his record. Between 1956 and 1975, Casper won 51 tour tournaments, a figure surpassed by only Snead, Nicklaus, Palmer, Hogan and Nelson. He won two U.S. Opens and a Masters. He played on eight Ryder Cup teams, and won the Vardon Trophy five times, a record matched only by Lee Trevino. He was the Player of the Year in 1966 and 1970.

Born June 24, 1931, in San Diego, Calif., Casper was that most awkward of combinations, a big kid who loved sports. “When I was in first grade, the kids called me Fatso,” he remembered. The experience toughened him mentally, but in his youth he never cultivated a strong practice ethic, seeming at times to survive through the junior circuit on skill alone.  “To be honest, I was too lazy to go out there and hit the ball,” he later said. “I would chip and putt or play sand shots.” Thus was developed a feel for the short game

Many considered Casper the greatest putter of his era. He used a pigeon-toed stance and gave the ball a wristy pop. “Billy has the greatest pair of hands God ever gave a human being,” Johnny Miller contended.

Although Casper enjoyed early success, his performances were spotty. Prior to winning the 1959 U.S. Open at Winged Foot, he missed the cut at the Masters. Another missed cut at the 1962 U.S. Open at Oakmont stamped him in the mass of pros who could claim one major championship on an otherwise inconsistent performance chart. In Casper’s case, that inconsistency may have been the byproduct of a series of inner adjustments. Following his 1959 victory, he resolved to shed his “fatso” image, existing on a diet of buffalo meat and organically grown vegetables. He converted to Mormonism, adopted six children, and sometimes appeared sullenly non-communicative. For his part, Casper saw himself as modeling Hogan. “He seemed to be in this sort of hypnotic state, and I wanted to be just as focused,” he would later explain.

Approaching his mid 30s, the changes all took hold simultaneously, and Casper enjoyed the same period of delayed renaissance savored by Player and later by Nicklaus. In his case, it is easy to date when the results began: Father’s Day, 1966, the final round of the U.S. Open at the Olympic Club. Trailing Palmer by seven strokes with nine holes left, Casper placidly played along while the leader stumbled, by day’s end finding himself in a playoff. The next day, Palmer again jumped out to a lead, only to see the imperturbable Casper rally on the final nine for a victory. It was, simply put, one of the mesmerizing performances in tournament history, and not merely for the fact that the winner had overtaken a legend of the game in head-to-head play. The statistical fact was that Olympic that week baffled the field, which struggled to a four-round average of 296.5 strokes on it. Casper tamed it in just 278 strokes. Dan Jenkins, the noted Sports Illustrated writer, summarized what had transpired as follows: “The 83rd hole is a long time to wait to take the lead in a 72-hole golf tournament, but Billy Casper can be a very patient man.”

From 1964 through 1970, Casper, not Palmer, Player or Nicklaus, was the best golfer in America. He won 27 U.S. events, eight more than Palmer and Player combined, and four more than Nicklaus. He was quietly efficient. “He just gave you this terrible feeling he was never going to make a mistake, and then of course he’d drive that stake through your heart with that putter,” observed Dave Marr. Following his come-from-behind victory in the 1966 U.S. Open, he tied for third at the PGA, finished fourth behind Nicklaus at the 1967 U.S. Open at Baltusrol, and won the 1968 Vardon Trophy, his fifth. Second to George Archer at the 1969 Masters, he won that tournament in 1970, shooting 279 and defeating Gene Littler in a playoff.

Casper at his peak

Tournament              Finish      Score       Z Score

1964 Masters              5th              286         -0.93

1964 U.S. Open          4th              285          -1.48

1964 PGA                   T-9              282          -0.98

1965 PGA                   T-2              282         -1.94

1966 Masters            T-10            294         -0.96

1966 U.S. Open        1st             278          -2.79

1966 PGA                   T-3             286         -1.60

1967 U.S. Open         4th             282         -1.61

1968  British Open  4th             292         -1.55

1968 PGA                  T-6             284         -1.23

Score: -1.51

 

T-81. Sandra Haynie, -1.50, 1963-1967 

For more than decade, nobody on the LPGA tour was consistently better than Sandra Haynie. Then, still very much in her prime, she gave up the game. And if that wasn’t remarkable enough, she returned following a three-year exile having lost little if anything in the way of touch or skill.

Haynie’s career was a refutation of the axiom that there are no second acts in American life.

The first act was hard to top. Not yet 20 when she arrived on tour, she was an immediate hit, winning two tournaments as a rookie in 1962, adding the prestigious Phoenix Thunderbird in 1963, and winning three more tour titles in 1964. That gave Haynie six by the time she was able to vote. She nearly had a major as well, tying Louise Suggs for second at the 1963 U.S. Open.

Success piled upon success. After top five finishes at the 1964 Open and LPGA and the 1965 Women’s Western Open, Haynie came to the LPGA ranked just behind Clifford Ann Creed – winner of two of the three most recent tour events – as a tourney favorite. They stood tied with each other at nine under par entering the final round, Haynie outlasting Creed at the finish for a one-stroke victory. A multiple-event winner every year but one of the next nine, Haynie approached the 1974 season as an unquestioned tour star.

In her own mind, however, Haynie had already begun to question her commitment to the game. The years of practice were one aspect of it. Competitive since age 12, her hand ached from arthritis brought on by the steady pounding of club on ball. The beginnings of an ulcer, attributable to tour pressure, also stirred. “I’d come out to the course and wish I were someplace else,” she said later.

Initially, Haynie’s problems did not show up in her game. In many respects, 1974 was her best season. In April, she lost the Dinah Shore in a playoff to JoAnne Prentice. In mid-June, she survived a four-hole playoff against Gloria Ehret to lay claim to the Lawson’s LPGA crown, and a week later she won her second LPGA championship, by two strokes over JoAnne Carner. It was a dominating performance; her 288 four-round total was nearly fifteen strokes below the field average for the tournament.

A month later, Hayne added her first U.S. Open title, this time by a stroke over Beth Stone and Carol Mann. Between June 16 and September 15, Haynie entered nine LPGA tour events and won six of them. Only her playoff loss at the Shore stood between Haynie and a sweep of the three women’s majors contested that year.

Haynie could hardly have been expected to maintain such a pace, but she gave it a good run. In 1975 she won four more tour events, finished sixth at the Open and missed winning her third LPGA title by a stroke to Kathy Whitworth. Not until 1976 did her medical problems take a toll on her game, and although she still mustered two runner-up finishes in eighteen starts, Haynie walked away from golf that September, seemingly secure in the sense that her career was over.

Instead of playing, she threw herself into coaching. Haynie worked with tennis player Martina Navratilova, on the way to her first Wimbledon singles victory in 1978. Haynie had been known as a cerebral golfer; now she labored to teach Navratilova the art of winning. The effort had an unexpected byproduct; teaching Haynie valuable lessons in self-control. Gradually, as her body rested and heeled, Haynie’s interest in competitive golf resumed. After more than two seasons on the sidelines, she tested herself at the 1979 Dinah Shore, but rounds of 75-75-72-77 for a 44th place finish indicated she had not yet fully regained her competitive spirit. New tests came in 1980, Haynie playing seven early events but garaging her game again after disappointing results

‘Do I really want to do this all over again?'” she later told the New York Times she asked herself. “All the traveling, all the pressure of tournaments … ‘Are you that crazy?’ She characterized the answer as ‘Absolutely.’ “So after a cameo appearance on the 1980 fall women’s tour, Haynie enlisted for a full competitive season in 1981. Results didn’t follow automatically, but her performance in 1982 rivaled everything she had done eight years earlier. Tying for second at both the Shore at the U.S. Open, she fell to a tie for seventh at the LPGA, but entered the season’s final major, the duMaurier in Canada, having won the previous week at Rochester. At the duMaurier, the issue resolved itself to a 10-foot par putt on the final hole. Make it and Haynie had her fourth major; miss and she would be thrown into a playoff with Beth Daniel. Even from that distance, the hole, she said, “looked huge. As soon as I hit the putt, I knew it was good. I didn’t even see it go in the hole. I just whooped.”

That victory cemented her comeback. For five more years, Haynie dabbled with the tour, but ongoing physical ailments and age reduced her success. Shortly before her retirement, she passed the $1 million mark in career earnings, then left, having captured four majors and thirty-eight additional tour titles. Not to mention one Wimbledon.

Haynie at her peak     

Tournament            Finish      Score       Z Score

1963 U.S. Open          T-2         292         -2.02

1964 LPGA                 T-5         281         -1.29

1964 U.S. Open          5th          295         -1.36

1965 Titleholders       T-5         302         -0.78

1965 Wom. Western  3rd         297         -1.60

1965 LPGA                  1st          279         -2.07

1966 U.S. Open           T-5         306         -1.16

1967 Wom. Western 2nd         292         -2.07

1967 LPGA                  6th          293         -1.22

1967 U.S. Open          T-4         297         -1.42

Score: -1.50

 

T-81. Lee Westwood, -1.50, 2009-2013

He was the world’s No. 1 ranked player for 17 weeks. He has won more than 40 professional tournaments. He led the European Order of Merit in 2002, then did it again in 2009. At more than $34 million, he is the No. 2 all-time on the European money winning list. By the way, you can add $19 million more for his performances on the PGA Tour.

Yet somehow Lee Westwood has never won a major golf championship. Not for lack of effort…entering 2018 Westwood had played in 77 of them as a pro. He’s had 11 finishes among the top 5, and 18 among the top 10. But no wins.

Forget talent…you’d think that just by sheer luck Westwood’s number would have come around once. He has finished second to Danny Willett, Phil Mickelson and Louis Oosthuizen, third to Rory McIlroy, Tiger Woods and Y.E. Yang, and fourth to Todd Hamilton, who hasn’t been heard from since. He has played in majors that have been won by Ben Curtis, Shaun Micheel and Michael Campbell, none of whom have breathed so much as one second among the top 30 in the World Golf Rankings. In what parallel universe do Y.E. Yang, Todd Hamilton and Shaun Micheel win majors, but Lee Westwood doesn’t?

It was never supposed to be that way. Westwood, a natural at the game, was supposed to be a multi-major winner from the moment he entered his first tournament, the 1996 Volvo Scandinavian Masters. He won it, of course.

In anything other than a major event, success came naturally and gracefully to Westwood. As a 25-year-old in 1998, he won four European Tour events and tied for seventh at the U.S. Open, cracked the World Golf Ranking’s top 10, and picked up his first U.S. tour victory. The following spring, he tied for sixth at the Masters.

Those, however, were Westwood’s prodigy years. They were followed by a decade of wandering in the golf wilderness. Then in 2008 he rediscovered his game, finishing third (behind Mickelson) at the U.S. Open. It marked Westwood’s renaissance. Between 2009 and 2013, he posted seven top 5s in majors, spent those 17 weeks atop the world golf raking, and was more or less a constant title contender.

That performance streak began at the 2009 British Open, a tournament made memorable by the bid by 59-year-old Tom Watson for a sixth Claret Jug. Stewart Cink eventually defeated Watson in a four-hole playoff. But lost in all the attention given Watson was the play of Westwood, whose eagle at the par 5 seventh propelled him into the lead. But a balky driver put Westwood in more or less constant trouble on the back 9 and he came to the tournament’s final hole needing a par to join the playoff. Instead he drove into a fairway bunker, played out 50 feet from the pin and three-putted to finish a stroke behind.

A month later Westwood was third again at the PGA famously won from Woods by the unknown Yang. He finished second, three behind Mickelson, at the 2010 Masters, and was runner-up, albeit a distant one, to Louie Oosthuizen at that year’s British Open. When Rory McIlroy destroyed the field to win the 2011 U.S. Open at Congressional, Westwood was among a small cluster tied for third. His opening 67 led the 2012 Masters before finishing in a tie for third again, two strokes behind the Bubba Watson-Oosthuizen playoff famously won by Watson.

Clearly Westwood’s best opportunity came back at what had become his favorite event, the 2013 British Open. Steady play gave him a two-stroke advantage over Tiger Woods entering the final round. But Westwood staggered home in 75 while Mickelson birdied the final two holes to close with a 66 that overtook Westwood, Woods, Adam Scott and Henrik Stenson for the victory. It was Westwood’s sixth third place finish in a major.

Westwood at his peak

Tournament             Finish     Score      Z Score

2009 British Open     T-3           279        -1.38

2009 PGA                    T-3           285        -1.65

2010 Masters            2nd           275        -1.96

2010 British Open    2nd          279        -1.87

2011 U.S. Open          T-3           278        -1.43

2011 PGA                   T-8          277         -0.98

2012 Masters            T-3          280        -1.73

2012 U.S. Open       T-10          285        -1.01

2013 Masters            T-8          285        -1.11

2013 British Open    T-3        285        -1.81

Average Z Score: -1.50

 

T-83. Tommy Armour, -1.47, 1929-1933

A combat veteran with the British tank corps during World War I, Armour lost all vision in his left eye and also sustained a damaged left arm, making his subsequent performances on the course even more remarkable.

He was 24 when he debuted competitively, winning the French amateur in 1920, shortly after completing his convalescence. As an amateur, his performances in that summer’s U.S. and British Opens – ties for 48th (317) and 52 (329) — were respectable, but hardly compelling, and Armour withdrew to hone his game, not re-emerging competitively for four years.

A neophyte professional in 1925, Armour gradually gained respect, tying for ninth in the 1926 U.S. Open and finishing 13th in the British Open. He entered the 1927 U.S. Open, being held for the first time at Oakmont, as a plausible but not a leading contender. Like the rest of the field, Armour was intimidated by the layout. “Every hole was bordering on being a nightmare; not a single one could even be called slightly easy,” he later wrote. Armour followed an opening 78 with a second round 71 to trail Gene Sarazen by one shot. But Sarazen posted an 80 on the morning round of Saturday’s 36-hole finish, and Armour came to the 72nd hole needing a birdie to get into a playoff with Harry Cooper. He hit a 3-iron within 10 feet on that final hole, made the putt, and holed a 40-foot par putt in the playoff to beat Cooper by three strokes.

Between 1927 and 1932, Armour won 17 times, including the 1927 and 1930 Canadian Opens, the 1929 Western Open and the 1930 PGA Championship, in which he held off Sarazen to win the final 1-up. At the 1931 British Open at Carnoustie, Armour found himself tied for sixth, five strokes behind leader Jose Jurado, entering the final round. Navigating the famously murderous finishing stretch of holes, Armour posted a closing 71 to match the tournament’s low round. When Jurado made double bogey and bogey on the closing two holes, that 71 proved good enough for a surprising one-stroke victory.

Armour’s 1933 season was marked by close misses. He opened the 1933 U.S. Open with a 68 for a five-stroke lead, but faded and finished in a tie with Walter Hagen for fourth, five shots behind Johnny Goodman, the tournament’s last amateur champion. Two months later at the Western Open Armour stood 8 over par after 36 holes, then finished with a 68-72 to claim second, though a distant six strokes behind Macdonald Smith. He tied for fifth in the 1933 Western.

By then, Armour was approaching 40 and his attention had shifted to his club pro duties, first at Boca Raton and later at Winged Foot. His clients included pros such as Henry Cotton, Babe Zaharias and Lawson Little as well as celebrities including Errol Flynn and Babe Ruth. He also contracted with Macgregor to be an advisor on their line of golf clubs, eventually spinning that off into his own company. Tommy Armour models becoming among the best-sellers of the 1950s and 1960s. Armour died in 1968.

Armour at his peak

Tournament               Finish    Score      Z Score

1929 U.S. Open             T-5        297        -1.85

1929 British Open       10th      305        -1.07

1929 Western Open    1st        273        -2.56

1930 U.S. Open              6th        297        -1.27

1930 Western Open    22nd      298        -0.30

1930 PGA                      1st     match play    -1.74

1931 British Open    1st        296        -1.88

1932 U.S. Open          T-21       303        -0.54

1933 U.S. Open           T-4        292        -1.53     

1933 Western Open    2nd     288        -2.02

Average Z Score: -1.47

 

T-83. Payne Stewart, -1.47, 1989-1993

*The Payne Stewart story can be accessed in “The Hole Truth: A SABRmetric approach to determining the greatest players – men and women – in golf history,” by Bill Felber. It will be published in the fall of 2018 by Bison Press.

Stewart at his peak

Tournament         Finish    Score     Z Score

1989 U.S. Open       T-13      284       -0.89

1989 British Open  T-8       280       -1.21

1989 PGA                 1st       276       -1.87

1990 British Open  T-2       275       -1.98

1990 PGA                 T-8       292       -1.08

1991 U.S. Open     1st       282       -2.32

1991 PGA               T-13       285      -0.93

1993 Masters         T-9       285       -0.98

1993 U.S. Open     2nd       274       -2.32

1993 British Open  12th   276      -1.10

Average Z-Score: -1.47

 

T-83. Nick Price, -1.47, 1992-1996

Nick Price was a 35-year old veteran touring pro from Zimbabwe when he finished three strokes ahead of four other players at the 1992 PGA Championship at Bellerive. His victory was widely viewed as a lifetime achievement award, a capstone to a 15-year career which to that date had included only occasional forays into the top 10.

Price, however, did not recede to the second rank of tour players. At the 1994 British Open at Turnberry he played the final three holes in three under par to beat Jesper Parnevik by a stroke. The PGA a month later was easier. Price opened with a 67 for a two-stroke lead, followed with a 65 and reduced the weekend’s play to an extended practice session.

Price’s sojourn to the top had been a lengthy one. A pro since 1977, he competed first on the South African tour, moving to the European tour and finally to the American tour in 1983. There he made enough to get by: $109,000 in 1984, $225,000 in 1986, and $296,000 in 1989. That was good enough to stand Price 42nd on the seasonal money list. He was a face in the crowd, not a winner. But he belonged.

Over the next two generally anonymous seasons, Price honed his skills. In 1990 he entered 28 events, a personal high, winning none but taking home three top 5s and $520,000. Another 23 events in 1991 produced wins at the Byron Nelson and Canadian Open, netting nearly three-quarters of a million dollars. His body said Price was 34, but in reality he had not yet entered his prime. That only transpired in 1992, the first PGA title underscoring it.

Between 1992 and 1994, Price never failed to win at least $1 million, ranking fourth, first and first on tour.  Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of Price’s prime is that it really only lasted three seasons. His five best Z scores, and seven of the 10 comprising his peak, come from that narrow window. So perhaps age eventually did catch up with him. Price himself seemed to recognize both the struggle and the toll it might take. Asked to summarize his thoughts following his British Open victory, he said, “it’s been a long hard road, but it’s been worth every bit of it.”

Price at his peak

Tournament              Finish      Score       Z Score

1992 Masters            T-6         281         -0.94

1992 U.S. Open          T-4         291         -1.29

1992 PGA                1st        278         -2.17

1993 U.S. Open         T-11        280         -1.03

1993 British Open       T-6         274         -1.46

1994 British Open       1st         268         -2.51

1994 PGA                1st        269         -3.01

1995 U.S. Open          T-13        286         -0.81

1995 British Open       T-40        291         -0.23

1996 PGA                T-8         280         -1.25

Average Z-Score: -1.47

 

T-83. Shanshan Feng, -1.47, 2013-2017

Shanshan Feng is the most successful tournament golfer ever produced by the largest nation on earth. That ought to be worth something. She was also, as of the start of the 2017 women’s season, the No. 1 ranked female player in the world. So the potential exists for her to move significantly up the peak performance ladder.

What Feng needs to do in order to make that happen is to translate her consistent performance on the LPGA tour into dominance. Through the first three major events of 2018 – a missed cut at the U.S. Open, ties for 25th and 18th at the ANA and the Women’s PGA – that hasn’t happened. She has one major championship, the LPGA, but she won that one back in 2012. Since then Feng has been a consistent haunting presence on the fringes of major championship contention, but she hasn’t closed a deal. Among the 28 majors played since 2013, Feng has a dozen finishes among the top 10 – including at least one annually – four of them in the top five. Yet in only four of those did Feng finish within four shots of the leader and in only one – a one-stroke loss to Mo Martin at the 2015 British Open – was she truly in contention to the finish.

Feng is a product of what passes for the Chinese golf system, which is basically to say that she’s self-trained. Her father, who had an affiliation with a local golf program, encouraged her to try the game; she did and it took. “Golf wasn’t that popular at the time so I was lucky to start,” she acknowledged. Testing her skill first on the Japanese tour, did well, tried a few European Tour events and won there as well. When she joined the LPGA Tour in 2008, it was as a precedent breaker. Feng was the first touring player ever from that nation. The novelty quickly rubbed off; Feng shot 282 to win the 2012 LPGA Championship by two strokes over four players, among them Stacy Lewis and Suzann Pettersen.

The potential for Feng to ascend the peak rating list is no sure thing. Three of her 10 best scores among her last 20 majors – the standard for calculating a peak rating – occurred in 2014, meaning they could not be used to raise her present -1.47 peak. To crack the all-time top 50, Feng would need to get to -1.67, a rise that would probably require two victories plus another top five very soon. She hasn’t shown that form to date. But, yes, there’s at least a chance.

 

Feng at her peak

Tournament              Finish      Score       Z Score

2014 ANA Inspiration    6th         283         -1.39

2014 LPGA               T-6         283         -1.29

2014 British Open       T-2         288         -1.84

2015 ANA Inspiration    T-8         283         -1.14

2015 LPGA               T-13        286         -0.86

2015 Evian Masters      3rd         276         -1.66

2016 Evian Masters      4th         269         -2.11

2017 U.S. Open          T-5         282         -1.35

2017 British Open       T-7         277         -1.23

2017 Evian Masters      T-6         206         -1.82

Average peak Z-Score: -1.47

 

T-87. Jan Stephenson, -1.46, 1981-1985

There were two distinct, if related, aspects to Jan Stephenson’s career. There was her performance on the course – 16 LPGA Tour championships, three of them majors – and then there was the sex stuff.

Bringing up the latter doesn’t amount to objectification or sensationalism because it was central to her overall image on tour. Stephenson was one of the first LPGA players – and the first major champion – to promote her looks as a means of stirring interest in LPGA goings-on.

“To sell with sex, a lot of players and people didn’t think it was appropriate,” she acknowledged, quickly adding that “you have to sell that way because everything is sold that way.” She said she believed that “the people who watch are predominantly male, and they won’t keep watching if the girls aren’t beautiful.”

Stephenson’s sales pitches included glamour-type photo shoots in sexualized poses, once famously naked in a bathtub filled with golf balls. In 1977 she became the first woman golfer to appear on the cover of Sport Magazine … in a thin, revealing pink linen shirt tied at the waist. The photo generated plenty of blowback from Stephenson’s fellow competitors, who saw her as denigrating their professional abilities by trading on her sexualized image.

“It’s something women’s golf has always had to face,” said Nancy Lopez, one of those competitors. “Jan always accepted that.” Lopez, for one, wonders in retrospect whether Stephenson was truly comfortable with the self-sexualization, or whether it amounted to playing a role for the sake of individual and tour promotion.

Whatever one thinks of Stephenson’s sexualized image, it would have amounted to at most a short-term boost for the tour had she not also performed on the course. A few predecessors – notably Laura Baugh – had tried the same tactic, only to disappear from public view when they failed to win. Stephenson won.

An Australian, Stephenson came to the U.S. after dominating the women’s amateur game in her own country. In 1974 she landed a half dozen top 10 finishes and was named LPGA Tour rookie of the year. Her first victories came in 1976, her first major title – the Peter Jackson Classic – in 1981. That was a one-stroke victory over Lopez and Pat Bradley at the event later known as the duMaurier. Stephenson won $30,000 that weekend; as recently as 1970, $30,000 would have been enough to lead the entire LPGA season money-winning list. But 1970 was pre-Stephenson.

A year later, Stephenson captured her second major, the LPGA Championship at the Jack Nicklaus Golf Center outside Cincinnati. While not quite a breeze – she beat JoAnne Carner by two strokes – Stephenson did lead start-to-finish. “I kept thinking something would go wrong,” she said. “I told myself someone will mount a charge.” It turned out that Stephenson mounted her own charge, sinking a 20-foot birdie putt on the 15th hole Sunday to pad her lead to four strokes.

Her final major title, the U.S. Open, was one of her three victories in 1983. This time Stephenson carried a two-stroke lead over Patty Sheehan into the final round and beat Carner by one stroke in Tulsa’s 100-degree heat. In the clubhouse, she was summoned to the telephone to take a call from an exuberant golf fan, President Ronald Reagan. “The president said … I had given him an enjoyable afternoon,” Stephenson told reporters.

In 1985, Stephenson became only the ninth player in LPGA history to win more than $1 million. That spring she made a run at a fourth major, moving within one stroke of leader Alice Miller at the Nabisco Dinah Shore, only to see Miller sink a 40-foot birdie putt on the final hole to relegate Stephenson to runner-up honors. A 1987 auto accident slowed her game briefly, but she recovered to add three more tour events to her resume, running her career total to 16. She crossed the $2 million earnings mark in 1992, and surpassed $3 million in 2002.

Following her retirement from tour play, Stephenson competed briefly on the LPGA Champions tour, but primarily moved into golf course architecture.

Stephenson at her peak

Tournament              Finish      Score       Z Score

1981 duMaurier*         1st         278         -2.31

1982 LPGA               1st         279         -2.31

1982 duMaurier*         T-7         288         -1.41

1983 Dinah Shore        T-20        297         -0.56

1983 U.S. Open          1st         290         -1.93

1983 LPGA               T-11        287         -0.92

1983 duMaurier*         T-5         282         -1.41

1984 duMaurier          T-13        288         -0.95

1985 Dinah Shore        2nd         278         -2.13

1985 U.S. Open          T-12        293         -0.71

Score: -1.46

*Through 1983, the event was known as the Peter Jackson Classic.

 

T-87. Laurie Auchterlonie*, -1.46, 1899-1904

He is perhaps the least-known of all the noteworthy male American golfers. Of course calling Laurie Auchterlonie an American may itself be a stretch. He was born in 1867 and raised in St. Andrews, Scotland. In 1948, he also died and was buried there. His brother, Willie, won the 1893 Open – the British one. But Laurie Auchterlonie’s professional career was contested entirely in the U.S. He was part of the migration of what can only be described as second-tier British players who – staring at Vardon, Taylor and Braid — chose instead to take their chances with the fledgling U.S. game. Auchterlonie arrived in the late 1890s, landing a pro shop job at the Glen View Club just outside Chicago.

His championship resume at that time was wafer thin, consisting of three appearances as an amateur in the British Open, His best finish was a tie for 13th in 1895, 18 strokes behind Taylor and 2 behind Vardon. Already 32, he quickly set about to remedy the thin portfolio, entering the 1899 U.S. Open – only the fifth ever held – in Baltimore. Although never in title contention, he managed four rounds in 333 strokes, good for a tie for 9th place in the 50-player field. The Western Open debuted that year, happily for Auchterlonie at Glen View. U.S. Open champion Willie Smith beat him again, but this time it took an 18-hole playoff. For his effort, Smith won $50; Auchterlonie settled for $40.

One year later at Chicago Golf Club in nearby Wheaton, Auchterlonie ran into a pair of old nemesis, Vardon and Taylor. The Britishers dominated. Vardon finished two strokes ahead of Taylor, who in turn was seven ahead of the lead American, David Bell. Auchterlonie placed fourth.

However disappointing the performance was, it was good enough to win Auchterlonie a promotion to head pro at Glen View, a position he maintained for a decade. As head pro, Western Open champion and a two-time top 10 finisher in the U.S. Open, he was among the favorites for the 1901 event at the Myopia Hunt Club. There, however, Auchterlonie would run afoul of two new presences that would frustrate him for much of the next half decade. Those two were Myopia itself and Anderson. He shot 335, good enough for a tie for fifth. Auchterlonie salved his wounds better than most. At that year’s Western Open a few weeks later, he shot an opening 79 for a two-stroke lead and made that stand up to defeat Bell. The champ walked away with $125.

From the Myopia hell hole, the nation’s best retreated to the Garden City Country Club outside New York for the 1902 championship. For its time, the field was loaded, featuring Anderson, inaugural champion Horace Rawlins, former champions James Foulis, Fred Herd and Willie Smith, future champion Alex Smith, Walter Travis — a three-time U.S. Amateur champion and the co-designer of Garden City – plus Hall of Fame course designers-to-be Donald Ross and C.B. Macdonald. Auchterlonie immediately put his stamp on the field, opening with a 78 that was one better than Anderson. Entering the final round, his uncannily steady play – posting rounds of 78, 78 and 74 – had him five ahead of a comparative unknown, Stewart Gardner, and seven up on Anderson. Travis was nine back on his own course, while both Smiths faced double-digit deficits.

Auchterlonie showed no mercy in that final round. His 77 not only wrapped up the trophy and $200 first place check by six shots over Stewart, it made him the first player in U.S Open history to post four rounds in the 70s.

From that point on, Auchterlonie was destined to play in Anderson’s shadow. At that summer’s Western Open in Cleveland, Anderson posted a 299 while Auchterlonie languished in fifth with a 316. In his defense of his Open title at Baltusrol in 1903, Auchterlonie shot 321 – good for seventh – but Anderson won the first of three straight. Auchterlonie was runner-up to Alex Smith at the 1903 Western, but in 1904 his best efforts were a tie for fourth – 11 behind Anderson – at the U.S. Open, and third – 11 behind Anderson – at the Western.

By then Auchterlonie was 41 and past his prime. When Anderson returned to Myopia for his fourth Open title (and third straight) in 1905, Auchterlonie finished 24th, his 332 barely above the field average. He managed a fourth place at the Western, but that was 16 strokes behind the champion, Arthur Smith. He made a last-hurrah sort of showing at the 1906 U.S. Open championship at Onwentsia outside Chicago, but never really contended in finishing third, 10 strokes behind Alex Smith.

Considering that he played brilliantly for five years in the only two U.S.-based events worthy of “major” recognition, Auchterlonie’s record is impressive. It includes two championships, nine other finishes among the top five and two more in the top 10 between 1899 and 1904. His U.S. Open or Western Open losses, although not always close, were to some of the era’s greats: they included six to Willie Anderson, two to Willie Smith and two to Alex Smith.

One can debate whether the name of Laurie Auchterlonie ought to be ranked among the game’s immortals. But there is no debate that he was a pivotal figure during the game’s first full decade of development in the United States.

Auchterlonie at his peak

Tournament              Finish      Score       Z Score

1899 U.S. Open          T-9         333         -1.09

1899 Western Open       2nd         156         -1.60

1900 U.S. Open          4th         327         -1.33

1901 U.S. Open          T-5         335         -1.38

1901 Western Open       1st         160         -2.05

1902 U.S. Open          1st         307         -2.24

1902 Western Open       5th         316         -1.07

1903 Western Open       2nd         320         -1.17

1904 U.S. Open          T-4         314         -1.29

1904 Western Open       3rd         315         -1.34

Average peak Z-Score: -1.46

*The text is taken from “The Hole Truth,” to be published in the fall of 2018 by Bison Press.

 

  1. Alex Smith, -1.45, 1904-1910

Born in Carnoustie, Scotland, in 1874, Smith came to the United States to play in the 1898 Open, enjoyed the experience – he finished second – and decided to stay. Named head professional at Nassau Country Club in New York in 1901, Smith promptly challenged fellow emigree Willie Anderson for the U.S. Open title, losing a playoff when he blew a five-shot lead over the final five holes culminated by a missed four-foot putt on the final hole.

Smith finished in the top 10 twice more before winning the 1906 tournament at Onwentsia by seven shots over his brother, Willie. The victory evened the family score, Willie having triumphed in 1899. One week prior to his Open championship, Smith had opened the Western Open with an 82, trailing Anderson by eight, then rallied with rounds of 75, 75 and 74 to win that tournament by three.

Family issues limited Smith’s time on the course in 1907; he did not defend either his U.S. or Western titles, and finished an uninspired 25th in his only major appearance, the British Open. But he returned to finish third in both the 1908 and 1909 U.S. Opens, and in 1910 survived a harrowing experience to win his second national title. Smith came to the 240-yard par four 18th hole needing a birdie for the outright title, drove within 15 feet of the pin, and then three-putted. That error threw him into a three-way playoff with his brother, Macdonald Smith, and John McDermott, which Alex Smith won by four shots, recording a 71.

By then Smith had left Nassau Country Club for nearby Westchester Country Club, where he remained the head pro until his death in 1930 at age 56.

Alex Smith at his peak

Tournament              Finish      Score       Z Score

1904 U.S. Open          18th        326         -0.25

1904 Western Open       2nd          308         -1.81

1905 U.S. Open          2nd         316         -1.81

1905 British Open       T-16        333         -0.32

1906 U.S. Open          1st         295         -2.73      

1906 Western Open       1st         306         -1.65

1907 British Open       25th        333         0.01

1908 U.S. Open          3rd         327         -1.83

1909 U.S. Open          3rd         295         -1.68

1910 U.S. Open          1st         298         -1.64

Score: -1.46

 

T-90. I.K. Kim, -1.44, 2009-2013

Prior to her victory at the 2017 British Open, I.K. Kim was primarily known for failure; a missed one-foot tap-in cost her the 2012 Kraft Nabisco championship.

That miss, coming on the 72nd hole, threw Kim into a playoff with Sun Young Yoo, which she lost to Yoo’s birdie on the first extra hole. Through the better part of the ensuing four seasons, Kim largely disappeared from the LPGA’s leaderboards. The $1.125 million she won in 2013 shrank to $339,622 by 2015, she went winless between 2011 and 2015, and she went 22 consecutive majors between 2013 and 2016 without any placing better than a tie for 16th.

“I really criticized myself a lot and it’s not very healthy,” Kim said of her problems following that miss, the shortest in golf history to cost a player a major. In response, she sought out coaches who specialized in the mental aspects, not all of them involved in golf specifically. Eventually, they taught her “to be nice to myself…to have some kind of gentleness and compassion with myself.”

At the 2017 British Open, that therapy paid off. Kim seized the lead early in the second round, posted three rounds in the 60s to expand her lead to six strokes, and coasted home two ahead of Jodi Ewart Shadoff.

It was a satisfying, if delayed, culmination for Kim, who had come to the tour more than a decade earlier as part of the Korean wave sparked by Se Ri Pak. Like many of her fellow Koreans, she found quick success. She won her first tournament in 2008, her second in 2009 and her third in 2010. That was also the season she expanded her horizons to the European Tour, winning rookie of the year honors. Between 2008 and 2010, Kim finished among the top five at five women’s majors, falling just two strokes short at the 2009 U.S. Open.

Though she only turned 30 in June of 2018, the long dry spell Kim went through between 2012 and 2016 suggests that her peak seasons are probably past her. To establish a higher peak, Kim would have to sail through 2018 with a succession of major performances in the -1.60 range – basically top five in every major event – and Kim has not even in her best days attained that level of consistency.

Kim at her peak

Tournament              Finish      Score       Z Score

2009 U.S. Open          T-3         286         -1.70

2010 U.S. Open          4th         286         -1.55

2010 LPGA               T-5         284         -1.37

2010 British Open       T-3         281         -2.01

2011 Nabisco            T-10        287         -1.13

2011 U.S. Open          T-10        288         -1.07

2011 LPGA               T-12        284         -0.92

2012 Nabisco            2nd         279         -1.92

2013 U.S. Open          2nd         284         -2.18

2013 Evian Masters      T-19        213         -0.56

Average Z Score: -1.44

 

T-90. Hubert Green, -1.44, 2013-2017

He stood only briefly over a three-foot putt on the final green, struck it directly into the cup and – flanked by uniformed police officers – showed little emotion has he disappeared into a greenside tent. There was a reason for the muted nature of Hubert Green’s victory celebration at the 1977 U.S. Open at Southern Hills; a short time earlier, he had been told he was going to be murdered.

As Green stood on the 15th tee that final Sunday, police and USGA officials approached. He was told that a woman had phoned an anonymous threat to the Oklahoma City FBI office that he was going to be shot as he played that hole.

He was given three choices: stop play, clear the course, and continue without a gallery; finish the round Monday; or carry on and run the risk that the threat was real. “I said, ‘I can’t be any more nervous than I am now,’” he said. “Let’s get it over with.”

So they ”got it over with”, the uniformed officers following Green the rest of the way. Green snap-hooked his drive on 15 into the trees but recovered and reached the green. “When I stood over the putt I suddenly got the sensation I was going to be shot at any second,” he later told Golf Digest. “As soon as I hit the putt I knew I’d left it short. I also knew I hadn’t heard a gunshot. I said out loud, “Chicken!” And I wasn’t talking about leaving the putt short.”

Green followed up that escape with a birdie at 16. The three-footer on 18 he hustled in for a finishing bogey? He needed it to hold off runner-up Lou Graham by a stroke.

Interviewed after finishing, Green downplayed the threat. I don’t want some turkey getting headlines,” he told reporters. Sandy Tatum, chairman of the USGA Championship Committee, marveled at the player’s composure. “He didn’t flicker,” said Tatum, who delivered the news to Green on the 15th tee. “He just stepped up … and hit the ball.”

No one ever figured out why Green, then a successful 30-year-old pro from Alabama, would be targeted by a caller either determined to kill or merely to unnerve him.  To that moment, his greatest claim to fame had been victories in three successive Tour events one season before: March 14, 1976, at Doral, March 21 at Jacksonville, and March 28 at Sea Pines.

The 1977 Open had been Green’s most of the way, but it was a close struggle. He led Terry Diehl by one stroke after 36 holes, and led Andy Bean – his final day playing partner — by the same stroke with 18 holes remaining. But Graham, playing ahead of Green, birdied four of the final seven holes to post a score of 279, meaning Green had to par the final four holes to win. The birdie on 16 extended his lead to two strokes, handy since he dropped his approach on 18 into a bunker. Despite the threat, he had managed to play those last four holes in even par for a total of 278.

That three-season stretch from 1976 through 1978 was the best of Green’s career. He won six times, finished sixth at the 1976 U.S. Open, was eighth at the 1977 Masters, and followed a fifth place finish at the 1976 British Open by coming in third in 1977. That was the year when Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus jointly ran away from the field by 11 and 10 strokes respectively at Turnberry. Green headed the field they ran away from. Green led the 1978 Masters by two shots after three rounds, only to see Gary Player fire a final-round 64 to beat him and two others by one stroke. Green missed a three-footer on the final hole that would have forced a playoff.

That miss began a downward trend for Green, who defended his Open title two months later by missing the cut. In the 24 months between March of 1976 and March of 9178 he had won six tournaments; in the 87 months between April of 1978 and July of 1985 he won just four. When the 1985 season ended, Green stood 135th on the money list.

That only made his showing at the 1986 PGA more of a surprise. Green, 38 by then, found himself locked in a tight battle with one of his best friends on tour, Lee Trevino. Teeing off on the final Sunday, Green led Trevino by three only to lose two strokes when he bogeyed the third hole and Trevino birdied. An eagle at five shot Trevino one stroke to the front, but his bogey at six through them into a tie. It remained tied until the 15th, when a three-putt cost Trevino his share of that lead. Green won by two. Green called it a big morale booster.

“I think I’ll savor this one more than the U.S. Open,” he said. “I was at the top of my golf game then. This time folks thought I was down and out. And I was.”

It was Green’s last Tour victory. He played in 211 subsequent events through 1998, but made the top 10 in just six, none after 1989.

Green at his peak

Tournament              Finish      Score       Z Score

1974 Masters            T-9         283         -0.82

1974 British Open       4th         288         -1.92

1974 PGA                T-3         279         -1.67

1975 Masters            T-8         285         -0.80

1976 U.S. Open          6th         282         -1.65

1976 PGA                T-5         288         -1.34

1977 Masters            T-8         285         -0.70

1977 U.S. Open          1st         278         -2.07

1977 British Open       3rd         279         -1.65

1978 Masters            T-2         278         -1.75

Average Z Score: -1.44

 

  1. Hale Irwin, -1.42, 1975-1979

Between 1974 and 1979, Hale Irwin was one of the most consistent contenders on the PGA Tour.

During that six-season window, he won nine times, finished among the top three 29 times, and among the top 10 in 40 of his 133 starts. That success brought Irwin nearly $1.2 million in earnings those six seasons alone, along with two of his three major championships.

He did it all despite a reputation on tour for utter colorlessness. This was the running joke on tour: An empty golf cart drove up and Hale Irwin got out.

However bland his personality and appearance, Irwin’s game seemed especially suited to the major events. Between 1974 and 1978 he finished fourth, fourth, fifth, fifth and eighth at Augusta, half of his 10 top 10 placings in majors during that period. In 1975 alone, he tied for fourth at Augusta, for third as defending champion at the U.S. Open, for ninth at the British Open, and for fifth at the PGA. Only one other competitor could claim top 10 finishes in all four of that year’s majors: Jack Nicklaus.

Golf won an internal competition for Irwin’s affections. At the University of Colorado, he won the 1967 NCAA individual championship while also becoming a two-time all-conference defensive back in football. He turned pro in 1968, served what amounted to a two-season apprenticeship, and in 1971 broke through with a 1-stroke win at the Sea Pines Heritage Classic.

At Winged Foot for the 1974 U.S. Open, Irwin survived the punishing course conditions to win by two strokes over Forrest Fezler, his +7 287 being the second highest winning Open total since World War II. As arbitrary as the victory might have been viewed – Winged Foot, after all, was the big winner that week – the title marked the start of Irwin’s peak period. The most remarkable thing about his 1975 play was that he contended so often with so little success: Irwin won only twice, at Atlanta and at the Western Open. Two more titles and seven finishes in the top three followed in 1977, a year when Irwin won more than $250,000 and started 21 events without missing a cut.

The U.S. Open came to Inverness in 1979 with Irwin’s recent history installing firmly as a favorite, and he didn’t disappoint. Methodically building a five-stroke lead after three rounds, he cobbled together a closing 75 to finish two ahead of Gary Player and Jerry Pate. Irwin had an excuse for his indifferent play: He told reporters afterward that a TV crew staying at his hotel had decided to hold an impromptu 3 a.m. pool party. “Somewhere in between I got a couple of hours of sleep, but that was all,” he said.

Irwin remained active on tour into the mid 1990s, winning his third U.S. Open in 1990. That victory made him one of only six players in history to win more than two, the others being Willie Anderson, Bobby Jones, Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods.

Irwin at his peak

Tournament              Finish      Score       Z Score

1975 Masters            T-4         282         -1.36

1975 U.S. Open          T-3         288         -1.43

1975 British Open       9th         283         -1.36

1975 PGA                T-5         283         -1.37

1976 Masters            T-5         285         -1.10

1977 Masters            5th         282         -1.26

1978 Masters            8th         282         -1.12

1978 U.S. Open          T-4         288         -1.39

1979 U.S. Open          1st         284         -2.23

1979 British Open       6th         289         -1.55

Average Z Score: -1.42

 

T-93. Mary Mills, -1.41, 1963-1967

The year was 1954. Mary Mills hadn’t even enrolled in high school, yet her golf game was already drawing attention.

“All she needs is practice and experience,” pronounced Minnie Ashley, an experienced amateur golfer from Gadsden, Ala., after Mills dispatched Ashley 3 and 2 to reach the quarter finals of the Women’s Southern championship in Birmingham, Ala. By then Mills already had been playing for three years, having picked up the game from a friend. Something about the experience – it may have been her innate ability to drive the ball more than 220 yards – persuaded her dad that she should have lessons.

A few years later – having won the Mississippi State Amateur eight years in succession and having played on the men’s team at Millsaps College – Mills arrived with a similar splash on the LPGA tour. She won the Rookie Of the Year award in 1962, tying for 10th at the U.S. Open.  At the 1963 event outside Cincinnati, the 23-year-old Mills never trailed, defeating Louise Suggs and Sandra Haynie by three strokes. That October she challenged Mickey Wright at the LPGA, eventually losing by two strokes at Stardust in Las Vegas. She evened the score at the 1964 event on the same Las Vegas course, shooting a final round 69 to overhaul Wright by two strokes. Not yet 25, Mills was already a two-time major champion.

She was also a consistent presence on the women’s tour. In 1966, Mills finished among the top 10 in all four majors, just two shots behind Kathy Whitworth at the Titleholders. By that point she had added three more tour titles to her pair of majors, enhancing that resume with a sixth title in 1969 and a seventh in 1970.

Although continuing to compete regularly on tour, Mills largely receded into the pack after 1970, failing to win and failing to place among the top 20 at any of the majors for three seasons. So it was a bit of a surprise when Mills posted steady rounds of 73-73-72 to stand second, a shot behind Japan’s Chako Higuchi, after three rounds of the 1973 LPGA Championship. On Sunday, Mills equaled the week’s best round, 70, to beat Betty Burfeindt by a stroke for her third major championship. A month later, she finished 8th at the Women’s U.S. Open.

For the next decade, Mills remained a consistent tour presence, occasionally popping up in the top 10, but adding only one more title, the 1973 Lady Tara Classic. The wear and tear of regular play eventually took its toll, Mills moving into golf course architecture and golf instruction.

