Once upon a time, a bunch of guys were sitting around a table in the locker room at a really nice country club.
A TV glowed in the corner adjacent to numerous oak panels with polished brass name plates, signifying various championships won by club members over the years.
Alongside those listing the member’s accomplishments were some memorabilia commemorating the time that Bethpage Black hosted the U.S. Open, won by Tiger Woods in 2002, when he was the only player to finish under par on his way to victory and from these plaques and photos, the debate regarding the most remarkable golf accomplishment of all time was ignited again.
People long ago have given up trying to determine who was the greatest player of all-time – Hogan, Nelson, Snead, Nicklaus, Jones, Vardon or Woods.
Each accomplished so many things in so many ways that their records weave through far too many irregular paths. One has more majors, another won more, one won more in a row, while another won at a torrid pace and another decimated the competition.
In my opinion, an accomplishment that accumulates over a period of time is of greater significance than one that comes in a shorter burst of excellence. So while I admire Justin Thomas setting the all-time PGA Tour 72 hole scoring record at 253, I lend more credence to Tiger’s all-time lowest unadjusted scoring average of 68.17.
Similarly, Mark Calcavecchia’s record of nine consecutive birdies has less impact than the youngest to make the cut in a PGA Tour event when Guan Tianlang finished 58th in the Masters at age 14 years, five months, 18 days.
Somehow, Byron Nelson’s 18 victories in one year strike me as more forceful than Snead’s life-time total of 82. On the other hand, Nelson’s 11 wins in a row is staggering and then factor in that he finished second seven times, third once, fourth twice, sixth once and ninth once.
In 2017 dollars, he would win over $25-million in one season without a one-time FedEx Cup payout.
When comparing great seasons it must be said that Jug McSpaden had one in 1945 with 31 top-10 finishes, 13 of them second-place places. Timing wasn’t on his side as 1945 was also the year Nelson won 18 times.
Another of Nelson’s feats at this time was his 65 consecutive top 10 finishes a PGA Tour record that still stands. He also made 113 consecutive cuts, a record that stood until Tiger Woods made 142.
Jack Nicklaus won the Masters for the sixth time in 1986, winning at age 46 is what’s memorable. As far as incredible feats are concerned this is certainly one.
Nicklaus did so many incredible things it’s difficult to rate them. Consider that he won at least one PGA Tour event 17 years in succession. That record is shared with Arnold Palmer which very slightly takes a bit away from it as far as being unusually great.
Winning major championships is a true measure of greatness! Bobby Jones got the ball rolling when he won four of them in one year called the Grand Slam which some say is the greatest golf feat of all-time.
While I agree with its significance, two of the victories were amateur championships, which excluded a portion of the best players. Jones also won 13 of 31 major championships entered and had 27 top 10 finishes.
Jones’ lifetime total was eventually over taken by Jack Nicklaus who won an astonishing 18 times. Winning a career Grand Slam, would be sensational but it has been done five times and to win the ‘career’ grand slam three times is rarified air both Nicklaus and Woods have done it.
I understand that greatness involves winning, but Jack Nicklaus has done something no other player has ever done. As well as winning the most majors, he also finished second a record 19 times. Tiger Woods who has won 14 majors, has only finished second six times.
In fact, Nicklaus has 48 top-three finishes in majors and 56 top-fives. He has a record of domination not equaled. Since Bobby Jones total of 13 major victories includes amateur trophies, should Nicklaus and Woods should count them as well? When doing so, Nicklaus then has a total of 20, while Woods has 17.
So what do you think is the greatest accomplishment in golf history? Here are my picks in order:
Nelson’s 11 consecutive wins in 1945.
Nelson’s 18 victories in 1945.
Nicklaus’ 18 majors.
Jones’ Grand Slam
Tiger’s 142 consecutive cuts made.
If you’d like a little controversy mixed in how about late Canadian Ed Ervasti, who reportedly shot his age or better 3000 times, including at age 93, when he beat it by 21 strokes. I wonder what the guys sitting in the locker room came up with as their choices.