Jordan Spieth be advised: Golf’s Career Grand Slam is ridiculously tough to win

CHARLOTTE, NC - AUGUST 08: Jordan Spieth of the United States prepares to play his shot during a practice round prior to the 2017 PGA Championship at Quail Hollow Club on August 8, 2017 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images)
CHARLOTTE, NC - AUGUST 08: Jordan Spieth of the United States prepares to play his shot during a practice round prior to the 2017 PGA Championship at Quail Hollow Club on August 8, 2017 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images) /

Jordan Spieth be advised: golf’s career grand slam is elusive and it’s tough.

As we anticipate Jordan Spieth’s to go for the career grand slam at the PGA, it’s important to remember just how hard it is to reach that goal.

Only five golfers have won all four majors at some point in their career: Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Ben Hogan, Gary Player and Gene Sarazen.  Nicklaus and Woods have multiple career grand slams, which is mind-boggling.

The three active golfers currently missing one major to achieve the career grand slam are Phil Mickelson, Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth.

As any golf fan knows, Phil Mickelson has been runner-up at the U.S. Open a record six times since 1990. This year is the only time he has missed playing in the tournament, and that was due to his daughter’s high school graduation.

Rory McIlroy is missing The Masters to get his career grand slam, and he makes headlines every year before and during the tournament in his quest to win there.

The freshest golfer to joine the current grand slam quest, Jordan Spieth, just won his third major, The Open Championship. This week marks Spieth’s first attempt at collecting that magic fourth.  In previous PGAs, he has two missed cuts, and recorded a second and a tie for 13th.  However, as he pointed out at the British Open this year, he plans on playing in 30 years of majors, so he certainly has time.  But most of the older golfers in the missing-a-major club probably felt they had time, too.

Just 12 golfers in history have won three of the career grand slam events without the fourth. Of those, three are in their 60s.  Six have gone to the great golf course in the sky, and of those, two played before The Masters was a major and one never played it.  So even having victories in three of the majors, whether one or multiple wins, is an historic achievement.

Several missing-a-major club members have major heartbreak stories.

Watson, Trevino, and Floyd

Tom Watson won eight majors, including five Open Championships.  The one that got away from him was the PGA, although he did finally win a Senior PGA. Watson reflected on that missing piece in his career at the 2014 PGA Championship, his final one.

"It’s a tournament I didn’t have too many opportunities to win. I had a few, but not as many as, say, some other opportunities and other major championships like the Masters and the U.S. Open. Been a good run.  I don’t complain.  I’ve won more than my share."

Many considered his best shot the 1978 PGA when he was leading by five going into the final round.  He faltered with a 73, and John Mahaffey won in a playoff.

Lee Trevino, like McIlroy, is missing a Masters.  He won six majors, two each of the other three. While many have written over the years that it was his fade that didn’t work at Augusta, Trevino said in 2015, his problem wasn’t the fade.  His problem was that he didn’t like Cliff Roberts, the man who ran the club with an iron hand after the death of Bobby Jones.

Raymond Floyd is missing the Open Championship.  He won The Masters in 1976, the U.S. Open in 1986 and two PGAs in 1969 and 1982.  He was runner-up to Jack Nicklaus at the event in 1978.

Nelson, Snead, and Palmer

And there are also famous missing-a-major golfers no longer with us:

Arnold Palmer, famously, never won the PGA Championship.   He was second three times, to Bobby Nichols, to Julius Boros and to Dave Stockton. However, Palmer became a world-wide legend without winning it.  Like Watson, he won the Senior PGA and he won it twice.

Sam Snead, who won seven majors and was lacking only the U.S. Open, had the record for most runner-up finishes at four until Mickelson blew past it.  Snead supposedly said, “If I shoot one 69 in the last round, I’d have won seven of them.”

Byron Nelson won five majors, but not the Open Championship. He played in an era when there was so little money to be made at the Open Championship that U.S. golfers didn’t go unless their sponsors sent them.  He played only twice, in 1937, the week after the Ryder Cup, and again in 1955, nine years after he “retired” from the game.

Armour, Barnes, and Hagen

There are three others who only collected 75 percent of the career grand slam, most likely because they played professional long before Arnold Palmer declared the modern majors to be the Masters, U.S. Open, British Open and PGA.  They are Tommy Armour (the original), Jim Barnes, and Walter Hagen.

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Armour won the U.S. Open in 1927, the Open Championship in 1931, and the PGA Championship in1930.  He played his first Masters tournament in 1935 when he was already 38.

Barnes won the U.S. Open in 1921, the British Open in 1925, and he was the first winner of the PGA Championship in 1916 and won again in 1919.  Barnes never played in the Masters.

Hagen is the heaviest hitter of this threesome with victories at the U.S. Open in 1914 and 1919; the British Open in 1922, 1924, 1928 and 1929; and co-leader in the clubhouse in PGA Championships with titles in 1921, 1924, 1925, 1926 and 1927, all in the match play era.  (Jack Nicklaus also won the PGA five times, all in the stroke play era.)  Hagen was 41 when the first Masters was held.

In their time, the Western Open was considered a major, and all three won that event with Armour winning it once, Barnes, three times and Hagen, five times. If The Masters had been played in the prime of their careers, it’s likely that at least Barnes and Hagen would have won it because they were such prolific winners in the first third of the last century.

They all won the Western Open, which was the most important tournament after the U.S. Open and the PGA in their time. It’s hard to blame them for not capturing the Masters when it wasn’t even invented until they were in their mid-to-late-30s, and when the grand slam wasn’t invented until they were in their 50s.  They won what was available, but not what we consider the career grand slam.

Next: PGA Championship power rankings

As for the newest member of the missing-a-major club, Jordan Spieth, the only thing we know for sure is that, because of his youth, he still has more chances than everyone else.  Best advice: win it as quickly as possible.