Mills at her peak

Tournament              Finish      Score       Z Score

1963 U.S. Open          1st         289         -2.38

1963 LPGA               T-2         296         -1.26

1964 LPGA               1st         278         -1.54

1964 Titleholders       8th         297         -0.98

1965 U.S. Open          4th         295         -1.49

1965 Women’s Western    4th         301         -1.29

1966 LPGA               T-3         289         -1.23

1966 Titleholders       T-2         293         -1.53

1966 Women’s Western    5th         307         -1.33

1967 Women’s Western    5th         302         -1.10

Score: -1.41

 

 

T-93. Anna Nordqvist, -1.41, 2013-2017

Anna Nordqvist’s career probably won’t be defined by a phone call. She does, after all, have two major championships to her credit. Still, her playoff defeat at the hands of Brittany Lang in the 2016 U.S. Open ranks right among the most bizarre in LPGA history.

Nordqvist and Lang came to the third hole of the three-hole playoff apparently dead even, both having parred the first two holes. Unbeknownst to them, however, a fan had called LPGA officials to say that when Nordqvist began her swing out of a fairway sand trap on the second playoff hole, her club touched the sand, something nobody on the scene noticed but which is forbidden under the rules. Tournament officials quickly reviewed the TV tape, determined that Nordqvist had touched the sand with her club, and assessed a two-stroke penalty. Lang won the playoff.

Tour officials have since changed the rule that allowed them to consider reports of violations via the airwaves, meaning Nordqvist may be the last player impacted by such a decision.

Enough of controversy, let’s move on to more clear-cut matters. As a junior player, Nordqvist came out of Sweden to dominate that level of play, winning several national amateur championships before the age of 20. Turning pro when she graduated from Arizona State in 2009, she won her fifth start, and it was a big one, the LPGA Championship. She not only won, she did so by four strokes, closing with a 68 to leave no doubt.

At that point success on the Tour seemed like a foregone conclusion, but Nordqvist soon saw the competitive side of a golf life. For the next six seasons, she fit into the category of “good but not great,” winning a few events, placing decently in enough majors to be talked about, but only truly pressing the winner once. That came at the 2015 ANA Inspiration when Nordqvist finished in a three-way tie for fourth, two behind Brittany Lincicome. Her second major championship came at the 2017 Evian Masters, a playoff victory over Brittany Altomare that was literally concluded in a hailstorm.

For a nine-year veteran who won a major just months into her professional life, it is something of an anomaly that Nordqvist took a while to mature into her performance peak. But that’s what the numbers say. They also say that peak may still be developing. All 10 of the performances that constitute her peak as of the beginning of the 2018 season have come since June of 2014, leaving her room for growth. Two top five finishes in any of the five 2018 LPGA majors could boost her present peak rating by 10 places or thereabouts, and if one of those two was a third major win she could climb into the top 75.

Nordqvist at her peak

Tournament              Finish      Score       Z Score

2014 LPGA               T-4         282         -1.48

2014 British Open       T-12        293         -0.89

2015 ANA Inspiration    T-4         281         -1.60

2015 LPGA               T-9         284         -1.22

2015 British Open       T-7         283         -1.47

2016 LPGA               T-8         284         -1.29

2016 U.S. Open          2nd         282         -1.69

2017 ANA Inspiration    T-11        281         -0.94

2017 British Open       T-7         277         -1.23

2017 Evian Masters      1st         204         -2.31      

Average Z Score: -1.41 

 

T-93. Tom Lehman, -1.41, 1994-1998

Watching players of the caliber of Tiger Woods, Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy or Jason Day can make the professional tour seem like a deceptively simple experience. You arrive, you win, you repeat.

Tom Lehman’s career is the living breathing refutation of that impression. Lehman tried and failed to often that only his perseverance enabled him to continue in the face of seemingly impossible odds. Eventually – very eventually – that perseverance positioned him as one of the game’s greats.

Lehman graduated from the University of Minnesota in 1982 and turned professional. There was no intermediate tour at that time; his indoctrination came against the regular Tour fields, and he failed. Between 1983 and 1985, he started 74 tournaments, failing to make the cut in 46 of them, and never finishing among the top 10. His total earnings for the three-season period, less than $40,000, sent him to Asia, South Africa and any other locales where greater success loomed as a possibility.

When the present-day Web.com tour, then known as the Hogan Tour, was organized for tour hopefuls in 1991, Lehman, already 31, signed on. It was there that the years of hard-won experience began to take root. He won for the first time in 1990, added three more titles in 1991, and was named that circuit’s player of the year. Regaining his PGA Tour card, Lehman made 29 starts in 1992, and two years later he finally broke through, winning the Memorial Tournament and leading the Masters after three rounds before finishing second to Jose Maria Olazabal. He captured the 1995 Colonial Invitational, and a month later again held the 54-hole lead in a major before finishing third at the U.S. Open behind Corey Pavin and Greg Norman.

Lehman added $830,000 that season to the $1 million he had won the year before. At 35 yet less than four seasons into his second Tour life, he had emerged from a decade of obscurity as a veteran star.

Those strong performances made Lehman a plausible contender when the 1996 major season opened at Augusta. He tied inconspicuously for 18th there, 14 shots behind Nick Faldo, but once again found himself sleeping on the third round lead at the U.S. Open at Oakland Hills. Lehman’s advantage stretched to three shots over lightly regarded Steve Jones with nine holes remaining before bogeys at 10 and 12 – Jones birdied both holes – set him back, and a bogey on the 72nd hole sealed the loss by a single stroke.

To the knowledgeable golfing public, the outcome – the long-suffering star losing to a journeyman – suggested that Lehman had one coming. If so, he got it a few weeks later at Royal Lytham and St Anne’s. The leader by one after 36 holes, Lehman summoned his skills and knowledge to post a tournament-low 64 on Saturday. It was not only good for a six-shot advantage over runner-up Nick Faldo, it set a 54-hole Open record at 198. Lehman closed with an unspectacular 73, but that was good enough to hold off Faldo and a fast-charging Ernie Els – who shot 66 – by two shots. “It was a struggle, but I stuck it out,” Lehman told reporters afterward. He was talking about the round, although he could have been talking about his entire career.

Crowned a major champion, Lehman proceeded to prove the adage that youth is wasted on the young. In 1997 he finished third at the U.S. Open — his third consecutive placing that high or higher – and he followed that with a tie for fifth in 1998. He placed sixth at the 2000 Masters and fourth at that summer’s British Open. A golfing non-entity at age 32, Lehman by 42 could claim 10 top 10 finishes in majors, seven of them top fives.

Lehman at his peak

Tournament        Finish      Score       Z Score

1994 Masters      2nd         281         -1.90

1995 U.S. Open    3rd         283         -1.55

1996 U.S. Open    T-2         279         -2.06

1996 British Open 1st         271         -2.43

1996 PGA          T-14        281         -1.05

1997 Masters      T-12        287         -0.60

1997 U.S. Open    3rd         278         -1.92

1997 British Open T-24        284         -0.47

1997 PGA          T-10        283         -0.80

1998 U.S. Open    T-5         286         -1.29

Average Z-Score: -1.41

 

T-96. Peter Thomson, -1.40, 1952-1956

Americans dominated golf from the retirement of Ted Ray, Harry Vardon, James Braid and J.H. through the second World War. With the exception of Henry Cotton, who never ventured across the ocean prior to World War II, the big names were all Yanks. But that was changing. Bobby Locke was the first non-American to announce his presence on a world stage. And in the early 1950s, Australian Peter Thomson emerged.

Born in 1929, in Melbourne, Thomson grew up dodging onto a nine-hole neighborhood club. Members caught him, but instead of giving the youngster the boot they recognized his talent and offered him a membership. The lad rewarded such prescience by winning the club championship at age 15. He apprenticed as a pro for two years, then joined the fledgling Australian tour and dominated it. “I sensed he had that inevitable something when I first set eyes on him,” said Norman von Nida, then the recognized star of the Australian circuit. Never long off the tee, Thomson developed a cerebral approach based on logic and foresight.

Winner of the 1950-51 New Zealand and 1951 Australian national titles, Thomson resolved to test his game at the British Open. He proved a very quick study, finishing second in his 1952 debut, a stroke behind Locke and ten ahead of Von Nida. He moved to the American circuit in 1953, but saved his best again for Britain. This time it was a tie for second to Hogan. When Hogan did not return in 1954, Thomson prevailed by a shot over Locke, Dai Rees and Syd Scott.

At just 25, Thomson was poised to make the British Open his personal province. He repeated in 1955 against a field criticized for its lack of American talent – the top American tour veteran was Ed Furgol, who placed 19th – and won for a third straight time in 1956. That was attention-getting; not since 1882 had anybody won the British Open three times running.  Thomson set his sights for an unprecedented fourth straight in 1957 but lost to Locke by three. The margin proved to be the difference between Thomson and a historic five straight a year later when he won in a 36-hole playoff at Lytham.

Thomson was a world traveler, a fact that may have reduced both his opportunities and his visibility in the United States. Yet it produced results in exotic locales, with victories in Italy, Spain, Germany, South China, Hong Kong Open, India, the Philippines, and the Alaska-Canada corridor. He won 26 times in Europe, 19 times in Australia and New Zealand and 11 more times in Asia and Japan.

The only place, it seemed, where he did not fare well was the U.S., in which he won just once. That occurred in the 1956 Texas Open, where he closed with a 63 and defeated Cary Middlecoff and Gene Littler in a playoff. His best efforts in U.S. majors were fourth place in the 1956 U.S. Open and fifth in the 1957 Masters. Competitive in the British Open during the early 1960s but stymied by Americans Arnold Palmer and Tony Lema, Thomson marshaled his skills one final time there in 1965, winning by two strokes and finishing four ahead of Lema, the defending champion.

From a career perspective, Thomson is widely regarded as a one-trick pony. His record in American majors underscores the element of truth in that characterization – yet it was some trick. Since the retirement of Ted Ray from the competitive scene in the mid 1920s, only Jack Nicklaus has a better record in the British Open than Thomson, who continued playing in the event – and generally well – for more than a decade following his last victory.

It may also be said that Thomson knew his weaknesses. Although he played competitively for more than two decades after 1958, he restricted himself to four appearances during that time in American majors. They were almost uniformly bad: a disqualification at the 1960 Masters, missed cuts at the 1961 U.S. Open and 1969 Masters, and a tie for 19th at the 1961 Masters.

Thomson loved the tense closing moments of a championship. “That was the real thrill of it for me,” he said in his biography. “I’ve seen a lot of people find themselves in that situation, and I suspect that very few of them like it, but I really enjoyed it.”

Thomson at his peak

Tournament              Finish      Score       Z Score

1952 British Open        2nd         288         -2.21

1953 Western Open        T-12        289         -0.69

1953 U.S. Open         T-26        301         -0.16

1953 British Open        T-2         286         -1.69

1954 Masters            T-16        297         -0.73

1954 British Open        1st         283          -1.89

1955 Masters            T-18        297         -0.68

1955 British Open        1st         281         -1.97

1956 U.S. Open          T-4         285         -1.60

1956 British Open        1st         286         -2.38

Score: -1.40 

 

T-96. Jack Burke Jr., -1.40, 1952-1956

Jack Burke Jr., came to the PGA Tour with a pedigree. His father, Jack Burke, had been a tour pro during the 1920s, good enough to tie for second at the 1920 U.S. Open. The younger Burke turned pro as a teen-ager just in time to have his career plans interrupted by World War II. He joined the Marines, which put the maturity and thoughtfulness his dad had instilled in him to work as an instructor teaching combat techniques. Discharged in 1946, he returned as a club pro before tackling the tour in 1949.

After two years of apprenticeship, Burke’s career began to take off. Invited to the 1951 Masters, he finished one stroke outside the top 10. At the PGA Championship he won three matches before running up against Sam Snead in the semi-finals; Snead edged him out 2 & 1 and went on to win the title. His Sunday 69 at the 1952 Masters failed to threaten Snead, but was good enough for runner-up honors. It continued what would become a long-term love affair between Burke and Augusta; he tied for eighth in 1953 and for sixth in 1954.

The 1956 Masters is recalled today largely for amateur Ken Venturi’s final round collapse. Four shots in front of Cary Middlecoff through 54 holes, Venturi staggered home in 80, surrendering his chance to become the tournament’s first amateur champion. Unnoticed for most of the tournament, Burke started Sunday in fourth, eight strokes back, and remained five behind in third place through the first nine holes. But when Venturi needed 43 strokes to finish the back nine, it was Burke who benefitted. At the tournament’s 71st hole, Burke stood one behind both Venturi and Middlecoff, but posted a birdie while Venturi bogeyed and Middleoff took a double-bogey. His par at the final hole cinched the championship. “I didn’t think I had a chance to win,” Burke said afterward. “I was just trying to catch Middlecoff for the low pro money.”

Burke fumbled his way through most of the rest of the summer season. He missed the cut at the U.S. Open, didn’t even bother to enter the Western, and failed to win any of the events he did enter. He arrived at the PGA Championship being played in Canton, Mass., in late July facing the most daunting match play field in the event’s history. The tour that year expanded its entries from 64 to 128, requiring the winner to survive seven rounds of play encompassing 10 rounds in just five days. After dispatching two lightly regarded pros on the first day, he went 20 holes with veteran Fred Haas Jr. in the third round before winning. He beat another journeyman in the fourth round, outlasted veteran Fred Hawkins in their 36-hole quarter-final, but trailed former U.S. Open champion Ed Furgol by five holes through 14 holes of their semi-final. In the afternoon, Burke won five consecutive holes to seize the lead, only to see Furgol square the match with a birdie at the 35th hole. When both players birdied the 36th, the contest went to an extra hole, which Burke won with another birdie.

That set up an interesting 36-hole final pitting Burke against fellow veteran Ted Kroll, holder of a Purple Heart. Kroll led by three after the first hole of the afternoon round, but Burke won five of the next seven holes, took a two-up lead through the afternoon turn and wrapped up the title when Kroll bogeyed the 34th. Burke’s second major of the season was also only his second win of the season.

Burke cut back his competitive profile in the late 1950s, choosing instead to go into a partnership with fellow pro and long-time friend Jimmy Demaret. They founded the Champions Golf Club in Houston, where Burke held forth at the pro shop and on the course for the rest of his life. He restrained himself to periodic appearances at Augusta and in the PGA into the 1970s.

Burke at his peak

Tournament              Finish      Score       Z Score

1952 Masters            2nd         290         -1.68

1952 Western Open       T-8         287         -0.83

1953 Masters            8th         287         -1.15

1954 Masters            T-6         292         -1.37

1954 Western Open       4th         279         -1.49

1955 Masters            T-13        294         -0.99

1955 U.S. Open          T-7         296         -1.06

1955 PGA            qtr final  match play       -1.92

1956 Masters            1st         289         -1.79

1956 PGA                1st      match play      -1.75

Score: -1.40

 

T-96. Olin Dutra, -1.40, 1931-1935

On his way to the 1934 U.S. Open championship, Olin Dutra had plenty to overcome. The defending champion, Gene Sarazen, was in the field as were perennial contenders Macdonald Smith, Horton Smith and Leo Diegel and rookies Byron Nelson and Ben Hogan. Up-and-comers Craig Wood and Ralph Guldahl also drew attention. Dutra’s toughest challenge, however, didn’t come from any of the greats gathered at Merion that weekend. The foe that really threatened his hopes was an amoeba.

“I really was playing pretty well,” Dutra later told golf journalist O.B. Keeler. “And then this blamed bug comes along.”

The bug – amoebic dysentery brought on by food poisoning — hit Dutra while he was driving from his Los Angeles home to the tournament, and laid him up enough that he thought about withdrawing. It cost the tour pro 20 pounds in weight and stamina, and sent him to a Detroit hospital for an overnight stay. At the time Dutra was a 33-year-old tour regular with one major – the 1932 PGA Championship – to his credit. He was not yet fully recovered when the tournament began, witness his falling eight shots behind Bobby Cruickshank through the first 36 holes. On the morning of the final 36-hole marathon, one last attack passed through him, prompting Dutra to play the final two rounds on a diet of sugar cubes.

Yet Dutra posted rounds of 71 and 72 to overtake Cruickshank and hold off Sarazen by a stroke. Somehow, the illness appeared to immunize Dutra from Merion’s prodigious challenges, attested to by the 76.5 average score for players completing 72 holes

Prior to his Open victory, few thought of Dutra as a first-rate tour pro. In fact, it wasn’t even entirely clear that he was the best Dutra; his older brother, Mortie, had tied for seventh in the 1931 Open and placed sixth in 1933.

Among those impressed by Dutra’s competitiveness was the recently retired Bobby Jones. He termed Dutra’s swing “a model of compactness, which … is of the sort that shows best under adverse conditions and on a tough, extracting course. It is definitely championship golf.”

Dutra’s win in the 1932 PGA was much more routine. He qualified at 140, winning medalist honors, and piled up a succession of easy victories as the 36-player field was gradually reduced. His best friend ultimately may have been Frank Walsh, a journeyman who took out Cruickshank in the third round and defending champion Tom Creavy in the semi-final. In the final Dutra polished off Walsh 4 & 3. For the tournament, Dutra played 196 holes in 19 under par.

Dutra at his peak

Tournament              Finish      Score       Z Score

1931 U.S. Open          T-21        303         -0.37

1931 Western Open       5th         289         -1.51

1932 U.S. Open          T-7         297         -1.31

1932 PGA                1st      match play     -1.91

1932 Western Open       2nd         288         -1.76

1933 U.S. Open          T-7         295         -1.16

1933 British Open       6th         294         -1.32

1934 U.S. Open          1st         293         -1.97

1935 Masters            3rd         284         -1.74

1935 U.S. Open          T-12        308         -0.89

Score: -1.40

 

T-99, John Revolta, -1.38, 1933-1937

John Revolta is probably best remembered today as a long-time teaching pro and club-maker. But in the depression era his game was strong enough to pick up one major championship and contend in several others. He also had longevity on his side, continuing as a Masters presence into the 1960s.

The highlights of that long career, though, were truly compressed into a single calendar year, 1935. Revolta, a 24-year-old upstart, starred on the winter tour, taking the Inverness Four Ball with Henry Picard, winning the Sarasota Open and the Miami International Four Ball, again with Picard. That hot start appeared to have petered out when he came home an inauspicious 13th at the Masters, following with an even less impressive tie for 36th at the U.S. Open in early June.

One week following the Open, the Tour reconvened at the South Bend Country Club for the 35th playing of the Western Open, at the time considered just below “major” status. An opening 74 left him five out of the lead, but he made up all five strokes with a second round 70, and a 73-73 finish was good enough to beat Willie Goggin by four strokes, Byron Nelson by six.

Then in October, Revolta really caught the golf world’s attention, dispatching Walter Hagen 1-up in the first round of the PGA Championship in Oklahoma City. Hagen’s loss deprived the field of one of its favorites, but Revolta moved quickly to fill the void, winning four more matches and climbing to the 36-hole final, where he was pitted against another veteran, Tommy Armour. Against a frigid north wind, the 40-year-old veteran tightened up while the newcomer played by far the looser game. Revolta birdied the opening hole, led by three at the turn of the morning round, and stretching his lead to four shots at the mid-day break. By the 10th hole of the afternoon 18, Revolta had extended his lead to six, time running out on Armour on the match’s 31st hole. A mastery of the putting surfaces – Revolta one-putted 13 of them – proved to be the difference.

A place on the U.S. winning Ryder Cup team followed, as did a sixth victory that season, at Wisconsin. Revolta played off his new-found fame to land a coveted job as teaching pro at Evanston Country Club, a position he held for the next three decades. He authored several instructional books emphasizing the short game, always considered his strength.

Revolta at his peak

Tournament              Finish      Score       Z Score

1933 PGA              2nd round   match play     -2.15

1933 Western Open       T-7         295         -1.22

1934 U.S. Open          T-8         299         -1.12

1934 Western Open       3rd         277         -1.67

1935 Masters            T-13        292         -0.87

1935 PGA                1st       match play     -2.27

1935 Western Open       1st         290         -2.23

1936 PGA              2nd round   match play     -2.00

1936 Western Open       T-9         285         -1.06

1937 British Open       T-32        311         0.76

Average Z Score: -1.38

 

T-99. Dustin Johnson, -1.38, 2012-2016

Johnson won the 2016 U.S. Open and might have used that as a springboard to the dominance many have predicted for him. Instead, 2017 essentially became a waste season, its most memorable moment being a fall down some stairs prior to the Masters. In his five major starts following that victory at Oakmont, Johnson missed two cuts and failed to finish higher than ninth.

Offsetting that, Johnson had by many standards a very nice 2017, finishing third in the FedEx Cup standings, winning three tournaments – among them two World Golf Championships – and leading the overall Strokes Gained list at 2.20. So he was to some extent a victim of this book’s reliance on criteria with a long history – the majors – as a basis for its ratings. In a sense, that makes Johnson king of the 2017 non-majors.

Johnson at his peak

Tournament              Finish      Score       Z Score

2012 British Open       T-9         280         -1.02

2013 PGA                T-8         277         -1.13

2014 U.S. Open          T-4         281         -1.05

2014 British Open       T-12        279         -1.49

2015 Masters            T-6         279         -1.18

2015 U.S. Open          T-2         276         -1.85

2016 Masters            T-4         287         -1.44

2016 U.S. Open          1st         276         -2.26

2016 British Open       T-9         282         -0.93

Average Z Score: -1.38

 

T-99. Marlene Hagge, -1.38, 1956-1960

At the tender age of 15, Marlene Bauer Hagge was named Associated Press Female Athlete of the Year. That was in 1949, by which time Hagge had already won several national junior tournaments including the U.S. Girls Junior, the Palm Springs, Northern California and Indio women’s titles, and finished eighth at the U.S. Women’s Open. Considering that the dominant figures on the women’s golf tour in those days, Patty Berg, Babe Zaharias and Louise Suggs, were all in their prime, it’s hard to rationalize giving the award to a teen. It is, anyway, until glamour – a major criteria in the assessment of late 1940s female athletes – is factored into the formula. Hagge had glamour, a quality distinctly lacking in Suggs, Zaharias and Berg.

Soon thereafter Marlene and her older sister Alice joined the LPGA as two of its 13 founding members. Her first of an eventual 26 victories came at Sarasota in 1952, a season in which she tied for second at the U.S. Open.

Initially, Hagge found it difficult to be taken seriously as a touring pro, her beauty queen-level good looks often overshadowing her scorecard. In 1951, Time Magazine pointed to the alluring Bauers by means of denigrating the LPGA players as a group, terming the others “a sexless, hippy bunch.” In a 2002 Sports Illustrated interview, Hagge recalled the famously efficient but unglamorous Berg presiding over a clinic that also featured the Bauer sisters. “’Isn’t it grand to be pretty and able to hit it, too?,” Berg asked the attendees, adding that, “With my mug, I’ve got to be able to hit it.'”

Later in life, Berg acknowleged the obvious and important contribution made by Marlene and her sister to the fledgling tour. “They were cute, they were fun, and the people liked them,” she said. “Everybody wanted to see Babe and the Bauer sisters.”

Marlene said she and her sister enjoyed the glamour attention. “I don’t see why people complain about being a sex symbol,” she said. “There’s no way this hurt the tour.”

Eventually, of course, Hagge had to build a reputation as a player. That was the fun part for Hagge, who adored the grind of competition. Across a more than three-decade active career, she won 26 times, the last coming in 1972, 21 seasons after that first victory at Sarasota.

Hagge really hit her stride in 1955 with top five finishes at both the Titleholders and Women’s Western Open. That was also the year she married Bob Hagge. In 1956, still just 22, she beat Berg in a playoff for the LPGA Championship in June, after which Berg cited her “concentration, stamina and confidence” as the deciding factors. It was one of eight tour victories that helped Hagge lead that season’s money-winning total, albeit with just $20,235. She finished third in the U.S. Open, one shot out of a playoff, and fourth at the Women’s Western. Between 1955 and 1960, she teed it up in 23 women’s majors, finishing among the top five in a dozen and among the top 10 in 17.

Although age gradually eroded her playing skills, nothing ever ate into Hagge’s commitment to the tour. She played regularly through 1981, in 1964 tying for 10th in the Titleholders, for seventh in the U.S. Open, and for eighth in the LPGA. She was seventh again at the Titleholders in 1966, added two more top 10 finishes in majors in 1972, then in 1981 the 30-year tour founder tied for 12th in the LPGA, beating such younger stars as Pat Bradley, Betsy King, Sandra Haynie, Judy Rankin and Jane Blalock.

In 1987, nearly four decades after her tour debut as its youngest member, Hagge – by then the oldest active member at 53 – shot an opening round 73 at the Nabisco Dinah Shore on her way to a tie for 26th place.

“I never thought of myself as a pioneer,” Hagge told the World Golf Hall of Fame upon her 2002 induction. “We were just a bunch of stubborn women who loved golf and figured we could make it happen.”

Hagge at her peak

Tournament        Finish      Score       Z Score

1956 U.S. Open    T-3         303         -1.45

1956 LPGA         1st         291         -1.91

1956 Western Open T-4         311         -1.20

1957 Titleholders 3rd         301         -1.27

1957 U.S. Open    T-6         311         -0.91

1957 LPGA         T-3         290         -1.30

1958 Titleholders 4th         308         -1.13

1959 U.S. Open    T-3         292         -2.32

1959 LPGA         5th         294         -1.09

1960 U.S. Open    3rd         298         -1.24

Score: -1.38

 

T-99. Jane Blalock, -1.38, 1976-1980

As good a player as Blalock was, she is best remembered for a battle of another sort. It flowed from an obscure 1972 tournament and created more ill feelings between a player and organization than has been experienced in the history of professional golf.

The controversy began during the second round of the Bluegrass Invitational Tournament when a competitor accused Blalock of having improperly replaced her marked ball in order to avoid some spike marks on the green. Blalock was hardly a run-of-the mill tour figure at the time, having won the inaugural Dinah Shore – with its record $20,000 prize. It later surfaced that Blalock was suspected among her fellow competitors of being a habitual cheater, veterans Marlene Hagge and Louise Suggs both signing testimonials to that effect.

But when that committee – composed entirely of fellow competitors — disqualified Blalock from the Bluegrass, fined her $500 for having failed to give herself a two-stroke penalty and suspended her for a year, Blalock filed a $5 million anti-trust suit against the LPGA. It alleged, among other things, that the playing status of the executive committee members biased them against her side of the issue because they benefitted financially if she was disqualified.

“It was like a kangaroo court,” she later described the process of appealing to other players. The case wound through various courts for three years, Blalock prevailing, until the LPGA agreed to a settlement that included a $13,500 payment to Blalock plus partial legal fees. The decision fundamentally changed the nature of LPGA governance, the all-player executive committee being scrapped in favor of a non-playing commissioner.

One remarkable aspect of Blalock’s record was how well she played while the case wound its way through the courts and afterward. Following the Bluegrass imbroglio, Blalock won a second and third LPGA Tour event that season, adding four more in 1974 and another in 1975. “It takes a certain kind of person … to play well while all this is going on,” the unidentified husband of a tour pro told Sports Illustrated in June of 1972, adding, “I think Janie is that way.” In 1977 Blalock told the New York Times she used the incident as motivation. “The thing that disturbed me most is that people took the word of others without having seen any infractions,” she said.

Technically she never won an LPGA major, but that’s only because the Shore was not considered a major until 11 years after Blalock won it. The case’s 1975 settlement bizarrely marked the onset of Blalock’s playing peak, a five-season period when she routinely finished at or near the top in the only two women’s majors on the schedule at the time, the Open and the LPGA. She landed five top 5 finishes in the 11 majors contested between 1976 and 1980, including a runner-up to Sally Little at the 1980 LPGA.

Aside from the legal side of her game, Blalock was noted for her consistency. Between 1970 and 1985 she won 27 tour events, and completed 299 consecutive events over 12 seasons without missing a cut.

Blalock at her peak

Tournament        Finish      Score       Z Score

1976 U.S. Open    3rd         296         -1.85

1976 LPGA         T-4         291         -1.46

1977 U.S. Open    9th         301         -0.95

1978 U.S. Open    T-4         293         -1.34

1978 LPGA         T-9         287         -1.19

1979 U.S. Open    T-11        292         -0.91

1979 LPGA         T-14        290         -1.10

1980 U.S. Open    T-7         294         -1.77

1980 LPGA         2nd         288         -1.10

1980 duMaurier    4th         281         -2.26

Score: -1.38

 

T-103. Dow Finsterwald, -1.37, 1959-1963

Dow Finsterwald was a first-rate tour pro on his own merits. But he also made good acquaintances along the way, notably with Arnold Palmer. Given that they were born only four days apart in 1929, that friendship may have been destiny.

They first met while playing as collegians in the late 1940s, and the mutual friendship that developed followed them through virtually parallel careers. Finsterwald joined the tour in 1951, Palmer a few years later after completing a stellar amateur career. Their skills frequently cast them against one another; Finsterwald three times finished third in major events won by Palmer, including a playoff for the 1962 Masters championship. But the competition never dimmed their mutual respect. “It was a wonderful relationship for me,” Finsterwald said.

Although often obscured by Palmer’s enormous shadow, Finsterwald more than occasionally found himself clear of it. When the PGA altered its championship tournament from match play to medal play in 1958, Finsterwald shot a final round 67 to win. The victory followed no fewer than 18 runner-up finishes since his most recent previous victory 18 months earlier, a near-miss tendency that had won him the nickname, “bridesmaid of the brassie.” Herbert Warren Wind, the famed golf writer, described his play that weekend as careful, befitting his personality. “Dow is an extremely appealing fellow, soft-spoken, purposeful and with the gift of remaining quite the same whether he is talking shop with a friend or is surrounded on the course by several thousand admirers,” he wrote.

For the most part, though, it would be Finsterwald’s fate to run afoul of Palmer, something he did with regularity. At the 1960 Masters, Finsterwald shot 284, beating everybody except Palmer (282) and Ken Venturi (283). Two months later at the U.S. Open at Cherry Hills, Palmer’s memorable find-round charge swept Finsterwald back into third again, this time tied with five other players.

Their most famous duel came at the 1962 Masters, when Finsterwald, Palmer and Gary Player finished in a triple tie, each at 280. Dow actually came to the 71st hole needing only to par in for an outright win, but bogeyed it. The next day’s 18-hole playoff was no contest, Palmer shooting 68 to Player’s 71 and Finsterwald’s 77.

In 1963, Finsterwald’s bid for a second major title ran afoul of the game’s other giant of that era. At the Masters, he tied Player for fifth, two strokes ahead of Palmer but three strokes behind Jack Nicklaus. Then at that summer’s PGA Championship, Finsterwald tied for third yet again, losing for a second time to Nicklaus by three strokes. When you think about it, it’s quite an amazing record. On five separate occasions between 1960 and 1963, Finsterwald had placed among the top five in a major championship ultimately won by either Palmer or Nicklaus. Has anybody ever done better against more imposing competition?

Finsterwald at his peak

Tournament              Finish      Score       Z Score

1959 U.S. Open          T-11        291         -0.77

1959 PGA                4th         280         -1.68

1960 Masters            3rd         284         -1.93

1960 U.S. Open          T-3         283         -1.38

1961 U.S. Open          T-6         286         -1.18

1962 Masters            3rd         280         -2.30

1962 PGA                T-11        286         -0.86

1963 Masters            T-5         289         -1.23

1963 U.S. Open          T-12        300         -0.68

1963 PGA                T-3         282         -1.66      

Score: -1.37

 

T-103. Ray Floyd, -1.37, 1974-1978

A 29-year PGA Tour veteran, Raymond Floyd benefitted from that career longevity to show up on a couple of very exclusive lists.

He’s one of just seven players in history to have won major championships in three different decades. Floyd won the 1969 PGA, the 1976 Masters, and the 1982 PGA (later adding the 1986 U.S. Open). The other six are certified immortals of the game: Harry Vardon, J.H. Taylor, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino, and Ernie Els.

He’s one of only two men, the other being Sam Snead, to have won PGA Tour events in four different decades. Floyd’s first victory came at the 1963 St. Petersburg Open; he was 20 at the time. He added five more titles in the 1960s, six in the 1970s, 10 in the 1980s, and in March of 1992 – at age 49 — won the Doral Ryder Open.

Dropping out of college at age 19 to play golf on tour – as Floyd did after one semester at the University of North Carolina – may seem like a risky move. But considering that Floyd won $5.2 million, plus an additional $9.5 million on the Champions tour, it worked out OK.

Floyd was almost an immediate success on tour. The Jacksonville victory came in his 10th start that year, and put him in company with Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, Billy Casper, Jack Nicklaus, Don January and Bo Wininger. He won again in 1965, and broke through in 1969 with three victories, including the PGA. Floyd dominated the field, carrying a five-stroke edge into the final round and holding off Player by one. Leading by one stroke and playing head-to-head, Floyd clinched the victory by rolling home a 35-foot birdie putt at the 70th hole while Player bogeyed.

The next five seasons constituted as much of a struggle as Floyd ever experienced on tour. He went winless – losing playoffs in 1971, 1973, 1974 and 1975 – and had more missed cuts (five) than top 10 finishes (four) in majors. His only top five among 20 major appearances in that span was a tie for fourth at the 1972 PGA.

So Floyd arrived at Augusta for the 1976 Masters viewed as more of a second-tier figure than a likely contender, a mantle that fell plainly on Nicklaus’ shoulders. Yet somehow, Jack never had a chance. Floyd, who had never before broken 70 on the course, opened with a 65 to Jack’s 67, added a Friday 66, and closed with consecutive rounds of 70 to win by eight strokes. His 17-under par 271 tied Nicklaus’ 1965 record. Floyd’s formula for the week was simple: He used his 5-wood to humiliate Augusta’s par fives, playing them in 17 under par for the week, with 12 birdies, an eagle and just three pars, all of the latter coming on Sunday, when his victory agenda consisted of not screwing up. “I honestly believed the tournament was over,” Floyd said of his Sunday attitude.

The victory kicked off what was probably Floyd’s best season on tour. He finished 13th at the U.S. Open, fourth at the British Open and was runner-up by a stroke to Dave Stockton at the PGA when a long birdie putt at the 72nd hole failed to fall.

For a second time, then, Floyd slumped. Coming off a personal best $178,000 season in 1976, he won $163,000 a year later, then $77,500 in 1978. Victories became occasional: none in 1978, one in 1979, and one more in 1980. But a playoff victory at the 1981 Players Championship heralded a second comeback. Floyd  A tie for third at the 1981 Masters marked his best finish there since 1977; a tie for third at the British Open that same summer was his best performance in a major since his 1976 Masters romp. From less than $123,000 in 1979, his seasonal earnings jumped to $359,000 in 1981, and then to nearly $387,000 in 1982. His August victory at the PGA provided a big financial boost.

As he had done at the 1976 Masters, Floyd tried to put the issue to rest early, firing an opening round 63 to assume a three-stroke advantage over Greg Norman and Bob Gilder. That lead rose to five by the close of play Saturday before Floyd’s cool “no problems” approach began to wither. He bogeyed the third, fifth, ninth and 10th holes, and led Fred Couples by just two shots standing on the 12th tee.

“I had a little talk with myself,” Floyd said after his round. “I’ve had hundreds of talks with myself, but this one worked.” He birdied the hole, and added birdies at 15 and 16 to put the tournament away.

Floyd was in his mid 40s when the 1986 U.S. Open began at Shinnecock Hills. The national championship had been a black mark on his resume, with no top 10s since 1971. “For years I have literally loathed playing the Open,” he would tell Golf Digest later that year. “I have always had a sour feeling about the way (the courses) were set up.” Yet a Monday practice round altered his mindset. “I told my wife, ‘they couldn’t trick it up,’” he said. “It is out there in its natural state and there’s nothing they can do about it.”  Managing his way around the course, Floyd stood two over par – one stroke out of a nine-way tie for the lead – entering the concluding nine holes, then finished in 32 for a total of 66 and a two-shot victory over Chip Beck and Lanny Wadkins.

Although he continued to play regularly on the PGA Tour through 1992, Floyd won only once more – in October of 1986 — until his surprise triumph at the 1992 Doral-Ryder Open. Nearing 50 that summer and already a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame, he transitioned onto the Champions Tour, winning 14 more tournaments – three of them senior majors — through 2000.

Floyd at his peak

Tournament              Finish      Score       Z Score

1974 U.S. Open          T-15        296         -0.78

1974 PGA                T-11        284         -0.96

1975 U.S. Open          T-12        291         -0.88

1975 PGA                T-10        286         -0.86

1976 Masters            1st         271         -3.12

1976 British Open       4th         286         -1.73

1976 PGA                T-2         282         -1.57

1977 British Open       8th         283         -1.02

1978 U.S. Open          T-12        291         -0.89

1978 British Open       T-2         283         -1.71

Average Z Score: -1.37

 

T-103. Corey Pavin, -1.37, 1992-1996

Corey Pavin was famously one of the shortest hitters on the PGA Tour. In 1995, arguably Pavin’s best season – he did, after all, win the U.S. Open – the Tour’s driving average was 263 yards. Pavin averaged 254.9, longer than only 27 of the 188 players who played enough to qualify for the rankings. One season later, still in his playing prime, Pavin averaged 248.1 yards, the second shortest driving distance on tour.

Given his lack of length, how did Pavin manage to even hang around on Tour, much less enjoy a successful and lengthy career? For the answer to that question, look at Pavin’s facility with much shorter clubs. In his prime, he averaged a half putt fewer per round than his tour competitors. On top of that, Pavin converted 11.65 scrambling attempts per 18 chances; his competitors only converted 10.55 per 18. Put those together and you get something close to a stroke advantage per round, more than compensating for distance deficiencies.

Pavin came to the Tour in 1982 following graduation from UCLA, and initially showed an ability to overcome the obvious physical shortcomings. He won his first tournament at Houston in 1984, added victories in Europe, Japan and New Zealand, and by the end of the 19888 season could count seven Tour wins.

Succeeding in the majors proved a tougher challenge. Pavin tied for 9th at the 1985 U.S. Open, and for sixth at that year’s PGA Championship. But through 1989 he had no other major top 10, just three other top 20s, and nine missed cuts. Then things turned around, and Pavin began showing up regularly among contenders in the biggest events. With a final round 67, he finished third in the 1992 Masters, doing that so quietly that the national media hardly noticed. At the following year’s British Open, Pavin shared the 54-hole lead with Nick Faldo, but both gave way to Greg Norman’s closing 64, Pavin finishing fourth. When Nick Price breezed to a six-stroke victory at the 1994 PGA, Pavin was the hard luck guy in second, having posted a 5-under par 265.

By then, the question being asked of Pavin was whether he could close the deal and actually win one of the showpiece tournaments. His chance came at the 1995 U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills. Trailing Greg Norman and Tom Lehman by three shots after three rounds, Pavin played the final 10 holes in three under par, and came to the 450-yard 18th needing a par to win. His nailed four-wood from the fairway to within five feet of the hole took any lingering suspense out of the outcome. “Corey may not be pretty,” observed Phil Mickelson, who tied for fourth, “but he’s effective.”

 

Pavin at his peak

Tournament              Finish      Score       Z Score

1992 Masters            3rd         278         -1.53

1992 PGA                T-12        285         -1.03

1993 Masters            T-11        286         -0.80

1993 U.S. Open          T-19        282         -0.61

1993 British Open       T-4         272         -1.82

1994 Masters            T-8         286         -1.14

1994 PGA                2nd         275         -1.89

1995 U.S. Open          1st         280         -2.29

1995 British Open       T-8         285         -1.55

1996 Masters            T-7         285         -1.01

Average Z Score: -1.37

 

T-106. David Duval, -1.36, 1997-2001

As difficult as it is to imagine today, there was a significant stretch of time when David Duval was considered a solid match for Tiger Woods…and in some minds Woods’ superior.

For most of the spring and summer of 1999 – a period solidly within Woods’ playing peak – it was Duval, not Woods, atop the World Golf Rankings. And during those weeks of 1999 and 2000 when Woods held that lofty distinction, Duval was almost always a close No. 2. Between 1997 and 2001, Duval won 13 PGA Tour tournaments, among them some of the biggest and most coveted on tour. He won the 1997 Tour Championship, the 1998 NEC World Series of Golf, the 1999 Mercedes and Players, and the 2001 British Open. While the Brit represented his only major victory, Duval between 1998 and 2001 posted 10 top tens in majors, including two runner-up finishes plus a third in the Masters. He, not Woods, was the Tour’s leading money winner in 1998; he, not Woods, won the 1999 Vardon Trophy.

So his abrupt performance decline following his British Open triumph came as an inexplicable surprise to most of the golf world. There was speculation that Duval, a notorious workout addict, may have sustained an injury; there was speculation of other ailments; there was speculation of a loss of desire…there was speculation about almost anything. Whatever the cause, Duval’s game essentially disappeared. Between 2002 and 2006, he entered 18 majors, missed the cut in 13 of them, withdrew from a 14th, and only once finished inside the top 20. Starting 2002 as the world’s third ranked player, he fell to 236th by the end of 2003 and to 462nd by the end of 2004. It was a baffling decline, one Duval himself has never really clarified…if indeed even he knows why it occurred.

Duval came out of a classic golf background – lots of youth tournaments – to star at Georgia Tech – where he was national player of the year — before turning pro in 1993. He earned his PGA Tour card in 1995 and two years later had his first tour win, the Michelob.

Leading Fred Couples by one stroke and Mark O’Meara by two with three holes remaining at the 1998 Masters, Duval bogeyed the 16th and saw O’Meara birdie the final two holes to steal the victory. Two years later he trailed Vijay Singh by a single shot on the back nine on Sunday, eventually finishing third. In 2001 he and Woods were tied with three holes to play, but Tiger played them in par-par-birdie and won by two.

By then, Duval had earned his own major. At Royal Lytham and St. Anne in August of 2001, Duval’s Saturday 65 gave him control of the tournament. He birdied four early holes in the final round to cement a three-stroke victory over Niclas Fasth.

 

Duval at his peak

Tournament              Finish      Score       Z Score

1998 Masters            T-2         280         -1.66

1998 U.S. Open          T-7         287         -1.08

1998 British Open       T-10        287         -1.03

1999 Masters            T-6         285         -1.23

1999 U.S. Open          T-7         287         -1.17

1999 PGA                T-10        285         -1.01

2000 Masters            T-3         282         -1.70

2001 Masters            2nd         274         -1.86

2001 British Open       1st          274         -1.97

2001 PGA                T-10        275         -0.89

Score: -1.36

 

 

T-106. Horton Smith, -1.36, 1928-1932

Horton Smith was not only the first Masters champion, he was also the first repeat champion. Two years after winning the inaugural “Augusta National Invitation Tournament,” as founder Bobby Jones insisted on formally calling it, Smith rallied over the closing 36 holes, making up six shots on Harry Cooper and winning by one.

The concept of a regular series of professional golf tournaments was barely past its formative stages – the formal PGA Tour remained eight years in the future — when Smith, an 18-year-old college student in Missouri, began showing up in 1926. His apprenticeship was brief; Smith won his first tournament in 1928, and in 1929 won eight times, earning a place on the American Ryder Cup team. He reached the semi-finals of the 1928 PGA Championship, finished 10th at the 1929 U.S. Open, and was runner-up to Tommy Armour at the Western Open, played in Milwaukee. He was 21 at the time.

Through 1933, six more tour championships and two more Ryder Cup appearances followed, making Smith a natural for invitation when Jones put together that first field at Augusta. With Gene Sarazen, the era’s premier player, absent, there was no clear favorite, but names abounded: Walter Hagen, former Open champions Billy Burke and Johnny Farrell, veteran Fred McLeod and Jones himself. Smith took command from the start, posting scores of 70 and 72 to take a one shot advantage over Burke and Ed Dudley, and matching that performance across the concluding 36 holes, wrapping it up with a 20-foot birdie putt on the 71st hole (now the 8th). His four-under-par total proved one better than Craig Wood.

Sarazen’s 1935 victory set up the 1936 competition as something of a showdown between the first two champions. At the outset, Lighthorse Harry Cooper, a British-born pro, threatened to upset the plot. Cooper led both men by six at the halfway point, and held a three-stroke advantage over Smith through the morning of the 36-hole finale, third round play having been delayed by rain. Down by two and having missed the 14th green, Smith needed a break and he got two. His 50-foot chip on 14 rolled in the cup for a birdie. Cooper, meanwhile, struggled, coming home in 76 strokes, five more than his previous worst round for the week. Smith’s birdie at 15 set up another one-stroke victory over Cooper, with Sarazen an additional shot back in third.

Smith continued to play regularly through the start of World War II, winning six more events between 1936 and 1941 and finishing third at the 1940 U.S. Open, when his closing 69 failed by one stroke to get him in a playoff eventually won by Lawson Little over Sarazen. At the 1942 Masters, the only major stroke play tournament contested in the U.S. between Peal Harbor and Hiroshima, Smith finished fifth, three shots out of a Nelson-Hogan playoff. He was commissioned into the Army Air Force during the war, coordinating athletics programs. With the war’s end, Smith, who was 37 in 1945, dabbled in the major events for nearly a decade, his best finish being a tie for 15th at the 1952 Open. Most of his time, though, was committed to new duties as a club professional in Detroit.  Between 1952 and 1954, he also served as president of the PGA. By then Smith could claim 32 tour titles and 37 runner-up finishes.

