Who Are The 50 Best Golfers in History?

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Apr 9, 2015; Augusta, GA, USA; Gary Player (left) , Jack Nicklaus (middle) and Arnold Palmer (right) address the media at a press conference during the first round of The Masters at Augusta National Golf Club. Mandatory Credit: Michael Madrid-USA TODAY Sports

The 50 best.  How does one compare Old Tom Morris to Tiger Woods?  Ben Hogan to Babe Zaharias? Jack Nicklaus or Arnold Palmer to anybody? It’s a tough task until you look at the numbers.

You look at the tournaments that were considered majors when they played.  You look at their entire body of work and then you line them up.   As Jordan Spieth said earlier this year, what matters most is how golfers perform at the biggest tournaments when, as he says, golfers are on the brightest stages.

So this ranking is about how both men and women golfers performed in their time.  We all know every era has been slightly different, however, the top players in each era would likely have been the top players in any era, with any equipment, on any golf course. Those champions get there with hard work and talent. They proved that they can handle the pressure and perform under pressure more times than their competitors at that moment in history.

So who do you think is the best professional golfer in history?   Is it Tiger Woods?  Is it Jack Nicklaus? Is it Babe Zarahias, or is it Annika Sorenstam? Where is Phil Mickelson compared to Byron Nelson? Will you be surprised at who doesn’t make the Top 50 at all?

When looking at records, only professional events are considered.  No amateur titles. That affects the ranking of one player in particular:  Bobby Jones.  Had had Jones decided to become professional, had his health held up, he might have won more often and additional professional events. But there is no comparison between playing in amateur events and playing in professional ones.

The professional field is always better, and the competition in the amateur fields is lesser.  That is not to downgrade the import of Bobby Jones, the golfer or the person or his career.  He just chose a different route. But to compare him with the best ever, we have to judge his success at the highest level, against professionals, not against other amateurs.  To give a comparison from today, what chance do you think an amateur would have against Rory McIlroy?

This countdown to number one considered victories in major championships, worldwide victories and PGA Tour and LPGA Tour victories as well as European Tour victories.  It does not consider who is or was the most charismatic, who is the most fun, who has the biggest airplane or who has the most twitter followers. It’s who won. Period.

The 50 Best Golfers in History treats victories as gender neutral because winning a golf tournament is hard, no matter who is trying to do it.  If it was easy to do, everybody would have won 50 tournaments and have six or seven majors.  And we all know that has just not happened.

Next: No. 50 - Billy Casper