Famous Male Golfers

The Greatest Men in Professional Golf

Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods

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Golfing has been a favored pastime since its invention 15th century Scotland, and perpetuation throughout 18th and 19th century England as a game for the rich, but it wasn't until the organized and later televised version of modern golf — governed by the Professional Golfers' Associations (PGAs) like the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews of England (R&A) or the United States Golf Association (USGA) — that professional golfers began to gain notoriety.

Since the first major professional championship in 1860 at Scotland's Prestwick Golf Club, males have dominated the world of golf — garnering more and more attention as more and more of these PGAs and resulting tournaments formed around the world.

Unfortunately, men got a head start in the professional golf circuit — it wasn't until 1959 with the founding of the Ladies Professional Golf Association that women had a voice or tournament of their own in the sport. Still, many famous women golfers have emerged on the scene since then, scoring on par with their male counterparts on many of the same famous courses.

A Brief History of Golf's Rise to Popularity

Professionals of the sport first gained international attention In 1860, when the first Open Championship (or British Open) was held at Prestwick Golf Club in Scotland between eight professional golfers over the course of three rounds wherein Willie Park Sr beat Old Tom Morris by 2 strokes.

As the sports' popularity spread to the United States, the USGA was formed in 1895, and it hosted the U.S. Open that same year at the Newport Country Club's 9-hole course in Newport, Rhode Island. The tournament featured a 36-hole single-day contest between 10 professionals and one amateur, and a 21-year-old English immigrant in America named Horace Rawlins took home the $150 cash prize plus a $50 gold medal and the Open Championship Cup trophy for his club.

With the creation of the USGA, golf's popularity took off at the turn of the century and by the 1910s, there were already a number of amateur tournaments but still only one professional championship in the United States; so, in 1916, another golfers' association was founded — the U.S. PGA — and along with it, another championship tournament was born. The first winner, Jim Barnes, was awarded $500 and a diamond-studded gold medal; conversely, the 2016 winner, Jimmy Walker, earned $1.8 million. 

Rounding out the list of major championships is the Masters Tournament itself, founded in 1934 in Augusta, Georgia by noted amateur golfer Bobby Jones, which was first won by Horton Smith who received $1,500 and title of champion of the "Augusta National Invitational" — which was later renamed to the Masters after being added to the tournament listing for the European Tour, Japan Golf Tour and the PGA Tour. 

The following three sections detail the best of male golfers' accomplishments throughout the sport's rich history, sorted by year the golfer was active in the professional circuit.

A History of Male Golfers: Origins to the 1930s

  • 1896-1912: James Braid was a member of Britain's "Great Triumvirate" who reached five wins in the Open Championship first, claiming victory at the British Open in 1901, 1905, 1906, 1908 and 1910 before retiring to be a resident professional at a golf club in 1912. 
  • 1920-1935: Tommy Armour started his career by winning the 1920 French Amateur and went on to become a 3-time major championship winner in the 1920s and 1930s, before retiring in 1935 to pursue teaching. Armour has become known as one of the most respected golf instructors of all time, and his name is still used as a brand name of golf clubs.
  • 1926-1938: "Lighthorse" Harry Cooper was a top professional golfer in the 1920s and 1930s and is often cited as one of the best players never to win a major championship — though he did win over 30 similar tournaments not classified as majors. 
  • 1924-1977: Henry Cotton was England's premier golfer of the 1930s all the way through his retirement in 1977, but the bulk of his wins came earlier in his career with three Open Championship titles in the first decade.
  • Other notable golfers include J.H. Taylor, Leo Diegel, Craig Wood, Tom WeiskopfHarry Vardon, and Peter Thomson

The Golden Age of Male Golfers: 1940s Through 1970s

  • 1947-1969: Peter Alliss won 21 tournaments, becoming one of the top golfers in Europe in the 1950s and 1960s before entering a long career as one of the most highly regarded golf commentators on television. 
  • 1949-1968: Julius Boros was a 3-time major championship winner in golf, known as one of the best "old" golfers given that his PGA Tour career really blossomed in his 40s. In fact, he holds the record in men's golf as the oldest major championship winner and won both the 1971 and 1977 Senior PGA Championships. 
  • 1950-1957: Jack Burke Jr. came back from military service to win four times on the 1950 PGA Tour before going on to win two major championships in 1956. After retiring from professional championships in 1957, Burke and a partner bought land outside of Houston that would later become the Champions Golf Club.
  • 1951-1961: Tommy Bolt' s years as a PGA Tour winner were mostly in the 1950s and included one U.S. Open victory, but later, Bolt was involved in an event that helped launch the Champions Tour for senior golfers.
  • 1956-2000: Gay Brewer's wins on tour came in the 1960s and 1970s and later during the senior golfers' Champions Tour, and he is remembered as a Masters champion but also for his "loopy" swing and funny sense of humor.
  • 1961- 2012: Bob Charles was the first left-handed golfer to win a major championship, and the first left-handed golfer to become an international star in the game with his 1963 British Open victory. He still lives on a farm in New Zealand and has been known to make appearances at the PGA Seniors Open.
  • Other notable golfers include Tom WatsonArt WallJimmy Demaret, Ken Venturi, Lanny Wadkins, and Lee Trevino.

The Modern Age of Male Golfers: 1980s Through Today

  • 1986-2000: Paul Azinger's golf career as a player thrived in the late 1980s and early 1990s before being interrupted by a battle with cancer; still, he made a mark on the Ryder Cup both as player and team captain, before he moved on to a career in broadcasting in 2000. 
  • 1980-Today: Fred Couples is one of the most popular golfers of his era, with fans and with his fellow golfers, and his hallmarks are an easygoing manner and one of the smoothest swing tempos in golf. As of 2010, Couples has since started playing in the senior Champions Tournament.
  • 1987-Today: John Daly burst onto the golf scene with booming drives and a major championship victory with his 1990 Nationwide Tour victory and follow up.
  • 1996-Today: Tiger Woods is arguably the greatest golfer ever, with his signature "Tiger Effect" thrilling crowds and increasing PGA Tour purses and ratings beginning with Woods' turn to pro in 1996. Woods still competes today but from 2014 through 2017, he's suffered multiple injuries and battled with addiction — all of which has kept him off golf courses.
  • Other notable golfers of the modern age include Curtis Strange, Ben Crenshaw, David Duval, and Ernie Els.