Smith’s health began to fail in the mid 1950s. Although a lifetime non-smoker, he lost a lung to cancer in 1957. The health setback, however, did not prevent his annual appearances at Augusta; in 1963, he became the only player to have teed it up in all 30 tournaments. He recorded rounds of 91-86 and died that October.

Horton Smith at his peak

Tournament              Finish      Score       Z Score

1928 Western Open       T-4         297         -1.64

1929 U.S. Open          10th        302         -1.21

1929 Western Open       2nd         281         -1.71

1930 U.S. Open          3rd         289         -2.31

1930 British Open       T-4         296         -1.62

1930 PGA             qtr-final  match play      -0.97

1930 Western Open       5th         287         -1.61

1931 British Open       T-12        303         -0.94

1931 PGA             qtr-final   match play     -1.36

1932 PGA              1st round   match play     -0.27      

Score: -1.36

 

 

T-106. John McDermott, -1.36, 1910-1914*

The first man to break the British hegemony in American professional golf was barely a man at all. John McDermott was a lad of 19 when he survived a playoff with Mike Brady and George Simpson to win the 1911 championship at Chicago Golf Club. Although not yet able to vote, it was McDermott’s second consecutive U.S. Open playoff, the teen having been defeated by Alex Smith in 1910.

But then McDermott was always a precocious – maybe impetuous — fellow. Although reputed to be a strong student, he had caddied as a youth and found the game more to his liking than books, so he abruptly dropped out and took a job in a pro shop not far from his Philadelphia area home. Having already relocated to Atlantic City to take a second club job, he made his Open debut in 1909 at age 17, finishing well off the pace.

His age, the exigencies of ocean travel, the absence of an organized tour and his professional standing all conspired to limit McDermott’s competitive options, which fundamentally boiled down to the U.S. Open, the Western Open and a handful of regional events of markedly lesser stature. Fortunately for McDermott, the 1910 Open was being contested at the Philadelphia Cricket Club a short distance from his home. Back-to-back 74s left him two strokes behind Smith, and when the 1906 champion shot a third round 79, McDermott’s 75 bolted him into a two-stroke lead. McDermott closed with another 75, but Smith’s 73 and brother Macdonald Smith’s 71 created a three-way playoff, which Alex Smith won.

Having come so close, McDermott staked himself to a return effort the following year in far-off Chicago. This time he took a four-stroke lead into the final 18 holes, then staggered through a rainstorm with a 79 to find himself in the Brady-Simpson playoff. He shot 80 in that extra competition while Brady shot 82 and Simpson 86.

The defending champion, McDermott came to the Country Club of Buffalo for the 1912 Open as something of a celebrity. Trailing Brady by two strokes after the first two rounds, McDermott drove out of bounds on the opening hole, then did it again, surviving with a double bogey because the rules in force at the time penalized only for distance, not stroke and distance, as is the case today. Reprieved, McDermott closed with 74-71 to overtake Brady and hold off fast-closing Tom McNamara, the runner-up, by two shots. Later that season at the Western Open outside Chicago, McDermott finished third, four shots behind Macdonald Smith. He was 8th at the famous Ouimet-Vardon-Ray Open of 1913, one month later winning the Western at Memphis by seven shots over Brady. That fall he became the first American native to challenge the world’s best at the British Open, which was being contested in Liverpool. He finished fifth, 11 strokes behind John Taylor but only three behind Ted Ray and two behind Harry Vardon.

Following a top-10 finish in the 1914 U.S. Open, McDermott made plans for a return appearance at the British Open championship, but fate conspired against him. His ship failed to arrive in England on time. Then fate doubled down, his return voyage interrupted by a harrowing at-sea collision. McDermott’s weakness was always his mercurial emotional nature, and there are those who believe the close ocean escape unhinged him. That’s speculation. This isn’t: collapsing shortly after returning to his Atlantic City country club pro shop, the young golf champion never played again. He spent the final half century of his life in mental institutions or under the care of family members. In 1971, a few weeks before his death at age 79, McDermott left his long seclusion to watch Lee Trevino beat Jack Nicklaus in their memorable playoff at the U.S. Open at Merion outside Philadelphia.

The sad conclusion leaves us to wonder how golf history might have been different had McDermott’s career not ended so abruptly.

McDermott at his peak

Tournament         Finish    Score     Z Score

1909 U.S. Open     T-49      322       0.91

1910 U.S. Open     T-2       298       -1.56

1911 U.S. Open     1st       307       -1.70

1912 U.S. Open     1st       294       -2.47

1912 Western Open  3rd       303       -1.82

1913 U.S. Open     8th       308       -1.33

1913 British Open  5th       315       -1.14

1913 Western Open  1st       295       -2.22

1914 U.S. Open     T-9       300       -0.91

Average Z Score: -1.36

*Excerpted from “The Hole Truth,” being published by Bison Press in the fall of 2018.

 

  1. Vijay Singh, -1.35, 1998-2002

Across the span of his career, Vijay Singh cultivated a reputation as the Tour’s hardest-working player. For 10 consecutive seasons, beginning in 1998 and continuing through 2007, Singh teed it up in a minimum of 25 events annually. He made 275 starts during that decade; Tiger Woods, for purposes of comparison, started 187. Legendary for the amount of time he spent on the practice tee – his reputation was “first on the range, last off the range” — Singh famously once hit balls for four hours on Christmas day.

When Singh succeeded Woods atop the game’s rankings in 2004, one might have assumed he would ease up. He was, after all, 41 at the time. Instead, the opposite happened. Counting worldwide appearances, He played 32 events that year, 30 the next, and 31 in 2006. Paul Tesori, who caddied briefly for Singh, once told GolfWeek that the Singh family celebrates four holidays a year: the Masters, the U.S. Open, the British Open, and the PGA. “It’s his love,” Tesori said. “His passion, his profession, his hobby and his addiction are all the same thing. They’re all hitting balls; they’re all golf.”

“You have to work twice as hard to stay up- there,” Singh explained of his commitment

That regimen extended beyond the range. Singh committed to a workout routine designed to offset the effects of aging. “I am working out really hard and I feel like I am a lot stronger now than when I was 25,” he said.  He was also known to re-arrange furniture in his hotel room in order to work on his putting at night.

Singh took a roundabout path to tour stardom. A native of Fiji, he learned golf hitting coconuts as a child because golf balls were too expensive. Although he turned professional at age 19, Singh spent a decade wandering in what amounted to the golf wilderness, including a one-year suspension from the Asian tour over a cheating allegation that Singh has always disputed. Following two additional years where his activities were confined to those of a club pro, Singh resumed competitive play in the late 1980s, winning a tournament in Italy in 1989 and placing 23rd at the 1990 British Open.

The event marked his effective introduction to both the world and American golf audience, and Singh made the most of it.  Moving to the American Tour for 1993, he won the Buick Classic in his eighth start, cramming a stunning 112 competitive rounds played in 10 different countries into that calendar year. But the big breakthrough came in 1997, when Singh won three times, including at Jack Nicklaus’s Memorial Tournament.

Singh was 35 by the start of the 1998 season, and facing a developing tour field that featured Woods (22), Els and Mickelson (both 28)  It was an unlikely time for a relative veteran to develop into a star. Yet that’s what Singh did. At that summer’s PGA Championship, he won a head-to-head match with Steve Stricker to take the trophy by two strokes, securing it by getting up and down from a bunker on the 71st hole. Stricker failed to navigate the same bunker. He tied for third at the 1999 U.S. Open, and won the 2000 Masters, becoming the only man between July of 1999 and June of 2001 to beat Woods in a major. Singh beat Els by three strokes, with Woods three further back in fifth.

His third major, a second PGA trophy, came in 2004 at Whistling Straits, when Singh won sloppily. Leading by a stroke entering the final round but failing to make a birdie over 18 holes, he was thrown into a three-way, three-hole aggregate playoff with Chris DiMarco and Justin Leonard. Singh birdied the first playoff hole and made that hold up, then proceeded to lament the state of his game. “It was sad to see someone win the way I did,” he said of his birdieless final round.

From his 1998 victory at Sahalee through the conclusion of the 2006 season, Singh played in 33 majors, winning three of them, and 17 times finishing among the top 10. Although scaling back his tournament commitment slightly since 2007 in favor of his golf course architecture business, Singh, who was 53 in February of 2016, has continued to play between 20 and 25 regular tour events annually.

Singh at his peak

Tournament              Finish      Score       Z Score

1998 British Open       T-18        290         -0.57

1998 PGA                1st         271         -2.37

1999 U.S. Open          T-3         281         -2.07

2000 Masters            1st         278         -2.36

2000 U.S. Open          T-8         291         -0.87

2000 British Open       T-11        281         -0.86

2001 U.S. Open          T-7         282         -1.28

2001 British Open       T-13        280         -0.92

2002 Masters            7th         283         -1.16

2002 PGA                8th         287         -0.99

Average Z Score: -1.34

 

  1. Hollis Stacy, -1.34, 1977-1981

Not to put too blunt a point on the distinction, but Hollis Stacy may be the least consistent great performer in golf history.

During a 27-season professional career, Stacy played in 90 events that are now identified as LPGA majors. She missed the cut in 27 percent of those events, while placing among the top 10 only 19 percent of the time. Among the 17 non-currently active LPGA members with four or more major titles, the average number of career tour victories is 43. Stacy won 18. The only non-active four-time winner with fewer titles is Susie Maxwell Berning, yet Berning made the top 10 in 28 percent of her major starts,  and missed the cut just 22 percent of the time.

Enough of burying Hollis Stacy; we came, after all, to praise her. Here’s the important aspect of the career of this woman who grew up one of 10 children down the road from Augusta National: On the relatively rare occasions when Stacy worked her way into contention, she was an assassin. She may have reached the top five only six times in those 90 major events, but she did win four of the six. Her career playoff record showed six victories (over a combined dozen opponents) in 10 tries, four of the wins coming via a birdie, with three of those coming on the first extra hole.

Stacy came to the women’s tour in 1974 with a reputation built on the amateur circuit, having won the U.S. Girls Junior annually from 1969 through 1971. As is often the case, the new kid did not immediately fare well, Stacy’s managing nothing more than a couple of runner-ups in minor events through 1976. She beat JoAnne Carner in May at the Lady Tara Classic for her first title, and in July held off Nancy Lopez’ challenge to capture the U.S. Women’s Open at Hazeltine. Stacy had played in eight previous Opens as an amateur and pro, never finishing higher than 13th. The 23-year-old ascribed her victory to the competition. “When the heat is on like it was today, I am able to concentrate much, much better,” she said.

One year later at the Country Club of Indianapolis, that “pressure” formula paid off again. This time Stacy’s final round 72 held off Carner and Sally Little by a stroke. Carner and Stacy traded the lead five times during the final round before a Carner bogey at 16 moved Stacy ahead for good.

Her third major championship came at the 1983 duMaurier, this time by two strokes over Carner and Alice Miller. She added a third U.S. Open title in July of 1984, eagling the par 5 13th and rallying with a 69 to overtake third round leader Rosie Jones and win by two.

With four majors in hand by age 30, Stacy appeared poised for one of those legendary careers. It never happened. Between 1985 and 1990, she played in 24 LPGA majors, never finishing higher than a tie for ninth and only seven times earning a spot in the top 20. By then a 16-time tour victor, she won just one tour event in that time, and added only one other title after 1990, when her career trended badly downward. Of 28 majors Stacy started between 1991 and 1997, she missed 11 cuts and made just three top 10s. When, for the first time in her career, she missed the cut in all four LPG majors in 2000, Stacy shifted her focus to her golf course design business and to senior tour events. By then she had banked $2.6 million in winnings.

Stacy at her peak

Tournament              Finish      Score       Z Score

1977 U.S. Open          1st         292         -2.22

1978 U.S. Open          1st         289         -1.96

1978 LPGA               T-6         286         -1.19

1979 U.S. Open          T-15        293         -0.75

1979 duMaurier*         T-11        293         -1.03

1980 U.S. Open          2nd         289         -1.86

1980  LPGA              T-10        292         -1.07

1981 U.S. Open          T-10        292         -1.02

1981 LPGA               T-12        288         -0.93

1981 duMaurier          T-7         284         -1.40

Score: -1.34

*Until 1979 the event was known as the Peter Jackson Classic.

 

  1. Bernhard Langer, -1.33, 1984-1988

Perhaps it is his background that makes Bernhard Langer professional golf’s best-known stoic. Langer’s father was a soldier in the German army during World War II. Taken prisoner by the Russians at war’s end, he escaped from a Siberia-bound POW train and found his way to the Bavarian town of Anhausen where, in 1957, Bernhard was born. The son developed a reserved personality reflected in his leadership of Bible class meetings on the European Tour and his open admiration for Mother Teresa. His only concession to occasional garishness is his wardrobe, which has tended to favor brilliant colors.

By the time of the elder Langer’s death in the mid-1980s, Bernhard had already made it on the European golf circuit, having turned pro in 1972, winning the Dunlop Masters in 1980, and finishing runner-up to Bill Rogers at the 1981 British Open. One month later he added a German Open championship to his resume. Yet there remained holes in his game, most notoriously with his pacing and his putting. Langer was a deliberate figure on the course, so much so that even as he plodded to victory in the 1985 Masters, Jack Nicklaus told a national TV audience that “if (he’s) going to play over here, he’s going to have to speed up his play.” On the greens, Langer acquired one of the least desirable reputations on tour, as a victim of the yips. He missed the cut in his first start at the 1981 Masters, three-putting 11 times, nearly once every three holes.

Initially splitting his time between continents, he played 17 U.S. events through 1984, along the way running his trophy count in Europe to 11. Yet despite a second runner-up finish at the British Open in 1984, he remained a lightly thought-of contender as the 1985 Masters began. Most of the focus fell on 1980 and 1983 champion Seve Ballesteros, Tom Watson, Raymond Floyd and defending champion Ben Crenshaw. There were at least four reasons: Langer had never won in the U.S., no German had won a U.S. title, Ballesteros was the only European to have won, and Augusta National was known as a putter’s course.

Through two rounds, nothing occurred to shake the experts’ confidence. Watson and 1982 champion Craig Stadler shared the lead at 142, one stroke ahead of Ballesteros, Floyd, Bruce Lietzke and Lee Trevino. Langer, six strokes off the lead at that point, turned in a Saturday 68, but that performance only elevated him into a tie for third with Ballesteros, two shots behind Floyd and one behind Curtis Strange. A bogey on the second hole of the final round dropped him three strokes behind Floyd and Strange, but he recovered with birdies on three and five.

Still, Langer trailed Strange by three coming off the famous par 3 12th. But the two men were yet to play the back nine par 5s, and those holes turned out to be the deciding ones. Langer birdied both, while Strange bogeyed both, shooting the German into a one-shot lead at six under par. Getting through the final round with eight one-putts and no three-putts, he shot a closing 68. “Just grind it in,” he said of his formula over the final nine holes, when he shot a 33.

The victory shot Langer to international celebrity. He repeated his German Open championship in 1986, adding a Lancome Trophy, and in 1987 a German Masters, doing so while making 36 starts on the U.S. tour over those two seasons. When the World Golf Rankings were created in 1986, Langer debuted at No. 1 on the list. He competed regularly in America through 1989 before returning to Europe, where he won another half dozen events from 1990 through 1992. His track record in the majors was inconsistent: three top five finishes between his Masters victory and 1992 offset by eight missed cuts and five other finishes outside the top 50.

Langer was 37 when the field gathered for the 1993 Masters with no real reason to be projected as a contender. The previous season he had not finished among the top 20 in any of the majors, and had won just $41,000 in five U.S. Tour starts. Then there was the lingering disappointment of the finish of the 1991 Ryder Cup, when Langer missed a six-foot putt on the final hole that would have given the Europeans the trophy. His reaction to that miss was famously understated, but he felt it.

Yet Langer opened with rounds of 68 and 70, standing just one stroke behind Jeff Maggert entering weekend play, then posted a Saturday 69 to shoot past Maggert into a four-stroke lead over Chip Beck. His concluding 70 was uneventful. Afterward, for one of the few times in his career, the normally taciturn Langer let his verbal guard down. “Obviously you start to wonder if you can win again,” he told reporters. “I really felt after I won the first one that it would be a lot easier to win a second one.”

Turning 50 in 2007, Langer gravitated to the Champions Tour and became a dominant figure. In 2014 he won $3 million, far more than in any of his regular tour seasons. He won the Senior Open in 2010 and again in 2014, adding the Senior Players title that same season and repeating in 2015. Despite that success, he has continued to fight putting problems, being known as much as anything for his experimentation with various grips and putter lengths.

Langer at his peak

Tournament              Finish      Score       Z Score

1984 British Open       T-2         278         -2.20

1985 Masters            1st          282         -1.95

1985 British Open       T-3         284         -1.34

1986 U.S. Open          T-8         284         -1.22

1986 British Open       T-3         286         -1.77

1987 Masters            T-7         287         -1.23

1987 U.S. Open          T4          283         -1.31

1987 British Open       T-17        286         -0.84

1987 PGA                T-21        295         -0.48

1988 Masters            T-9         287         -0.94

Score: -1.33

 

 T-112, Julius Boros, -1.32, 1955-1959

Many of the best modern players are virtually bred to the game. Beginning in highly competitive junior programs, they advance through a succession of amateur, college and professional tours, each step winnowing the field until only the very best and most dedicated reach the pinnacle.

The career of Julius Boros is the antithesis of that process. A junior college baseball player near his Connecticut home, he took a job with an accounting firm following World War II, his experience with amateur tournaments at first amounting to a dalliance. He was 29 before giving up the world of spreadsheets for the professional game; within three years of doing so he was crowned the national champion.

His victory at the 1952 U.S. Open in Dallas, by four strokes over Ed Oliver, could hardly have come as a bigger surprise. To that moment Boros had been winless on the professional circuit. The favorite, Ben Hogan, was a two-time defending champion, and Hogan played out of Fort Worth just down the road. Indeed, Hogan led George Fazio by two strokes halfway through the event, with Boros lingering inconspicuously in fourth position, two more strokes off the pace. But a third round 68 shot the unknown Boros into a two-stroke lead when Hogan managed only a morning 74 in the 36-hold finale, which was played in 96-degree heat. His closing 71 was enough to ensure the $4,000 first prize.

Although a fixture on tour for the next 20 years, Boros never was a headline-grabber. He waited 11 years for a second major championship, the 1963 U.S. Open at Brookline, again stealing the stage from the game’s pre-eminent player, Arnold Palmer. Boros was 43 by then and viewed as over the hill. But skeptics overlooked his recent victories at Colonial and Buick, the latter just two weeks before the Open. Two strokes behind Palmer after three rounds and three behind leader Jackie Cupit, he managed a concluding 72 to forge a three-way tie at 293, the highest winning total since the mid-1930s. In the 18-hole playoff, Boros’ steady play produced a 70, while Cupit recorded 73 and the mercurial Palmer blew to 76.

At 48, Boros was approaching the end of his career five years later when the 1968 PGA field gathered at Pecan Valley in San Antonio. Again, he went off at long odds, the prevailing choices being Jack Nicklaus and Palmer, seeking to complete the career grand slam. With a stunning second round 79, Nicklaus for one of the rare times in his career — missed the cut. Palmer seized the opportunity, coming to the 72nd green with an 8-foot putt to tie Boros for the title, but missing.

The odd thing about Boros’ playing record is that his most consistent golfing “prime” encompassed none of his three major championships. That prime occurred between 1955 and 1959, a period during which he posted seven finishes in the top 5. At the 1956 Open at Oak Hill, Boros stood on the 18th green facing a 15-foot birdie putt to tie Middlecoff, only to see it lip out. He tied Hogan for second. Two years later he was third at Southern Hills, although this time finishing six strokes behind Tommy Bolt, the comfortable champion.

Boros’ victory at Pecan Valley made him the oldest major champion in history, a distinction he continues to hold. A 1982 inductee into the World Golf Hall of Fame, he suffered a fatal heart attack in 1994 while sitting in a golf cart near the 16th hole of a favorite course.

Boros at his peak

Tournament              Finish      Score       Z Score

1955 Masters            T-4         289         -1.49

1955 U.S. Open          T-5         295         -1.32

1955 Western Open       5th         277         -1.65

1956 Masters            T-24        303         -0.47

1956 U.S. Open          T-2         282         -2.04

1957 U.S. Open          T-4         284         -1.61

1957 Western Open       T-11        281         -1.04

1958 U.S. Open          3rd         289         -1.65

1958 PGA                T-5         285         -1.34

1959 Masters            T-8         290         -0.60

Score: -1.32

 

T-112, Carol Mann, -1.32, 1964-1968

In the mid 1960s, Carol Mann was to the women’s tour what Jack Nicklaus was to the men’s tour. That was true both in the performance sense and also in the physical sense: At 6-3, Mann’s was an imposing presence, and although in those days nobody thought to accurately record driving distances, there was little doubt who hit the ball farthest.

As on the men’s tour, the results were readily visible on the scoreboard. Mann won her first major, the Women’s Western Open, in 1964 and her second, the Women’s U.S. Open, little more than a year later. She won four times in 1966 and three times in 1967. Between March and October of 1968, Mann won 10 of the 22 contested events, adding the Vare Trophy on a 72.04 stroke average. Between April and October of 1969, she squeezed in eight more victories and was the tour’s leading money winner.

That makes it more than slightly remarkable that the two majors Mann won early in her career were also the only two she ever won. Part of that has to do with the shrinking presence of LPGA majors in that era. The Titleholders and Western both ceased to exist in the mid 1960s, leaving the women’s tour with just two majors for the duration of Mann’s active participation. She several times gave those a run. At the 1966 Open, Mann, playing as defending champion, led by one stroke with three holes left only to watch Sandra Spuzich birdie 16 and 17 to pass her down the stretch. Two years later, Mann chased Susie Maxwell Berning and Mickey Wright to the finish. At the 1969 LPGA, she made a run at eventual champion Betsy Rawls before tying Berning for second.

So respected was Mann that in 1973, her fellow pros elected her to the LPGA’s presidency, a position she held through 1976. But the demands of the position, along with more than one conflict involving fellow competitors, compromised her focus on her own game.  “I could barely get to the course in time to tee off; there was so much other activity,” she said later. “By June 1976, I went down the tubes. I was depressed thinking that no one on tour would say thank you to me for what I had done. Some would, others never would, and 10 years later, players wouldn’t give a damn.”

They eventually gave enough of a damn to vote Mann the Babe Zaharias Award in 1976, and to induct her into the LPGA’s Hall of Fame in 1977. Although not yet in her 40s, she was by then through as a competitor. She retired in 1981 to open Carol Mann Golf Services, the first woman-owned and operated course design and management firm. She started teaching at The Woodlands C.C. and took an active role in facilitating the relationship between the Hall of Fame and its members. In 2008, the PGA of America named her its “First Lady of Golf.”

Through it all, she professed disinterest in her playing legacy. “I never think how people will remember Carol Mann,” she said. “The mark I made is an intimate satisfaction.”

Mann at her peak

Tournament              Finish      Score       Z Score

1964 Titleholders       T-15        304         -0.31

1964 Women’s Western    1st         308         -1.56

1965 Titleholders       T-5         302         -0.78

1965 U.S. Open          1st         290         -2.08

1965 LPGA               3rd         285         -1.42

1965 Women’s Western    10th        307         -0.83

1966 U.S. Open          2nd         298         -2.17

1967 LPGA               4th         291         -1.40

1967 Women’s Western    4th         300         -1.30

1968 U.S. Open          T-3         295         -1.37

Score: -1.32

 

T-114. Bob Ferguson, -1.31, 1868-1886

Ferguson had a golfing advantage almost by birthright; he was born in Musselburgh in a house virtually across the street from the town’s golf course, where the pro was Willie Park. Sr. A caddy at Park’s beck and call as a youth, Ferguson soon became identified as a protégée of Musselburgh’s best-known player, and by extension as a local hope in any matches or tournaments that also involved Young Tom Morris. The two were rivals, however, only in the golfing sense. They often played against – or with — one another, such as when they teamed to represent Scotland at a heralded 1881 match in Liverpool against a pair of pros representing England. Ferguson’s notes speak warmly of his St. Andrews opponent.

Doubtless with Park’s encouragement, Ferguson, not yet 19, entered the 1868 Open at Prestwick and finished fifth, three strokes behind his mentor and 11 behind the champion, Tommy.  For most of the next decade, Ferguson adopted almost an arbitrary habit of dropping into or out of the tournament for no obvious reason. This habit fueled speculation that he viewed competition against Young Tom as futile, although that interpretation is countered by the fact that Morris and Ferguson did compete against one another in other professional events. Even so, he did not play the Open again until 1874 when it came for the first time to his home Musselburgh course, managing merely a tie for eighth in the 32-person field behind Willie Park’s brother, Mungo. Ferguson was fourth, six shots behind Willie, in 1875, skipped the 1876 event, returned in 1877 – again at Musselburgh – and tied for third behind Jamie Anderson, skipped 1878, and in 1879 finished sixth at St. Andrews.

With the Open returning to his home course in 1880, Ferguson opted to play, posting consecutive rounds of 81 that were good enough for a five-stroke victory. Even so, his performance was not without a moment of drama. Playing with Old Tom Morris in the first day’s morning nine, his drive off the second tee struck a telegraph pole, the result being an 8.

Defending his title in 1881, Ferguson opened with a 53 on the 12-hole Prestwick Course, assuming a four-shot lead on Anderson. The tournament is recalled today for having been played in some of the most severe weather ever recorded at an Open. A gale struck the seaside course, reportedly killing nearly 200 fishermen who had taken to their work that morning. Of 22 competitors who began the three loops around the old course, just eight managed to complete the requisite 36 holes. Ferguson’s score of 170, although three better than Anderson, was the highest posted by an Open champion in four years.

He breezed to a third straight title in 1882, winning by three strokes at St. Andrews, and loomed as an obvious choice to match Tommy’s feat of four straight when the tournament returned to Musselburgh a year later. Trailing Willie Fernie by three strokes after the first 18 holes, he rallied with a second-day 80 to qualify for the tournament’s first playoff, a 36-hole endurance test. Leading by a stroke on the par three 27th hole, Ferguson missed the green, chipped indifferently, then watched Fernie roll in a long putt for a birdie two. He walked off the green trailing by one decisive shot, eventually losing 158-159.

His failure to win a fourth straight tournament marked the effective end of Fergson’s competitive career. He returned to the Open only twice more, the tournament’s final two appearances at Musselburgh. In 1886 he tied Willie Park Jr. for fourth; in 1889, he failed to finish. Ferguson was in his mid 40s by then, battling the effects of typhoid fever, and largely tending to his day job as Musselburgh’s greenskeeper. He died in 1915.

Ferguson at his peak

Tournament              Finish      Score       Z Score

1868 British Open       5th         165         -0.37

1874 British Open       T-8        167         -0.69

1875 British Open       4th         172         -0.63

1877 British Open       3rd         164         -1.90

1879 British Open       6th         176         -1.39

1880 British Open       1st         162         -1.86

1881 British Open       1st         170         -1.90

1882 British Open       1st         170         -1.70

1883 British Open       2nd         158         -1.60

1886 British Open       T-4         161         -1.05

Average Z Score: -1.31

 

T-114, Denny Shute, -1.31, 1932-1936

Herman Densmore ‘Denny’ Shute was a front-rank golfer on the 1930s professional ranks. Today, however, he is best remembered as the beneficiary of perhaps the single worst shot in the history of professional golf.

It happened on the 72nd hole of the 1933 British Open championship being contested at St. Andrews. Shute was already in, having posted four straight rounds of 73, even par at the time, which left him in a tie for first with fellow American Craig Wood. A third American, Leo Diegel, needed only to make the most routine of tap-ins for the par that would have put him in the playoff as well. Instead, Diegel whiffed the putt entirely. In the next day’s 36-hole playoff, Shute dispatched Wood by five strokes.

It was the first of three major titles by Shute, and although the next two lacked a bit of the St. Andrews drama, they were hardly walkovers. At the 1936 PGA Championship, Shute held off the much longer hitting Jimmy Thomson 3 & 2 in the 36-hole final, closing the match with an eagle 3. As defending champion in 1937, Shute survived six match victories, three of them decided on the final hole or in extra holes. In the semi-finals, he won two of the last three holes to defeat reigning U.S. Open champion Tony Manero 1 up. Facing Jug McSpaden in the championship match, Shute trailed by two with four holes to play, but won the 34th and 35th holes to draw even, then took the championship on the first extra hole.

Shute was born to the game. His father had been a golf pro in England before emigrating to the U.S., where Denny was born. Turning pro in 1928, he won for the first time a year later – in his native Ohio. It was the first of 16 tour victories in a career that slowed markedly with the coming of World War II. Following the war’s end, Shute made regular appearances at The Masters, tried the U.S. Open a few years without success, and only twice advanced beyond the first round or two of the PGA.

Shute at his peak

Tournament              Finish      Score       Z Score

1932 U.S. Open          T-14        302         -0.67

1932 Western Open       T-7         292         -1.31

1933 British Open       1st         292         -1.62

1934 Masters            T-13        294         -0.85

1934 PGA             semi-final  match play     -1.16

1935 Masters            5th         287         -1.42

1935 U.S. Open          T-4         303         -1.56

1935 PGA             3rd round   match play      -1.25

1936 U.S. Open          10th        291         -1.11

1936 PGA                1st     match play      -2.16

Average Z Score: -1.31

 

 T-116, David Graham, -1.30, 1979-1983

  Possessed of a solid but unremarkable build and an equally solid but colorless personality, Graham seemed to be perfectly cast as one of the legions of PGA tour players capable of winning in any given week, but unlikely to emerge on a consistent basis.

Graham may have never fully blossomed into stardom. But he did emerge – twice – both times in sensational fashion.

A native Australian, Graham began dabbling on the American tour in his early 20s, won the Cleveland Open as a 25 year old in 1972 and by 1973 was fully committed. For five seasons Graham played his assigned “part of the field” role perfectly, winning twice, averaging about 25 starts per season, and averaging about $70,000, more than enough for a comfortable existence. That stretch even included one run at a major, the 1976 PGA Championship, when Graham tied Jack Nicklaus, among others, for fourth place, two shots behind Dave Stockton.

So Graham’s standing four strokes behind third round leader Rex Caldwell at the PGA’s 1979 Championship, while not predictable, hardly qualified as shocking. What did qualify as shocking was his play on Sunday. He birdied the first two holes, turned in 31, and built his lead to two shots over Ben Crenshaw standing on the 72nd tee. Then things went off script. Graham pushed his drive far offline, took four to reach the green, then missed a three-foot putt for a double bogey six. “It just didn’t feel right and I jerked the ball left,” Graham later acknowledged.” “I was going to the scorer’s tent and I was not a happy camper. But clearly there was somebody else there with me.”

If nothing else, that “somebody else” knew how to putt. On the first playoff hole against Crenshaw, Graham faced the daunting prospect of a 30-foot par putt to stay alive. He made it. On the second playoff hole, Graham needed a 10-foot birdie putt to stay alive. He made that one, too. On the third hole, he faced an eight foot birdie putt, this time to finish off Crenshaw. He made that one as well.

Two seasons later at the 1981 U.S. Open at Merion, Graham struck with equal suddenness. Trailing third round leader George Burns by three shots, he birdied the final round’s first two holes, and was dead even after four. He seized the lead on the 14th, padded that lead on the 15th, and put it at three strokes – the final margin – with a birdie at 16. Under final round major pressure, he produced a 67, two strokes better than any of the other leaders.

Graham’s strength was his understanding that his greatness contradictorily lay in not assuming his greatness. “I never allowed myself to think that it was over until it was over,” he said. Rather, he plodded, shot by shot, with as few errors as possible.

Graham at his peak

Tournament              Finish      Score       Z Score

1979 U.S. Open          7th         289         -1.46

1979 PGA                1st         272         -2.33

1980 Masters            5th         281         -1.38

1981 Masters            7th         285         -0.92

1981 U.S. Open          1st         273         -2.63

1981 British Open       T-14        288         -0.60

1982 U.S. Open          T-6         287         -1.18

1983 U.S. Open          T-8         291         -0.98

1983 British Open       T-14        282         -0.60

1983 PGA                T-14        283         -0.89

Score: -1.30

 

T-116, Beverly Hanson, -1.30, 1955-1959

In college at North Dakota, Beverly Hanson trained to be a sports journalist. But three years into her career, Hanson made a career choice: She was more interested in playing golf than writing about it.

So in 1947, Hanson, still just 22, began showing up at women’s tournaments. An amateur for the first three seasons of her competitive performance, Hanson competed in the 1950 Curtis Cup competition, winning all her matches and winning credibility among the women pros. At that year’s Women’s Amateur at East Lake in Atlanta, Hanson won and was presented the trophy by Bobby Jones. She later told golf historian Rhonda Glenn of her emotions at that moment. “I stood there with a smile on my face bigger than when I got married, bigger than when I came home from my honeymoon,” she said.

Her 1950 victory over Patty Berg in a Texas tournament, shortly after the founding of the LPGA, convinced Hanson to begin accepting paychecks in exchange for her play. Those paychecks didn’t amount to much. Many of the pay records of those early women’s tournaments have not been publicly maintained, but surviving records confirm the impression that the ladies were playing as much as for pride as for money. At the seventh Women’s Open championship played in 1959 in Pittsburgh, Hanson tied for 15th place in a field of 40 and picked up $83.33. One year later, Hanson tied for 12th in the Women’s Western, receiving $225 for her effort. A month later she finished 17th at the LPGA Championship, good for $114. In 1962, her 8th place finish at the Titleholders brought $325. At the time, those were the four major events; Hanson made the top 15 in all four and netted a total of $747.33.

Hanson’s Open debut came in 1950, and he tied for sixth, a distant 17 shots behind Babe Zaharias. She followed that with a runner-up finish at the 1951 Titleholders, But in the shadows of such luminaries as Zaharias, Patty Berg and Louise Suggs, she was largely viewed as part of the field.

Her aspiring career suffered a further setback in 1952 when her new Oldsmobile overturned near Schenectady, N.Y. She was seriously injured.

Her breakthrough came in 1955 when Hanson won the LPGA by three shots over Suggs. For the next three years, Hanson was a major figure on the women’s tour. She tied for third at the 1957 LPGA, and won the 1958 Titleholders by five strokes, ending that season with a tour-leading $12,639 in winnings. Her three majors were among 15 tour victories overall during the decade.

Hanson was 37 when she left the Tour to get married and raise a family. She continued her teaching pro duties into her 70s, and died in 2014, a largely forgotten figure, especially for a three-time major champion. “She never got the credit that she deserved,” said Marlene Hagge, a contemporary.

Hanson at her peak

Tournament              Finish      Score       Z Score

1955 U.S. Open          T-9         312         -0.78

1955 LPGA               1st         220         -1.81

1956 U.S. Open          12th        310         -0.69

1956 Women’s Western    1st         304         -2.00

1957 U.S. Open          T-9         312         -0.81

1957 LPGA               T-3         290         -1.30

1957 Women’s Western    T-6         300         -0.49

1958 Titleholders       1st         299         -2.33

1958 Women’s Western    2nd         297         -1.64

1959 Women’s Western    T-4         300         -0.91

Score: -1.30

 

T-118, Bob Rosburg, -1.29, 1955-1959

Bob Rosburg spent so many years as an on-course commentator for CBS that it may come as news to members of a younger generation that he once actually played. Rarely seen unless outfitted in his trademark glasses, medium physique and headset, he certainly looked more like a schoolish golf wannabe than a major champion.

There is a reason why that look became so familiar to generations of television audiences: he invented it. Rosburg was not only an on-course commentator, he was the first on-course commentator, developing the role in 1974 when an ABC exec envisioned it as a means of making commentary more relevant.

If any of his fellow competitors were fooled by Rosburg’s non-threatening build, his game soon disabused them of that notion. He taught them that lesson early, and he started at the top of his world’s athletic profile as a 12-year-old playing in the first flight championship match at San Francisco’s Olympic Club. His opponent was Ty Cobb – yes, THAT Ty Cobb. Rosburg finished off the Georgia Peach 7 & 6.

The golf world got its first taste of Rosburg’s competitive nature during the 1947 U.S. Amateur championship held at Pebble Beach. Just 19 and soon bound for Stanford, he won five straight matches to reach the semi-finals of the 200-person field before bowing out 2 & 1 to Skee Riegel, the eventual champion. Following his 1953 graduation from Stanford, Rosburg turned pro and did well enough to earn an invitation to the 1954 Masters, justifying Bob Jones’ faith in his game by tying for sixth. That was just three strokes out of a Sam Snead-Ben Hogan playoff that Snead won. That same year Rosburg picked up his first professional title during a winter tour event in Miami.

Returning to Augusta in 1955, Rosburg moved up to fourth, although a distant 10 strokes behind runaway champion Cary Middlecoff. Even so, it marked the start of one of Rosburg’s best seasons. Back at Olympic in June, he tied for fifth in the U.S. Open, and tied for third at the Western Open in Portland. He picked up two more tour victories in 1956, and in 1958 won the Vardon trophy for lowest tour stroke average.

The 1959 U.S. Open field at Winged Foot featured a gauntlet of a field including Ben Hogan, Sam Snead and Arnold Palmer, all of them solidly in contention through three rounds. So was Billy Casper, a young sensation on the greens, who led Hogan by three shots entering the final 18 holes, which were pushed back from the normal marathon Saturday finish to Sunday due to thunderstorms. Snead and Palmer sat one further stroke back, accompanied by Rosburg.

None of the game’s biggest names mounted a run at Casper. Palmer managed only a closing 74, Snead a 75 and Hogan a 76. But Rosburg hung around, then at the 11th he holed out from a greenside bunker and moved within one. That set up a race to the finish which Casper won, Rosburg closing a stroke behind in second.

Two months later at the PGA Championship in Minneapolis, the heat beat down so oppressively and the driving range was so remotely placed that Rosburg disdained it entirely. Instead, he limited his entire practice routine to a few chips and putts. Rosburg began the final round six strokes behind Jerry Barber and five behind Doug Sanders, but gradually picked his way through the field, thanks in large part to a five-under front nine of 30. On the par 3 10th hole he hit into a difficult greenside bunker, but played out to within three feet and holed his putt for a saving par. “I had to have it and that sand shot gave it to me,” he said. Rosburg parlayed that and his front nine 30 in to a round of 66. He still needed help, though, trailing Barber by a stroke and pacing nervously in the clubhouse while the leader completed the final holes. He got the help when Barber bogeyed both the 17th and 18th.

Rosburg at his peak

Tournament              Finish      Score       Z Score

1955 Masters            T-4         289         -1.49

1955 U.S. Open          T-5         295         -1.32

1955 Western Open       3rd         275         -1.95

1956 Masters            16th        299         -0.85

1956 Western Open       T-13        288         -0.92

1957 Western Open       T-27        288         0.07

1958 U.S. Open          T-5         291         -1.33

1958 PGA                T-11        288         -0.94

1959 U.S. Open          2nd         283         -1.92

1959 PGA                1st         277         -2.21

Average: -1.29

 

 

T-118, Tony Jacklin, -1.29, 1968-1972

Probably the most beloved British golfer between Ted Ray and Nick Faldo, Jacklin did something in 1969 that no British lad had done in a generation: He won the Open. Less than a year later, proving that his first victory was no fluke, he added the U.S. Open – and by seven full shots. In the process, Jacklin became the first European to win America’s championship since Willie Macfarlane in 1925, and the first Brit ever to hold both titles simultaneously.

A pro since the age of 18, Jacklin decided to tackle the American tour in the late 1960s, having established his credentials in Europe. His victory at the 1968 Jacksonville Invitational was the first by a European on the U.S. Tour since the 1920s, and the first ever by a British golfer. A year later, his victory at Royal Lytham and St. Anne fulfilled a childhood dream.

“As a young man, I would practice on my own for hundreds of hours…always coming down the 18th having to play an incredibly difficult shot to win the Open,” he later recalled. By that standard, the real thing was anti-climactic. Jacklin grabbed a two-shot lead from Bob Charles with a third round 70, and was never really pressed. He later described the victory as “My Everest.”

The following June at Hazeltine, Jacklin proved the least flappable contestant on a wind-swept and much-criticized new venue. While several of the competitors lambasted conditions on the 8-year-old course lashed by winds gusting at 40 mph – runner-up Dave Hill said it needed 80 acres of corn and a few cows – Jacklin quietly grabbed the lead with an opening 71, then followed with three rounds of 70 to take all the drama out of the event. His 281 score was high by contemporary Open standards, but his seven-stroke margin of victory was the largest in a U.S. Open since 1921

Jacklin nearly won a second British Open, coming to the 71st hole of the 1972 competition dead even with playing partner Lee Trevino, Jacklin lay 15 feet above the cup in three on the par 5 hole while Trevino’s fourth shot missed the green. But after Trevino holed his pitch for a par, a demoralized Jacklin three-putted, then bogeyed the 72nd hole to fall into third behind Jack Nicklaus. “I was never the same again after that,” Jacklin said later.

That’s only rhetorically true. In fact, Jacklin still had eight European Tour wins plus two U.S. Senior Tour wins ahead of him. He also competed on the 1973, 1975, 1977 and 1979 Ryder Cup teams, and was non-playing captain in 1985, when the European team handed the U.S. its first defeat in nearly three decades.

Jacklin at his peak

Tournament              Finish      Score       Z Score

1968 Masters            T-22        288         -0.10

1968 British Open       T-18        299         -0.29

1969 U.S. Open          T-25        289         -0.43

1969 British Open       1st         280         -2.35

1969 PGA                T-25        287         -0.41

1970 Masters            T-12        288         -0.52

1970 U.S. Open          1st         281         -3.04

1970 British Open       5th         286         -1.68

1971 British Open       3rd         280         -2.04

1972 British Open       3rd         280         -2.14

Score: -1.29

 

T-118. Tony Lema, -1.29, 1962-1966*

Before Payne Stewart, had ever been heard from, there was Tony Lema, probably the pre-eminent story of golf talent struck down too soon since Young Tom Morris.

A Marine Korean War vet, and club shop pro, Lema was an Oakland area protégée of Eddie Lowery – yes, the grown-up version of Francis Ouimet’s caddy at the 1913 U.S. Open. A wealthy businessman in the 1950s Bay area, Lowery underwrote Lema’s early golf training in exchange for a portion of the winnings, a gesture that paid off when Lema won the 1957 Imperial Valley Open, his coming-out party.

But hard times followed: Lema’s pro earnings fell from $10,000 in 1958 to $5,000 a year later, then $3,000 in 1960. By 1962, Lema owed Lowery more than $11,000. His lifestyle contributed to the slump: Lema was widely known on tour as a “live for today” kind of guy, a habitué of whatever club bar happened to be handy. He missed the cut at the 1962 U.S. Open in June, but a victory at the Sahara Invitational that September helped offset his mounting financial losses. When Lema followed by winning at Orange County a month later he bought a round of champagne for the press corps as a victory celebration. From that moment on, he was “Champagne Tony.” From that moment on he was also a success.

Invited to the 1963 Masters, Lema battled Jack Nicklaus furiously, posting a final round of 70 for a score of 287 and only missing out on a playoff when Nicklaus dropped a three-foot par putt on the 72nd hole. At that summer’s U.S. Open, he finished fifth, two shots out of a three-way playoff involving Palmer, Jackie Cupit and eventual champion Julius Boros. He skipped the long flight to Scotland for the British Open, but finished in a tie for 13th at the PGA.

Following top 20 placements at the 1964 Masters and U.S. Open plus victories in three of his preceding four Tour appearances, Lema decided at the last moment to take in that season’s British Open, being played at St. Andrews. On his first trip to Europe, Lema arrived in time for just nine holes of practice. His lack of preparation appeared to show when Lema shot an opening 76, putting him five strokes off the lead. But a good night’s sleep plus plenty of sage advice from Tip Anderson, erstwhile caddie for Arnold Palmer who signed on with Lema when Palmer decided not to make the trip, turned him around. Back-to-back 68s left Lema seven shots ahead of Nicklaus entering the final round, and he closed the deal with a final round of 70, winning by five. Britishers, many of whom had barely heard of Lema, were seduced. “It is a pleasure in these days of efficiency and power to see a golfer who combines both with rare grace and elegance of style,” the golf writer for the Guardian gushed.

The victory marked the high point of a stretch that saw Lema finish among the top 10 eight times in 13 majors, and never worse than 22nd. He added two more Tour championships in 1965 and a third in 1966, the last coming in May at Oklahoma City. It was his 12th title. A few weeks later at the Casper-Palmer U.S. Open at Olympic, Lema tied for fourth.

Lema’s strength was his ability to handle tension. Peter Alliss said he combined “an elegant swing of rare beauty” with “grace under pressure” that Alliss compared to Bobby Jones’ coolness.

In August of 1966, Lema and his wife, Betty, boarded a small plane at Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio, where he had finished in a tie for 34th in the PGA Championship, for a flight to suburban Chicago. He was to take part in a charity event and clinic there the following day. A few miles short of its destination, the plane ran out of fuel, crashing in a golf course water hazard. The player, his wife, the pilot and co-pilot were all killed. Champagne Tony Lema was just 32 years old.

Lema at his peak

Tournament              Finish      Score       Z Score

1963 Masters            2nd         287         -1.58

1963 U.S. Open          T-5         295         -1.42

1963 PGA                T-13        287         -0.93

1964 Masters            T-9         287         -0.73

1964 U.S. Open          20th        293         -0.42

1964 British Open       1st         279         -2.84

1964 PGA                T-9         282         -0.98

1965 U.S. Open          T-8         289         -1.08

1965 British Open       T-5         289         -1.40

1966 U.S. Open          T-4         286         -1.52

Average Z Score: -1.29

 

T-118, Marilynn Smith, -1.29, 1961-1965

The story goes that when Marilynn Smith was competing collegiately at the University of Kansas in 1948, her father appealed to legendary athletic director Phog Allen for school support in sending her to that season’s national intercollegiate championship. A three-time state amateur champion, Smith certainly had the credentials. But Allen had little interest in women’s golf in general and the sparse KU women’s golf program in particular. “Mr. Smith, I’m sorry that your daughter is not a boy,” he responded.

She didn’t make the trip. But a year later she paid her own way…and won.

Smith was 20 when she turned pro in 1949 at precisely the opportune moment to become one of the founding members of the LPGA. But like many of the women in those formative days, she labored long and hard for little in the shadows of Babe Zaharias, Patty Berg and Louise Suggs.

Her first major event, the 1950 Titleholders, saw Smith post a four-round score of 322, good for a tie for 15th place in a field of 20, two dozen strokes behind Zaharias. That summer’s Open was more of the same: Zaharias won by nine, and Smith finished so far back that surviving media reports failed to list her score, presumably out of a sense of propriety. She was 19th in a field of 20 at the 1952 Titleholders, 14th at that year’s Open, and didn’t record her first top five finish until the 1953 Open, when she came in fifth, 11 behind Betsy Rawls.

She slogged through the rest of the 1950s, picking up occasional victories – five for the remainder of the decade – and managing nothing better than 8th at the 1959 Titleholders and 1960 U.S. Open. But staying on the women’s tour in those days required commitment to the organization, and Smith had it. She served one year as secretary of the tour, and three more (1958-60) as president. They were distractions her career probably didn’t need at that stage, but within the lightly-financed LPGA, participants viewed the off-course duties as cooperative, and Smith took her turn. As president, she led formation of the tour’s teaching division, established the tour’s first pro-am, and formed a national golf school for girls.

Finally in 1961, the hard seasons of education coincided with the end of her term as president to good effect. Smith finished fifth at the LPGA, Western Open, and U.S. Open, and sixth at the Titleholders, easily her best season to date. She won two minor tournaments in 1962, then in 1963 defeated Mickey Wright in a playoff to win the Titleholders. Her prize was $7,500, equaling the largest payout for a women’s event to that time.  She beat Wright at the same event a year later, this time by one stroke in regulation. Third-place finishes at the 1963 and 1965 Titleholders and 1965 U.S. Open, coupled with a fourth at the 1965 LPGA  gave her nine placings in the top five for the five-year period.

From constantly scrambling from event to event in the 1950s, Smith found her name perennially toward the top of the LPGA money list in the 1960s. The Titleholders championships were just two of six events she won between 1963 and 1964, and she added another eight through 1972. By the time of her retirement, she could claim 23 LPGA titles plus membership in the World Golf Hall of Fame.

Marilynn Smith at her peak

Tournament              Finish      Score       Z Score

1961 U.S. Open          5th         303         -1.23

1961 Western Open       5th         301         -0.92

1961 LPGA               5th         300         -0.80

1963 Titleholders       1st         292         -1.81

1963 Western Open       3rd         303         -1.62

1963 LPGA               T-9         300         -0.90

1964 Titleholders       1st         289         -1.76

1965 Titleholders       3rd         298         -1.22

1965 U.S. Open          3rd         294         -1.61

1965 LPGA               4th         286         -0.67

Score: -1.25

 

T-122, Craig Wood, -1.28, 1939-1943

It’s interesting to contemplate how great a player Craig Wood might be considered today…

  1. If only Gene Sarazen hadn’t made that famous double eagle on the 15th hole of the 1935 Masters, Wood would have won the tournament. Instead, he lost to Sarazen in a playoff.
  2. If only Wood had recorded a final round score better than 75 in the 1933 British Open. Had he done so, he would have won. Instead, he tied Denny Shute, and Shute won that playoff.
  3. If only Horton Smith hadn’t holed a 20-foot birdie putt on the 71st hole at the inaugural 1934 Masters. Had Smith missed, Wood would have tied him for the championship. Instead, Smith won by a stroke.
  4. If only Wood had been able to hold his one-hole lead against Paul Runyan over the final seven holes of their 36-hole playoff for the 1934 PGA Championship. Had he done so, Wood would have won that tournament as well. Instead Runyan and Wood tied at the end of the regulation 36 holes, and Runyan won on the match’s 38th
  5. If only Byron Nelson hadn’t holed out on a 384-yard par four third hole in the third round of the 1939 U.S. Open, Wood might have won that championship in a playoff with Denny Shute. As it was, Nelson joined that playoff and won it by three strokes ahead of Wood, Shute finishing third.

But for those few strokes spread across six seasons, Wood’s record would show seven major championships. As it is, he stands with Greg Norman as the only player to have lost all four majors in playoffs.

Born in Lake Placid, N.Y. late in 1901, Wood joined the tour in the mid 1920s. But he was a late bloomer, finishing among the U.S. Open’s top 10 only once and winning only a handful of minor tour stops until 1933. His victory in that year’s Los Angeles Open marked him as a contender, a status he ratified with a third place finish in the Open behind Johnny Goodman and Ralph Guldahl. Those playoff losses in the 1933 British Open, 1934 and 1935 Masters and 1934 PGA followed in quick succession. Wood still wasn’t a winner, but he was a perennial contender.

Still the victories remained rare: two in 1934, none in 1935, one in 1936, none in 1937 and one in 1938. Wood was 37 by then, beyond the physical prime of most athletes, but only entering his. It proved to be a brief and spectacular one. A sixth place finish in the Masters preceded his playoff loss to Nelson in the Open. In 1940, he tied for seventh at Augusta and finished fourth in both the U.S. and Western Opens.

The experience acquired during all those near misses finally paid off in 1941. At the Masters, Wood assumed a five-shot lead after the first round and breezed home three ahead of Nelson. The victory was so seamless, the champion already holding such a high reputation that it seemed impossible to understand he had just won his first major. His second didn’t take long; at the summer’s U.S. Open, Wood took command with a third round 70 and beat his old rival, Shute, by three shots.

Although it seemed inconceivable at the time, Wood was essentially through as a competitive golfer. With the onset of World War II, only that year’s Masters was played, and Wood shot an uninspired 302, 22 strokes behind Nelson. He was in his mid 40s when major stroke play competition resumed with the 1946 Masters. He died in 1968.

Wood at his peak

Tournament              Finish      Score       Z Score

1939 Masters            6th         284         -1.35

1939 U.S. Open          2nd         284         -1.93

1940 Masters            T-7         288         -1.07

1940 U.S. Open          4th         289         -1.47

1940 PGA             rd. of 32   match play     -1.58

1940 Western Open       4th         296         -1.22

1941 Masters            1st          280         -2.10      

1941 U.S. Open          1st         284         -2.26      

1941 PGA            2nd round    match play     0.92

1942 PGA            qtr. finals  match play     -0.77

Average Z Score: -1.28

 

T-122, Rickie Fowler, -1.28, 2013-2017

Were Fowler ever to staple together back-to-back solid seasons, his -1.28 peak rating Z Score might be half a standard deviation better. Remember 2014, when Fowler finished among the top 5 in all four majors? That made Fowler the tour’s best in majors, ahead even of McIlroy, based on his cumulative -1.63 Z score; McIlroy’s was merely -1.40.

He followed that with no top 10s, only two top 25s and three missed cuts in his next nine major showings. Then in 2017, Rickie returned to the proper course, with top 10s in the Masters and U.S. Open.

Fowler hits age 30 in 2018, so he still has time to satisfy his legion of fans, of which this writer is one. At the same time, the 2017 major victories of Spieth, Koepka and Thomas – all two or more years younger than Fowler – demonstrate how quickly the biological meter is running. Fowler’s task is to become less streaky, more reliable. Fowler’s six best major Z scores to date were all recorded in either 2014 or 2017.

To really gain recognition as a great player, Fowler has to do that one thing he hasn’t done yet…he has to win. And then he has to win again. The top 100 on the peak list is chock full of players who have won multiple majors…and whose scores show it. The statistical reward for winning a tournament varies dependng on the depth of the competition, but as a general proposition it amounts to a Z score of about -2.50. In 2014 the four major winners recorded Z scores of -2.48, -2.81, -2.40 and -2.09. The Z score of the 15th player on the all-time peak list – Phil Mickelson – is -2.00. The very best Z score of Fowler’s career to date is -2.06. Rickie needs more of those.

What he does not need is a reprise of 2015-16. If that season is repeated in 2018, Fowler will slide down the peak rating list.

 

Fowler at his peak

Tournament              Finish      Score       Z Score

2013 U.S. Open          T-7         287         -1.12

2013 PGA                T-19        279         -0.75

2014 Masters            T-5         286         -1.19

2014 U.S. Open          T-2         279         -1.49

2014 British Open       T-2         273         -2.06

2014 PGA                T-3         270         -1.76

2015 Masters            T-12        282         -0.65

2015 PGA                T-30        284         -0.13

2017 Masters            T-11        287         -0.70

2017 U.S. Open          T-5         278         -1.40

2017 PGA                T-6         279         -1.68

Average: -1.28

 

T-124. Hideki Matsuyama, -1.27, 2013-2017

It is too early in Matsuyama’s career to say much about him. So let this suffice. He is a 26-year-old budding star. Proof? In 2017, Matsuyama made the top 15 in all four majors, something only one other player – Brooks Koepka – could say. And while Koepka did beat Matsuyama to the finish at the U.S. Open, Matsuyama earned close to $3 million more in season-long winnings, a nice consolation prize.

Based on his record to date, the trick for Matsuyama going forward will be stringing good seasons together. His 2013 introduction to the tour showed great promise, with top 10 finishes in the U.S. and British Opens. Competing full-time for the first time in 2014, he did win one event and he did earn nearly $3 million. But his showings in the majors were non-descript, with not a single top 30. So the pertinent question is whether the real Matsuyama is the consistent challenger of 2017 or the run-of-the-mill tour pro of 2014.

And if it is the good Matsuyama, what could that mean for his status on the peak ranking chart? Given the performance gap between 2014 and 2016, it would really take at least two more successive seasons at the level of 2017 to move him significantly. But if he did replicate his 2017 season in 2018 and 2019, it’s possible that by the end of that year Matsuyama’s peak rating could climb to the vicinity of -1.53 or thereabouts. Whose neighborhood would that put him in? Well, Henrik Stenson (-1.52) for one. He’s presently number 80 on the all-time list. Jimmy Demaret is -1.55, Payne Stewart is -1.47, and Ben Crenshaw, -1.59; all might theoretically be in reach.

Matsuyama at his peak

Tournament              Finish      Score       Z Score

2013 U.S. Open          T-10        287         -1.12

2013 British Open       T-6         286         -1.60

2013 PGA                T-19        279         -0.74

2015 Masters            5th         277         -1.54

2016 Masters            T-7         288         -1.24

2016 PGA                T-4         271         -1.57

2017 Masters            T-11        287         -0.70

2017 U.S. Open          T-2         276         -1.68

2017 British Open       T-14        278         -0.85

2017 PGA                T-6         279         -1.68

Average Z Score: -1.27

 

T-124. Lanny Wadkins, -1.27, 1984-1988

There was the phenom Lanny Wadkins, out of which through trial and tribulation sprang the mature Lanny Wadkins.

The phenom Lanny Wadkins holds the major. He won it as a 27-year-old journeyman pro out of Wake Forest in August of 1977, defeating Gene Littler in a sudden death playoff. In fact it was the first scheduled sudden death playoff in the history of the tour majors, and this fact about it underscores how much a journeyman Wadkins was at the time. “I didn’t realize it was sudden death,” he later revealed. “I thought we were playing 18 on Monday.” The format change had been implemented several years earlier, but this marked its first implementation. “I was in the clubhouse having a beer, when somebody came in and told me, “you need to get to the first tee,” Wadkins said.

He got there in time to prevail over Littler in three holes.

It was his fourth tour victory, but his first in four years. Wadkins followed it up by winning the World Series of Golf in September, but the ensuing four seasons represented only a gradual maturation. Through 1981, Wadkins added two more victories in minor events, but he was a non-factor in the big ones. Then at the 1982 U.S. Open – back at Pebble Beach – Wadkins’ steadied his major game. He tied for sixth behind Tom Watson, and at that summer’s PGA Championship he chased Ray Floyd to the finish, losing by three.

Although the more mature Wadkins never managed to close the deal on a major, he did win nine times over the next six seasons, and he became a regular contender at the tour’s premier events. Wadkins tied for eighth at the 1983 Masters, was seventh at the 1983 U.S. Open, tied for fourth at the 1984 British Open, for second at the 1984 PGA, and for fifth at the 1985 U.S. open. At the 1986 U.S. Open at Shinnecock, Wadkins again chased Floyd to the finish, shooting a closing 65 but falling two strokes short in a tie with Chip Beck for second. At the 1987 PGA Championship, Wadkins tied Larry Nelson through 72 holes, but missed a four-foot putt on the playoff hole to give Nelson his third major title.

Wadkins at his peak

Tournament              Finish      Score       Z Score

1984 British Open       T-4         281         -1.51

1984 PGA                T-2         277         -1.93

1985 U.S. Open          T-5         281         -1.42

1985 PGA                T-10        284         -1.09

1986 U.S. Open          T-2         281         -1.74

1986 PGA                T-11        284         -0.90

1987 Masters            T-12        290         -0.72

1987 PGA                2nd         287         -1.81

1988 Masters            T-11        288         -0.77

1988 U.S. Open          T-12        284         -0.82

Average Z-Score: -1.27

 

T-124. Jim Furyk, -1.27, 2003-2007

On tour, Jim Furyk was the guy with the funny, loopy swing everybody respected but nobody tried to emulate. As awkward as that swing was, it brought him 17 Tour championships, nearly $68 million in career earnings (to date), and the 2003 U.S. Open championship.

Furyk was a collegiate star at Arizona prior to joining he tour in the mid 1990s. He won his first event, at Las Vegas, in 1995, and quickly emerged as a contender in the tour’s most significant events. Furyk placed fourth in the 1997 and 1998 British Opens, as well as the 1998 Masters. He first amassed $1 million in winnings in 1997, and with the exception of 1997 was a winner on tour annually between 1995 and 2003.

It was in 2003 that Furyk cemented his image in the public mindset. At the Masters, he improved his score each day, closing with a 68 that brought him home fourth, three strokes out of a share of the lead. The U.S. Open was played that year at Olympia Fields outside Chicago, and Furyk came in hot. He entered having already accumulated 10 top ten finishes on the season, and more than $2.3 million in the bank. So it was hardly a shock when he dominated the event, completing three rounds in 200 for a three-stroke lead. On Sunday, he managed only a two-over par 72, but when none of the other challengers did better Furyk breezed home with his three-stroke margin intact. “I really liked the way I was playing,” he said.

If 2003 represented Furyk at his best, 2006 was almost as good. He came to the 72nd hole of the U.S. Open at Winged Foot needing a par to get into a playoff with Geoff Ogilvy. But Furyk put his second shot in a greenside bunker, then missed a five-foot par putt, dropping him into a tie for second place. At the British Open at Royal Liverpool, Furyk spotted Tiger Woods two strokes entering the final round and found that too large a margin to make up, finishing fourth.

Furyk’s peak ended in 2006, but he enjoyed a lengthy, slow decline from those heights. Second again in the 2007 U.S. Open, he bid for the 2012 title at Olympic as well, sharing the third round lead before giving way to Webb Simpson and tying for fourth. At the following year’s PGA Championship, Furyk led through three rounds, only to be overtaken by Jason Dufner’s Sunday 68. It was the fourth runner-up in a major of his career and his 15th top five. Again at the 2016 U.S. Open at Oakmont, Furyk, by then 46, finished second. His Sunday 66 nearly overhauled Dustin Johnson, eventually falling three strokes back.

Furyk at his peak

Tournament              Finish      Score       Z Score

2003 Masters            4th         284         -1.62

2003 U.S. Open          1st          272         -2.72

2003 PGA                T-18        287         -0.63

2005 U.S. Open          T-28        291         -0.37

2006 U.S. Open          T-2         286         -1.68

2006 British Open       4th         276         -1.70

2006 PGA                T-29        285         -0.22

2007 Masters            T-13        296         -0.77

2007 U.S. Open          T-2         286         -2.04

2007 British Open       T-12        282         -0.96

Average Z-Score: -1.27

 

T-129. Tommy Bolt, -1.24, 1954-1958

Tommy Bolt always gloried in the skill of his game. The public famously loved him for a different attribute, his volcanic temper. His penchant for club-throwing earned him the nickname “Terrible Tommy,” something Bolt eventually came to grips with.

“I think I can hit a golf ball as well as the next man…but do people come out to watch me hit  a golf ball?” he once lamented. “No. They come out to watch me blow my top. And I’m sorry to say I’ve obliged them.”

So while Bolt’s reputation initially was earned, over time it became a mantra he played to…occasionally with good results. Halfway through his 36-hole quarter-final against Sam Snead at the 1954 PGA Championship, Bolt – down one hole – complained loudly about the crowd’s favoritism for Snead. Word of his clubhouse tirade swept the course, and in the afternoon round Terrible Tom’s supporters out-roared the popular West Virginian. Bolt won.

“It thrills crowds to see a guy suffer,” he said late in his life. “At first I threw clubs because I was angry. After a while it became showmanship, plain and simple.”

To be recognized as something more than freak show performer, eventually, of course, you have to win. Bolt did that at the 1958 U.S. Open, one of the most grueling major championship tournaments ever conducted. It was played in mid-June at Southern Hills in Tulsa.

To that point, the USGA had rarely taken its most prestigious championship into the southern U.S., the fear being that the combination of natural heat and humidity would combine with the 36-hole Saturday finale to produce brutal, possibly hazardous, playing conditions. That was precisely what it got at Southern Hills, the field and a gallery estimated at 20,000 coping with searing 100-degree heat accompanied by gusting winds. Nothing, however, bothered Bolt, who carried a one-stroke lead over Gary Player into those final 36 holes and inexorably pulled away to win by four.

At the tournament’s conclusion, Bolt revealed his secret weapon to the assembled press, all of whom wanted to know how he had managed to keep his vaunted temper so thoroughly in check under the obviously adverse conditions. He reached into the lining of his cap and pulled out the Alcoholics Anonymous Serenity Prayer, which he had carried with him every step of the journey.

Bolt at his peak

Tournament              Finish      Score       Z Score

1954 Masters            T-12        296         -0.86

1954 U.S. Open          T-6         289         -1.12

1954 PGA             semi-final  match play     -0.89

1955 U.S. Open          T-3         292         -1.72

1955 PGA             semi-final  match play     -1.52

1955 Western Open       T-30        287         -0.13

1956 Masters            T-8         296         -1.13

1957 PGA             4th round    match play     -1.14

1958 U.S. Open          1st         283         -2.59

1958 PGA                T-5         285         -1.34

Average Z-Score: -1.24

 

T-124. Sergio Garcia, -1.27, 2002-2006

He arrived in 1999, proclaimed as the man-child successor in a royal Spanish golf line originating with Marcellino Morcillo in the 1940s, and continuing unbroken through Sebastian Miguel, Ramon Sota, Seve Ballesteros, and Jose Maria Olazabal. The golfing gods made that man-child Garcia endure through 17 years of frustration before granting him the major championship he had so long sought, but over time that only added to Sergio Garcia’s lure.

There were certainly close calls, agonizing ones including a memorable runner-up to Tiger Woods at his 1999 PGA Championship debut. At the 2007 British Open, Garcia took Padraig Harrington into a playoff before losing; a year later at the PGA he came home runner-up for a third time – and for the second time to Harrington. Garcia got a fourth silver medal in 2014, again at the British Open. His total margin of defeat in those four major championships spanning 15 seasons: just five shots.

That “tease” element – the recurring and intensely human ability to narrowly avoid winning – has always been a big part of the attraction of Garcia.  There has never been any question about his talent. A club champion at 12, he became the youngest player to make the cut at a European Tour event when he did so as a 16-year-old at the 1995 Turespaña Open Mediterranea. That same year he became the youngest player to win the European Amateur. He won a professional tournament, the 1997 Catalonian Open, on the European Challenge Tour, as an amateur, and in 1998 won the British Amateur before reaching the semi-finals of the U.S. Amateur.

For most Americans, Garcia’s introductory moment came at the 1999 PGA when – still just 19 — he exuberantly chased Woods to the finish, eventually losing by a stroke.  Even so, he qualified for the European Ryder Cup team. Already a winner in Europe, he broke through in America at the 2001 Master Card Colonial, narrowly losing that season’s Tour Championship to Mike Weir in a four-way playoff that also included David Toms and Ernie Els.

Until his victory at the 2017 Masters, Garcia’s most consistent major tournament season was probably 2002, when he recorded top 10s in all four events, including a fourth at the U.S. Open. From 2004 through 2006, he recorded five more top 5s in majors. He won the 2008 Players Championship in a playoff, defeating Paul Goydos.

But it was the narrow misses that made Garcia famous. Never was this more true than at Carnoustie during the 2007 British Open, an event Garcia blitzed with an opening 65 for a three-stroke lead. He extended that lead to six shots by Sunday morning only to make the final turn in 38. Harrington, meanwhile, paired four birdies with an eagle, but his six on the concluding par four allowed Garcia to par in for a victory. Instead he lipped out a six-foot putt and then lost the four-hole playoff.

When the two met again a year later at the 2008 PGA at Oakland Hills, Garcia led Harrington by a stroke with three holes to play, but bogeyed two of those closing three and lost by two.

When a major title finally did come, struggle – naturally – came with it. Through 54 holes, Garcia share first place with Justin Rose. All Sunday, the skeptics – trained by time – assumed he would fall back…which of course he did. Having opened up a three-stroke lead through five holes, he gave all of them back on the next four, concluding the front nine still even with Rose. Garcia bogeyed the 10th, then the 11th as well, to fall two back. An eagle at 15 got him back to even, but that didn’t last because Rose birdied the 16th. Then Rose bogeyed the 18th, and they were even again, necessitating a playoff. Sergio’s drive split the fairway, his iron pierced to within 12 feet, and his putt found the cup for a winning birdie. It was a decisive conclusion to a lengthy journey.

Garcia at his peak

Tournament              Finish      Score       Z Score

2002 Masters            8th         284         -0.96

2002 U.S. Open          4th         283         -1.70

2002 British Open       T-8         280         -1.24

2002 PGA                T-10        289         -0.66

2003 British Open       T-10        288         -1.06

2004 Masters            T-4         285         -1.04

2005 U.S. Open          T-3         285         -1.63

2005 British Open       T-23        283         -1.25

2006 British Open       T-5         277         -1.51

2006 PGA                T-3         276         -1.60

Average Z-Score: -1.27

T-129. Jose Maria Olazabal, -1.24, 1990-94

Jose Maria Olazabal’s golfing career survived two moments of crisis.

The first, literally a moment, occurred on the 15th hole of the 1994 Masters. Leading playing partner Tom Lehman by one stroke, Olazabal challenged the pond in front of the green on the 500 yard par 5 hole, his second shot barely carrying the hazard, then hanging up in the fringe just short of the putting surface. From that awkward position, Olazabal struck a perfect 30-foot putt that climbed the slope of the green and fell dead center into the cup for an eagle three. Less than an hour later, he was Masters champion by two shots over Lehman.

The second crisis took longer to overcome. Intense foot pain, a byproduct of back problems, sidelined him for part of 1995 and all of the 1996 season, threatening his career. He returned to win a couple of minor tournaments on the European circuit in 1997, but was a non-factor in the 1997 and 1998 majors, finishing no higher than a tie for 12th both years at Augusta, and missing the cuts at both PGAs.

But relieved of his symptoms, Olazabal summoned the form that had made him a great player five years earlier, taking the lead in the second round  of the 1999 Masters and never relinquishing it. Surviving a stretch of three consecutive bogeys on the front side, his four-round total of 280 was two shots better than Davis Love.

“When I was at my lowest, I never thought about this happening again,” Olazabal told reporters in the press room. “I thought I would never play golf again.”

The victory climaxed what until his physical problems seemed like a career of destiny. Olazabal was almost literally born to play golf, the son of a greenskeeper in Hondaribbia, Spain, who was swinging a club from the first moments he was capable of doing so. In 1984 at age 18, he won the British Amateur title, defeating Colin Montgomerie in the final match. His 1994 Masters title made him the only British Amateur champion to also win a professional major since Lawson Little, the 1934-35 Amateur champion won the 1940 U.S. Open.

Turning pro in 1986, Olazabal joined the European Tour and won 23 events, eight of them before coming to the U.S. and claiming the 1990 NEC World Series of Golf. He did not, however, play regularly on the American tour until 1990, by which time he was 35. As a member of the U.S. circuit, he would win only once, at the 2002 Buick Invitational.

That did not mean Olazabal was lightly known here. To the contrary, he was famous – infamous may be a better word – for his biennial contributions to the European Ryder Cup team’s efforts against the American squad. Teaming with countryman Seve Ballesteros to form what came to be called the ‘Spanish Armada’, he went 11-2-2 over 15 matches in 1987, 1989, 1991, and 1993. It remains the best two-man team performances in Ryder Cup history. When Ballesteros retired from Ryder Cup play, Olazabal partnered with Sergio Garcia, another fellow Spainard, that extended his performance record to 18-8-5. He was a member of victorious European teams in 1987, 1997 and 2006.

His best seasons in the majors came before Olazabal had barely won anything in the U.S. He tied for eighth in the 1990 U.S. Open, and over the next four seasons landed five times in the top 10, including a runner-up finish at the 1991 Masters, when a final-hole bogey cost him a playoff opportunity against Ian Woosnam, the champion. He finished third at the 1992 British Open,

Olazabal was elected to the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2009.

Olazabal at his peak

Tournament              Finish      Score       Z Score

1990 Masters             13th           287            -0.71

1990 U.S. Open          T-8         284         -0.92

1990 British Open       T-16        281         -0.64

1990 PGA               T-14        294         -0.67

1991 Masters            2nd         278         -1.62

1991 U.S. Open          T-8         290         -0.98

1992 British Open       3rd        274         -2.17

1993 Masters            T-7         284         -1.16

1994 Masters            1st         279         -2.21

1994 PGA                T-7         278         -1.33

 

T-129. Curtis Strange, -1.24, 1985-1989

But for a pair of unthinkably bad rounds, Curtis Strange might be recognized today as a four-time major champion. As it is, Strange can content himself with the knowledge that he is one of only six men to have successfully defended his U.S. Open title.

He did that at Oak Hill in 1989, retaining the title he had won a year earlier at Brookline. No other player had done it since Ben Hogan in 1951; none has done it since.

Yet for Strange, the near-misses were often as memorable as the triumphs. He trailed Fuzzy Zoeller by just two shots midway through the 1984 U.S. Open at Winged Foot, then lost five strokes to the lead with a Saturday 74. Strange’s Sunday 68 left him those five shots out of the Zoeller-Greg Norman playoff, which Zoeller won.

Less than a year later, Strange hacked his way to an opening round 80 at the Masters, then followed with rounds of 65 and 68. A front nine 32 on Sunday shot Strange into first place, four shots clear of Bernhard Langer and Seve Ballesteros, but Strange closed with a 39 and Langer won by two. He had played the 45 holes between Friday and Sunday’s back nine 15 strokes under par, but come up short due to that opening 80.. “It would have been a helluva story, wouldn’t it?” Strange rhetorically asked reporters.

Strange was a member of Wake Forest’s NCAA championship team before turning pro in the mid 1970s, winning for the first time at Pensacola in 1979. He was 24. The next seven years mixed flashes of potential with costly unevenness. Strange tied for fifth, although 10 strokes behind Jack Nicklaus, at the 1980 PGA, and for seventh at the 1982 Masters. Between 1980 and 1987 he won 11 events, some of them significant, including the 1985 and 1987 Canadian Opens, and the 1987 NEC World Series of Golf. But he also missed six cuts in majors, including annually in the PGA from 1984 through 1986.

Still, Strange’s game was plainly on an uptick. Despite the Masters disappointment, he won the tour’s money title in 1985. Fourth behind Scott Simpson at the 1987 U.S. Open, he followed up that season’s Canadian and World Series by capturing both the Independent Insurance Agent Open and the Memorial in May of 1988. Strange came to the 71st hole of that year’s U.S. Open at Brookline leading Nick Faldo by a stroke, but three-putted from 12 feet, then compounded his problems by leaving his approach at 18 in the gaping front bunker. A steely blast and tap-in putt secured an 18-hole playoff, which Strange won 71-75. It was the highlight of a million dollar Tour season, the first in PGA history.

Strange highlighted his title defense the following year at Oak Hill with a second-round 64, tying the course record and just one shot above the all-time Open record. Still he trailed Tom Kite by three strokes and Simpson by two as the final round began. But Kite made seven at the par four fifth and managed no better than a 78. Simpson posted a 75, allowing Strange, on his way to an imperturbable 70, to claim a one-stroke victory.

Strange cut back his Tour obligations in the 1990s, detouring into TV commentary. He joined the Champions Tour in 1997, the same year he was elected to the World Golf Hall of Fame.

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Curtis Strange at his peak

Tournament              Finish      Score       Z Score

1985 Masters            T-2         284         -1.58

1986 British Open       T-14        291         -0.89

1987 Masters            T-12        290         -0.82

1987 U.S. Open          T-4         283         -1.10

1987 PGA                9th         291         -1.14

1988 U.S. Open          1st          278         -2.03

1988 British Open       T-13        285         -0.88

1989 Masters            T-18        291         -0.41

1989 U.S. Open          1st          278         -1.99

1989 PGA                T-2         277         -1.68

Score: -1.24

 

T-129. Justin Rose, -1.24, 2012-2016

When you are a golf phenom life generally takes one of two courses. You either explode onto the scene – Tiger Woods and Jordan Spieth are the archetypes – or you fail spectacularly.

Very occasionally, however, somebody comes along to occupy the middle ground. Justin Rose is that rare somebody. A prodigy, he was a Walker Cupper by age 17, tied for fourth that same year at the British Open, and then largely disappeared. Turning pro in 1998, he proceeded to miss his first 21 cuts. For the better part of four seasons, Rose went winless, and well into his 20s he could claim only three championships, one in Europe, one in South Africa and one in Japan. His resume in the recognized majors during that time was virtually non-existent: just a dozen starts through 2006, with five missed cuts and only one finish in the top 20. You could not find Rose’s name anywhere among the top 100 World Golf Ranking.

It will be left to the pros to diagnose what turned Rose’s career around. That change took place gradually, but it did happen. He announced his new direction at the 2007 Masters, tying for fifth, and followed that with a top 10 at the U.S. Open. Ties for 12th at the season’s final two majors gave him top 12 standing at all four 2007 majors, twice as many such finishes as he had managed over the previous nine seasons. He was, finally, a prodigy…albeit at age 27 an exceptionally old one.

His true prime, however, didn’t really take hold for another five seasons, the interim filled with something better than mediocrity but short of stardom. Between 2008 and 2012, Rose added his first four PGA Tour championships to his collection, cracking the tour’s top 10 for the first time in 2010. He was third at the 2012 PGA, although nine shots behind Rory McIlroy, who never gave the field a chance that week. At the following year’s U.S. Open at Merion, Rose completed his long-awaited return to prominence, coming from two strokes off Phil Mickelson’s pace on Sunday to win. He has since come close twice to adding a second major, tying for the runner-up position at both the 2015 and 2017 Masters. He lost the 2017 event in a playoff to Sergio Garcia

Justin Rose at his peak

Tournament              Finish      Score       Z Score

2012 Masters            T-8         284         -1.07

2012 U.S. Open          T-15        287         -0.60

2012 PGA                T-3         284         -1.29

2013 U.S. Open          1st         281         -2.14

2014 Masters            T-14        289         -0.54

2014 U.S. Open          T-12        283         -0.83

2014 PGA                T-24        276         -0.68

2015 Masters            T-2         274         -2.08

2015 British Open       T-6         277         -1.41

2015 PGA                4th         274         -1.73

Average Z Score: -1.24

Average Z-Score: -1.24

 

T-132. Justin Leonard, -1.21, 1996-2000

Justin Leonard is probably best known for having rolled in that 45-foot putt on the 17th hole of his 1999 Ryder Cup match to clinch the Cup for an American team that trailed big-time entering that day’s play.

He was a major champion – winner of the 1997 British Open – who with a break or two might have been a three-time or four-time champion. But Leonard’s functional career was brief: his dozen Tour victories all came by his 36th birthday, and he was essentially off the tour by age 38.

A collegiate star at Texas, Leonard joined the tour in 1994 and was close to an immediate hit. He made the top 10 at both the 1995 and 1996 PGA, tied for seventh at the 1997 Masters, and won the 1997 British Open a few weeks past his 25th birthday. It was a meteoric climax to a meteoric rise. Leonard trailed Jesper Parnevik by five strokes entering the final round, but completed the front nine Sunday in five-under-par, passing Parnevik and finishing with 66 to win by three full strokes. The key was his putting: Leonard needed only 25 putts all day, one-putting successively on the 15th, 16th and 17th holes.

As a byproduct of that Open victory, Leonard acquired a public reputation for fastidiousness somewhere out on the far fringes of normal. “Justin is the kind of person who arranges his sock drawer in colors, and if he was to use a vacuum cleaner he would do it in straight lines,” fellow pro Brad Faxon famously told the British media. Those same writers, used to generations of brief, off-the-cuff victory remarks at the trophy presentation ceremony, were astonished to see Leonard read from a piece of paper on which he had prepared notes.

One month after his Open victory, Leonard made a solid run at a second straight major, standing tied for the 54-hole lead at the PGA Championship at Winged Foot outside New York. This time, however, the Sunday magic belonged to the man he had been tied with, Davis Love, whose 66 left Leonard five strokes back in second place. Leonard’s best run at a second major occurred two years later at Carnoustie, site of the 1999 British Open. That was the tournament where Frenchman Jean Vandevelde’s last-hole collapse allowed little known Scot named Paul Lawrie to win. Less recalled is that Lawrie survived a playoff with VandeVelde and…Leonard. In the wake of VandeVelde’s collapse, even less recalled is that as it turned out, Leonard could have won the tournament outright by parring the 72nd hole. But he drove into the rough and had to take bogey.

Leonard’s final strong push for a major victory came at the 2004 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits. Two strokes ahead of Vijay Singh at the turn on Sunday, Leonard bogeyed four holes on the back nine, most of his problems attributable to the same putter that had served him so well at Troon in 1997. On the back nine alone, he missed a six foot par putt, a 10-foot birdie putt, a five-foot par putt and a 12-foot par putt. The effect was to throw him into a three-way, three-hole playoff with Singh and Chris DeMarco, which Singh won. “All I needed was one of them to go,” Leonard remarked.

Leonard at his peak

Tournament              Finish      Score       Z Score

1996 PGA                T-5         279         -1.44

1997 Masters            T-7         286         -0.75

1997 U.S. Open          T-36        289         -0.25

1997 British Open       1st         272         -2.69

1997 PGA                2nd         274         -2.56

1998 Masters            T-8         285         -0.79

1999 Masters            T-18        289         -0.50

1999 U.S. Open          T-15        290         -0.71

1999 British Open       T-2         290         -1.92

2000 U.S. Open          T-16        293         -0.53

Score: -1.21

 

T-132. Brooks Koepka, -1.21, 2014-2017

Not yet 30 – he won’t reach that milestone until May of 2020 – Koepka’s story is still being written. So there is plenty of room for movement in either direction with respect to both his peak and career rating.

Nonetheless, his 2017 season – highlighted by that U.S. Open victory at Erin Hills – places Koepka for the time being solidly among the top 150 for peak performance. And since at this stage his five-year peak consists of only four seasons, it also leaves room for growth.

There being little need to summarize Koepka’s career to date, let’s instead engage in a bit of speculation. If Koepka were to reprise his career-best 2017 season in 2018, his peak rating would climb from its current -1.21 to about -1.42. That would elevate his standing about 40 places, certainly into the top 100. At that point, the climb gets steeper. But if Koepka were to reprise 2017 a third time in 2019, he could jump another 20 spots or thereabouts, into the mid 70s by the age of 30.

Of course there’s nothing capping Koepka’s performance ceiling at his 2017 showings. Maybe he’ll surpass that. But that would be asking a lot, Statistically, only Matt Kuchar had a better standard deviation of performance than Koepka’s -1.24 in the 2017 majors. Since Koepka emerged as a contender in 2014, only 10 have done so…and that’s out of close to 1,000 who’ve tried.

Brooks Koepka at his peak

Tournament              Finish      Score       Z Score

2014 U.S. Open          T-4         281         -1.16

2014 PGA                T-15        275         -0.86

2015 British Open       T-10        278         -1.15

2015 PGA                T-5         275         -1.57

2016 U.S. Open          T-13        284         -0.79

2016 PGA                T-4         271         -1.57

2017 Masters            T-11        287         -0.70

2017 U.S. Open          1st         272         -2.24

2017 British Open       T-6         276         -1.33

2017 PGA                T-13        284         -0.68

Average Z-Score: -1.21

 

T-136. Brittany Lincicome, -1.19, 2006-2010

To most casual golf fans, Brittany Lincicome is probably best known as the woman who drives golf balls off the top of that New York skyscraper onto Richard Branson’s waiting jet. That’s about as risqué as Lincicome goes in the name of color. But to serious devotees of the women’s tour, her game makes up the difference.

For the lightly initiated, Lincicome is a 32-year-old Floridian with a pair of major championships to her name and, yes, a penchant for driving the ball a long way. In 2017, she averaged just under 271 yards per drive, seventh longest among the women. For that attribute, her fellow tour pros call Lincicome “Bam Bam.”

Lincicome turned pro while still a teen in 2006, and enjoyed quick success. At the 2007 Nabisco, her steady play – three rounds of 71 or 72 – left her fifth, two shots out of the lead and positioned for a Sunday push. But Lincicome could produce only another 72, allowing Morgan Pressel, who closed with a 69, to sail past eight players to the victory. Lincicome tied for second.

A repeat of her narrow miss loomed two years later when Lincicome came to the par 5 72nd hole trailing Kristy McPherson by a shot. She went to her strength, cranking a drive that positioned her to have a go at the pond-protected green 210 yards distant with a hybrid. “It came off the clubface and it was exactly where we were trying to hit it and it took the slope like I was hoping it was going to,” she said later. The ball rolled close to the hole, giving Lincicome a four-foot eagle putt she needed to win. “If I had to make anything further than that … my hands were shaking so bad,” she remarked.

Lincicome then underwent six years playing competently yet in the substantial shadows of Lorena Ochoa, Yani Tseng and Inbee Park. Between 2010 and 2014 she won a couple of minor tour events, hit the ball long, and made more than enough money to enjoy life. But her major card was unremarkable; runner-up at the 2014 LPGA, an occasional ninth, a few missed cuts. Between 2011 and 2013 she played in 13 LPGA majors, registering just one finish better than 13th. Lincicome’s resume began to look like so many on tour: solid, capable, and with that one little sparkling bauble that appeared to have arisen as if by chance.

That impression began to change with her performance at the 20124 LPGA championship,. Lincicome led after two rounds, and still led overwhelming favorite Inbee Park by a stroke through the third round. But a bogey on the tournament’s 72nd hole threw Lincicome into a sudden-death playoff with the LPGA’s reigning megastar, and Park won it with a par. It was the kind of setback that might have knocked a player‘s ego for a loop, but Lincicome turned it into a positive. At the following season’s ANA Inspiration, Lincicome returned to the 72nd hole needing an eagle, this time merely to tie Stacy Lewis. What happened next was a virtual replay of 2009: a long drive in perfect position, a hybrid within six feet, a solid putt. She beat Lewis in the sudden-death playoff. “Surreal,” Lincicome said.

 

Brittany Lincicome at her peak

Tournament              Finish      Score       Z Score

2006 U.S. Open          7th         291         -1.19

2007 Nabisco            T-2         286         -1.71

2007 U.S. Open          T-14        288         -0.75

2007 LPGA               T-6         280         -1.41

2007 British Open       T-11        295         -0.92

2009 Nabisco            1st         279         -2.19

2009 U.S. Open          5th         287         -1.51

2010 Nabisco            T-21        289         -0.56

2010 LPGA               T-14        288         -0.56

2010 British Open       T-9         286         -1.05

Average Z Score: -1.19

 

T-134. Fuzzy Zoeller, -1.19, 1981-1985

Frank Urban “Fuzzy” Zoeller only took golf seriously when he was actually striking the ball. At all other times, he seemed to be in it more or less as a lark.

“Anybody who knows me knows that I am a jokester,” Zoeller said of himself. Occasionally, those jokes back fired, notably when he dismissed Tiger Woods’ victory at the 1997 Masters with a flippancy that contained more than a whiff of racial animus. Zoeller later apologized for the comment, and Woods accepted.

But the ‘devil-may-care’ attitude seemed to help Zoeller by defusing pressurized situations in which he frequently found himself. None was more pressurized than the 1979 Masters, the first for  Zoeller, then a 27-year-old journeyman with one tour win to his name, when Zoeller made up six shots on third round leader Ed Sneed to get into a three-way playoff also involving former Masters champion Tom Watson. Zoeller birdied the 71st hole, then watched Sneed bogey the 72nd to cement the playoff. “To me, all the pressure was on the other people,” Zoeller explained. On the second playoff hole, Zoeller watched Sneed and Watson both miss birdie attempts, then sank his own no-pressure seven-footer. In so doing, he became the first person since 1935 to win the Masters in his first try. It’s a distinction he still holds.

The victory might have been one of those pleasant one-offs that PGA majors give us now and again – except it wasn’t. Zoeller finished second in the 1981 PGA, and in 1984 stared down Greg Norman through the closing holes of the U.S. Open at Winged Foot. Through most of the tournament, that closing duel looked unlikely. Hale Irwin, the 1974 Open champion on the same course, shot three rounds in the 60s and led Zoeller by a stroke enter in the final round, with Norman another stroke back. But Irwin skied to a 79 on Sunday, positioning Norman to tie Zoeller if he could sink a 50-foot putt on the final hole. Norman did, prompting Zoeller – back in the fairway – to laughingly wave a white towel in mock surrender.

Be assured, it was mock surrender. In the Monday playoff, Zoeller seized the early advantage and beat Norman by eight strokes.
 Fuzzy Zoeller at his peak

Tournament              Finish      Score       Z Score

1981 PGA                2nd         277         -1.70

1982 Masters            T-10        290         -0.72

1982 U.S. Open          T-15        290         -0.71

1982 British Open       T-8         287         -1.42

1983 British Open       T-14        282         -0.60

1983 PGA                T-6         279         -1.46

1984 U.S. Open          1st         276         -2.74

1984 British Open       T-14        285         -0.60

1985 U.S. Open          T-9         283         -1.07

1985 British Open       T-11        286         -0.88

Average Z Score: -1.19

 

  1. Michelle Wie, -1.18, 2013-2017

The personification of youthful ambition Wie began playing golf at four, entered a major amateur competition at 10, and won her state women’s championship at 11, the same year she first qualified for an LPGA field. As a 16-year-old in 2006, she recorded a top 10 finish at what was then called the Nabisco Championship, ratcheting her way up to fourth place a year later and to second a year after that at the LPGA.

Turning pro at 15 in 2005, Wie’s 2006 rookie season gloriously appeared to uphold all the promise she had shown as an amateur. She tied for third at the Nabisco, for fifth at the LPGA and for third at the Open. That’s when reality set in.

Part of the problem may have been divided focus. Wie committed to competing for some of the larger men’s tour prizes with consistently disappointing results. In short order those disappointments, combining with injuries, showed up in her women’s tour events as well. Between 2007 and 2013 – seven years that ought to have been the prime of her career – Wie often was a non-factor in LPGA majors, recording only two top 10s, missing the cut five times, and failing to even start or withdrawing on seven other occasions. During that time she managed only two victories in regular tour events.

Thus it came as a surprise and yet no surprise when Wie finally blossomed in 2014. She was only 24, yet a veteran whose youthful aggressiveness had been fully tempered by both experience and expectation. Wie’s renaissance began at the opening major, now called the ANA Inspiration, when she chased Lexi Thompson through 54 holes, eventually losing by three strokes. In June at the U.S. Open at Pinehurst, Wie delivered a clutch birdie at the 71st hole and won by two strokes over Stacy Lewis.

Those outcomes have enabled Wie to emerge from the gigantic shadow often cast by potential into a more full realization of the game her supporters always envisioned her to have.

 

Michelle Wie at her peak

Tournament              Finish      Score       Z Score

2013 ANA Inspiration    T-41        288         -0.39

2013 LPGA               T-9         286         -1.28

2014 ANA Inspiration    2nd         277         -2.39

2014 U.S. Open          1st          278         -2.19

2015 U.S. Open          11th        278         -1.11

2015 Evian Masters      T-16        281         -0.86

2016 ANA Inspiration    T-36        286         -0.02

2017 ANA Inspiration    6th         277         -1.69

2017 Women’s PGA        T-20        281         -0.53

2017 British Open       T-3         275         -1.64

Average Z Score: -1.18

 

T-137. Ken Venturi, -1.16, 1956-1960

The prevailing image of Ken Venturi is of a player who emerged from obscurity to prevail in the 1964 U.S. Open under death-defying conditions. There is more than a grain of truth to that. But it should not obscure Venturi’s earlier accomplishments, for the tragedy-to-triumph narrative can only be fully appreciated when viewed in the context of the great promise Venturi showed in advance of his fall.

The young Venturi – the one who competed as an amateur in 1956 and then as a professional through 1960 – was as dominant a figure as it is possible to be without actually winning. Venturi made two runs at major titles, and both eventually led to heartbreak.

The first occurred at the 1956 Masters while Venturi, still an amateur, opened with a 66 and built a six-stroke lead over Jack Burke and Cary Middlecoff standing on the ninth tee on Sunday. Then Venturi suddenly began playing like an amateur trying to win the Masters. He bogeyed six of the next seven holes, shrinking his lead to a single shot over Burke. At the 17th, Venturi bogeyed and Burke birdied, turning the outcome to Burke. The amateur third round leader had played the back nine in 42. Afterward, Venturi largely let others speak for him. “A strong young heart has … the strength to play more good golf in the years ahead,” remarked Middlecoff during the presentation ceremonies. Famed golf writer Herbert Warren Wind agreed. “It is not mere persiflage to say he will probably win many important tournaments in the years ahead,” Wind wrote.

But Wind, for once, was wrong. As a young pro, Venturi finished four behind Dick Mayer at the 1957 U.S. Open, then at the 1958 Masters he led through 36 holes but lost six strokes to Arnold Palmer on Saturday and tied for fourth. Again at the 1960 Masters, Venturi led Palmer by three strokes through six holes on Sunday, and by one when he completed his own round. But knowing Palmer remained on the course, he cautioned reporters who came to him for a congratulatory comment that “I haven’t won it yet. Palmer birdied both 17 and 18 to steal the tournament away again. “I wanted to win more than anything, Ken, but I’m truly sorry it had to be this way,” he told the runner-up afterward.”

A 1961 automobile accident began Venturi’s downfall. He lost the smooth swing that had been so natural for so long, going winless between August of 1960 and Congressional, and he also lost whatever confidence in his game remained. Venturi earned less than $4,000 in prize money in 1963. Yet he kept trying, “hitting balls until my hands were blistered,” he said. Those failures, ironically, only added to the sweetness of his eventual triumph at Congressional.

Venturi led after three rounds, but had been so drained by the heat and humidity that he passed on lunch in favor of medical treatments for dehydration and heat exhaustion. A doctor cautioned him that he risked a life-threatening heat stroke if he went out to play the afternoon round, but Venturi waved off the concern. (The conditions were so oppressive that the USGA did away with the 36-hole grind prior to the 1965 tournament.)

Walking the final fairway, unaware he had a four-stroke lead, Venturi asked tournament official Joe Dey “how am I doing?” “All you have to do is stay on your feet,” Dey replied. In naming Venturi its Sportsman of the Year for 1964, Sports Illustrated described his as “the cruel, the ugly and eventually the inspiring story of a defeated man who refused to accept failure.”

 

Ken Venturi at his peak

Tournament              Finish      Score       Z Score

1956 Masters            2nd         290         -1.69

1956 U.S. Open          8th         289         -1.01

1956 Western Open       T-32        295         -0.07

1957 U.S. Open          T-6         286         -1.32

1957 Western Open       T-14        282         -0.88

1958 Masters            T-4         286         -1.41

1958 PGA                T-20        292         -0.40

1959 PGA                T-5         281         -1.50

1960 Masters            2nd         283         -2.10

1960 PGA                9th         287         -1.24

Average Z Score: -1.16

 

T-137. Ian Woosnam, -1.16, 1989-1993

Between Gary Player’s first victory in 1991 and Joe Maria Olazabal’s 1994 win, seven men born outside the United States won at least one Masters green jacket. Six of them were fairly quickly inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame. That began to prompt a question: Why not Woosie?

That question was rendered moot when the Hall announced its five-member induction class for 2017, a class that included Ian Woosnam. In doing so, it acknowledged what many had known for years: Woosnam got far more than most out of his God-given talents.

At just 5-4, the physical nature of those talents had its limits. But Woosnam compensated with a determination that occasionally focused on the dare-devilish. His father, Harold Woosnam, once related a story of Ian’s victory as an eight-year-old in a swimming race, a win made more remarkable by the fact that Woosnam hadn’t yet learned how to swim. “That was Ian all over,” Harold Woosnam said. “He somehow found a way to get across that thing.”

Woosnam learned the game in amateur competitions in England, where he often found himself pitted against another future Masters champion, Sandy Lyle. He joined the European Tour when he was 21 in 1979, and first came to the attention of Americans by finishing sixth at the 1986 British Open.  Unlike many of the greats of European golf, Woosnam never succumbed to the big money lure of the American tour, his U.S. schedule rarely extending beyond the three major events plus one or two others that were particular favorites.

On the European tour, however, he developed into a star of the first magnitude. He won five events in 1987, among them the Suntory World Match Play, the Million Dollar Challenge, and the World Cup team and individual events. He claimed a second Suntory World Match Play in 1990, a second World Cup individual trophy in 1991, and led the European Order of Merit rankings for both 1987 and 1990.

If American pros ever doubted the ability of this Welshman who preferred his side of the ocean, those doubts were disabused on the occasions when their paths interceded. Following his third at the 1986 British Open, Woosnam finished eighth in 1987, then second to Curtis Strange at the 1989 U.S. Open and sixth at the PGA. He was fourth at the 1990 British Open, and came to the 1991 Masters as the newly minted world number one, having earned the status with victories in France and New Orleans. He was the first person ever to attain that status without having won a major. “It gave me tremendous confidence,” he said.

A second round 66 boosted Woosnam’s confidence even more, lifting him into a tie for second, two strokes behind Tom Watson. The two were paired for the weekend, Woosnam taking the lead entering the final round thanks to a Saturday 67. They remained tied at 11-under par – with Jose Maria Olazabal — as the twosome approached the final tee. That’s when things went off script.

Woosnam pulled his drive well left, through the gallery and near the practice area. Watson went the other way, sending his drive crashing into the right side trees. Ahead, meanwhile, Olazabal blasted out of a trap, his shot nearly hitting the flag before sailing 20 feet by. He took a bogey and fell a stroke behind.

Playing first from the woods, Watson sent a three-iron into the same trap. Woosnam’s 140-yard uphill approach was better, but it stopped on the fringe 30 feet away. When Watson failed to get up and down for his par, Woosnam rolled his third stroke about six feet past the hole and drilled home the winner. “The read of the putt was perfect for me,” he said later. “You could almost imagine it going in. It was just about holding my nerve and doing it.”

The victory brought such satisfaction to Woosnam that it may have sapped his competitive drive. He did nothing of note at any of the other 1991 majors, lost his just-earned No. 1 ranking, and managed only two top five finishes in majors for the remainder of his career. He did continue to pile up European tour victories, including the 1993 Trophee Lancome and the 1994 Dunhill British Masters, eventually running his trophy title to 29. An eight-time Ryder Cup team member, he captained the 2006 European team to victory at the K Club in Ireland. One year later, he was named an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire.

Still Woosnam can’t help but wonder what he might have done had he followed up more diligently on that Masters victory. “I always looked at my career as like trying to get to the top of a mountain,” he said after retiring. “Just winning tournaments, one step up the mountain, until I won a major and got to number one in the world.

“Unfortunately,” he added, “I got to the top and started going the other way. I probably should have said I’m going to win six majors.”

Ian Woosnam at his peak

Tournament              Finish      Score       Z Score

1989 Masters            T-14        290         -0.58

1989 U.S. Open          T-2         279         -1.81

1989 PGA                6th          279         -1.32

1990 U.S. Open          T-21        286         -0.55

1990 British Open       T-4         276         -1.76

1991 Masters            1st          277         -1.83

1991 British Open       T-17        281         -0.89

1992 U.S. Open          T-6         292         -1.00

1992 British Open       T-5         279         -1.25

1993 Masters            T-17        287         -0.61

Average Z-Score: -1.16

 

  1. Colin Montgomerie, -1.15, 1995-1999

There were more than a few moments in the 1990s when it appeared likely that Colin Montgomerie would go down in history as a multi-major tournament winner. He had the game, the opportunity, the desire, and the personality.

That such an outcome never actually transpired – that Montgomerie eventually retired without even a single major win – is one of those freakish things ascribable only to ill fortune. Perhaps no statistic better sums up Montgomerie’s career than this one: On six different occasions he finished among the top 3 in majors without ever once winning. Four of those increasingly excruciating misses came either by one stroke or in a playoff.

A native of Scotland, Montgomerie grew up in England but emigrated to the U.S. to play college golf, in the process becoming a Walker Cup star for the British team. Establishing his professional bona fides in Europe, he was named that circuit’s rookie of the year in 1988, won his first tour event in 1989, and making his Ryder Cup debut in 1991. Eventually he would run his collection of European Tour victories into the mid 30s, winning the Order of Merit – representing the leading money winner – seven consecutive seasons starting in 1993.

He has earned more than $1.5 million playing golf around the world.

His failures in the major events have not been for lack of trying. Between his debut at the 1990 British Open and his 50th birthday in June of 2013, Montgomerie started 69 such events. He first came to America’s attention at the 1992 U.S. Open when, as an emerging 29-year-old star of the European, an early Sunday start time enabled him to tour the Pebble Beach course in 70 for a four-round total of 288. As the afternoon wore, on, the wind whipped up, the greens dried out and the front-runners flailed helplessly, Montgomerie’s 288 looked so good that Jack Nicklaus, commenting on TV, called him the winner. How bad were those late conditions? The average Sunday score of players who stood among the top 10 after three rounds was 80; only one broke 75. That one was Tom Kite, whose 72 stood up for the victory, three strokes ahead of Montgomerie, who started the day in 28th place and finished in third. He got a taste of what was to come on the final holes, notably the 18th, which he parred. “The ball almost moved on its spot,” he said. “The wind was such a big factor.”

Two years later at Oakmont, Montgomerie’s final round 70 brought him home in a tie with Ernie Els and Loren Roberts, setting up the first three-way playoff in more than three decades. That playoff did not go well for Montgomerie, who double bogeyed two of the first three holes and shot 77, three worse than Els – who eventually won on the 20th hole — or Roberts. A little more than one year after that, Montgomerie again found himself in a major playoff, this time in sudden death with Steve Elkington for the PGA title at Riviera. Elkington dropped a 20-foot putt for the win.

Montgomerie would have won the 1997 U.S. Open at Congressional but for his misfortunes on a single hole. His nemesis was the long par 4 to a peninsula green that today is the 18th, but which at the time played as the 17th. Montgomerie bogeyed it all four rounds, undermining his otherwise excellent three-under 277. His problems that week were also widely ascribed to his own sensitivity to criticism from the U.S. gallery, which never warmed to him. His last bogey, after Montgomerie waited an inordinately long time for the gallery to settle down, came on a five-footer at the tournament’s 71st hole as he and Els stood tied for the lead. Afterward, some suggested he had frozen himself.

Montgomerie’s last shot at major glory came during the 2006 U.S. Open. As usual, he nearly sealed the deal, birdying the 71st hole and arriving at the final tee in need of a par to win. He pulled a seven iron for his 172-yard approach, but left it short and right of the green in severe rough. “I thought adrenaline would kick in,” Montgomerie later said of taking too little club. “I usually hit the ball 10 yards further in that circumstance.” He pitched on indifferently, and three-putted, throwing him into a tie with Jim Furyk and Phil Mickelson for his accustomed spot, second place behind eventual champion Geoff Ogilvy.

Montgomerie eventually did get his major – three of them in fact – but they all came on the senior tour, which he dominated for several years.

 

Colin Montgomerie at his peak

Tournament              Finish      Score       Z Score

1995 PGA                2nd         267         -2.28

1996 U.S. Open          T-10        283         -1.32

1997 U.S. Open          2nd         277         -2.07

1997 British Open       T-24        284         -0.47

1997 PGA                T-13        284         -0.61

1998 Masters            T-8         285         -0.79

1999 Masters            T-11        287         -0.86

1999 U.S. Open          T-15        290         -0.71

1999 British Open       T-15        296         -0.84

1999 PGA                T-6         282         -1.58

Average Z Score: -1.15

 

T-140. Bob Charles, -1.14,1968-1972

Bob Charles is not the best left-hander to ever play professional golf. That distinction falls to a far better known and more recent player whose story will be forthcoming. He does however, in all likelihood hold one “best” distinction. He is very probably the best golfer ever produced by the banking profession.

Charles got his start in banking as a youth in his native New Zealand, working for several years as a teller. Eventually, though, his skill with a club proved more promising that his skill with a spreadsheet, so he gave up the suit and tie, turned pro, and almost immediately won the New Zealand PGA Championship.

That got him onto the European circuit, and in 1962 he made his first good run at the British Open. In terms of contending for the Claret Jug, it wasn’t much of a run; Arnold Palmer rode the unstoppable momentum of his building reputation to a six-stroke victory that week at Troon. Charles did, however, post a 290, good for fifth place and just one stroke out of third. It also renewed his confidence for a visit to Royal Lytham and St Anne’s in 1963. A third round 66 positioned him a shot ahead of four-time winner Peter Thomson, two up on Jack Nicklaus and Phil Rodgers, and Thomson took some of the final-round pressure off by stumbling home in 78. Charles’s 71 held off Nicklaus, who closed with 70. But the lightly regarded Rodgers shot 69 to set up a 36-hole playoff, which Charles won by a comfortable eight strokes.

It was an odd pairing in one respect. Charles was a natural right-hander in everything except golf; Rodgers, a natural left-hander, played golf right-handed because as a youth those were the only clubs he could find. The victory made Charles the first left-handed champion in the history of the professional majors.

Although Charles today is – logically –remembered largely for that British Open championship, his best days remained ahead. That younger, less experienced Charles was also a less consistent player. He followed up the Lytham win with only one top 10 finish in a major over the next four years, missing seven cuts in the process. Although he continued to fare well in New Zealand, Charles elsewhere won just once more until October of 1967, when he won a regular PGA Tour event in Atlanta. By then, Lytham had begun to look just a bit like a fluke.

The Atlanta victory turned him back into a consistent contender, if not a consistent champion. Across the span of the next two seasons, Charles made serious runs at three major titles, each time coming up frustratingly short. At Carnoustie in 1968, he trailed Billy Casper by a shot after three rounds. Casper fell back with a closing 78, but Charles could only manage a 76 himself. That left the door open for Gary Player, whose eagle three at the par five 14th set him up for a two-shot win. One week later at Pecan Valley in San Antonio, Charles’ final round 70 left him tied with Palmer one stroke behind Julius Boros. A year after that back at Lytham, Charles led Tony Jacklin by three strokes through 36 holes, but a third round 75 let Jacklin get ahead to stay.

That’s three runner-up finishes in little more than a year, those three coming by a total of four strokes. It didn’t get him another trophy, but in 1971 it did get him membership in the Order of the British Empire, to which he was appointed by Queen Elizabeth.

When he turned 50 in 1986, Charles gravitated to the Senior tour, where he won 23 times, although never managing to put away a major.

 

Charles at his peak

Tournament           Finish     Score      Z Score

1968 Masters          19th       286        -0.39

1968 U.S. Open        T-7        285        -1.03

1968 British Open     T-2        291        -1.73

1968 PGA              T-2        282        -1.52

1969 British Open     2nd        282        -1.95

1970 U.S. Open        T-3        289        -1.77

1970 British Open     T-13       292        -0.55

1971 U.S. Open        T-13       286        -0.75

1971 PGA              T-13       288        -1.05

1972 British Open     T-15       289        -0.62

Score: -1.14

 

T-140. Willie Park Jr., -1.14, 1883-1892

With his father, Willie Park Jr. remains today one of only two father-son combinations to have won major golf championships. They matched the achievement of the Morrises in 1887 when Willie Jr. won the Open by a single shot, accomplishing a feat Willie Sr. had done four times.

In fact Willie Sr. was the reigning champion when Willie Jr. was born in February of 1864. Naturally he was introduced to the game in childhood, much of which was spent on the Musselburgh Links, host to the Open in 1874, 1877 and 1880. The 10-year-old Willie Jr. would have watched his uncle, Mungo, win the 1874 Open at Musselburgh, and frequently caddied on the course when not playing.

Still just 16, Willie Jr. debuted at the 1880 event, finishing 16th in a field of 24, just one stroke behind his father. He tied Old Tom Morris for fifth in 1881, tied for fourth in 1884 at the age of 20, and repeated in that position a year later.

By now Park Jr. was recognized as a challenger for championship honors, particularly since the 1886 tournament was scheduled for Musselburgh, his home course. Instead fellow Musselburghers David Brown and Willie Campbell came home first and second, Park again running fourth. But there was no stopping Park in 1887. Trailing Campbell by five strokes following the morning 18 holes at Prestwick, he shot an afternoon 79, and benefitted when Campbell took four shots to escape a bunker on the 16th hole. (The bunker remains known today as “Willie Campbell’s Grave.”)

When the tournament returned to Musselburgh in 1889, Willie Jr. made up for his 1886 failure, surviving both the 36-hole tournament and a 36-hole playoff with Andrew Kirkaldy, a protégée of Old Tom Morris. Their scores of 155 represented a record for Musselburgh. Park could have set the record and won in regulation but a birdie putt on the final hole lipped out. Still, Park breezed through the playoff, leading by three shots after the first 18 holes and winning by five.

Combined with his father’s four Open victories and his brother, Mungo’s one, the 1889 championship made it seven for the Park family, one short of the Morris family’s record of eight. Nearly a decade later, at age 34, Willie Jr. nearly squared the slate at Prestwick in 1898. Leading after each of the first three rounds, Park led Harry Vardon by one shot until Vardon holed an eight-foot birdie putt on the final hole. Playing several holes behind Vardon, Park came to the 18th facing a lengthy putt for the birdie he needed to claim the Claret Jug. Instead he left the approach three feet short, then, with Vardon watching among the large gallery, missed that one as well to finish second, one stroke behind.

By then Park had taken over his father’s golf club making business, extending it outside Britain as golf became recognized internationally. He also became a recognized golf course architect, his designs notably including the Old Course at Sunningdale near London and Olympia Fields outside Chicago, both of which remain popular tournament venues today. In 1896, he authored the first book about golf written by a golf pro. Until well into his 40s, he continued to compete annually in the Open championship, finishing 6th in 1900. In 1919, the 55-year-old Park –who had moved to the United States — made a token appearance at the U.S. Open championship, missing the cut. Park died in 1925, a world renowned golf architect with more than 170 designs to his name across Europe and North America.

Willie Park Jr. at his peak

Tournament              Finish      Score       Z Score

1883 British Open       8th         165         -0.78

1884 British Open       T-4         169         -0.55

1885 British Open       T-4         174         -1.38

1886 British Open       T-4         161         -1.05

1887 British Open       1st         161         -2.02

1888 British Open       T-11        182         -0.29

1889 British Open       1st         155         -1.87

1890 British Open       T-4         170         -1.10

1891 British Open       6th         173         -1.36

1892 British Open       7th         315         -1.03

Average Z Score: -1.14

 

T-142. Padraig Harrington, -1.13, 2004-2008

For a 13-month period from July 2007 through August 2008, Padraig Harrington was about as good a golfer as there was in the world. In that 13-month period, Harrington won three majors, finished fifth in another, earned more than $5 million and climbed to third in the World Golf Rankings.

His sudden leap to dominance appeared to be directly linked to Harrington’s improved facility with the putter. During the 2006 PGA Tour season, Harrington ranked only 73rd in putts per round, requiring 29.04. In 2007, he improved to 7th, requiring just 28.32. In 2008 those numbers improved again, to 2nd overall and just 28.04 putts per round. In short, Harrington took a full stroke off his putting game in just two seasons.

That improvement directly correlated with his stroke average, which dropped from 70.33 (26th) in 2006 to 69.28 (3rd) in 2008.

Harrington was a threat even before July of 2007. Graduating from Dublin Business College in his native Ireland, Harrington played on Europe’s triumphant 1995 Walker Cup team and then completed his accountancy exams, giving him a career in hand before turning pro. He didn’t need the backup plan. In only his 10th professional start on the European tour, Harrington won the 1996 Peugeot Spanish Open.

Then reality set in, and Harrington found his niche close to, but not among, the game’s greats. During one stretch in 1999, he played five European tour events, finishing second in four of them. That gave him seventh place on the Order of Merit, a position he matched in 2000 before moving to the top of the list in 2001.

Through June of 2007, Harington accumulated 10 European Tour victories, and added two PGA tour titles. His record in the majors, though, was a succession of credible misses, with eight top 10s, but nothing better than fifth, to his name. That all changed at the 2007 British Open at Carnoustie, when Harrington survived a 72nd hole collapse leading to a playoff showdown with another player famous for his close misses, Sergio Garcia.

For most of the tournament, Garcia appeared on his way to his first major. His opening 65 gave him a four-shot lead, and it grew to six over Harrington, Ernie Els and Stewart Cink by the start of the final round. Then stuff happened. Garcia shot 38 on the front nine. Andres Romero, who began the day seven behind Garcia, carded seven birdies and briefly shot into the lead. Harrington, meanwhile, produced four birdies, and his eagle on 14 kicked him into the lead, which he retained coming to the 18th hole.

Standing on that tee, Harrington allowed thoughts of Jean Van de Velde’s epic 1999 collapse to enter his mind. Sure enough, his own second shot also found the Barry Burn in front of the green. Harrington walked off that final green with a six, one stroke behind Garcia, who thus needed a par to win.

Perhaps because it was all he had to cling to, Harrington immediately prepared for the notion that Garcia would bogey. “I never let it cross my mind that I’d just thrown away the Open,” Harrington said. That mental preparation paid off when Garcia did bogey the final hole, sending the tournament into a playoff. Harrington birdied the first extra hole – Garcia made bogey – and he hung on to win by a stroke. He was the first British Open champion from Ireland in six decades.

Harrington finished in a tie for fifth at the Masters, and came to the 2008 British Open with a chance to become the first European since James Braid more than a century earlier to successfully defend his Open championship. He also benefitted from the absence of Tiger Woods, the U.S. Open champion who was recuperating from a fractured leg. But Harrington had his own health problem; eight days earlier he had injured his wrist in practice. Playing with that injured wrist, Harrington shot an opening 74 that left him trailing 36 other players. He steadied, however, and in the challenging conditions at Royal Birkdale entered the final round trailing only one player, Greg Norman by four shots.

Sunday was a back-and-forth competition. Norman opened poorly, allowing Harrington to jump in front, but his lead was also undermined by three consecutive bogeys, pushing Norman back in front. But Norman staggered again down the stretch to a 77, and when Harrington drilled a five wood to within three feet for an eagle at the 17th, to cement a back nine 32, the tournament was effectively over. “I had a great year as Open champion so I didn’t want to give it back,” Harrington told the crowd at the trophy presentation.

Just three weeks later, Harrington entered the PGA Championship at Oakland Hills for the first time as a favorite. A third round 66 shot him into contention, three behind surprise leader Ben Curtis. Garcia, who entered Sunday tied with Harrington for third, birdied the first hole and opened the second to move in front. But a shot into the water that led to a bogey on the 16th hole cost him that lead, and Harrington – who had already fashioned three birdies in a four-hole stretch, was positioned to take advantage. Carrying a one-stroke lead over Garcia to the final hole, Harrington drained an 18-foot par putt to seal the victory. It was his third in 13 months, Garcia twice finishing as runner-up.

And then … nothing much. In his next dozen major tournament appearances, Harrington never challenged, missed six cuts and only once finished higher than 22nd. He rallied his game long enough to tie for eighth at the 2012 Masters and for fourth at the 2012 U.S. Open, but managed only a tie for 39th at the British Open, his best finish at that event since the 2008 victory.

Harrington at his peak

Tournament           Finish     Score      Z Score

2004 Masters          T-13       288        -0.52

2004 U.S. Open        T-31       295        0.14

2004 PGA              T-45       289        0.18

2006 U.S. Open        5th        287        -1.46

2007 Masters          T-7        293        -1.31

2007 British Open     1st        277        -1.77

2008 Masters          T-5        286        -1.08

2008 U.S. Open        T-36       293        -0.03

2008 British Open     1st        283        -3.09

2008 PGA              1st        277        -2.37

Average Z-Score: -1.13

 

T-142, Larry Nelson, -1.13, 1979-1983

Few players have taken as atypical a path to golf success as Larry Nelson.

Most future pros start playing as children. Larry Nelson didn’t.

Most build their resumes through junior and amateur tournaments. Larry Nelson didn’t.

Most hone their games to professional level in college. Larry Nelson didn’t.

Few see combat duty. Larry Nelson did.

In 1966, Nelson was a 19-year-old newlywed college dropout with a penchant for baseball and basketball but not much direction. At that time, 19-year-old dropouts, even newlywed ones, could count on one job opportunity. It involved being drafted and going to Vietnam. Nelson was, and he went.

“When I got there, I found out our regiment had lost close to 300 people, killed or wounded, in the previous 90 days,” he later told Golf Digest. “It was a tough time to be in Vietnam.”

He served there as an infantry team leader, taking his squad out on periodic ambush patrols. One member of his unit began talking the game up to Nelson. “Up to that point I thought it was a sissy sport,” he recalled. “But the guy hadn’t shaved for about two weeks and hadn’t bathed in longer and he had an M-16 and I didn’t want to tell him what I thought about golf.”

Returning stateside when his enlistment expired, Nelson initially tried baseball, only to have an arm injury sideline that notion. So he went to a nearby driving range and picked up an old steel-headed club. “My only goal was to try to hit the ball over the fence,” he said. “I had no idea what I was doing because I’d never played a round of golf in my life.” Through long sessions at that range, Nelson taught himself to become a long-straight driver before he ever played a single round.  Eventually he joined a country club, landed a job as an assistant pro, and found himself on the Florida mini tour. In 1973 at age 29, Nelson qualified for his first PGA tour event.

As much a breakthrough as it was, that debut only marked the beginning of an arduous apprenticeship. For the next five seasons, encompassing more than 130 tour starts, Nelson managed just four seconds, two thirds and 20 top 10s, while missing 23 cuts. His big weakness was putting.  “When you take up the game as an adult there’s a tendency to be mechanical” on the greens, he explained. “I really fought to overcome that.”

Nelson followed that first victory – at Inverrary in March of 1979 – with a second at the prestigious Western Open. Through his first six seasons on tour, Nelson had averaged about $50,000 annually in winnings; in 1979 he won $281,000. He was an established figure, if not a star, when the 1981 PGA Championship opened in Atlanta. He was also widely viewed as a colorless, mechanical figure, traits he turned to his advantage there. Nelson steadily built a four-stroke lead over the first three days of play, rarely making mistakes and even more rarely giving his fellow competitors a chance to gain ground on him. His reaction was typically stoic. “I’m going home to take a hot bath,” he told reporters of his plans for a victory celebration.

The U.S. Open came to Oakmont in 1973, and Nelson’s initial response was fear. “I got on the first tee of the opening round, looked down the fairway, and all I saw was thick rough and skinny fairways…it just looked impossible,” he said. Nelson shot 75. The next day he adopted a new approach: he ignored the fairways, focusing instead about eight inches in front of his ball. “That took some of the pressure off,” he said. Rounds of 73 and 65 followed. “Now I had my confidence back, and I did look down the fairways the last round,” he said. Still Nelson came to the tournament’s 70th hole, a long par three, only tied with Tom Watson for the lead. Worse, he faced a winding 62-foot putt in a circumstance where a bad miss could easily cost him the championship. Given his reputation as a poor putter by tour standards, bogey was a distinct possibility. “I thought … I could get within four feet of the hole,” he told reporters after the round. “But as soon as the ball was halfway there, I knew it was the right speed.” The putt dropped in for a stunning birdie that gave Nelson a lead he held on to.

Nelson’s third major victory, at the 1987 PGA at PGA National, came via a playoff with Lanny Wadkins. He sank a 20-foot birdie putt on the 71st hole to slip into a tie. Both men missed the green on the first playoff hole, Nelson chipping to within six feet and Wadkins within four. The competition then became a case of “first in wins.” Nelson made his putt, then Wadkins lipped his out.

Nelson continued to play regularly on the PGA Tour into the mid 1990s, transferring to the Champions Tour in 1997 and winning 19 tournaments there. Through the end of the 2015 season, he had amassed more than $19 million in career winnings. Not bad for somebody who never touched a club until he was in his 20s.

Nelson at his peak

Tournament           Finish     Score      Z Score

1979 U.S. Open        T-4        288        -1.64

1979 PGA              T-28       285        -0.26

1980 Masters          T-6        283        -1.00

1980 British Open     T-12       284        -0.83

1981 U.S. Open        T-20       284        -0.54

1981 PGA              1st        273        -2.37

1982 Masters          T-7        287        -1.18

1982 U.S. Open        T-19       291        -0.56

1983 U.S. Open        1st        280        -2.69

1983 PGA              T-36       288        -0.19

Score: -1.13

 

T.144, Bruce Devlin, -1.12, 1965-1969

Modern fans largely know Bruce Devlin as a golf course designer. Often working in collaboration with Robert Von Hagge, he has designed or redesigned more than 80 courses in the United States alone, and more than 150 around the world.

To an earlier generation, however, Devlin is recalled as among the most persistent foreign challengers to Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus, especially during their 1960s heydays. Although he never won a major championship, Devlin was a regular contender, finishing among the top 10 a dozen times between 1964 and 1969, and 16 times over the course of his career. In fact, one good measure of Devlin’s career is the list of men he chased to the finish in majors. Palmer is on that list; Devlin finished fourth behind him at the 1964 Masters. Nicklaus is on it twice; Devlin tied for fourth when Nicklaus won the 1966 British Open, and tied for fifth when Jack won the 1972 U.S. Open. Gary Player is also on the list twice; Devlin tied for sixth when Player won the 1965 U.S. Open, and tied for 10th in Player’s 1968 British Open victory. Lee Trevino won the 1968 U.S Open…but not before Devlin made a run, eventually finishing ninth. When Tom Watson won at Pebble Beach in 1982, the 45-year-old Devlin was still good for a top 10 finish.

Devlin learned golf as a child in Australia, quickly rising to prominence as a national champion there. He turned pro in 1961 and began playing on the U.S. tour in 1962. But he truly established himself by winning the St. Petersburg Open in March of 1964. He would eventually win eight PG Tour championships among his 28 worldwide, most of those coming on the Australasian tour.

Probably his best chance to actually win one of those elusive major titles came at the 1968 Masters, the year of the imbroglio over Robert deVicenzo’s incorrectly signed scorecard. Devlin stood in a five-way tie for second with, among others, eventual winner Bob Goalby, just one shot behind Gary Player, entering Sunday’s play. He managed his third 69 in four days, good enough to pass Player but not good enough to stay with either Goalby’s closing 66 or with deVicenzo’s 65…which was officially recorded as a 66.

In later years, Devlin interspersed his golf course design work with occasional appearances on the senior tour. There, too, he generally led a “just missed” existence, winning one event. His closest brush with senor major glory came at the 1988 Senior PGA when he finished seventh … behind Player.

 

Devlin at his peak

Tournament            Finish     Score      Z Score

1965 U.S. Open       T-6        288        -1.24

1965 British Open     T-8        290        -1.24

1965 PGA              T-6        285        -1.49

1966 British Open     T-4        286        -1.49

1967 Masters          T-10       290        -0.74

1967 British Open     T-8        287        -1.03

1968 Masters          4th        280        -1.50

1968 U.S. Open        T-9        286        -0.87

1968 British Open     T-10       297        -0.65

1969 U.S. Open        T-10       286        -0.91

Average Score: -1.12

 

T.144, Doug Sanders, -1.12, 1966-1970

Doug Sanders’ showmanship tended to overshadow his resume. On tour, he was known more for his colorful wardrobe and dashing personality than for his game, a shame because Sanders was for several years a force.

His reputation also suffered by his failure to actually win a major, a shortcoming that was never more exemplified than at the 1970 British Open. Sanders was by then an established pro well into his 30s, at precisely the stage of his career when people were prone to ask, “yeah, but can he win the big one?” He had been close, with runner-up finishes already at the PGA, U.S. Open and British Open. Now, needing only a par at the easy final hole at St Andrews, Sanders pitched on indifferently, lagged his birdie putt three feet away, and missed the knee-knocker, sending him into a playoff the next day — with, of all people, Jack Nicklaus — which Sanders lost. British TV commentator Henry Longhurst summed it up: “There but for the grace of God…”

That was Sanders’ golfing career in a nutshell, a recurring ability to threaten yet not close the deal. That’s not entirely fair to Sanders, who did, after all, win 20 PGA Tour events between 1956 and 1972. It was the big ones that kept getting away.

That tendency first showed itself at the 1959 PGA Championship, Sanders’ first and only the second contested at medal play. A second round 66 shot him into contention, and he trailed leader Jerry Barber by just one shot entering play Sunday. Sanders’ final 72 caught Barber … but Bob Rosburg came from back in the pack to shoot 66 and beat both of them by a stroke.

At the 1961 U.S. Open at Oakland Hills, Sanders held the third round lead only to watch Gene Littler tour the front nine Sunday in 34 and beat him by a stroke. Sanders might easily have gotten his major at the 1966 British Open at Muirfield, but he was done in by a six at the 11th hole and finished one stroke behind Nicklaus.

In sum, between 1958 and 1970 Sanders lost four major championships, all of those losses coming either by one stroke or in a playoff.

 

Sanders at his peak

Tournament            Finish     Score      Z Score

1966 Masters          T-4        290        -1.60

1966 U.S. Open        T-8        290        -0.88

1966 British Open     T-2        283        -1.87

1966 PGA              T-6        287        -1.42

1967 Masters          T-16       292        -0.42

1967 British Open     T-18       290        -0.55

1967 PGA              T-28       292        -0.17

1968 Masters          T-12       283        -0.94

1968 PGA              T-8        285        -1.08

1970 British Open     2nd        283       -2.24

Average Score: -1.12

 

T. 146. Tom Kite, -1.09, 1981-1985

For most of his lengthy playing career, Tom Kite held one informal title: best player who never won a major.

The news media bestowed it on him some time in the mid 1980s. By then Kite already had more than a half dozen Tour championships, plus 10 top-five finishes in majors. In 1978 he was runner-up to Jack Nicklaus at the British Open. In 1983 and again in 1986 he was runner-up at the Masters, first to Seve Ballesteros and then to Jack Nicklaus. In that 1986 tournament, Kite came from off the pace with a closing 68 to overtake third round leader Greg Norman. But Nicklaus closed with a 65 to overtake them both. It marked Kite’s ninth finish among the top six at Augusta.

In 1981 and again in 1982 Kite led the entire Tour in scoring average. In 1989 he won four tournaments and earned nearly $1.4 million. There was no tournament, it seemed, that Tom Kite couldn’t contend in. There were only four he couldn’t win…the four biggest.

By 1990, the “best non-major champion” label appeared to have epoxied itself to Kite’s bag. He was in his 40s by then, possessed of 19 major top 10s, but sliding inexorably downhill. At the 1989 U.S. Open at Oak Hill, he had led by three strokes after 54 holes, but made seven on the par four fifth on Sunday and finished with a 78. “By far my worst round I’ve had in five or six years,” he said of what was his seventh round of 75 or worse on the final day of an Open. He managed only a tie for 14th at the 1990 Masters, and failed to make the top 40 in any of the other three big events that year. In 1991 his best was merely a tie for 37th at the U.S. Open. For the first time since 1974, he failed to qualify for the 1992 Masters, and came to that summer’s U.S. Open at Pebble Beach as an afterthought.

Windy conditions, even by the standards of Pebble Beach, threw the competition up for grabs. Nicklaus, seeking his fifth title, shot rounds of 74-77 and went home early. So did 1982 champion Tom Watson. Unheralded Gil Morgan managed to get through the first 36 holes in 135 strokes and hold a three stroke lead. Eventually, though, the conditions did Morgan in as well; he followed those two masterful scores with rounds of 77-81 and fell into a tie for 13th.

Amid the carnage, Kite saw opportunity. Eight strokes behind after two rounds, he fired a Saturday 70 to move within one, and closed on Sunday with an even par 72. In victory, Kite admitted the win came as a huge relief.

“It bugged the living daylights out of me,” he admitted of his annual major misses. “It was all people wanted to talk about…it was like the other things didn’t matter.”

Freed of his baggage, elder tour statesman Kite demonstrated he still had the game to contend. Through 1997, he racked up his ninth and 10th tournament championships along with six more top 10s in majors. When Tiger Woods decimated the field by 12 strokes at the 1997 Masters, it was Kite who won what came to be called the “non-Tiger flight” with a six-under par 282. He moved from the regular Tour to the Champions Tour after the 1999 season, having won more than $11 million, and has since added $16 million on the Champions Tour.

Kite at his peak

Tournament            Finish     Score      Z Score

1981 Masters          T-5        284        -1.08

1981 U.S. Open        T-20       284        -0.54

1981 PGA              T-4        279        -1.36

1982 Masters          T-5        287        -1.23

1982 PGA              T-9        280        -1.11

1983 Masters          T-2        284        -1.53

1984 Masters         T-6        282        -1.11

1985 U.S. Open        13th       284        -0.89

1985 British Open     T-8        285        -1.11

1985 PGA              T-12       285        -0.92

Score: -1.09

 

T. 146. Sandy Lyle, -1.11, 1985-1989

There was, of course, a time when Scotland ruled the world of major tournament golf. The first 29 winners of the British Open championship – all of them until 1890 – claimed Scotland as their home. Even today, Scotland has still produced far more major champions – 55 of them – than any other country except the United States.

Yet the ranks of champion Scottish golfers have obviously thinned since the era of the Morrises and the Parks. Following Tommy Armour’s victory at the 1931 British Open, more than a half century elapsed before another Scot triumphed in a major. The man who did so, Sandy Lyle, captured the 1985 British Open and followed that with a green jacket at the 1988 Masters.

Lyle remains today one of the least known of the game’s greats, at least in America, because he played so infrequently here. Largely resisting the lure of big money and big fame that drew foreign contemporaries of the stripe of Ballesteros, Langer, Faldo, Norman and Olazabal to the PGA Tour, Lyle maintained his focus on the European Tour, where he won 18 times between 1979 and 1992. His trophies include the 1984 Italian Open, the 1984 Lancome Trophy, the 1987 German Masters, the 1988 Dunhill British Masters, and the 1992 Volvo Masters.

Only four times in a career that has to date spanned 40 years did Lyle make more starts in the U.S. than in Europe, the exceptions being from 1987 through 1990.  And even then, the difference was hardly substantial, an average of 16 U.S. starts measured against 11.25 on the European tour.

Born in 1958 in Shrewsbury, Lyle debuted at the British Open as a 16-year-old amateur in 1974. He missed the cut. Turning pro in 1977, his first win came a year later in a small event in Africa. Returning to the Open in 1979, he managed a tie for 19th position, good enough to win an invitation to the following year’s Masters, where he finished 48th. By then Lyle was an established figure on the European circuit with three victories, including the 1979 European Open by seven strokes.

Unlike most of his front-rank European contemporaries, Lyle more or less eschewed pursuit of major titles unless they came naturally to his radar screen. He tried the U.S. Open in 1980 and 1981, failed to make the cut either time, and did not show up again until 1986. Also in 1981, he made his only appearance in the PGA prior to 1991, again missing the cut. In 1982 Lyle bothered with only one major event, the British Open, where he finished eighth. Although a pro for eight years by the time of the 1985 British Open, he had teed it up in just seven U.S.–based majors to that point.

If lightly regarded in the U.S., Lyle was by then a highly respected figure in Europe, and particularly in England. Powerfully built and –at age 27 – in his athletic prime, Lyle fired an opening 68 at Royal St. George’s, but started the final day three strokes behind co-leaders David Graham and Masters champion Bernhard Langer. His fortunes turned on the back nine. At the famous par 5 14th, Lyle stood 200 yards out in two, whistled a two-iron onto the green and sank a 20-foot putt for a birdie. On the next hole, he sank a 12-footer for another birdie. Missing the green at 18, he took bogey and posted a two-over par 282, then sat back to wait on Langer and Graham. Fate was with him: Graham bogeyed three of the four incoming holes, and Langer bogeyed two of the final three, leaving Lyle with a one-stroke edge over American Payne Stewart.

It was a career highlight, but not a breakthrough performance. Lyle won the Benson & Hedges International that August, then stumbled through a 1986 season that saw just one victory, at Greensboro on the U.S. tour. Continuing to switch between tours in 1987, he beat Jeff Sluman in three extra holes to claim the TPC in March, and in October beat Langer in a playoff at the German Masters. The majors were another story, Lyle managing nothing more glorious than a tie for 11th at Augusta in 1986.  He did play on the victorious European Ryder Cup teams in both 1985 and 1987, and those showings, coupled with early 1988 victories at Phoenix and Greensboro, made him a plausible candidate to become the first Britisher to win the Masters.

The tournament boiled down to a contest between Lyle and American Mark Calcavecchia. Lyle led by two strokes after 54 holes, and widened that advantage to four over the Sunday front nine. But Calcavecchia, playing ahead of Lyle, picked up five shots through Amen Corner. The first and second came when Calcavecchia birdied and Lyle three-putted at 11, the third and fourth when Lyle drowned his tee shot in Rae’s Creek at 12. The fifth, a Calcavecchia birdie at No. 13, gave him a one-stroke lead, although Lyle re-forged the tie with a birdie of his own on 16.

With Calcavecchia in the clubhouse, Lyle drove into a fairway bunker at 18. “I personally thought it was over,” he said later. “The front bunker had a steep face on it … I didn’t think I had a chance of getting it out and getting it on the green.”

He was wrong. Lyle blasted a seven-iron to 10 feet above the cup and rolled the downhill birdie putt smack into the center of the hole for the victory. Not since Arnold Palmer 28 years earlier had anybody birdied 18 to win the tournament.

The victory was Lyle’s last on the U.S. Tour, although he added four more on the European Tour over the next five seasons.  Paring back his playing commitments, he moved to the Senior European and U.S. Tours in 2008, and was voted into the World Golf Hall of Fame four years later.

Lyle at his peak

Tournament            Finish     Score      Z Score

1985 Masters          T-25       292        -0.11

1985 British Open     1st        282        -1.80

1986 Masters          T-11       285        -0.71

1986 British Open     T-30       295        -0.19

1987 Masters          T-17       291        -0.58

1987 U.S. Open        T-36       289        -0.06

1987 British Open     T-17       286        -0.84

1988 Masters          1st        281        -1.93

1988 U.S. Open        T-25       287        -0.22

1988 British Open     T-7        283        -1.17

Average Score: -1.11

 

148, Betty Jameson, -1.07, 1952-1956

A founding member of the LPGA, Jameson was one of the foundational figures of women’s golf at both the amateur and professional levels. Born in 1919 in Oklahoma, she was introduced to the game as a child, was the state publinx champion by 13, and debuted in the U.S. Amateur as a 15-year-old, winning one match.

Her education at the amateur level was not immediate, but by 1938 she advanced to the quarter-finals, and in 1939 Jameson came to the 43rd annual event as a confident 20-year-old. Women’s amateur golf in those days was a strange mixture of society ladies whose excellence stopped at the borders of their home clubs plus a handful of serious players. The latter category included Glenna Collett Vare and Helen Hicks, who between them owned eight Amateur championship trophies. The biggest name in the women’s game, however, missed that tournament; Patty Berg, the defending champion, was recovering from an appendectomy.

Berg’s absence threw the tournament wide open, and Jameson stepped into the breach. She advanced easily into the semi-finals, where Hicks awaited. Betty beat her 3 & 1. The final pitted Jameson against Dorothy Kirby, an even younger, less experienced and more audacious player than Jameson. Betty claimed the final 4 & 3. She repeated in 1940, this time breezing through the final 6 & 5 over Jane Cothran.

World War II interrupted the support money for most sporting activities in the United States, and that certainly included women’s golf. Against a depleted field, Jameson breezed through one of the few events that survived – the 1942 Women’s Western Open. But with the war’s end, a push arose – spurred largely by Berg and Babe Zaharias – for the creation of a professional golf circuit. That desire brought together 13 of the best women players – Jameson among them – to form what would eventually become the LPGA. As a newly minted pro, Jameson placed second behind Berg at the inaugural Women’s Open, then lost to Zaharias in the quarter-finals of the 1946 event. At the 1947 Open, Jameson rolled through a field that included Berg and Louse Suggs, winning by six strokes. She would add a third professional major – her second Women’s Western – in 1954, defeating Betsy Rawls (6 & 5), Berg (2 & 1) and Suggs (6 & 5) in the final three matches.

For her seminal role in the creation of the women’s tour, Jameson was an inaugural inductee of the new LPGA Hall of Fame in 1967.

 

Jameson at her peak

Tournament          Finish    Score     Z Score

1952 U.S. Open      2nd       291       -1.17

1952 Western Open   2nd    match play   -2.02

1953 Titleholders   T-6       312       -0.53

1953 U.S. Open      4th       312       -0.84

1954 U.S. Open      T-14      316       -0.58

1954 Western Open   1st    match play   -1.80

1955 U.S. Open      T-9       312       -0.78

1956 Titleholders   5th       309       -0.81

1956 U.S. Open      T-7       307       -1.02

1956 LPGA           3rd       296       -1.14

Average Z Score: -1.07

 

T-149. Fay Crocker, -1.06, 1954-1958

Largely anonymous today, Fay Crocker deserves to be remembered for this reason if no other: She was the first non-American female to win a major championship. Nor was she the product of the only other recognized golfing hotbed of the time, the British empire, a fact that makes her accomplishment even more unlikely.

Crocker emerged out of Montevideo, Uruguay in the early 1950s to mix it up – often successfully – with Patty Berg and Louise Suggs on the proto-version of the women’s tour.

The son of accomplished golf parents, Crocker came to the U.S. as a 25-year-old in 1939 to try her hand in the U.S. Amateur. She learned that she had a lot to learn. Qualifying for the 64-player match play competition with a round of 79, she advanced with 5 & 3 and 2 & 1 victories before veteran Helen Hicks took her out 1 up on the 20th hole of their third round match. Crocker returned to Uruguay, not taking on the Amateur again until 1950. Then in 1954 she turned pro. Crocker was 40 at the time.

If Crocker’s career was late in starting, she made up for the delay with intensity. She finished ninth in her first U.S. Open – that was the one made famous by Babe Zaharias, who won while undergoing treatments for the cancer that would soon take her life. In 1955 Crocker was probably the dominant force on the LPGA tour. At the Titleholders in Augusta, Ga., she tied for seventh. The U.S. Women’s Open was held at Wichita Country Club in June, featuring a field that included Louise Suggs, Patty Berg, Betsy Rawls and Betty Jameson, all former champions still in their competitive primes. None were a match that week for Crocker, who seized a three-stroke lead with an opening 74, followed that with 72 that extended her lead to eight, and breezed home four strokes ahead of Suggs and Mary Lena Faulk. Two weeks later at the LPGA, Crocker tied for third, four strokes behind Beverly Hanson. Finally at the Women’s Western, she tied Suggs for second, a stroke off Berg’s winning pace.

That season was the high point of Crocker’s career, although not the only highlight. In 1958 she placed third in the Open behind Mickey Wright and Suggs, then second in the LPGA behind Wright. Two seasons later Crocker — at the advanced age for a female golfer of 46 – seized the Titleholders and ran away with it by seven shots. More than a half century later, she remains the oldest major champion in LPGA history.

Crocker essentially left the tour after the 1961 season, meaning that the essence of her pro career was limited to just eight seasons. Even so she could count seven official tour championships, two of them majors. Returning to South America, she lived as a distinguished golf elder of that continent until her death in 1983.

 

Crocker at her peak

Tournament            Finish     Score      Z Score

1954 Western Open  qtr final  match play    -1.48

1955 Titleholders     T-7        306        -0.19

1955 U.S. Open        1st        299        -1.75

1955 LPGA             T-3        224        -1.00

1955 Western Open     T-2        294        -1.51

1956 U.S. Open        10th       309        -0.80

1957 U.S. Open        T-9        312        -0.81

1958 Titleholders     5th        312        -0.59

1958 U.S. Open        3rd        297        -1.42

1958 LPGA             2nd        294        -1.00

Average Z Score: -1.06

 

T-149. Gay Brewer, -1.06, 1964-1968

Gay Brewer may have had the least classical swing of any highly successful player: a looping, wandering swing that seemed never to have been coached. “It was a buggy whip from the get-go,” Hale Irwin once told Golf Digest of Brewer’s swing. But, Irwin quickly added, “he got the club back to the ball the same way every time.”

Brewer generally traced the looping swing back to a childhood elbow injury that made it difficult to take a more standard swing path. He overcame the flaw with practice and determination, winning a national junior championship and starring at the University of Kentucky, but floundering initially on the pro tour. Five seasons into his pro career, Brewer remained winless and missing five consecutive cuts at the U.S. Open, the only major he qualified to enter.

Gradually, though, Brewer found his way. His first of an eventual 10 PGA tour wins came in August of 1961 when he was 29. He won twice more that season and qualified for the 1962 Masters, where he barely missed the top 10. He was fifth at the 1962 U.S. Open.

At that time, the Masters was generally viewed as the exclusive province of the golf world’s power trio, Nicklaus, Palmer and Player. One of those men won all but one of the Masters played between 1958 and 1965. Palmer won the 1964 tournament by six strokes, then Nicklaus won by nine a year later. So when the field convened for the 1966 event, nobody gave Brewer a second thought as a contender.

That changed when Brewer plowed through the first three rounds at two over par, hanging within two shots of Nicklaus and co-leader Tommy Jacobs. On Sunday, he toured the front nine in 33 strokes to seize the lead, and came to the final hole needing only a par for the victory. But he left his approach 70 feet from the hole, left his first putt seven feet away and missed the winner to set up a three-way playoff, which Nicklaus won. “When I three-putted the second hole I became scared of my putter,” he told reporters, adding, “if you can’t putt you can’t play.”

The playoff outcome made Nicklaus the first person to win back-to-back Masters. Nobody knew it at the time, but it also prevented Brewer from claiming that same honor. One year later, he returned to Augusta, shrugging off intimations that his close miss might scar his future play. “I blew it and forgot it,” he said. An opening 73, six strokes worse than leader Bert Yancey, suggested otherwise, but Brewer followed with a 68 and stood fourth, three strokes behind three leaders entering Sunday play. The four were tied with nine holes remaining, but Brewer birdied the 13th, 14th and 15th to seize command, fashioning that into a one-stroke lead over Bobby Nichols. As in 1966, he came to the final hole needing par for victory, and this time he sank the putt. “I guess I’m the happiest person in history to win here,” Brewer said at the presentation ceremony.

The win was the ninth of Brewer’s career, and clearly his high point. He continued to play regularly on tour into the 1970s, then joined the Champions tour when it was founded.

 

Brewer at his peak

Tournament              Finish      Score       Z Score

1964 U.S. Open          T-5         286         -1.35

1964 PGA                8th         281         -1.16

1965 U.S. Open          16th        293         -0.44

1965 PGA                T-28        293         -0.31

1966 Masters            T-2         288         -1.93

1966 PGA                27          293         -0.35

1967 Masters            1st         280         -2.35

1968 U.S. Open          T-9         286         -0.87

1968 British Open       T-6         295         -1.01

1968 PGA                T-20        287         -0.78

Average Z Score: -1.06

 

T-149. Chick Evans*, -1.06, 1914-1920

The first great American amateur golfer, anticipating Bobby Jones by a decade, was a baby-faced kid out of the Chicago caddie shacks good enough to beat the pros at their own game.

Those pros couldn’t have taken Chick Evans very seriously when he showed up on the first tee of the Beverly Country Club in late August of 1910. He was a 20-year-old college dropout, his only reputation having been attained at Evanston Academy, where he had dominated interscholastic tournaments two years earlier. But in a field of 70 that included the top pros and amateurs of the era – veterans of the stripe of Jock Hutchison, Jim Barnes, Laurie Auchterlonie, former Western Open champion Robert Simpson and former U.S. Open champion James Foulis – Evans was an anonymity on the entry sheet.

He was, anyway, until qualifying began for the tournament, which was being conducted that year at match play. Evans breezed through the preliminary round, posting an astonishing 71 on a day when the field average was 79.8, and nobody else broke 74. Following a nerve-wracking opening match in which he needed 20 holes to dispatch James Donaldson, an area pro, Evans beat Lee Nelson and fellow amateur Ned Sawyer to advance to the 36-hole final, where George Simpson, a former Scottish Amateur champion who had since turned pro, awaited.

It was no contest. Evans took the lead for good on the third hole, completed the morning round 2-up, and birdied the seventh and ninth holes to build his lead to four. Birdies at the 30th and 31st holes closed out the headline-grabbing 6 & 5 victory. As an amateur, Evans, of course, could not claim the prize money, which went to Simpson…all $100 of it.

Aside from a trip the following spring to Britain to play in the Open and Amateur, the 20-year-old did absolutely nothing to trade on his new-found fame. He did not even enter the Western again for five years, and largely contented himself with regional events until entering the 1914 U.S. Open, again being played at the conveniently situated Midlothian Country Club outside Chicago. Mustering only a 36-hole total of 150 that put him eight strokes behind leader and eventual champion Walter Hagen, Evans rallied and came to the 72nd hole – a 277 yard par 4 – needing an eagle to force a playoff. He boomed his drive to the fringe, only to slightly pull the potential tying putt, which stopped 10 inches squarely to the left of the cup.

There were no such near-misses in 1916, when Evans put together probably the greatest season to that date by an American-born player, amateur or professional. It began at the U.S. Open at Minikahda Country Club in Minneapolis, where Evans defeated Hutchison by two strokes and Barnes by four in June. The margin was more comfortable than that, Evans carrying a seven-stroke lead into the final 36 holes. Whatever doubts lingered following a morning 74 on Saturday were dispatched on the 12th hole of the afternoon round, when Evans’ two-wood second shot finished 18 feet from the cup on the 535 yard par 5.

The two most important tournaments in the U.S at that time were the Open and the Amateur, the latter being held that September at Merion, and no man had ever won both in the same year. Evans qualified fourth in the 32-person match play field, but quickly emerged as the favorite when the three men seeded ahead of him all lost in the opening two rounds. He won his third round match 10 & 9, breezed through the quarter-final 9 & 8, took his semi-final 3 & 2 and beat Charles Gardner, a fellow Chicago area product from Hinsdale, 4 & 3 to win the trophy.

The war interrupted Evans’ fame for two seasons, cancelling both the Open and Amateur in 1917 and 18. At the 1919 Amateur event, the defending champion qualified well and breezed through his opening match 7 & 6 before being eliminated on the final hole by Francis Ouimet. He would get revenge one year later at the 1920 Amateur held at Roslyn, N.Y. There Evans rolled through the preliminary rounds, running up wins by scores of 8 & 7, 7 & 6 and 10 & 8. His only close call came during a third round match against Reginald Lewis, which Evans won on the fifth extra hole. That set up a championship round rematch with Ouimet, who had eliminated Bobby Jones 6 & 5 in the semi-final, and Evans breezed to a 7 & 6 victory. Of his five matches, four had ended with five or more holes remaining.

It was Evans’ final major victory, but not his final brush with glory. He returned to the Amateur as defending champion in 1921 and reached the semi-finals before being eliminated by the eventual champion, Jesse Guilford. At the 1924 Western Open, he placed third, and three years later tied for seventh at the same event. Evans was well into his 30s by then, ancient for a lifelong amateur, and although he would continue to make sporadic appearances at the Open and Western, his championship career was essentially over. The one event he always made room for on his calendar was the Amateur, teeing it up there a record 50 consecutive times, a string that stretched from 1907 to 1962. In 1975 he was elected to the World Golf Hall of Fame.

Trained as a caddie, Evans never forgot his roots. A college dropout for financial reasons whose business success was influenced by his golfing achievements, Evans in 1928 established the Evans Scholars program to underwrite scholarships for caddies. Two years later, the first two Evans Scholars enrolled at Northwestern University, the school Evans had been forced to abandon 20 years earlier due to costs. Authorities say that more than 10,600 former caddies have since taken advantage of the scholarship’s opportunities.

Evans was no saint. He was said to have developed an intense jealousy for Ouimet and also for 1915 Open champion Jerome Travers because those two contemporary amateurs had beaten him to the Open title. The same jealousy was reported regarding Jones, whose fame soon eclipsed Evans’ own. In his later years, though, Evans reconciled with his contemporaries. He died in 1979, one of the most admired men in golf history.

Evans at his peak

Tournament          Finish    Score     Z Score

1914 U.S. Open      2nd       291       -1.94

1914 British Amat.4th round match play   -0.02

1915 U.S. Open      18th      307       -0.59

1915 Western Open   T-22      324       -0.42

1916 U.S. Open      1st        286       -2.50

1916 U.S. Amateur   1st   match play    -0.97

1919 U.S. Amateur2nd round match play   -0.64

1919 U.S. Open      T-9       313       -0.95

1920 U.S. Open      T-6       298       -1.46

1920 U.S. Amateur   1st   match play    -1.06

Average Z Score: -1.06

*The Evans portion of the text is taken from “The Hole Truth,” a SABRmetric approach to golf analysis, by the author, which will be published by University of Nebraska Press in the fall of 2018.

 

T-152. Judy Rankin, -1.05, 1975-1979

Known today for her television work, Judy Rankin’s reputation on the course probably recedes with the passage of time. That may be natural – hardly anybody under age 50 saw her play – but it’s still unfortunate. In her prime, the mid 1970s, Rankin was a consistent force on the LPGA tour.

Technically, Rankin is without a major championship. That is, however, a technicality born of bad timing rather than performance. In 1976, Rankin won the Colgate Dinah Shore by three strokes; it was declared a major seven years later. In 1977 she won the Peter Jackson Classic, again by three strokes. It was declared a major two years later. Were we to retroactively adjudge her performance in those pre-major tournaments eligible for consideration in our ranking of her, her score would improve by about one-half of a standard deviation, a gain of about 30 spots.

As it is, Rankin’s rating is handicapped by the fact that her prime coincided with a period when the LPGA generally conducted only two major events, the Open and the LPGA. As a practical matter, it means that Rankin only has 11 major events between 1975 and 1979 from which to select her best 10. Her male contemporaries, for example, could select their best 10 from among 20 major tournaments.

Rankin was a child golf prodigy, a St. Louis native who dominated girls golf in that area and winner of the Missouri Amateur in 1959, when she was just 14. Her finish as low amateur at the 1960 Women’s Open – she was 24th overall — earned her a cover photo on Sports Illustrated when the magazine decided to preview the 1961 event. She turned pro in 1962, but did not win her first tour event until 1968.

The 1970s were Rankin’s decade. Of her 26 tour championships, all but that 1968 victory at Corpus Christi came between 1970 and 1979. In 1972 she tied for second at both the Open and the Titleholders; she finished second at the 1976 LPGA and tied for that spot in 1977. She won the Vare Trophy for low scoring average in 1973, 1976 and 1977, was named Player of the year in 1976 and 1977. In 1976 alone, she won six tournaments and took home more than $150,000 in earnings, the first LPGA player to top $100,000. She added five more championships in 1977.

Her 1976 LPGA loss to Betty Burfeindt was as close as Rankin would ever come to actually winning a title recognized at the time as a major. The two women were tied and playing together on Sunday when they came to the 16th, a 301 yard par four that Rankin had birdied the two previous days. This time her 18-foot birdie putt for the lead barely rimmed out. Burfeindt then sank her own birdie putt. “We were both going along even and we knew one of us had to make a birdie,” Rankin said afterward. “She made it’ I didn’t.”

Chronic back problems hampered Rankin’s performance, eventually ending her career in 1983, when she was just 39. “I would play a month and be a cripple a month,” she said of the problem. “My goal was to stay on my feet.” A two-time Solheim Cup captain she was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2000.

Rankin at her peak

Tournament              Finish      Score       Z Score

1975 U.S. Open          T-9         304         -0.87

1975 LPGA               T-20        298         -0.30

1976 U.S. Open          T-17        307         -0.21

1976 LPGA               2nd         288         -2.07

1977 U.S. Open          T-10        302         -0.81

1977 LPGA               T-2         282         -1.78

1978 LPGA               3rd         283         -1.79

1979 U.S. Open          T-26        296         -0.26

1979 LPGA               T-10        289         -1.10

1979 duMaurier          T-5         291         -1.34

Average Z Score: -1.05

 

 

T-152. Graeme McDowell, -1.05, 2008-2012

McDowell is one of the current group who are inheritors of a lineage of successful Irish golfers dating back to Fred Daly and the O’Connors. Although he lacks the obvious raw skills of Rory McIlroy, the major tournament resume of Padraig Harrington or the panache of Darren Clarke, McDowell has held his own with the world’s elite pros, winning one major and nearly winning a second.

McDowell came out of Portrush in Northern Ireland, played golf as a collegian in the United States, and turning pro following graduation in 2002. He was not an immediate sensation here, making only two cuts in his first two seasons. In Europe it was another story. McDowell finished sixth in the European Order of Merit in 2004, and cracked the world’s top 50. Playing selectively in the United States, he tied for second at Bay Hill, for sixth at the American Express Championship, and for 11th at the British Open, earning $814,000.

McDowell came to the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach in a period when Irish players– McDowell, McIlroy, Harrington and Clarke — had all risen to prominence. Playing steadily, McDowell found himself in second place three strokes behind Dustin Johnson after three rounds. Johnson blew to an 82 on Sunday, a score that might have opened the door for Tiger Woods in third place. But Woods managed only a 75, leaving the door open for McDowell, whose closing 74 was good enough to outlast France’s Gregory Havret by a shot. He became the first European to win the Open in 40 years.

The outcome turned out to be more of an event than a movement, McDowell missing the cut in four of his next five majors. In 2012 he made a hard run at a second U.S. Open title at Olympic, co-leading (with Jim Furyk) heading into Sunday play. But four bogeys on the front nine cost him the lead, and McDowell also bogeyed the 13th and 14th holes. When McDowell missed a slick 25-foot downhill birdie putt at 18, Webb Simpson emerged as the victor. A month later at the British Open, McDowell stood second four strokes behind Adam Scott entering Sunday play, but never ignited a run and finished in a tie for fifth.

McDowell at his peak

Tournament           Finish     Score      Z Score

2008 British Open     T-19       294        -0.49

2008 PGA              T-15       287       -0.74

2009 U.S. Open        T-18       284        -0.50

2009 PGA              T-10       288        -1.05

2010 U.S. Open        1st        284        -2.20

2011 U.S. Open        T-14       282        -0.78

2012 Masters          T-12       286        -0.74

2012 U.S. Open        T-2        282        -1.63

2012 British Open     T-5        278        -1.43

2012 PGA              T-11       286        -0.91

Average Z Score: -1.05

 

T-152. Al Geiberger, -1.05, 1965-1969

On the PGA Tour, Al Geiberger was known for three things: Winning the 1966 PGA championship, becoming the first person to break 60 in a recognized tour event, and eating peanut butter sandwiches.

Chronologically the sandwiches came first, debuting in Geiberger’s bag during the 1965 PGA at Laurel Valley Country Club. Geiberger had been paired with local hero Arnold Palmer, and he figured it wise to fortify himself against the prospect of an especially long, draining day.

“I knew I’d never be able to get to the concession stands with Palmer’s gallery surrounding us,” he explained. The one-time deal quickly became a thing. But why peanut butter, he was asked. “Can you imagine tuna fish in your bag if you forgot to eat it,” he responded. The sandwiches didn’t help much – he managed just a 19th place finish, 11 strokes behind champion Dave Marr – but they at least got him in three strokes ahead of Palmer.

Geiberger arrived at the following year’s PGA at Firestone Country Club in Akron as a lightly regarded member of the field. Most of the attention logically focused on Palmer – still seeking the PGA title he needed to complete the career grand slam – and Jack Nicklaus. Several of the portents, however, pointed to Geiberger, not least of which being his victory at the 1965 American Golf Classic held on the same course. The weather abetted his track record. The 1966 event had been scheduled for Columbine in Denver, but flash floods rendered that course unplayable and forced the move to Firestone. He was also able to spend the tournament’s first 36 holes playing in relative anonymity belying his even par standing, just one stroke behind the leader. That’s because the leader was 54-year-old Sam Snead, and the golf legend attracted all the attention.

Geiberger broke out during Saturday’s third round, firing a 68 to take a four-stroke edge on the field while Snead retreated to a 75. His Sunday 72 ensured a no-drama finish those same four strokes ahead of runner-up Dudley Wysong. In the post round press conference, he explained his success as a simple matter of relaxation … doing so while eating a peanut butter sandwich.

The PGA title came in Geiberger’s first serious run at a major championship, his best previous finish being a tie for fourth at the 1965 U.S. Open. It was the highlight of a sporadic career that saw moments of brilliance interspersed with mediocrity. Through 1975, he won only three more times, his closest major brush coming at the 1969 U.S. Open, when he tied for second a stroke behind Orville Moody. The early 1970s were a particular wasteland for Geiberger, who failed to win anything between 1967 and 1973, and whose dozen major appearances between 170 and 1974 showed nothing better than a tie for 13th.

So it came as something of a surprise when Geiberger, by then nearing 40, laid down his 59 during the second round of the Danny Thomas St. Jude event in Memphis in June of 1977. His round of six pars, 11 birdies and an eagle set him up to win the event, although the victory also required overcoming a two-stroke deficit to Gary Player on the back nine on Sunday.

 

Al Geiberger at his peak

Tournament            Finish     Score      Z Score

1965 U.S. Open        T-4        287        -1.40

1965 PGA              19th       291        -0.61

1966 PGA              1st        280        -2.68

1967 U.S. Open        T-28       291        -0.10

1967 PGA              T-5        283        -1.59

1968 U.S. Open        T-9        286        -0.87

1968 PGA              T-8        285        -1.08

1969 Masters          T-13       288        -0.51

1969 U.S. Open        T-2        282        -1.55

1969 PGA              T-35       289        -0.07

Average Z Score: -1.05

Geiberger did not play in the British Open during his peak seasons.

 

T-155, Louis Oosthuizen, -1.03, 2012-2016

Some guys just need one break to propel their careers. Louis Oosthuizen got his at the 2010 British Open. The weatherman provided it.

At the time, Oosthuizen was a 27-year-old South African journeyman pro whose only accomplishment had been winning the Open de Andalucia de Golf in Spain four months earlier. At St. Andrews, his first-round 65 drew relatively little attention because pre-tournament favorite Rory McIlroy ripped off a 63 and the field as a whole went under par. Playing very early on the second day, Oosthuizen notched a 67 in a moderate rain and wind and retired to the clubhouse for lunch…just in time, as it turned out, for the Old Course to rise up in revolt.

The skies opened up that afternoon, affecting, among other, McIlroy, who fought his way to an 80. The average score climbed by four full strokes. Ensconsed in his warm, dry place, Oosthuizen suddenly found himself out front by five strokes. He lost only one stroke of that lead on Saturday and was never threatened on Sunday in claiming a decisive seven-stroke victory over Lee Westwood.

From full-out unknown, Oosthuizen had become a celebrity. Initially, however, his Open title sat on his resume like a freak show stat. He missed the cut in three of his next five majors before legitimizing that St. Andrews performance with a runner-up finish to Bubba Watson at the 2012 Masters. That was the tournament where a Sunday double eagle at the second hole propelled Oosthuizen into a playoff, which Watson famously won with an inconceivable hook out of the trees following an errant drive on the second playoff hole. It was the first of four runner-up finishes for Oosthuizen, the others coming to Jordan Spieth at the 2015 U.S. Open, to Zach Johnson in a playoff at that summer’s British Open at St. Andrews, and to Justin Thomas at the 2017 PGA Championship.

That record makes Oosthuizen one of the few PGA Tour pros with more than five years of experience whose peak rating stands a decent chance of improving. This is due in some measure to an injury-plagued 2013 that saw him complete just one of the four majors, missing the cut in the Masters. A top five finish in one of the 2018 majors would likely boost him on the peak rating ladder. Were Oosthuizen to match his best professional season – that would be 2015 – he could leap as many as 40 places, and begin to threaten a position in the top 100.

 

Louis Oosthuizen at his peak

Tournament            Finish     Score      Z Score

2012 Masters          2nd        278        -2.07

2012 British Open     T-19       281        -0.81

2012 PGA              T-21       288        -0.53

2014 PGA              T-15       275        -0.86

2015 Masters          T-19       284        -0.29

2015 U.S. Open        T-2        276        -1.85

2015 British Open     T-2        273        -2.45

2016 Masters          T-15       291        -0.67

2016 U.S. Open        T-23       287        -0.24

2016 PGA              T-22       276        -0.48

Average Z Score: -1.03

 

T-155. Young Tom Morris, -1.03, 1866-1874*

Professional sports has few true prodigies: child stars who spring fully formed to the head of their game’s competition. That was Young Tom Morris.

He was recognized as a serious competitor around the links at St. Andrews by 1864 – he was 13 at the time. The teen had plenty of competition, frequently teaming with – or against – future Open champion Jamie Anderson as well as Davie Strath, a future three-time runner-up. He tried the 1865 Open, but in a gesture presaging Bobby Jones’ impetuous debut more than a half century later, Young Tom picked up his ball in frustration after falling far behind and walked off the course. A distant ninth to Willie Park in 1866, he returned for a third try in 1867. A few weeks before that, Young Tom had joined his dad as part of the field in a professional event held at Carnoustie, emerging in a deadlock for the title with Willie Park and Bob Andrews. Young Tom won the playoff by four strokes, after which an embarrassed Park challenged the teen to a match, each side putting up five pounds. Tommy won that contest 8 & 7.

That victory provided a backdrop to the Open, where the teen stood as the most serious challenger to his dad’s hope for a fourth championship. Perhaps it was a blow to his pride, but Young Tom finished fourth, five strokes behind his dad and three behind Park.

But the signs of generational change were unmistakable. At the 1868 Open, Young Tom and Old Tom headed a field of 12, played like the previous iterations in three rounds during a single day on Prestwick’s 12-hole course. There may have been 10 other competitors, but there was little doubt that a Morris would win. Young Tom broke with a first-round 51, three strokes ahead of Old Tom and seven better than Willie Park. Old Tom retaliated with a mid-day 50 to take a one-shot lead on his son, who carded a 54. Nobody else was within three shots of either as the final round began. Old Tom closed with a 53 for a total of 157, but Young Tom posted the tournament’s low round, 49, to claim the championship belt by three strokes at 154.

At age 17, Young Tom had clearly superseded his dad as the game’s star. In the 1869 tournament, again at Prestwick, Young Tom opened with a 50, three better than anyone else and six up on Old Tom. The highlight was his iron to the 166-yard 8th hole over a series of mounds collectively known as the Alps and then over a half-acre bunker to which locals had given the name “Sahara.” His ball landed on the front of the green, charted a curving course toward the hole and fell in for the first hole in one of which we have any record. He followed with rounds of 55 and 52 to win by 11 strokes, only two other rounds of 55 or better being shot by anybody. In 1870, Young Tom, still just 20, dominated again. His first round 47 set a new Open record, and gave him a five-stroke lead over the field. Consecutive rounds of 51 put him in at 149, a dozen strokes better than the runner-up.

There was a rule at the time providing that the winner of three consecutive Open titles would take permanent possession of the championship belt. Supposedly the Prestwick Golf Club had put the rule in place to encourage participation, assuming nobody could ever actually win three straight. After all, the best Old Tom had ever done was win two straight. But Young Tom’s 1870 victory, his third in succession, foiled those assumptions. His walking off with the belt so flummoxed the Prestwick bigwigs that the 1871 tournament was cancelled, nobody having figured out what to use for a trophy. Happily for the history of golf, somebody eventually discovered a claret jug lying around, and in 1872 the Open resumed. Young Tom trailed by five strokes entering the final round but shot 53 while his old buddy Davie Strath, the third-round leader staggered home in 61, him a fourth straight title.

At that moment, there was every reason to assume that Young Tom would dominate the game, and especially the Open, for years to come. He was, after all, still in his early 20s. Yet fate had other plans. In 1873 the tournament moved to St. Andrews, to be contested over two rounds on the 18-hole course. It poured rain in the days leading up to the tourney, a severe complication given a local rule assessing a one-stroke penalty for lifting from casual water. Hit with several such penalties, Young Tom shot 94-89. While that was decent given the conditions, it only counted for a tie for third, four strokes in back of Tom Kidd, a St. Andrews caddie who made the best of his local knowledge. At Musselburgh in 1874, Young Tom opened with an uncharacteristic 83, good for second but eight strokes behind Mungo Park, the younger brother of Willie Park. He rallied during the final round, and came to the 17th hole with a chance to win. But a missed short putt there, followed by a drive through the green at the last hole cost two shots. It was exactly the margin by which Mungo Park won, 159 to Young Tom’s 161.

That 1874 runner-up finish was also Young Tom’s last Open appearance. He had been scheduled to play in the 1875 event, to be held back at Prestwick in September, around the time his wife was to go into labor with their first child. Young Tom and his dad were two holes from the finish of a match against the Park brothers the previous weekend at North Berwick when Young Tom received a telegram summoning him home. His wife’s labor had begun early, and it was difficult. The Morrises finished the match – beating the Park brothers, the record notes – then hurried home. Their haste was for naught. Mother and child died before they arrived.

It goes without saying that Young Tom was crushed. But nobody knew how crushed. He and Old Tom both cancelled their participation in the 1875 Open, and returned home to mourn. Tom played only a few matches of consequence the remainder of the year and then, on Christmas Day, his father found him dead in his bed. The cause was heart failure. He was still four months short of his 25th birthday. Is this a Hollywood script or what? The answer is ‘yes.’ A dramatization of the Morrises’ lives and relationships, titled ‘Tommy’s Honour’ and based on a 2007 book of the same name, was released in America in 2017.

Young Tom Morris at his peak

Tournament            Finish     Score      Z Score

1866 British Open     9th        187        0.89

1867 British Open     4th        175        0.00

1868 British Open     1st        154        -1.53

1869 British Open     1st        157        -1.82

1870 British Open     1st        149        -2.07

1872 British Open     1st        166        -1.28

1873 British Open     T-3        183        -0.29

1874 British Open     2nd        161        -1.46

Average Z Score: -1.03

*The Morris portion of the text is taken from “The Hole Truth,” a SABRmetric approach to golf analysis, by the author, which will be published by University of Nebraska Press in the fall of 2018.

 

T-157. Lee Janzen, -1.02, 1993-1997

No wonder Lee Janzen handled major tournament pressure so well. He was well-trained at Florida Southern.

And not merely during practice. On weekends, Janzen thrust himself into events colloquially known as the “Big Team.” It was nothing more than high-stakes (at least for college kids) matches involving four or five foursomes.

“I’d have 15-20 bets going off the first tee,” he told the Seattle Times in 1998. “I learned never to lose focus, no matter how I was playing. In college, you can’t afford to go out and lose a couple hundred dollars.”

Janzen admits he still hates to lose, “but now I can afford to pay.”

Janzen led Florida Southern to the 1985 and 1986 NCAA Division II championship, and won the individual title in 1986. Arriving on the PGA tour in 1990, he won his first tournament, the Northern Telecom Open, in 1992. At the 1993 U.S. Open at Baltusrol, Janzen opened with consecutive rounds of 67, and held off Payne Stewart to win his first major title by two strokes.

It was the start of a minor rivalry between the two men, one that tended to be for high stakes…and one that tended to go to Janzen. At the 1998 U.S. Open at Olympic, Stewart opened with a 66 and led Janzen by five strokes entering the final round of play. But natural forces – weather and gravity — were on Janzen’s side. On the final hole of the second round, Stewart faced a virtually impossible 10-foot sidehill birdie putt to a cup positioned at the edge of a slope. The ball lipped the cup and then took off downhill, gathering steam as it went and halting a full 25 feet away. Having barely missed a three, Stewart wound up with a five.

Then on the fifth hole on Sunday, Janzen’s drive was snared by the branches of a tree.  Seconds before he would have been required to declare the ball lost and re-hit under a stroke and distance penalty, a gust freed the ball, which fell to the ground in play. Reprieved, he completed a vital par that kept him in contention. Janzen played four under par the rest of the way home and edged out Stewart again, this time by one.

It was the apex of Jansen’s peak period. In 28 1995 starts, he won three times: at the Players, the Booz Allen and the International. Janzen earned what was at the time a career-high $1.379 million. Although not a contender in any of that season’s majors, his performances were uniformly steady.  He returned to the top 10 at the 1996 U.S. Open, and finished fourth at the 1997 PGA.

Although failing to win after 1998, Janzen continued to play the Tour on a regular basis through 2010. An infrequent competitor since 2014 on the Champions Tour, he did add that tour’s 2015 ACE Group Classic title to his resume.

Janzen at his peak

Tournament           Finish     Score      Z Score

1993 U.S. Open       1st        272        -2.75

1993 PGA             T-22       281        -0.35

1995 Masters          T-12       283        -0.54

1995 U.S. Open        T-13       286        -0.81

1995 British Open     T-24       289        -0.67

1995 PGA             T-23       278        -0.29

1996 Masters          T-12       287        -0.63

1996 U.S. Open        T-10       283        -1.32

1996 PGA             T-8        280        -1.25

1997 PGA             4th        279        -1.59

Average Z Score: -1.02

 

T-157. Bruce Crampton, -1.02, 1969-1973

There are about a half dozen valid reasons why a modern American golf fan might be unaware that somebody named Bruce Crampton ever applied stick to ball. He was an Australian, he played in an era dominated by Nicklaus, Player and Trevino, he never won a major championship, and he did not have an outlandish personality or wear bright clothes.  Beyond that, he developed an image as a grumpy, fuss-budget of a player. All he did was compete.

“People think of me as stern, difficult, crank and cantankerous,” Crampton once admitted to Sports Illustrated. He did not dispute the adjectives. “I am what I am,” he said. The same article repeated what is considered an apocryphal tale on the tour about fellow pro Harold Henning inviting Crampton to a masquerade party as a horse. “I’ll be the head,” Henning is said to have offered, “and you can be your usual self.”

From his arrival on the American tour in the early 1960s, Crampton did win 14 events, the biggest among them including the 1965 Bing Crosby, the 1970 Westchester Classic, and the 1971 Western Open. If he never won a major, he sure came close. He was runner-up to Nicklaus four times: in the 1972 Masters and U.S. Open, the 1973 PGA Championship, and the 1975 PGA. Across 59 major appearances, Crampton finished among the top 10 19 times.

The 1972 U.S. Open was probably Crampton’s best shot, and it was his bad luck to run into both Nicklaus and Pebble Beach at their best. Trailing Nicklaus by a single shot through three rounds, he joined almost all of the rest of the field in running afoul of Pebbles’s notorious weather, this time featuring 35-mph gusts. Crampton shot 76, in the process watching Nicklaus salt away the title with a now-famous one-iron off the flagstick on the 17th hole.

Crampton joined the Senior tour in 1986 and added 20 more victories, the last coming in 1997, when he was 62. But he never got full credit for his talent, in part due to the absence of major titles, and in part due to his less-than-warm nature. He tried not to let the lack of admiration bother him, saying he preferred to focus on his swing. “Anybody who watches me does so only because he respects discipline, integrity and good golf shots,” Crampton said.

Other than his disposition, the one knock on Crampton had always been his inability to win the big tournaments. On the regular tour, his best efforts produced only four runner-up finishes: in the 1972 Masters and U.S. Open, plus the 1973 and 1975 PGA Championship

Crampton at his peak

Tournament           Finish     Score      Z Score

1969 Masters         T-13       288        -0.51

1969 U.S. Open        T-6        284        -1.23

1969 PGA              T-15       284        -0.91

1970 PGA              T-6        283        -1.44

1971 Masters          T-18       289        -0.42

1972 Masters          T-2        289        -1.26

1972 U.S. Open        2nd        293        -2.18

1972 PGA              T-24       291        -0.47

1973 British Open     T-18       292        -0.17

1973 PGA              2nd        281        -1.59

Average Z Score: -1.02

 

  1. Bobby Cruickshank, -1.00, 1921-25

A Scottish native, Cruickshank’s golf career was deferred by World War I, which he fought in as a member of the famed Black Watch. His brutal combat experience included watching his brother, John, being blown up almost literally before his own eyes. “He was standing as close to me as from here to that door,” Cruickshank lamented. The remains were never found.

Taken prisoner by the Germans, he managed to escape in October of 1918, returned to his unit and served out the remainder of the war. He was 26 when he emigrated to the U.S. in early 1921, seeing greater opportunities for a professional golfer on that side of the ocean.

Cruickshank’s major tournament debut came at the 1921 U.S. Open, where he finished in a tie for 26th. His name was made at the 1922 PGA, when Cruickshank routed four opponents before running afoul of eventual champion Gene Sarazen in the semi-finals. Golf quickly became a series of near misses. At the 1923 U.S. Open, Cruickshank took Bobby Jones into a playoff before losing. He lost a second time to Sarazen in the semi-finals of the 1923 PGA, and at that year’s Western Open Cruickshank’s final round 71 left him one shot shy of Jock Hutchison. At the 1924 U.S. Open, he finished fourth. That gave Cruickshank three top five finishes in major American medal events along with a pair of semi-final appearances in the biggest match play competition in his first four years on tour…but no wins.

Through the course of a lengthy PGA Tour career, Cruickshank would snare 17 championships, but he never would come closer to a major. There would, however, be other memorable moments. At the 1932 U.S. Open, he tied for second, three strokes behind Gene Sarazen. Perhaps the most stunning moment came in his opening round match of that season’s PGA Championship. Paired against fellow veteran Al Watrous, Cruickshank quickly fell behind, eventually trailing by nine holes with just 13 remaining. Suddenly Cruickshank found his game. He won the seventh hole with a 20-footer for birdie, then Cruickshank won the eighth, ninth, 10th (with an eagle) and 11th (chip-in birdie) holes.

That left Watrous 2-up with two to play. But he missed a two-footer on the 17th, and when Cruickshank birdied the par-5 18th the match went to extra holes.

Watrous appeared to have ended the match on the 40th hole, facing a two-foot birdie putt when Cruickshank was in with a bogey. “… he started to make a gesture to concede my putt and call it a match,” Watrous later wrote. “But at the last second he decided not to.” Watrous missed his downhill birdie putt and then missed coming back, extending the match. When he also missed a two-footer on the 41st hole Cruickshank finally was able to put him away. He won one more match before bowing out.

Cruickshank at his peak

Tournament               Finish    Score     Z Score

1921 U.S. Open           T-26      315       -0.29

1922 U.S. Open           T-28      307       -0.30

1922 PGA              semi-final match play  -2.32

1922 Western Open        T-12      315       -0.71

1923 U.S. Open           2nd       296       -1.97

1923 PGA              semi-final match play  -0.56

1923 Western Open        T-2       287       -1.08

1924 U.S. Open           T-4       303       -1.42

1924 PGA              2nd round   match play  -0.80

1925 PGA              2nd round   match play  -0.53

Score: -1.00

 

  1. Harold Hilton, -0.98, 1897-1901

A lifelong amateur, Hilton had perhaps the worst form of any successful player. In an effort to overcome his modest 5-5 stature, Hilton took a long backswing and violated one of the tenets of the game by re-gripping at the top. “His cap used to fall from his head at the end of a full swing, as if jerked off,” an opponent said of Hilton, adding that “his assiduity was his greatness.”

Born in 1869, Hilton entered the 1891 event at St. Andrews and posted a 36-hole total of 175, good for a tie for eighth place. He found the result encouraging enough to return a year later to Muirfield, when the competition was extended to 72 holes, still over two days.

Less than a year old, the course yielded a dozen rounds under 80 on the first morning alone; the low round a year earlier had been 83. Hilton’s 78 was among the dozen; he followed that with an afternoon 81 to trail Horace Hutchison by seven strokes. But Hutchison collapsed to an 86 on the second morning, while Hilton fired a 72 to move within two shots of John Ball, a former champion and close acquaintance. In the afternoon play, Hilton’s 74 dispatched Ball and the rest of the field by three strokes.

An amateur, Hilton earned his living working at his father’s business, a complication that made honing his game – and sometimes even getting onto the course – difficult. Over the next four years, he entered only two Opens, playing indifferently in both. At Liverpool in 1897, there was, then, little to recommend his prospects for the championship. Harry Vardon, the defending champion was in the field, as was two-time former champion J.H. Taylor. After morning play on the second day, Hilton was fourth, trailing the third member of what would come to be known as the Triumverate — James Braid – by three shots. He posted an afternoon 75 and killed time waiting for Braid, who needed a three on the final hole to tie, by playing billiards in the clubhouse. On the course, Braid landed his approach at 18 within a foot of the hole, but it failed to hold and rolled 20 feet away. He missed the putt, making Hilton the first amateur to win two championships.

One year later at Prestwick, Hilton made a serious run at his third championship, only to give way to Vardon by two shots. He also challenged in 1901 and 1902, losing first to Braid and then to Sandy Herd.

Hilton won British Amateur championships in 1900, 1901, 1911 and 1913, and added the 1911 U.S. Amateur title, becoming the first person to hold both championships simultaneously. After retiring from competitive golf, Hilton became a writer of popular books on golf and was editor of several golf magazines. He died in 1942.

Hilton at his peak

Tournament               Finish    Score     Z Score

1891 British Open        T-8       175       -1.06

1892 British Open        1st       305       -2.03

1893 British Open        T-8       332       -0.82

1896 British Open        23rd      337       0.84

1897 British Open        1st       314       -1.94

1898 British Open        3rd       309       -2.01

1899 British Open       12th      329       -0.02

1900 British Open        T-16      338       -0.07

1901 British Open       4th       320       -1.38

1902 British Open        T-6       314       -1.25

Score: -0.98

 

T-161, Kel Nagle, -0.96, 1961-1965

Had he been willing to strike out as a youth, Kel Nagle might have dominated the 1950s golfing world. Instead, Nagle emerged from a five-year military stint during World War II largely content with competing in his native Australia. That decision limited both his exposure and his success on the larger golfing stage. Until he was past his 39th birthday, Nagle competed in just two majors, both of them British Opens.

To all practical purposes, then, his decision to accept the challenge of the 1960 British Open at St. Andrews amounted to an exceedingly late debut. Well it would have, anyway, if Arnold Palmer hadn’t chosen that same tournament to make his own European debut. Guess who got all the attention?

The answer, of course, was Palmer … but only until the actual tournament began. Playing steadily, Nagle amassed a four stroke lead through 54 holes, impressing the onlookers, who yet anticipated one of Palmer’s famed challenges. Nagle “faces, no doubt with casual, cheerful courage, the greatest ordeal of his lifetime,’ the Guardian’s golf writer summarized of the challenge of holding off the acknowledged king of the late charge. When Palmer birdied his 72nd hole, reducing Nagle’s lead to one stroke, it meant the Australian needed to par the 17th and 18th to win. He did precisely that, equaling the British Open record in the process.

Having verified his credentials to compete on the world stage, Nagle at last seized the opportunity. A year later he tried out the Masters and U.S. Open, then returned to the British Open, where over the next six years he posted five finishes in the top 5, including a runner-up finish to Palmer in 1962. At the 1965 U.S. Open Nagle, nearing 45, completed the 72 holes in a tie with Gary Player. On the fifth hole of their playoff, Nagle’s ball struck a spectator, rattling the player, whose next shot also struck a spectator. Player won by three.

Nagle never won a event in the United States, but he was dominant everywhere else in the world. He won 61 times on the Australasian tour, took two Canada Cups, one Canadian Open, a French Open, and miscellaneous championships in Switzerland, Ireland, England, and Sweden. A 1986 Sport Australia Hall of Fame inductee, he was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2007.

Nagle at his peak

Tournament               Finish    Score     Z Score

1961 U.S. Open           T-17      290       -0.53

1961 British Open        T-6       289       -1.51

1962 British Open        2nd       282       -2.28

1963 Masters             T-35      300       0.67

1963 British Open        4th       283       -1.55

1964 Masters             T-21      290       -0.15

1965 Masters             T-15      290       -0.28

1965 U.S. Open           2nd       282       -2.20

1965 British Open        T-5       289       -1.40

1965 PGA                T-20      292       -0.46

Score: -0.96

 

T-161. Jamie Anderson,-0.96 1869-1882

The famously persnickety rules of golf tripped up Jamie Anderson’s bid to win four straight British Opens. More on that in a moment.

A native of St. Andrews, Anderson came by his interest in golf naturally. A mature 27 by the time of his Open debut at Prestwick in 1869, he finished a creditable fourth, although 16 strokes behind the runaway champion and his frequent playing companion, Young Tom Morris, When the competition first came to St. Andrews in 1873, Anderson was among numerous locals lining up for a go at the championship. His opening 91 doesn’t sound like much by modern standards, but it tied fellow St. Andrews resident Tom Kidd for the first-day lead, three strokes better than the prohibitive favorite, Young Tom. Anderson shot 89 on the second day to post a total of 180 when Kidd sank a putt on the final green for a 179 and the victory.

Anderson broke through at Musselburgh in 1877, shooting a final day 78 to overtake Ferguson and two other men, winning by two strokes. At Prestwick a year later, he battled Jimmy Morris, the brother of Young Tom, and Bob Kirk to the finish. As Anderson, trailing Kirk by one prepared to strike his ball on the par three “Burn” hole, the penultimate challenge on Prestwick’s 12-hole layout, legend has it that a woman in the gallery broke etiquette by remarking that she believed he had teed up outside the markers. Anderson stopped his shot, re-teed, and landed his ball on the crest of a hill just back of the flag. The ball took the crest and rolled down into the hole for an ace that gave him the lead and – one hole later – his second victory.

His bid for a third straight win in 1879 was uneventful. Anderson’s first-day 84 was good for a two-stroke lead, and he won by three. He looked forward to matching Young Tom as the only winner of four straight in 1880, but the tournament’s entry date had been moved up that year, a fact that escaped Anderson’s attention. Thus ruled ineligible, Anderson could only watch from afar. He returned in 1881 to finish second, three strokes behind Ferguson in the gale at Prestwick.

The father of 11 children – five of them golf professionals — Anderson made only occasional tournament appearances after 1882. Reportedly a slave to alcohol, he did not age either famously or well, dying at age 63 in a Scottish poorhouse in 1905.

Jamie Anderson at his peak

Tournament              Finish      Score       Z Score

1869 British Open       4th         173         0.48

1870 British Open      7th         174         0.49

1873 British Open       2nd         180         -1.05

1874 British Open       5th         165         -0.94

1876 British Open       12th        189           0.71

1877 British Open       1st         166         -2.54

1878 British Open       1st         157         -1.63

1879 British Open       1st         169         -2.23

1881 British Open       2nd         173         -1.19

1882 British Open       T-3         175         -1.23

Score: -0.96

 

 

T-161. Bob Martin, -0.96, 1874-1888

Bob Martin may have been the most fortunate winner in the history of the British Open golf championship. Twice, nearly a decade apart, Martin benefitted from an unthinkable break to win the tournament.

Martin was a 20-year-old caddie and assistant in Old Tom Morris’ St. Andrews golf shop when he first tried his hand at the Open in 1873. That was the year the tournament introduced itself to the Old Course. Nobody expected Martin to contend; the presumed champion was defending titlist Young Tom Morris. But a consistent downpour enabled Tom Kidd, a caddie compatriot of Martin, to end Morris’ victory string. Martin struggled home with back-to-back 91s giving him a tie for ninth place in the 21-person field.

Under more normal playing conditions, Martin placed second behind Willie Park Sr. in 1875, and returned to St. Andrews the following year as part of a wide-open field given Morris’ death the previous Christmas. His 86 in the morning round of the 36-hole, one-day format tied Davey Strath for the lead. Martin shot 90 in the afternoon round and retreated to his neighborhood environs to see what Strath would do.

What Strath did caused no small measure of commotion. On the 14th tee, he hooked his drive badly, the ball conking a spectator on the head. As it turned out, the misplay rattled Strath more than the victim. Leading at the time, he began to play absent-mindedly, and on the famous “road hole” 17th Strath played his approach shot before a preceding group had cleared the green. His ball, which was headed for the road, instead struck a player on the green and came to rest. Strath recorded a five on the 17th, but needed six more to get home at 18, officially tying him with Martin at 176.

That should have set up a playoff the following day, but it did not. Calls soon rose for Strath’s disqualification as a penalty for playing to the occupied 17th green, particularly given that his ball appeared headed for the road until being saved by contact with another player. The tournament committee issued an odd ruling: It said it would take time to consider the protest, but until it did, the playoff should proceed. Upset by being left in golf limbo, Strath refused to take part in the playoff. The next morning, Martin – accompanied by Old Tom Morris — covered the course on his own, and was declared the champion. It remains the only forfeit in the history of the Open Championship.

For the next decade, Martin had an on again, off again relationship with the tournament. As defending champ, he tied for eighth in 1877, finished fourth in 1881 and took third in 1882, but skipped the 1880, 1883 and 1884 events altogether. Back at St. Andrews in 1885, he stood second, one stroke behind Archie Simpson, following the morning round, then recorded an uneventful afternoon 87 for a 36-hole total of 171.

For most of the afternoon, it appeared that would not be good enough. David Ayton, following a morning 89, rallied strongly and came to the road hole needing merely to complete the course in a dozen strokes – that would have been four over par — to claim the Claret Jug. Instead Ayton hit onto the road, played poorly back across the 17th green, found himself on the road a second time, and again played poorly from it. The result was an unthinkable 11, consigning Ayton to third place, with Martin one ahead of Simpson.

Declining to defend his title in 1886, Martin returned for the 1887 tournament, and finished second to Willie Park Jr. By the time of his final appearance, in 1891, he had recorded eight top-5 finishes. Martin was 64 when he died in Scotland in 1917.

 

Martin at his peak

Tournament               Finish    Score     Z Score

1874 British Open        4th       164       -1.07

1875 British Open        2nd       168       -1.27

1876 British Open        1st       176       -2.23

1878 British Open        T-4       165       -0.82

1879 British Open        17th      186       -0.19

1881 British Open       4th       178       0.00

1882 British Open        T-3       175       -1.23

1885 British Open        1st       171       -1.75

1887 British Open        2nd       162       -1.89

1888 British Open        T-15      184       0.00

Score: -0.96

 

T-164. Kathy Cornelius, -0.94, 1961-1965

Unlike many successful young players, Kathy Cornelius did not come from a golfing family. But she did have the enthusiasm to learn, plus one other important element. “There was a summer golf program for juniors, and I had a bicycle,” she recalled, adding, “it didn’t take long for the addiction to set in.”

Not long at all. Playing on the men’s golf team at Florida Southern because there was no women’s team, Cornelius joined the LPGA tour shortly after graduation and won two events as a rookie, one of them the U.S. Women’s Open in a playoff with Barbara McIntire.

Not yet 24, it appeared at that moment as if stardom awaited. The stars never shown as brightly again, although Cornelius did pick up four more tournament titles over the next 16 seasons. She did manage a second in the 1960 Titleholders, but that was seven strokes to the bad side of Fay Crocker, the champion. In 1965 she made a run at a U.S. Open repeat, losing out by two shots to Carol Mann.

Cornelius retired in the mid 1970s to devote full to her family and a golf business, which she ran with her husband.

 

Cornelius at her peak

Tournament               Finish    Score     Z Score

1961 Western Open        6th       305       -0.61

1962 Titleholders        4th       301       -1.29

1962 U.S. Open           T-13      312       -0.57

1962 LPGA               6th       291       -0.80

1963 U.S. Open           T-7       303       0.72

1963 LPGA               T-9       300       0.90

1963 Western Open        T-8       314       -0.60

1964 Western Open        8th       314       -0.76

1965 U.S. Open           2nd       292       -1.84

1965 LPGA               T-5       289       -0.99

Score: -0.94

 

T-164, Lawson Little, -0.94, 1938-1942

One of the great amateur players in history – he won the U.S. and British Amateur Championships in both 1934 and 1935 – Lawson Little remains the only player to have captured both titles in the same season more than once. A Stanford graduate, Little turned pro in 1936 and promptly won the Canadian Open. He took home seven titles through 1942, including the 1940 U.S. Open.

A fastidious player, Little sometimes packed as many as two dozen clubs in his bag, eventually prompting the PGA to pass a rule limiting players to a maximum of 14. That’s right, you can blame Lawson Little for your inability to carry five wedges, three hybrids and two drivers.

Little was among the victims of hail, wind and rain that pummeled Augusta National during the second round of the 1939 Masters. He fought his way through the conditions to an even par 72, but Ralph Guldahl posted a remarkable 68 that springboarded him to a one-stroke victory over Sam Snead, Little tying for third. By then Little was coming to be viewed as a player who had failed to fulfill the promise he demonstrated as an amateur. His second round 69 at the 1940 U.S. Open at Canterbury tied him with Horton Smith for the lead; Little posted Saturday 73s, then watched 38-year-old two-time champion Gene Sarazen post a back nine 34 to set up an 18-hole playoff, which Little won by three shots.

Little was barely into his 30s when World War II interrupted the PGA tour schedule. With the Masters and U.S. Opens both cancelled after April of 1942, Little retreated to his business interests, letting his golf game drift. He returned with the war’s end in 1946, but his contemporaries suggested Little’s commitment to winning sometimes came and went. Little’s best post-war finishes were ninth and sixth at the 1950 and 1951 Masters; he won just one tour event after 1942.

Although considered a dominant head-to-head competitor due to his record in the U.S. and British Amateurs – journalist Charles Price called him “the greatest match player in the history of golf” – Little did not make his first start in the sole professional match play major – the PGA Championship — until 1946. He lost early, and in four subsequent appearances never reached the quarter-finals. Little died in 1968.

 

Little at his peak

Tournament               Finish    Score     Z Score

1938 Masters             T-10      293       -0.76

1938 Western Open        17th      299       -0.62

1939 Masters             T-3       282       -1.55

1940 U.S. Open           1st       287       -1.75

1940 Western Open        T-20      304       -0.45

1941 Masters             8th       290       -0.93

1941 U.S. Open           T-17      297       -0.69

1941 Western Open        T-10      287       -0.72

1942 Masters             T-7       292       -0.77

1942 Western Open        5th       281       -1.17

Score: -0.94

 

T-164. Vic Ghezzi, -0.94, 1946-1950

The 1930s and 1940s are littered with great golf “might-have-been” stories, and Vic Ghezzi’s is one of those. Like Craig Wood and Macdonald Smith, Ghezzi had a nice career – in his case punctuated by a major championship. But the sense lingers that fate often took a particular delight in conspiring against his reputation.

Let’s start with the good news. In July of 1941 Ghezzi won the PGA Championship. He was 30 at the time, an established tour pro with a resume fully justifying his inclusion among major winners, and he beat some of the game’s best head-on to get the trophy. His victims included Lloyd Mangrum in a pulsating 1-up semi-final and Byron Nelson in a championship match requiring 38 holes to settle.

That victory might have raised Ghezzi to a level with Nelson, Mangrum and Sam Snead at the front rank of professional golfers. But of course World War II intervened a few months later, and the tour largely sat fallow through what ought to have been Ghezzi’s prime seasons. He was not around for the few events that were held, enlisting in the Army instead.

Ghezzi was 35 when the nation’s best gathered for the first post-war major, the 1946 Masters. At that summer’s U.S. Open at Canterbury in Cleveland, he held the 36-hole lead only to be caught first by Nelson and then by Lloyd Mangrum. The three-way playoff, played in a driving rain and occasional lightning, was extended to 36 holes when all three posted rounds of 72. Finally Mangrum reeled off a stretch of three birdies on four back nine holes to claim the title with a 72, one better than the 73s of Ghezzi and Nelson.

It was Ghezzi’s last good shot at glory. He made a run at the 1947 PGA title until Chick Harbert solidly thrashed him 6 & 5 in their semi-final match. Ghezzi continued as an occasional figure on tour into the 1950s, but never regained front-rank status. The war and Mangrum had done him in.

 

Ghezzi at his peak

Tournament          Finish    Score     Z Score

1946 Masters        T-12      293       -0.74

1946 U.S. Open      T-2       284       -1.71

1946 Western Open   T-18      287       -0.51

1947 U.S. Open      T-6       289       -1.12

1947 British Open   T-18      304       -0.18

1947 PGA         semi-final match play  -2.53

1947 Western Open   T-20      281       -0.55

1948 Masters        T-18      295       -0.43

1948 Western Open   T-6       286       -1.06

1950 Masters        T-14      297       -0.56

Average Z Score: -0.94

 

T-167, Luke Donald, -0.93, 2009-2013

 By most standards, Luke Donald’s 2011 season qualifies as exceptional. He won the Match Play, the BMW PGA in Britain, and the Barclay’s in Scotland. He rose to No. 1 in the World Golf Ranking, led the PGA Tour money list, won the Vardon Trophy for low stroke average, and was named Tour Player of the Year.

By the standards of the world’s recognized major events, however, Donald was less intimidating. He did manage a tie for fourth at the Masters and a tie for eighth at the PGA, but he was never in contention at the U.S. Open and missed the cut at the British Open.

And that’s basically Donald’s profile: an exceptional player except at the majors, where he has frequently been a non-factor. Through 2017, Donald had played in 54 recognized majors, winning none of them and accumulating just eight top 10s. Those were more than offset by 20 missed cuts and six other finishes outside the top 50.

During his peak seasons of 2009 to 2013, Donald – then age 31 to 35 – Donald won five times in Europe, three times in the U.S. and twice in Japan. But his 20 major starts over those seasons encompassed more missed cuts (seven) than top 20s (six).

That’s why a player so recently No. 1 in the world can’t break into the historical top 150.

 

Donald at his peak

 

Tournament          Finish    Score     Z Score

2009 British Open   T-5       280       -1.31

2009 PGA            T-43      294       0.03

2010 U.S. Open      T-47      298       0.06

2010 British Open   T-11      283       -1.10

2011 Masters        T-4       278       -1.65

2011 PGA            T-8       277       -0.98

2012 British Open   T-5       278       -1.51

2012 PGA            T-32      290       -0.34

2013 Masters        T-25      290       -1.09

2013 U.S. Open      T-8       286       -1.35

Score: -0.93

 

T-167. Walter Travis,-0.93 1900-1905

Two characteristics make Walter Travis unique among the best America golfers of the early portion of the 20th Century. The first is that Travis was neither a native of the U.S. nor, as were many of his contemporaries, an emigree from the British Isles. The second trait was that unlike virtually every other great golfer, Travis did not start to play as a youth. In fact he had no interest in the game until he was well into his 30s.

A native of Australia, Travis was an up-and-coming hardware company executive when in 1883 his employer decided to open a branch office in the United States. The employer gave the ambitious Travis the assignment and bought him passage on a ship. It was a one-way trip.

Success fueled by hard work came easily to Travis, who adapted to the New York social scene, married and became the father of two children. He was 34 in 1896 when, at the suggestion of friends, he gave the developing game of golf a try. “I have never ceased to regret the many prior years which were wasted,” he would later remark. He contended in some New York regional tournaments, won a couple, and quickly developed a reputation as a player not to be taken lightly.

In 1898 Travis tested himself in the U.S. Amateur field, qualifying four strokes behind the medalist and winning three matches before losing in the semi-final to Findlay Douglas, the eventual champion. The same scenario repeated a year later, Douglas this time losing the championship match. At the 1900 Amateur in Garden City, N.Y., Travis turned the tables on Douglas, defeating him 2 up for the title. He repeated in 1901, this time defeating Douglas in the semi-finals.

As the two-time Amateur titleholder, Travis elected to try his hand against the best professionals at the 1902 U.S. Open. Although never contending for the championship, which Laurie Auchterlonie took by six strokes, Travis managed the best final round of the tournament, a 74, to tie Stewart Gardner for second. He failed to get through the third round of that year’s Amateur, but won his third title in 1903, working his way through a withering seven rounds of match play occasioned by the 140-entry field. He was 41, yet less than a decade into his entire golfing experience.

Seeking new challenges, Travis became the first prominent American to try his hand at the British Amateur, entering as the reigning U.S. champion in May of 1904. He later wrote of facing numerous perceived indignities by a British golf audience that looked down on Americans as upstarts. He said there was “born in me a strong fixity of purpose to get even in the only possible way…a steel-clad resolution” to win.

Facing former British Amateur champion and former British Open champion Harold Hilton in the quarter-finals, Travis earned respect with a 5 & 4 thrashing. That put Travis against two-time former British Amateur champion Horace Hutchinson in the semi-finals, and again Travis made the Britishers notice his 4 & 2 victory. “Mr. Travis is quite imperturbable, having apparently no nerves,” the Times’ golf writer told readers. His final match, against Edward Blackwell, was a similarly decisive 4 & 3 win.

The New York Times was moved to bestow on the victor the title of “world champion of golf,” a title he certainly didn’t deserve in an age dominated by professionals of the stripe of Harry Vardon, John Taylor, James Braid and Willie Anderson. Considering only amateurs, however, Travis was at the top of the list. Travis continued to play sporadically in the U.S. Open, making his best title run in 1909, when he tied for seventh. He played annually in the Amateur through 1914, reaching the semifinals in 1906 and 1908, but as age reduced his on-course skills Travis shifted his focus to two new endeavors, golf course architecture and publishing. He founded “The American Golfer” magazine, probably the first periodical devoted to American golf, in 1908, and continued as its editor until surrendering those duties to Grantland Rice in 1920. As a designer, he had a hand in the construction of more than 50 prominent courses in North America.

Travis at his peak

Tournament               Finish    Score     Z Score

1900 U.S. Amateur        1st     match play  -1.06

1901 U.S. Amateur        1st     match play  -0.70

1902 U.S. Open           T-2       313       -1.78

1902 U.S. Amateur        3rd rd   match play  -0.92

1903 U.S. Open           T-15      326       -0.74

1903 U.S. Amateur        1st     match play  -1.14

1904 British Amateur     1st      match play  -0.74

1904 U.S. Amateur        2nd rd   match play  -0.62

1905 U.S. Open           T-11      325       -0.89

1905 U.S. Amateur      qtr final match play  -0.66

Score: -0.93

 

T-169. Zach Johnson, -0.92, 2012-16\ 

When Zach Johnson won at Augusta National in 2007, it was probably the most surprising victory since Fuzzy Zoeller nearly three decades earlier. Johnson was a relatively short-hitting journeyman with no better showing in a major than a tie for 17th at the 2005 PGA.

He’s still a short hitter – Johnson ranked 140th on tour in driving distance in 2017 – but his other ball-striking skills compensate for that flaw. In 2017 he ranked among the top 30 in strokes gained putting and strokes gained around the green, and despite his lack of length he was above average in strokes gained off the tee.

His facility with the finesse aspects of golf doesn’t always ensure success – Johnson has missed the cut in a major every year since 2013 – but it has enabled him to generally stay in touch with – and occasionally triumph over – his more strapping competitors.

His victory in the 2015 British Open illustrated that fortuitous trait. Fashioning his own 66 against final day charges by both Jason Day and Jordan Spieth, Johnson rallied from three strokes behind on Sunday to tie Louis Oosthuizen and Mark Leishman, then birdied the first two playoff holes to pick up the Claret Jug.

His 2015 season was illustrative of both Johnson’s strengths and also the inconsistency that has proved to be his weakness. Perhaps consistency is too much to ask of a player who isn’t as physically gifted. He began with an entirely credible tie for ninth at the Masters highlighted by matching weekend 68s. At the U.S. Open, however, he managed only a 15-over 295 and a tie for 72nd, 20 strokes to the bad side of winner Jordan Spieth. It was not exactly a stimulating warmup to his St. Andrews victory, which he strangely followed by shooting 75-72 and missing the cut at the following month’s PGA Championship.

Johnson celebrated his 42nd birthday in February of 2018, so while he may well have a few good years left, his peak rating probably isn’t going to climb. He can, however, content himself with those two majors and also with the knowledge that he will be viewed as a player who maximized his talent.

Zach Johnson at his peak

Tournament              Finish    Score     Z Score

2012 Masters            T-32      291       0.09

2012 British Open       T-9       280       -1.02

2013 Masters            T-35      291       0.13

2013 British Open       6th       286       -1.60

2013 PGA                T-8       277       -1.13

2015 Masters            T-9       280       -1.00

2015 British Open       1st       273       -2.45

2016 U.S. Open          T-8       282       -1.16

2016 British Open       T-12      283       -0.78

2016 PGA                T-33      277       -0.26

Average Z Score: -0.92

Effective stroke average: 70.62

 

T-169. Dave Stockton, -0.92, 2012-16

Dave Stockton was one pro who never let the demands of the tour overwhelm his life.

Stockton turned pro in 1964, and played regularly until converting to the Champions Tour shortly after his 50th birthday late in 1991. Yet he always seemed to strive to balance his job with his family. Stockton averaged only 21 Tour events per season, only twice (1971 and 1972) teed it up in all four majors, and either failed to qualify for or chose not to enter 43 of the 96 scheduled majors played during his touring days, between 1968 and 1991. As his career matured, Stockton bypassed many of those events in order to take part in corporate golf outings, which he simply found to be more lucrative.

When he did play the majors, Stockton was – by many standards – relatively ordinary. Of the 53 majors in which he played, Stockton missed the cut 15 times, and earned just eight appearances in the top 10.

Yet by contrast, on the relatively rare occasions when Stockton got a scent of the lead, he was deadly. Those eight top 10s included victories in the 1970 and 1976 PGA Championship, as well as runner-up finishes in the 1974 Masters and 1978 U.S. Open.

Stockton’s skill was his mastery of the short game, a skill he eventually made a career of as head of Stockton Golf. He operated that school with his sons, Dave Jr. and Ron, both also veteran pros. As a teaching pro, Stockton has been credited with honing the putting skills of Phil Mickelson, among others.

Stockton turned pro in 1964 after graduating from USC, and quickly learned the cutthroat side of tour life. His first 24 starts included only one top 10 finish, and he went winless through 61 starts until emerging a winner at Colonial in May of 1967. Stockton was fortunate even to be in the field: he did not automatically qualify for the event, but was a special invitee. He added two titles in 1968 plus a tie for fifth at the 1970 Masters, but was considered no better than a longshot entry when that summer’s PGA Championship began in August at Southern Hills with 40-year-old Arnold Palmer as the sentimental choice to win the only major that had eluded him.

Stockton backed up opening rounds of even par 70 with a Saturday 66 to take a surprising three-stroke lead over Raymond Floyd entering the final day of play, with Palmer five back in third.  The sometimes raucous gallery made things tough for Stockton, Palmer’s playing partner. As the leader stood over a pitching wedge in the seventh fairway, a fan yelled out, “bury it in the sand.” Stockton holed it out. Three holes later, another member of Palmer’s famous “Army” celebrated loudly when Stockton dumped a shot in a greenside lake. “That really burned me up,” Stockton told reporters after the round. “I wanted to sink my chip shot just for spite. He nearly did, tapping in to avert disaster.

Stockton never blamed Palmer for the fans’ improprieties; in fact, he said after the round that he felt sorry for the legendary figure. “But only for one-millionth of a second,” he jested.

Although remembered as a two-time PGA winner, Stockton’s most consistent showings came at Augusta. He tied for ninth in 1971, for 10th in 1972, and for second in 1974, each one his best major performance of that season. He won five other tour events during that period, but came to Congressional for the 1976 PGA in much the same longshot role he had occupied six summers earlier. The field included Nicklaus, the defending champion, as well as Floyd, Tom Watson, Tom Weiskopf and Gary Player.

Through three rounds, the tournament appeared to be up for grabs. With a 207, Charles Coody led Nicklaus and Gil Morgan by two shots, Don January by three, and three players – Stockton among them – by four. But Coody made an early double bogey, Nicklaus hit into the water on the sixth, and January did the same thing on 10. That series of calamities vaulted Stockton to the front, and he made the most of it, sinking a 15-footer for birdie on 13 and holing out another 15-footer at 18 to cement the one-stroke victory over Floyd and January. “When it was five feet short of the hole, I knew it was going in,” he said of that putt. “It was a helluva feeling.”

Dave Stockton at his peak

Tournament              Finish    Score     Z Score

1970 Masters            T-5       283       -1.40

1970 PGA                1st       279       -2.04

1971 Masters            T-9       286       -0.90

1971 British Open       T-11      287       -0.89

1972 Masters            T-10      291       -0.94

1973 Masters            T-14      292       -0.57

1973 PGA                T-12      285       -0.91

1974 Masters            T-2       280       -1.44

1974 U.S. Open          T-40      303       0.30

1974 PGA                T-26      288       -0.38

Average Z Score: -0.92

Effective stroke average: 70.62

 

T-171. Mark O’Meara,-0.91 1995-99

There is the storyline, popular with only minor changes in every culture, of the long-time journeyman fighting setback after continual setback until, by sheer perseverance and in one stunningly brilliant episode, he achieves greatness. It is Mark O’Meara’s storyline.

O’Meara was an All-American at Long Beach and 1979 U.S. Amateur champion when he set out to fulfill his life’s ambition, stardom on the PGA Tour, in the early 1980s. What he found was occasional glory interspersed with more than occasional frustration. During his three seasons, O’Meara earned invitations to 101 events, playing virtually at every opportunity. But he netted just one runner-up for that effort, missing the cut 39 times and averaging less than $60,000 in winnings for those seasons. He finished 1983 ranked outside the top 75 on that season’s money list.

By comparison, O’Meara’s 1984 victory at the Greater Milwaukee Classic amounted to something of a breakthrough. Still by the conclusion of the 1988 tournament season, O’Meara could only count two more titles on his resume, those fitting alongside 167 missed cuts. It was not an especially profound performance for a touring pro entering his 30s.

Most of the next decade was not much better. O’Meara did win with greater frequency – 11 times between 1989 and 1997, including four times at what became his special province, the AT&A National Pro-Am at Pebble Beach. His earnings which had first topped six figures with his 1984 Milwaukee victory, began to settle in that range: $616,000 in 1989, $760,000 in 1992, and a career-high $1.2 million in 1995, a year that featured two more wins. Approaching his 40th birthday, O’Meara was at last something more than a field filler-outer; he was a plausible contender.

Outside the majors, that was. O’Meara’s best showing at any of those four tournaments was a trio of shared thirds, at the 1985 British Open, the 1988 U.S. Open and the 1991 British Open. But as he turned 40, those performances were well in the past. In 1996 and again in 1997, the 40-something O’Meara did what he usually did in the game’s biggest events…he struggled. Qualifying for all eight, he never finished higher than a tie for 13th, and only three times wrapped up his play in the top 25.

Which makes the story of O’Meara’s 1998 season all the more remarkable. The overwhelming favorite that week was the dynamic young defending champion Tiger Woods, who one year earlier had laid down a “hello world” four-round total of 270 to win by a dozen strokes. O’Meara knew Woods better than virtually any of the other pros; he had mentored the rising star during his early days on tour, they lived close to one another, often traveled together, and practiced together. He may then have been slightly surprised when Woods opened with rounds of 71 and 72 to stand four strokes behind former champion Fred Couples halfway through the event. But what might really have surprised him was his own Saturday 68, vaulting O’Meara into a three-way tie for second, two strokes behind Couples. Woods, meanwhile, carded a third straight uninspired round and stood 10th.

Playing with Couples on Sunday, O’Meara more or less stalked the leader, who retained his lead most of the round. But O’Meara birdied the 17th hole to pull into a tie, and followed a competent drive and seven iron on the 72nd hole with a 20-foot birdie putt for the victory. O’Meara became the first player to win by birdying the final two holes since Arnold Palmer in 1960. At the trophy presentation ceremony, he said he had practiced that very putt numerous times in the practice round, and knew the break.

“I told myself, ‘look, this is what you come to play golf for,’” he said. Acknowledging an awareness that he could afford to miss and go to a playoff, he said he told himself, “why not finish it off now?”

O’Meara told the press corps that despite his victory, he would not classify himself as better than good player…certainly not a great one. That accolade he reserved for those who dominated the game for a long period. “I’m a nice player,” he said.

In April of 1998, that was a fair self-assessment. But it was about to be tested. At the British Open, played that year at Royal Birkdale, the Masters champion found himself in a three-way tie for second through three rounds with Jim Furyk and Jesper Parnevik, the trio two behind a little-known British pro named Brian Watts. Meanwhile, lurking three behind them was O’Meara’s old buddy, Woods.

Fueled with the confidence a green jacket brings, O’Meara birdied the 11th, 12th and 14th to take the lead. Woods, meanwhile, mounted a desperate charge, birdying three of the final four holes and posting a four-round score of 281. But that left him one stroke short of O’Meara. Also trailing by one, Watts birdied the 17th and then saved par from a bunker on the final hole to set up a four-hole playoff that began at the 15th hole. O’Meara birdied and held his lead home, eventually winning by two strokes.

After the better part of two decades seeking fame and fortune on the links, O’Meara had found it over the span of a single spring and summer. At age 41, he became the oldest double major winner in the sport’s history. A few weeks later, at the PGA Championship, he nearly made it three majors out of four, taking fourth place behind Vijay Singh. Playing just 19 events, the fewest of his career, O’Meara had won a personal best $1.8 million.

For as long as he remained a regular on the tour – which is to say through 2006 – O’Meara never approached that season’s success. The British Open victory was his last. His earnings fell to $869,000 in 1999, then to $242,000 in 2000. Gravitating to the Champions tour when he turned 50 in 2007, O’Meara’s only two victories were the 2010 Senior Players and the Liberty Mutual Legends. His 1998 season, in other words, was a one-off…but a memorable one.

 

Mark O’Meara at his peak

Tournament              Finish    Score     Z Score

1995 PGA                T-6       273       -1.20

1996 Masters            T-18      290       -0.06

1996 U.S. Open          T-16      285       -0.95

1996 British Open       T-32      283       -0.06

1996 PGA                T-26      284       -0.47

1997 U.S. Open          T-36      289       -0.25

1997 PGA                T-13      284       -0.61

1998 Masters            1st       279       -1.83

1998 British Open       1st       280       -2.10

1998 PGA                T-4       276       -1.54

Average Z Score: -0.91

Effective stroke average: 70.63

 

 

T-171. Martin Kaymer, -0.91, 2010-14

The 29-year-old 2014 U.S. Open champion has two majors already – he also won the 2010 PGA. His performance at the 2014 U.S . Open, which translated to a Z score of -2.81, was the year’s best. So why doesn’t he get more consideraton among the game’s charging stars? The answer, obvious when you look at his record, is that too often Kaymer’s game simply fails to show up for big events.

The 2010 season, which included top 10 finishes at the U.S. and British Opens as well as the PGA title, marked a high point to this date for Kaymer. He missed two cuts in both 2011 and 2012, and his U.S. Open title marks only his third finish higher than 30th since 2010. In the interim, he underwent a swing change, and following his 2014 Open victory the negative effects of that exercise were frequently cited in explaining his decline. That may or may not actually be true; Kaymer followed his Open victory with a 70th place finish at the British Open, then missed another cut at the 2014 PGA.

That leaves Kaymer with a pedestrian peak for 2010-14 of -0.91. But 2015, which brought to missed cuts and two finishes just outside the top 10 – was a relative disappointment. Since then he has had just one top 10 — seventh at the PGA – and Kaymer’s more usuaual landing spot was in the mid 30s. That suggests Kaymer is on his way to becoming this generation’s Andy North, a two-time major champion not generally ranked among the first tier of all-time greats.

Martin Kaymer at his peak

Tournament              Finish    Score     Z Score

2010 U.S. Open          T-8       289       -1.32

2010 British Open       T-7       282       -1.18

2010 PGA                1st       277       -2.03

2011 U.S. Open          T-39      287       0.04

2011 British Open       T-12      283       -1.01

2012 U.S. Open          T-10      286       -0.81

2013 Masters            T-35      291       0.13

2013 British Open       T-32      293       -0.09

2013 PGA                T-33      283       0.13

2014 U.S. Open          1st       271       -2.81        

Average Z Score: -0.91

Effective stroke average: 70.63

 

  1. Angel Cabrera, -0.89, 2006-2010

Who was the greatest golfer produced by each continent?

The question is an argument-starter. For North America, the options only begin with Woods, Nicklaus, Jones, Hagen, Hogan, and Snead. For Europe, the choice could be Vardon, Faldo, either of the Morrises, Langer, Ballesteros, or possibly Sorenstam. For Africa, it might be Gary Player…but it might also be Ernie Els. Would Greg Norman be the choice for Australia, or would it be Peter Thomson or Karrie Webb? As for Asia, any of a half dozen women pros – notably Yani Tseng and Inbee Park — could be in the discussion.

For only one continent on Earth is there a clear and undisputed answer. The greatest golfer ever produced by South Ameria is also the continent’s only two-time major champion, Angel Cabrera of Argentina. Period, drop the mike.

Bestowed the fairly unflattering nickname of “El Pato (The Duck) for his sort of waddling gait, Cabrera is one of only two South Americans to have ever won a major championship, the other belonging to Roberto deVicenzo, a British Open titleist. He came close to making it three majors in 2013, losing a Masters playoff to Adam Scott.

South America is not known as a golf haven, and Cabrera came from a background not especially suited to produce a great player. His dad was a handyman, his mother a maid, and they broke up when Angel was still a child. Looking for work, Cabrera signed on as a caddie at the country club in his home town of Cordoba, and gradually picked up the game in caddie tournaments, which he played with borrowed clubs.

By 20, Cabrera was good enough to turn pro, and soon found how tough the going was. On his first attempt to qualify for the European tour, he failed. On his second attempt, he failed again. On his third attempt, he failed again. He finally made it in 1996, when he was 36, but he labored five more years before claiming his first victory, at the 2001 Argentine Open.

In the meantime, Cabrera labored to build a reputation. The first step in that regard came during the notorious 1999 British Open at Carnoustie made famous by the Jean van de Velde debacle and the ensuing three-way playoff.  Cabrera stood in a tie for sixth, eight strokes behind van De Velde after three rounds, but almost without notice in the confusion closed with a 70 to finish just one stroke out of the playoff.

That performance earned Cabrera his first Masters invitation, and although missing the cut he returned in 2001 and 2002, both times landing in the top 10.  He was, by this time, the golf king of Argentina, winning the more than a dozen tournaments including the 1998 and 2002 Argentine PGA, the 1999, 2001 and 2005 Argentine Masters  and the 2001 and 2002 Argentine Open. On the European tour, progress remained slow, Cabrera claiming only two titles between 2002 and 2005.

Because he ranked among the top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking, Cabrera received a bid to play in the 2007 U.S. Open at Oakmont. But he hardly garnered attention as a favorite in company with Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson. And when Cabrera posted one of only two sub-par rounds on the opening day, it was viewed as one of those nice performances that would soon fade into obscurity under the Open pressure. It did, but only briefly. Trailing six players, including Woods and third round leader Aaron Baddeley entering Sunday’s play, Cabrera posted the only sub-par round among the leaders, seizing the lead for good with a birdie on the 11th and surviving bogeys on two of the final three holes. Either Woods or Jim Furyk could have forced a playoff with a birdie on the demanding 18th, but neither could manage it.

“I never thought this was possible,” Cabrera told reporters in the press tent after his round. He recalled watching all the major golf events on TV as a child, but said he “never thought I would be here at this moment.”

For more than a year, the championship adorned Cabrera’s resume like a lone shining star. Through the remainder of 2007 and 2008, Cabrera won nothing, and he failed to place higher than 20th in any of the majors.  He was also aging, having turned 39 in September of 2008. So he was not considered a serious title threat in the 2009 Masters until three straight rounds in the 60s left him at 205, tied with Kenny Perry for the lead, entering the final round. Perry led for most of that round, but bogeys on the two closing holes created a three-way playoff involving Cabrera and for the even more unknown Chad Campbell.

The playoff, which began at the 18th hole, was memorable, although not for the sterling level of its play. Cabrera slammed his tee shot into the trees on the right, then ricocheted his recovery off a tree only to see it bounce into the middle of the fairway. But Campbell and Perry both also missed the green in regulation, and when Campbell failed to get up and down from a bunker he was eliminated. When Cabrera and Perry both did get p and down for par, they moved to the second playoff hole, the 10th, where Cabrera won with another par. Afterward, Cabrera was just as stunned as he had been following his Open championship.

“I’m so emotional I can barely talk,” he said.

Cabrera nearly added a third major title to his list in 2013. He and Adam Scott finished tied at 9 under par, both men birdieing the 72nd hole to get there, before Scott birdied the second playoff hole for the win.

Angel Cabrera at his peak

Tournament         Finish    Score     Z Score

2006 Masters       T-8       285       -1.22

2006 U.S. Open     T-26      293       -0.14

2006 British Open  7th       278       -1.33

2007 U.S. Open     1st       285       -2.23

2007 British Open  34th      287       -0.16

2008 PGA           T-20      288       -0.57

2009 Masters       1st       276       -1.86

2009 British Open  T-24      283       -0.59

2010 Masters       T-18      287       -0.15

2010 U.S. Open     T-22      293       -0.61

Average Z Score: -0.89

Effective stroke average: 70.66

 

  1. Christy O’Connor, -0.88, 1951-1974

Christy O’Connor was probably the pre-eminent golfer produced by the United Kingdom during the 1950s. A native of Galway, Ireland, he turned pro in 1951 at the relatively late age of 26, his debut apparently delayed by a lack of funding. Always money-conscious, O’Connor repeatedly declined opportunities to play in major U.S. events, sometimes citing a lack of cash to pay his expenses.

He was, however, a perennial at the British Open, from 1953 into the 1970s. There O’Connor posted 10 finishes in the top 10, including a runner-up two strokes behind Peter Thomson in 1965. In cold, wet weather at Birkdale, O’Connor demonstrated his ability to hang with the best Americans, defeating Tony Lema by two shots, Jack Nicklaus by seven, and Arnold Palmer by eight.

Although seen by only the most travel-minded Americans, O’Connor was a constant and winning presence on the European tour. He won 22 events of significance, most in England or Ireland, including the 1956 and 1959 Dunlop Masters. In 1970, at the age of 45, he dispatched reigning U.S. open champion Tony Jacklin to win the John Player Classic.

 

Christy O’Connor at his peak

Tournament              Finish    Score     Z Score

1958 British Open       T-3       279       -1.57

1959 British Open       T-5       288       -1.16

1960 British Open       T-36      295       0.74

1961 British Open       T-3       288       -1.66

1962 British Open       T-16      297       -0.09

1963 British Open       6th       286       -1.07

1964 British Open       T-6       291       -1.02

1965 British Open       T-2       287       -1.71

1966 British Open       T-13      291       -0.85

1967 British Open       21st      291       -0.39

Average Z Score: -0.88

Effective stroke average: 70.68

 

  1. Isao Aoki, -0.87, 1974-1990

The first Japanese player to make a serious run at a major tournament championship, Aoki was 27 when he challenged Jack Nicklaus at the 1980 U.S. Open at Baltusrol.

Tied with Nicklaus through three rounds and paired together (for the fourth time) on Sunday, Aoki trailed by two when they came to the 17th, the first of successive par five closing holes. Aoki’s third shot stopped five feet from the hole, but Nicklaus holed his long birdie putt to retain his lead, then again matched Aoki’s birdie at 18 to ratify the two-stroke victory.

Although lightly known in America, Aoki was a developing figure on the world golf stage, having tied for seventh (with, among others, Nick Faldo) at the 1978 British Open, repeating in 1979. One month after his U.S. Open run, at the 1980 British Open, Aoki tied the Open record of 63 although his final standing, tied for 12th, did not justify record excitement. His last moment of major fame came at the 1981 PGA, when he tied for fourth, although eight strokes behind the champion, Larry Nelson.

During the 1980s, Aoki settled into the challenging life of a regular PGA Tour pro, adding the 1983 Hawaiian Open to a resume that already featured dozens of victories in Japan and several more in Europe. When he turned 50 in the early 1990s, he switched over to the Champions tour, adding four more runner-ups in majors.

 

Isao Aoki at his peak

Tournament         Finish    Score     Z Score

1978 British Open  T-7       285       -1.28

1979 Masters       T-34      293       0.49

1979 British Open  T-7       291       -1.15

1980 U.S. Open     2nd       274       -2.15

1980 British Open  T-12      284       -0.83

1981 U.S. Open     T-11      281       -1.11

1981 British Open  T-11      287       -0.80

1981 PGA           T-4       279       -1.36

1982 U.S. Open     T-30      294       -0.09

1982 British Open  T-20      293       -0.41

Average Z Score: -0.87

Effective stroke average: 70.69

 

T-176. “Dutch” Harrison, -0.86, 1936-1958

E.J. “Dutch” Harrison may not have been the most successful golfer on the PGA Tour, but he was certainly one of the most dogged. Taking to the tour as a 20-year-old at the outset of the Depression in 1930, he remained a reliable presence through the 1950s, enjoying some of his best days comparatively at in that career.

Harrison never won a currently recognized major – in fact he never truly threatened for one – but he did accumulate 18 tour victories, the first coming in 1939 and the last in 1958. His closest brush with a major came at the 1960 U.S. Open at Cherry Hills when he – along with the rest of the field – got swept away in the wake of Arnold Palmer’s definitional closing “charge” to a 65 and two-stroke win. Harrison, who began the final round four strokes behind Julius Boros but one ahead of Palmer, was one of six players tied for third, three strokes behind Palmer and one behind Jack Nicklaus.

Harrison’s other brush with fame took place at the 1939 PGA Championship, then a match play event. Qualifying with a score of 138 that matched the low total, he strung together four victories by margins of 3 & 2 or better to reach the semi-finals. There, however, waited Byron Nelson, who made short work of Harrison 9 & 8 on his way to a 37-hole finals defeat at the hands of Henry Picard.

He did list a Western Open title among his trophies, that coming in 1953, when Harrison – by then 43 – was enjoying a delayed golfing prime. Playing steady, unspectacular golf, Harrison’s two rounds of 69 and two rounds of 70 gave him a four-stroke victory over Fred Haas, Lloyd Mangrum and Ed Furgol.

Dutch Harrison at his peak

Tournament              Finish    Score     Z Score

1950 U.S. Open          4th       288       -1.50

1950 Western Open       T-2       283       -1.82

1951 Masters            T-15      294       -0.68

1951 U.S. Open          T-47      307       1.10

1951 Western Open       T-22      284       -0.24

1952 Western Open       T-24      291       -0.34

1953 U.S. Open          T-14      298       -0.63

1953 PGA              3rd round match play  -1.03

1953 Western Open       1st       278       -1.94

1954 Masters            T-4       291       -1.50

Average Z Score: -0.86

Effective stroke average: 70.70

 

T-176. Paul Azinger, -0.86, 1997-2001

At the conclusion of the 1993 major golf season, Paul Azinger was viewed as a star in the absolute prime of his career. Within a few short weeks, his career was widely viewed as over.

The cause? Lymphoma, a virulent form of cancer diagnosed in Azinger around the Thanksgiving holiday. Just three months earlier, Azinger had extended to 300 – roughly five years — his string of consecutive weeks among the game’s top 10 players. And he had done so by winning the PGA Championship. Suddenly the question wasn’t how Azinger would do in 1994, but whether his career had any future at all.

“This whole ordeal, this has been one of the greatest experiences of my life,” Azinger said during a news conference in May of 1994. He had just completed a series of chemotherapy treatments, and was about to undergo a series of radiation treatments. “I can honestly say that. “None of us is promised tomorrow. We’ve got to live every day to the fullest.”

The cancer diagnosis was almost perfectly timed to knock Azinger off of the loftiest perch of his career. He had just completed a season in which he won more than $1.4 million. The PGA crown, in a playoff over Greg Norman, was one of three Azinger championships, bringing his career total to 11. He also helped the U.S. team win the Ryder Cup.

Azinger first noticed the nagging pain in his right shoulder during the United States Open, when he finished third, five strokes behind Lee Janzen. He treated the pain with over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs, won The Memorial Tournament and the New England Classic, and soldiered through pain that sometimes prevented him from lifting his arm. The funny thing was that actually swinging a golf club was the one thing that remained essentially painless.

His physician, Dr. Frank Jobe, urged Azinger to have a biopsy done, but Azinger resisted. “I said, ‘Hey, Dr. Jobe, I’m playing pretty good, I don’t really want to do that,'” Azinger said.

Although the biopsy identified cancer, it also found that the illness had been discovered in an early stage, making its successful treatment more likely. Indeed, Azinger returned to the tour in time to defend his PGA title, although failing to make the cut. He managed a tie for 17th at the 1995 Masters, but his seasonal earnings fell to just $182,595. Between 1995 and 2000, Azinger failed to add any victories to his pre-cancer total. But he did make 131 starts, a victory in its own right.

The unusual nature of Azinger’s record is that that it’s an interesting call whether his peak period actually occurred before or following his cancer. Statistically, the nod goes – by a small margin – to his 1997 through 2001 seasons. During those five seasons following his full recovery, Azinger won only once, at the 2000 Sony Open in Hawaii. But he was a steady presence among the upper echelon in the majors, finishing fifth in the 1998 Masters and fifth again in the 2001 U.S. Open.

His great victory, of course, was both in his person and as a role model. At the press conference during his treatment-driven 1994 sabbatical, he told about calling a youth who had just been diagnosed with cancer. He promised the boy two tickets to the 1995 Masters.

“I plan to be there,” Azinger told the reporters. “I hope he is, too.”

Azinger at his peak

Tournament              Finish    Score     Z Score

1997 U.S. Open          T-28      288       -0.40

1998 Masters            5th       282       -1.31

1998 U.S. Open          T-14      289       -0.65

1998 PGA                T-13      280       -0.88

1999 U.S. Open          T-12      289       -0.86

2000 British Open       T-7       280       -1.06

2000 PGA                T-24      282       -0.58

2001 Masters            T-15      281       -0.64

2001 U.S. Open          T-5       281       -1.48

Average Z-Score: -0.86

Effective stroke average: 70.70

 

  1. Gene Littler, -0.84, 1958-1962

Littler was famous for his smooth swing, prompting his nickname, “Gene The Machine.” It sometimes seemed like Littler wasn’t really trying, prompting occasional criticism about his apparent absence of motivation. More likely, Littler was tinkering; despite his reputation as a mature technician, he, for one, never appeared satisfied with his results.

The 1953 U.S. Amateur champion, Littler teed it up with the pros while still in college at San Diego State and beat Dutch Harrison by four strokes. It was his first of an eventual 29 tour victories. His first and second as a pro came little more than a year later when he won the LA Open by two and the Phoenix Open by one. He ended his rookie season with five titles, among them the Tournament of Champions, and runner-up honors at the U.S. Open. He actually led that event at the halfway mark, but a third-round 76 sank his championship hopes and he finished a stroke behind Ed Furgol

The Tournament of Champions turned out to be a Littler favorite: he repeated his 1955 title in 1956 by four over Cary Middlecoff, and made it three straight in 1957, this time by three over Billy Casper, Jimmy Demaret, Dow Finsterwald and Billy Maxwell. He made another run at the Open in 1958, finishing fourth, and in 1961 beat out Bob Goalby and Doug Sanders by a stroke. Littler did it by withstanding the normal final round pressure, recording a 68 that was three strokes better than Goalby and four ahead of Sanders, the third round leader.

Littler was 30 and a 17-time tour winner, so expectations were that he would compete with Arnold Palmer for dominance over the next decade. It never really happened. The imminent emergence of Jack Nicklaus had something to do with that, but so did Littler’s own play. Between 1962 and 1968 he played in 21 majors, managing a third, a fourth and six top 10s, but also two missed cuts and a dozen finishes outside the top 20. By the 1970 Masters, Littler was approaching 40 and was generally viewed as a player whose best days were behind him. That assessment turned out to be premature. He surprised the field with an opening 69, trailed Casper by just one shot through three rounds and then battled his long-time rival to a draw on Sunday. In the 18-hole Monday playoff, Casper persevered, birdying the first hole and building his lead to six shots through 10 holes. Casper won by five. His final run at major glory came at the 1977 PGA Championship, when he lost another playoff, this one in sudden death to Lanny Wadkins on the third extra hole.

Littler at his peak

Tournament              Finish    Score     Z Score

1958 U.S. Open          4th       290       -1.49

1959 Masters            T-8       290       -0.60

1959 U.S. Open          T-11      291       -0.77

1959 PGA                T-10      284       -0.98

1961 Masters            T-15      289       -0.38

1961 U.S. Open          1st       281       -1.99

1961 PGA                T-5       282       -1.26

1962 Masters            4th       282       -1.95

1962 U.S. Open          T-8       290       -1.09

1962 British Open       cut                2.10

Average Z-Score: -0.84

Effective stroke average: 70.73

 

T-179. Steve Elkington, -0.83, 1991-95

Steve Elkington was something of a breakthrough player on the American golf scene, one of the early foreigners to play college golf in the U.S. An Australian, he enrolled at the University of Houston as a 20-year-old in 1982, and promptly helped the Cougars win three national titles in four years.

That, obviously, was prep for a pro career, which began following graduation in 1985. The early returns, however, were spotty. His first win didn’t come until 1990, by which time his major record showed only six starts with two missed cuts and no top 20 finishes.

The breakthrough came at the 1991 Players Championship, when Elkington’s closing 68 defeated Fuzzy Zoeller by a stroke. It drove him to a career-high $549,120 in earnings. In 1992 Elkington won only one more tournament, but he added a pair of seconds and three thirds, running his winnings close to $750,000. If not a star, he had at least become a contender.

At the 1993 Masters, Elkington lurked consistently a few strokes off the pace set by eventual winner Bernhard Langer, finishing in a tie for fourth although five strokes behind the winner. But he really blossomed in 1995 with more than $1.2 million in earnings and top 10 finishes in three of the season’s four majors.

The 1995 Masters was famously won by a sobbing Ben Crenshaw, playing in mourning over the passing of his longtime coach, Harvey Pennick, a few days earlier. Elkington never truly pressured Crenshaw, but his weekend rounds of 69 and 68 elevated him into a tie for fifth. At the British Open in July, he stood third, three strokes behind Michael Campbell and one behind Costantino Rocca, through three rounds. On Sunday, Campbell’s 76 opened the door for a challenger to break through. But Elkington was not that challenger; he managed just a 74 and placed sixth as John Daly beat Rocca in a playoff.

Those showings were just good enough to elevate Elkington into the ranks of contenders as the 1995 PGA Championship began at Riviera. Six shots behind Ernie Els after three rounds, Elkington put together a blistering final round of 64 to pass Els on Sunday and affix a tie with Colin Montgomerie, both at 17 under par for the week. In those scoring conditions, the sudden death playoff figured to be decided by a birdie and Elkington made it on the first extra hole, dropping a 20-foot putt for the victory.

It was the highlight moment of his career, but Elkington was not through. He added two more Tour victories in 1997, the ninth of his career in 1998 and the tenth and final one at the 1999 Doral. By the time he transitioned to the Champions Tour in 2013, Elkington had won more than $15.5 million in career earnings.

None of that, by the way, is the most interesting aspect of Elkington’s career. This is: He did it all while suffering from an allergy to grass.

 

Elkington at his peak

Tournament              Finish    Score     Z Score

1991 Masters            T-22      284       -0.37

1992 PGA                T-18      287       -0.70

1993 Masters            T-4       283       -1.35

1993 U.S. Open          T-33      284       -0.18

1993 PGA                T-14      278       -0.93

1994 Masters            cut                1.92

1994 PGA                T-7       278       -1.33

1995 Masters            T-5       279       -1.28

1995 British Open       T-6       284       -1.77

1995 PGA                1st       267       -2.28

Average Z-Score: -0.83

Effective stroke average: 70.75

 

 

T-179. Claude Harmon, -0.83, 1945-1949

On the rare occasions when people think of Claude Harmon today, it’s inevitably as the founding father of one of the great golf instructional dynasties. A long-time pro at the prestigious Winged Foot Club outside New York, he produced four sons – Claude Jr., also known as Butch, Craig, Bill and Dick – all of whom became noted teaching pros in their own time. His grandson, Claude III, has taken the same path, listing among his pupils 2016 U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka.

Having spawned that type of pedigree, it’s understandable that people might look past Harmon’s playing record. It’s a solid one, featuring a major championship.

That career was, however, late in starting. In fact the “tour” portion of it never did really start, Harmon largely contenting himself with his club work, first at Winged Foot and later at courses in Florida, California and Texas. After World War II, he was a regular presence at the Masters, U.S. Open and PGA, but otherwise rarely entered a tournament that wasn’t within driving distance of his base of operations. Thus it was that almost all of his credited victories were at events played in suburban New York.

The major portion of his career began at the only 1945 major, the PGA Championship, which was played in July in Dayton. Harmon put what was then a developing reputation up against a field that included Byron Nelson, who was in the process of dominating that season’s tour. It was not, however, a deep field, neither Sam Snead nor Ben Hogan being available to play. In fact the best known name other than Nelson was probably Gene Sarazen, in his mid 40s by then and a decade beyond his prime. Nelson took out Sarazen in the first round.

Harmon, meanwhile, dispatched a series of lightly known players, finding himself paired against Nelson – and on Harmon’s birthday, no less. There were no surprise presents for the upstart, Nelson beating him 5 & 4 and taking the title a day later.

If nothing else, that performance earned Harmon an invitation to the 1946 Masters, where he finished 18th, which was good enough to be invited back. At the 1948 tournament, he put together a third round 69 to take a two-stroke lead, and his Sunday 70 left pursuers well behind, Cary Middlecoff finishing second, five strokes back. On the 18th green, Harmon looked over a 20foot birdie putt to break the tournament record of 278, but slid it by and had to settle for a 279 that equaled Ralph’s Guldahl’s 1939 performance.

The victory might have kick-started Harmon’s journey to fame, but he was too involved in his teaching work to be distracted by such things. A month later he was for the second time a PGA Championship semi-finalist, but Mike Turnesa took him out before losing to Hogan in the final match. He reached the PGA semis for a third time in 1953, but lost to eventual champion Walter Burkemo.

Harmon at his peak

Tournament              Finish    Score     Z Score

1945 PGA              semi-final match play     -0.97

1946 Masters            18th      296       -0.38

1946 U.S. Open          T-15      291       -0.65

1947 U.S. Open          T-19      292       -0.69

1947 PGA              3rd round match play  -1.65

1948 Masters            1st       279       -2.19

1948 British Open       27th      298       0.55

1948 PGA             semi-final match play -0.18

1949 Masters            T-11      293       -0.74

1949 U.S. Open          T-8       291       -1.42

Average Z-Score: -0.83

Effective stroke average: 70.75

 

T-179. Glenna Collett Vare, -0.83, 1921-1930

Golf writer Herbert Warren Wind described Glenna Collett Vare as “the female Bobby Jones” for her dominance of the women’s game during the years that Jones rode astride the men’s tournaments. As Glenna Collett, she shot to a pre-eminent position in the sparsely recognized women’s game by winning medalist honors at the 1921 and 1922 women’s Amateur. Collett dominated the 1922 tournament, her five victories coming by margins of 2-up or better.

She was 22 when Alexa Stirling Fraser’s path crossed hers in the 1925 final, Fraser having medaled with 77, one stroke better than Collett. Reporters billed it as determining the best women player, and Collett settled the outcome early. She led by three when both players’ drives sliced into a fairway trap and then laid out on the 13th hole of the morning 18. Nearly 170 yards out, Collett struck a three-wood that plopped four feet from the cup, finishing the first 18 holes four ahead and eventually winning 9 & 8. It was the largest rout in the history of the tournament’s championship round to that point.

Fraser gained some measure of revenge when she ousted Collett 2 & 1 in the second round of the 1927 championship. But Collett added a third title in 1928, this time by an even more dominating 13 & 12 over Virginia Van Wie. Her fourth crown came in 1929 and her fifth in 1930, running her own streak of match victories to 15 since the loss to Fraser. That streak ended at 19 in the finals of the 1931 tournament when Helen Hicks edged Collett Vare, 2 & 1. She was 32 by her sixth and final championship, over a field of 64 in 1935, defeating a Minneapolis teen named Patty Berg 3 & 2 in the final.

Collett was one-half of the first international women’s rivalry, battling two-time British women’s Amateur champion Joyce Wethered in the third round of the 1925 event at Troon. Wethered, enjoying a 10-hole stretch she played in six under par, won and went on to capture her third title. Collett returned to the British Amateur in 1929 and 1930 losing again to Wethered in 1929.

Vare continued to compete until World War II halted the tournament. When the World Golf Hall of Fame was established in the mid 1970s, she was among the inaugural inductees. When the LPGA tour created an award to be given to the player with the lowest stroke average, they named it the Vare Trophy.

Glenna Collett Vare at her peak

Tournament         Finish    Score     Z Score

1922 U.S. Amateur  1st      match play -0.95

1923 U.A. Amateur  3rd rd. match play  -0.86

1924 U.S. Amateur  semis   match play -0.73

1925 U.S. Amateur  1st      match play -0.96

1926 U.S. Amateur  3rd rd. match play  -0.74

1927 U.S. Amateur  2nd rd. match play -0.05

1928 U.S. Amateur  1st      match play -1.10

1929 U.S. Amateur  1st      match play -1.02

1930 U.S. Amateur  1st      match play -1.05    

1931 U.S. Amateur  2nd      match play -0.79

Average Z Score: -0.83

Effective stroke average: 70.75

 

T-182. Old Tom Morris, -0.81, 1860-1869*

No single person “created” the Old links at St. Andrews, but Tom Morris is as legitimate a claimant as any. As the facility’s superintendent in the 1850s, it was Morris who created the notion of double greens with separate but parallel fairways running toward them. Prior to Morris’ arrival, golfers simply played back and forth on the links, passing one another (and dodging incoming shots) in the process.

One of the interesting things to speculate about Old Tom is how many British Opens he might have won if given a lifelong chance. Old Tom was born in 1821, making him a robust 39 years old at the time of the inaugural tournament. Prior to that – his golfing prime – his “career” consisted of exhibition matches at which, by the way, he was superb.

When the Open was conceived in 1860, the prevailing assumption was that Tom Morris would probably win. He didn’t, finishing two strokes behind his peer and rival, Willie Park. This was the 1860 equivalent of Mickelson beating Woods or Player beating Palmer, a betting upset but hardly an astonishing result. Old Tom made up it by winning in 1861, then in 1862 he spreadeagled a field of eight by 13 strokes. That’s still the record margin of victory. He finished second to Park again in 1863, but won his third title in 1864 and his fourth in 1867.

Two things stopped Old Tom’s domination in 1868. One was his age; he was 47 and his putting touch was ever so marginally beginning to show it. The second was his 17-year-old son, Young Tom Morris, by then a rising star on the British professional golf circuit. It was the emergence of Young Tom that turned Morris into “Old Tom.”

Old Tom lived on several decades as the game’s elder statesman, dying in St. Andrews in 1908…at the golf course.

Old Tom Morris at his peak

Tournament         Finish    Score     Z Score

1860 British Open  2nd       176       -1.10

1861 British Open  1st       163       -1.74

1862 British Open  1st       163       -1.61

1863 British Open  2nd       170       -1.15

1864 British Open  1st       167       -1.33

1865 British Open  5th       174       0.95

1866 British Open 4th       178       -0.40

1867 British Open 1st       170       -1.53

1868 British Open 2nd       157       -1.09

1869 British Open  6th       176       0.91

Average Z Score: -0.81

Effective stroke average: 70.78

 *The Morris portion of the text is taken from “The Hole Truth,” a SABRmetric approach to golf analysis, by the author, which will be published by University of Nebraska Press in the fall of 2018.

 

T-182. John Ball Jr., -0.81, 1890-1912

The great gulf in British golf between the decline of Tom Morris and the rise of Harry Vardon was filled alternately by men who are today lesser known. One of those men, John Ball Jr., was the first successful English champion, an eight-time British Amateur winner who also earned a Claret Jug, that coming in 1890.

The son of a hotel owner near the Royal Liverpool Club, Ball was introduced early to the game, first entering the Open as a 16-year-old in 1878 and finishing fifth. When the Amateur was initiated in 1885, Ball entered the inaugural event and reached the semi-finals, repeating a year later and losing the championship match to John Laidlay in 1887. In 1888 he more than evened the score, thrashing Laidlay 5 & 4.

Ball was 22 when he blossomed into Great Britain’s pre-eminent player, claiming his second Amateur 4 & 3 over Laidlay. As one of the most respected players of his time, Ball might have entered that summer’s Open championship as one of the favorites, but knowing observers pointed out that in the nearly 30 years of its existence no Amateur had ever survived the grueling championship’s 36-hole test. His opening 82 stood Ball second, just one stroke behind Andrew Kirkaldy, but Ball closed with another 82 for a three-stroke win while Kirkaldy faded badly. In the intervening decades, only Bobby Jones in 1930 has matched Ball’s feat of winning the Open and Amateur in the same season.

Ball nearly reprised his double in 1892. He won the Amateur 3 & 1 over Harold Hilton only to lose by three shots to Hilton a few weeks later at the Open. Ball added a fourth Open title in 1894, and a fifth in 1899. After taking time out to fight in the Boer War, Ball returned to claim a sixth Amateur title in 1907, a seventh in 1910 and an eighth at the tender age of 50 in 1912.

Across the lengthy span of his career, Ball is credited with nearly 60 tournament championships. He was elected to the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1977.

John Ball at his peak

Tournament              Finish    Score     Z Score

1890 British Amat.      1st     match play -0.92

1890 British Open       1st       164       -1.71

1891 British Amat.      2nd rd.  match play -0.17

1891 British Open       T-10      176       -0.91

1892 British Amat.      1st     match play -0.57

1892 British Open       T-2       308       -1.73

1893 British Amat.      4th rd.  match play -0.20

1893 British Open       T-8       332       -0.82

1894 British Amat.      1st     match play -1.13

1894 British Open       T-13      344       0.03

Average Z Score: -0.81

Effective stroke average: 70.78

 

T-182. John Laidlay, -0.81, 1885-1910

Like Ball, a lifelong Amateur, Laidlay – in company with Harold Hilton — was Ball’s principal rival for Amateur supremacy between 1885 and World War I. Laidlay won the 1889 and 1891 Amateur titles, finished second three times – twice to Ball – and reached the tournament’s semi-finals seven times, including annually between 1888 and 1894.

A native of Lothian, Scotland, Laidlay is widely credited with developing the overlapping style of grip soon popularized by the far better known Harry Vardon, and which became the favored grip of most pros. In his mid 20s, Laidlay made several runs at the Open championship, finishing fourth behind Willie Park Jr. in 1887 and tying for fourth, again behind the younger Park, in 1889. Laidlay made his best run at the Open title in 1893, eventually finishing second, two strokes behind Willie Auchterlonie. Like Ball, the arrival a year later of Vardon, Taylor and Braid chilled Laidlay’s subsequent Open success; he entered just eight more times through World War I, his best finish being seventh. He was a regular presence at the Amateur through 1909 when, at age 48, he reached the round of 16.

John Laidley at his peak

Tournament         Finish    Score     Z Score

1888 British Open  10th      180       -0.57

1888 British Amat. 2nd     match play  -0.79

1889 British Open  T-4       162       -0.34

1889 British Amat. 1st     match play  -0.84

1890 British Open  T-11      177       -0.39

1890 British Amat. 2nd     match play  -0.79

1891 British Amat. 1st    match play  -1.10

1892 British Amat.semi-fin.match play -0.65

1893 British Open  2nd       2nd       -1.80

1893 British Amat. 2nd     match play  -0.79

Average Z Score: -0.81

Effective stroke average: 70.78

 

  1. Willie Park Sr., -0.78, 1860-1870

Park was the chief adversary of Old Tom Morris, the father figure of major tournament golf. In fact Park one-upped Morris, winning the inaugural British Open Championship in 1860 and sharing the first three championships equally with Morris. Eventually, Willie Park would capture four Open championships, equaling Old Tom’s victory total. In Park’s 1860 and 1863 championships, Tom Morris was runner-up, both times two strokes behind.

The pair had a natural geographic rivalry. While Morris was from St. Andrews, Park lived in and represented Musselburgh, the other proto-golf haven across the firth. In fact Park and Morris often competed with or against one another in matches designed to feed on the St. Andrews-Musselburgh rivalry – and enrich the participants.

The notion of Park as parallel figure to Morris extended off the course as well as on it. Both sired a young son who grew to stardom. Tom Morris Jr., won five Opens – four in succession – before dying at a young age. Willie Park Jr. won the 1887 and 1889 Opens, eventually emigrating to the U.S. where he became a well-known golf course architect.

 

Park at his peak

Tournament              Finish    Score     Z Score

1860 British Open       1st       174       -1.32

1861 British Open       2nd       167       -1.29

1862 British Open       2nd       176       -0.09

1863 British Open       1st       168       -1.33

1864 British Open       4th       177       0.30

1865 British Open       2nd       164       -0.88

1866 British Open       1st       169       -1.69

1867 British Open       2nd       162       -0.92

1868 British Open       4th       162       -0.35

1870 British Open       6th       173       0.39

Score: -0.78

Effective stroke average: 70.82

 

  1. Roberto deVicenzo, -0.75, 1950-1954

In those rare moments when golf fans recall DeVicenzo for something other than that single Sunday afternoon at Augusta when he lost the Masters due to an incorrectly signed scorecard, it is for winning the previous summer’s British Open. That in turn leads to the sense that deVicenzo’s true peak occurred during the late 1960s rather than 15 years earlier, as the record shows.

That might have been true had deVicenzo been a more active participant in the majors at that point in his life. But deVicenzo was well into his 40s by the late 1960s, and significantly cutting back his playing schedule. He never played in the PGA Championship after 1954, and made only one trip to the U.S. Open after 1958. That hampers his rating for the period in which he won one major and might have own a second since he only made the minimum of 10 starts between 1965 and 1969…and missed the cut in one of those.

As it turns out, deVicenzo’s statistical peak occurs between 1950 and 1954. He didn’t win any of the 10 majors he played in during that five-season period, either, but he finished second in the 1950 British Open, made the quarter-finals in two PGAs, and did well in his two trips to the Western Open.

 

deVicenzo at his peak

Tournament              Finish    Score     Z Score

1950 Masters            T-12      296       -0.68

1950 British Open       2nd       282       -1.44

1951 Masters            T-20      297       -0.37

1951 U.S. Open          T-29      302       0.23

1951 Western Open       T-9       280       -0.48

1952 PGA             3rd round  match play  -1.17

1952 Western Open       T-12      288       -0.71

1953 British Open       6th       287       -1.57

1954 PGA              qtr-final match play -2.06

1954 Western Open       3rd       278       -1.62

Score: -0.75

Effective stroke average: 70.87

 

187, Ariya Jutanugarn, -0.72, 2014-2017

Because she has only been a touring pro for four seasons, Jutanugarn’s rating is probably still developing. Entering 2018, however, there is no guarantee that her rating is on an upswing. Following a superb 2016, Jutanugarn’s performance plateaued in 2017. As a result, half of the 10 major performances comprising her peak rating are from 2016…just one is from 2017. She missed the cut in her final four 2017 majors. That’s not really a good sign.

On the other hand, Jutanugarn’s 2016 was good enough that she could take off 2018 and still have a solid five-season base on which to build a peak rating. She won the 2016 British Open, finished third in the Women’s PGA, fourth in the ANA Inspiration and ninth in the Evian. Beyond that, Jutanugarn won the CME Group Tour Championship in November of 2017, suggesting she may have worked through her major slump.

Both supporters and detractors can find reasons in Jutanugarn’s record to support their contention that Jutanugarn’s peak rating will rise…or fall. Detractors can note that of her 16 major tournament performances between 2014 and 2017, seven were missed cuts, and in two of the remaining nine she finished well back in the pack. Supporters can point out that one of those missed cuts plus two 40th placings or worse are among the 10 scores counting toward her peak rating, leaving plenty of room for improvement. I tend to lean toward the upbeat group.

Jutanugarn at her peak

Tournament              Finish    Score     Z Score

2014 British Open       T-45      300       0.44

2015 ANA Inspiration    T-20      285       -0.67

2015 British Open       MC                 2.03

2015 Evian Masters      T-46      288       0.24

2016 ANA Inspiration    4th       278       -1.63

2016 Women’s PGA        3rd       279       -2.16

2016 Women’s US Open    T-17      288       -0.69

2016 British Open       1st       272       -2.50

2016 Evian Masters      T-9       277       -0.97

2017 ANA Inspiration    T-8       279       -1.31

Score: -0.72

Effective stroke average: 70.91

 

188, Bob Goalby, -0.68, 1959-1963

Goalby is recalled today for one tournament performance, his controversial victory at the 1969 Masters when Roberto deVicenzo, who had tied Goalby after 72 holes, was disqualified for signing an incorrect scorecard. In actuality he was a long-time front-rank pro whose best seasons pre-dated that arguably accidental major championship win.

A football player at the University of Illinois, Goalby turned pro in 1952 but failed to win a tournament for six seasons. When he finally did, by two strokes over five players, it touched off a stretch of six titles in five seasons. None of those were majors, but Goalby came close, tying for second, one stroke behind Gene Littler, at the 1961 U.S. Open. At the 1962 PGA, Goalby did it again, shooting a closing round 67 to finish just one stroke behind Gary Player.

Ironically, given his 1968 victory, the chink in Goalby’s game was an inability to perform at Augusta National. Prior to his victory, Goalby had made eight starts at the Masters, missing the cut three times and never finishing higher than 25th.

Goalby at his peak

*Tournament        Finish    Score     Z Score

1959 U.S. Open     T-38      301       0.67

1959 PGA           T-5       281       -1.50

1960 U.S. Open     T-19      289       -0.33

1960 PGA           T-32      296       0.33

1961 U.S. Open     T-2       282       -1.83

1961 PGA           T-15      286       -0.68

1962 Masters       T-25      294       0.15

1962 U.S. Open     T-14      293       -0.59

1962 PGA           2nd       279       -2.25

1963 PGA           T-17      288       -0.78

Score: -0.68

Effective stroke average: 70.97

*Goalby did not play in the British Open.

 

189, Bubba Watson, -0.66, 2011-2015

I know what you’re thinking; How can a two-time Masters champion barely make the top 200 among golfers all time? The answer lies in what else Watson has done in his other majors, which can be summed up in two words: Not much.

Watson’s peak period, 2011-2015, indeed encompasses his two Masters championships. But among his 17 other major appearances during that span, Watson failed to manage anything better than a tie for 11th, his 10 best stretching back to a tie for 38th place at the 2015 Masters.

Aside from Watson’s Masters titles – carrying standard deviations of -2.48 and -2.07 – his next best performance, his tie for 11th at the 2012 PGA, only measured -0.91. He only has three other scores better than -0.10. Of his 19 opportunities, Watson squandered away six of them on missed cuts.

Now in his late 30s, Watson retains an outside chance that his peak rating could improve, although the odds are against it. His 2017 performances included missed cuts in the Majors, the U.S. Open and the PGA, offset only by a tie for 27th at the British Open. Watson has not actually contended for a major since that miraculous hook out of the woods on the first playoff hole that won the 2014 Masters. So he sits at 189th, ahead of only John Daly among multiple major champions in peak rating.

 

Bubba Watson at his peak

Tournament         Finish    Score     Z Score

2011 British Open  T-30      289       0.02

2011 PGA           T-26      281       -0.37

2012 Masters       1st       278       -2.07

2012 British Open  T-23      282       -0.60

2012 PGA           T-11      286       -0.91

2013 U.S. Open     T-32      293       -0.09

2013 British Open  T-32      293       -0.09

2014 Masters       1st       280       -2.48

2015 Masters       T-38      289       0.61

2015 PGA           T-20      281       -0.61

 

Average Z Score: -0.66

Effective stroke average: 71.00

 

  1. Davey Strath, -0.65, 1869-1877

A St. Andrews native, Davey Strath was a contemporary of Young Tom Morris, and for a time was considered Morris’ rival-in-waiting. In fact the two occasionally teamed up in matches, touring Scotland and England in professional exhibitions against local stars.

To the extent anybody challenged Young Tom for supremacy, Strath was that anybody. In the 1870 British Open, he tied for second, albeit 12 strokes behind Morris. In 1872, Strath made his best run at his dominant buddy, carrying a five-stroke lead into the final round at the 12-hole Prestwick layout. Then Strath’s game collapsed, his second-round 52 soared to a final-round 63, and Morris shot 53 to win by three.

Strath’s best shot came in 1876, the year after Morris’ sudden death, but his own temper undermined his hopes. After striking a spectator on the 14th hole, Strath lost focus, gave back shots, then on the 17th hole played onto the green before the group ahead had cleared. His shot hit a player, the contact stopping it from going onto the road and probably saving him a shot. When Strath and Bob Martin finished play in a tie, tournament officials ordered a playoff, but simultaneously announced they were debating whether Strath should be disqualified for his actions at 17. Unhappy about being left in what amounted to a state of golf limbo overnight, Strath refused to participate in the playoff, forfeiting the title to Martin.

In his late 20s at the time, Strath may have assumed he would have numerous additional chances to win the Open. As with Morris, however, fate dictated another outcome. In 1877 he was stricken with consumption, and died.

Strath at his peak

Tournament         Finish    Score     Z Score

1869 British Open  3rd       169       -0.10

1870 British Open  T-2       161       -0.84

1872 British Open  2nd       169       -0.92

1873 British Open  5th       187       -0.30

1874 British Open  T-18      176       0.48

1875 British Open  6th       178       0.32

1876 British Open  2nd       176       -2.23

1877 British Open  T-5       166       -1.59

Score: -0.65

Effective stroke average: 71.01

 

  1. Alexa Stirling Fraser, -0.62, 1914-1927

Stirling was just a week past 17 when she shot 93 to qualify for the 1914 tournament, then lost in the first round to the medalist. Although nobody knew it at the time, she came with a certain golf pedigree. Stirling learned the game at the Atlanta Athletic Club, where her fellow pupils included Bobby Jones.

In 1909, the 12-year-old Stirling had been pitted against the 7-year-old Jones in a club championship. “I’d love to go over that round…because I’ll always believe that Alexa won that Cup,” Jones confessed in his mid-1920s autobiography. But the tournament officials, who probably couldn’t stomach the thought of a girl beating a boy, awarded the cup to Jones.

From that point on, Alexa didn’t lose many cups. A semi-finalist as an 18-year-old in 1915, she prevailed a year later. The Amateur was not contested in 1917 or 1918, so Stirling joined prominent male stars – including Jones – in a series of fund-raising matches for the benefit of the Red Cross. With the war’s end in 1919 Stirling successfully defended her 1916 title, adding a third straight title in 1920. That ran her string of match victories to 15 stretching back to her 1915 semi-final defeat, and it grew to 19 straight before Marion Hollins surprised the field with a 5 & 4 win in the 1921 finals.

Women’s golf in the 1920s was fundamentally an extended duel between Fraser and Glenna Collett Vare. They met head-to-head for the 1925 Amateur title, Vare winning, but Stirling – by then Alexa Stirling Fraser – ousted her rival in the 1927 second round. Increasingly committed to family life, Stirling Fraser retired from competitive play in 1929.

Stirling Fraser at her peak

Tournament         Finish    Score     Z Score

1914 U.S. Am.   1st round   match play 0.48

1915 U.S. Am.   semi-final match play -0.62

1916 U.S. Amateur  1st    match play  -0.65

1919 U.S. Amateur  1st    match play  -0.68

1920 U.S. Amateur  1st    match play  -0.80

1921 U.S. Amateur  2nd    match play  -0.43

1922 U.S. Am.   qtr.-final match play -0.85

1923 U.S. Amateur  2nd    match play  -0.67

1925 U.S. Amateur  2nd   match play  -0.08

1927 U.S. Am.   semi-final match play -0.83

Average Z Score: -0.62

Effective stroke average: 71.06

 

  1. Margaret Curtis, -0.57, 1900-1913

The first female player of distinction was a precocious teen who showed up at the 1897 Women’s Amateur equipped with four clubs. Just 13, Margaret Curtis managed a round of 122 in the 18-hole qualifying test, good for fourth best. When match play began, young Margaret bowed out 8 & 6 to the defending, and soon-to-be repeat champion, fellow teen-ager Beatrix Hoyt.

As an arguably more mature 16-year-old, Miss Curtis returned in 1900 to challenge Hoyt, by then a three-time champion. Qualifying with a 94 that earned medalist honors, she sailed through her first two matches, then eliminated Hoyt 1 up over 20 holes in the semi-finals. She lost 6 & 5 in the final to Frances Griscom.

In company with her older sister, Harriott, Margaret soon made the Curtis name a dominant one in women’s golf. She reached the semi-finals in 1902, and the finals three years later. That same year the sisters traveled with a picked team of American females to play an arranged match against a select group of British women. That informal competition eventually became the inspiration for creation of the Curtis Cup, the equivalent for amateur women of the Ryder, Solheim and Walker Cups. The Curtis sisters donated the trophy, which was named for them.

In 1906, health issues prevented Margaret from competing, although Harriott burnished the family name, winning the championship. Margaret returned in 1907, and the sisters jointly rolled through eight matches without once seeing the 18th hole. In the final, Margaret took Harriott out 7 & 6. Her victory set the stage for a unique double in American sports history. Less than a year later, Margaret took time out from golf, teaming with reigning singles champion Evelyn Sears to win the USTA’s women’s doubles championship. The victory made Margaret Curtis the only woman to simultaneously hold recognized national championships in two different sports.

Competitive tennis did not, however, maintain its sway over Curtis. She added a second Women’s Amateur title in 1911 – again without ever seeing the 18th hole – and repeated in 1912 after medaling with an 88.

Curtis in the Clubhouse

Peak seasons: 1900-1913

Tournament         Finish    Score     Z Score

1900 U.S. Amateur  2nd  match play   -0.37

1902 U.S. Am.   semi-final match play -0.72

1904 U.S. Am.   3rd round  match play  -0.78

1905 U.S. Amateur  2nd  match play   -0.86

1907 U.S. Amateur  1st  match play   -1.30

1908 U.S. Am.   qtr.-final match play -0.22

1909 U.S. Am.   1st round match play   0.24

1911 U.S. Amateur  1st  match play   -0.86

1912 U.S. Amateur  1st  match play   -0.74

1913 U.S. Am.  qtr.-final match play  -0.04

Average Z Score: -0.57

Effective stroke average: 71.13

 

T-193. Andy North, -0.55, 1978-1982

Professional golf has a knee injury to thank for giving it a two-time U.S. Open champion. Growing up in Wisconsin, Andy North’s athletic interests revolved around football and basketball. But that knee failure ended his future in contact sports, forcing the 6-4, 200-lb. youth to find a game that was less threatening to the joints.

His forced romance with golf turned into a mutual love affair. Earning a scholarship to the University of Florida, he was a three-time All-American, graduating in 1972 and immediately turning pro. Success did not come immediately. He won $923 in his debut, and started more than 120 tournaments before his first victory, in 1977 at the Westchester. That was also the first year he broke through the $100,000 barrier. While North’s early performance in the majors had some moments, he was at best inconsistent.

So it came as something of a surprise when the journeyman fired rounds of 70, 70 and 71 to take a one-stroke lead over Gary Player into the final round of the 1978 US Open. On a course playing an average of two strokes over par, neither Player nor anybody else in the field could make a run at him. Plodding along with a succession of pars, North stood five strokes to the good through 13 holes, although he frittered away most of that edge on his way home. “I didn’t think birdie for the last nine holes,” he said. He didn’t make any, either, posting a double bogey and two bogeys, the last coming on the 72nd hole. Leading by two on that tee, North drove into deep rough, pitched out, hit his third into a greenside bunker, blasted out within five feet and drained the putt.

For a time, North’s 1978 victory sat on the Open record sheet like one of those flukey out-of-the-pack occurrences the championship generates every decade or so. It stood out more freakishly with each passing tournament North did not win…and there were many of them. He failed to win another event in 1978, and from 1979 through 1984 started 144 events without a trophy. Continuing knee problems played a role. In 1984, North started 26 events, but won just $22,131.

By the time the 1985 Open began at Oakland Hills, North’s winless streak had topped 160 events. But his luck was about to change very much for the better. North shot 205 over the first three days, good enough for second place, but two strokes behind the equally unheralded Taiwanese tour player T.C. Chen. Then Chen double-hit a pitch on the fifth hole, leading to a quadruple-bogey and eventually a round of 77. North, by merely managing to avoid disaster, posted a 74 and a one-stroke win over Chen, Dave Barr and Denis Watson. “Going through years like I’ve had, you start to wonder if you’re ever going to win again,” he said afterward.

The victory was only the third of North’s career, yet his second major championship. He is the only multiple major champion in PGA or LPGA Tour history with more titles in major events than non-majors.

North at his peak

Tournament         Finish    Score     Z Score

1978 Masters       T-32      291       0.31

1978 U.S. Open     1st       285       -1.88

1979 Masters       T-12      287       -0.49

1979 U.S. Open     T-11      293       -0.77

1980 Masters       T-24      288       -0.05

1980 U.S. Open     T-8       282       -0.89

1980 British Open  T-45      292       0.67

1980 PGA           T-15      289       -0.77

1981 PGA           T-11      280       -1.19

1982 U.S. Open     T-22      292       -0.40

Score: -0.55

Effective stroke average: 71.16

 

T-193. Johnny Goodman, -0.55, 1933-1937

Eighty-five years after his feat, Goodman retains the distinction of having been the last amateur man to win a major golf event.  He did so at the 1933 US Open, beating a field that included Gene Sarazen, Craig Wood, Ralph Guldahl and Walter Hagen. He was at the time a 23-year-old with two previous Open starts and coming off a runner-up finish in the previous year’s US Amateur.

The odd thing about Goodman’s record is that while he did win an Amateur title, it didn’t come until 1937, four seasons after his victory in the US Open. Perhaps strangely, the win did not secure Goodman a spot in the following spring’s Masters field. He only played in one, in 1936, finishing 43rd.

Goodman at his peak

Tournament*        Finish    Score     Z Score

1933 U.S. Open     1st       287       -2.14

1933 U.S. Amateur 1st round match play 0.11

1934 British Amat. 5th round match play -0.70

1934 U.S. Amateur 2nd round  match play 0.13

1935 U.S. Amateur semi final match play -0.55

1936 Masters       43rd      315       1.68

1936 U.S. Open     T-22      295       -0.53

1936 U.S. Amateur semi-final match play -1.48

1937 U.S. Open     8th       290       -1.13

1937 U.S. Amateur  1st    match play  -0.89                  

*Goodman never competed in the British Open

Average Z Score: -0.55

Effective stroke average: 71.16

 

T-193. Chi Chi Rodriguez, -0.55, 1969-1973

Rodriguez turned pro in 1960 at age 25 and won his first of an eventual eight tour events three years later. For much of his prime, however, his was an inconsistent presence at the majors. By age 30, he had played in just nine of them, finishing no better than a tie for 33rd (at the 1962 Masters).

He was known more for his irrepressible personality. The personality never dimmed, but his reputation as more than a jester broadened in the 1970s, when he landed three of his eventual four major top 10s. Rodriguez’ best years came on the Senior Tour; he won 22 of those titles between 1986 and 1993 including two majors, the 1986 Senior Players Championship and the 1987 Senior PGA.

Rodriguez at his peak

Tournament*        Finish    Score     Z Score

1969 PGA           T-15      284       -0.91

1970 Masters       T-10      287       -0.70

1970 US Open       T-27      298       -0.34

1971 US Open       T-13      286       -0.75

1972 US Open       T-9       299       -1.10

1972 PGA           T-24      291       -0.47

1973 Masters       T-10      291       -0.77

1973 US Open       T-29      295       0.09

1973 British Open  T-28      293       0.00

1973 PGA           T-24      287       -0.57

Average Z Score: -0.55

Effective stroke average:71.16

 

T-196. Francis Ouimet, -0.53, 1923-1929

When we think of Ouimet today, it is of the naïve 20-year-old who beat the great Vardon and Ray in a playoff for the 1913 US Open championship. He followed up by taking the US Amateur one year later.

But as interesting as that iteration of Ouimet was, the more mature Ouimet of a decade later was statistically the superior player. That Ouimet five times reached the US Amateur semi-finals and twice – as a member of the visiting US Walker Cup team – tried the British Amateur, reaching the semi-finals of that event in 1923. He also tied for third in the 1925 US Open, coming to the 72nd hole needing a birdie to enter a playoff with Bobby Jones and Willie Macfarlane, the eventual winner.

Although Ouimet failed to win, three of his US Amateur semi-final losses came to Bobby Jones…that ought to be worth something.  He won a second US Amateur championship in 1931 and added a sixth semi-final finish in 1932.

 

Ouimet at his peak

Tournament         Finish    Score     Z Score

1923 US Amateur  semi-finals match play    -0.66

1923 US Open       T-29      317       -0.12

1923 British Amatsemi-finals match play    -0.66

1924 US Amateur  semi-finals match play    -0.15

1925 US Open       T-3       292       -1.74

1926 US Amateur  semi-finals match play    -0.66

1926 British Amat 3rd round   match play    -0.57

1927 US Amateur  semi-finals match play    -0.55

1928 US Amateur  1st round    match play    0.30

1929 US Amateur  semi-finals match play    -0.53

Average Z Score: -0.53

Effective stroke average: 71.19

 

T-196. Jerome Travers, -0.53, 1907-1914

A four-time US Amateur champion, Travers was one of the dominant figures of an era when the amateur game was viewed as nearly on a par with the professional one.

A native New Yorker, he tried the Amateur in 1903 following successes in local events, and in 1906 he reached the quarter-finals before losing a hotly contested match to the man who would become his great rival, Walter Travis. Travers won the championship in 1907 and repeated in 1908, knocking out Travis in the semi-finals.

He sat out two seasons, but returned and in 1912 picked up his third Amateur title, rolling over Chick Evans 7 & 6 in the championship match. His fourth Amateur trophy, in 1913included a second round victory over Francis Ouimet, who just two weeks later would stun the golfing world by defeating Harry Vardon and Ted Ray in the US Open at Brookline.

Runner-up to Ouimet in the 1914 Amateur, he had never had any success in three previous shots at the Open, but elected to give it a fourth try in 1915. Good thing he did; his four-round score of 297 was one-stroke better than runner-up Tom McNamara and nine better than the defending champ, Walter Hagen.

Travers at his peak

Tournament         Finish    Score     Z Score

1907 US Open       T-25      324       0.11

1907 US Amateur    1st    match play  -1.44

1908 US Amateur    1st    match play  -1.27

1909 British Am.  1st round match play 0.45

1911 US Amateur   3rd round match play -0.46

1912 US Amateur    1st     match play  -1.00

1913 US Open       T-27      322       0.24

1913 US Amateur    1st    match play  -1.07

1914 British Am.  1st round match play -0.08

1914 US Amateur    2nd    match play  -0.82

Average Z Score: -0.53

Effective stroke average: 71.19

 

  1. Jim Colbert, -0.51, 1971-1975

Despite his smallish stature, Colbert accumulated eight PGA Tour victories. He never won a major, his best stretch being 1973-74 with three top 10s, two of them top fives. His best run came at the 1974 Masters, where his 67 led the opening round, and he entered Sunday play tied with eventual champion Gary Player just one stroke off Dave Stockton’s lead. Colbert closed at 73, good for a tie for fourth.

At that summer’s US Open, Colbert shot a third round 69 to move into contention, and finished in a tie for fifth with Arnold Palmer and Tom Watson. He went on to greater success on the Champions Tour, winning the 1991 Senior Players Championship and amassing Senior Tour of career earnings of more than $10 million.

Colbert at his peak

Tournament*        Finish    Score     Z Score

1971 US Open       T-3       282       -1.58

1971 PGA           T-46      295       0.30

1972 US Open       T-63      311       1.07

1973 Masters       T-43      289       0.84

1973 US Open       10th      284       -1.46

1973 PGA           T-12      285       -0.91

1974 Masters       T-4       281       -1.23

1974 US Open       T-5       292       -1.40

1974 PGA           T-28      289       -0.24

1975 PGA           T-28      290       -0.17

*Colbert did not compete in the British Open during his peak seasons

Average Z Score: -0.51

Effective stroke average: 71.22

 

  1. Art Wall Jr., -0.41, 1959-1963

Wall joined the PGA Tour out of Duke University and established himself as a reliable, if not overpowering, competitor. Relying more on precision than power, he won 14 tournaments during a more than two-decade career. Wall came to the 1959 Masters as a lightly regarded member of the pack and failed to impress with two-over-par golf, six strokes behind defending champion Arnold Palmer and Stan Leonard, entering the final round. In a sense, then, Wall’s entire reputation was built on nine holes: the back nine he played that Sunday at Augusta in 32 strokes. He birdied five of the final six holes to make up six strokes on Palmer and three on eventual runner-up Cary Middlecoff, giving Wall his only career major by a stroke.  The PGA Tour’s Player of the Year and leading money winner, he also won the 1959 Vardon Trophy for lowest stroke average.

Wall at his peak

Tournament*        Finish    Score     Z Score

1959 Masters       1st            284       -2.09

1959 PGA           T-25      288       -0.28

1960 U.S. Open     T-43      296       0.89

1960 PGA           T-39      297       0.50

1961 PGA           T-5       282       -1.26

  • US Open T-11      291       -0.92

1962 PGA           T-23      289       -0.26

1963 Masters       T-21      294       -0.37

1963 Open          T-40      310       0.79

1963 PGA           T-8       286       -1.07

*Wall never competed in the British Open

Average Z Score: -0.41

Effective stroke average: 71.37

 

  1. John Daly, -0.35, 1991-1995

In mid-summer 1991, John Daly was a nobody. By summer’s end, he was PGA Tournament champion and one of the most talked about figures in the game. His “grip it and rip it” oversized blond locks, plain folks style appealed to the general public as did his fondness for fast times, flowing beverages and good-looking women.

In time, those same elements did Daly in. By then, however, he had added the 1995 British Open championship to his trophy case and more than $10 million in official money to his wallet. Most of the latter didn’t stay there very long.

There’s no telling what Daly might have become had he spent less time pursuing life’s delights. He might have become the greatest ever…or he might have died of boredom. We can only judge what he did.

Daly at his peak

Tournament              Finish    Score     Z Score

1991 PGA                1st       276       -2.77

1992 Masters            T-19      283       -0.55

1993 Masters            T-3       283       -1.35

1993 U.S. Open          T-33      284       -0.18

1993 British Open       T-14      278       -0.73

1993 PGA                T-51      285       0.43

1994 Masters            T-48      304       1.61

1995 Masters            T-45      296       1.87

1995 U.S. Open          T-45      291       0.43

1995 British Open       1st       282       -2.21              

Average Z Score: -0.35

Effective stroke average: 71.45

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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