Mickelson’s final-round charge that led to his win at The Open Championship, as well as another runner-up finish at the U.S. Open in June and his win at the Scottish Open in early July have a lot of folks talking about Lefty’s place in golf history.
Just a decade ago, Mickelson was viewed as an underachiever whose potential for major championship dominance never materialized for one of two reasons:
- Tiger Woods’ domination of major championships from 1997 to 2008.
- Mickelson’s aggressive style of play.
Five major championship victories later, no less of an authority than Jack Nicklaus has said that Mickelson will go down as one of the greatest players ever. With over 40 PGA Tour wins, and victories at the Masters (three times), PGA Championship and Open Championship, it is not too soon to discuss where Phil stands in the pantheon of great players — especially considering his six second-place finishes at the U.S. Open, which would be a great career in itself for many long-time Tour players.
When we compile any list of the “best ever,” era comparisons invariably rear their head. It is difficult if not impossible to compare Old Tom Morris and Tiger Woods, so perhaps some criteria are in order. To be fair, we needs an apples-to-apples basis for our list and I think we have to consider some of the following:
Dominance: Was the golfer the dominant player of his/her era? Did he/she beat the others often enough to be the best player of that time? This is tricky, because in golf we’ve had “waves” of great players who often stood in the way of one another.
- The “Great Triumvirate” of Harry Vardon, Ted Ray and J.H. Taylor, to the early American supremacy of Walter Hagen, Bobby Jones and Gene Sarazen.
- The war years of Sam Snead, Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson.
- The modern era of Arnold Palmer, Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus.
- The “Tiger” era.
In the first three eras, there always seem to be three players that stood out among the rest. So if a player didn’t win every time (in golf, they don’t), the greats were often in contention. For example, there’s no doubt that Palmer and Player took potential titles away from Nicklaus, but even when Nicklaus lost he was often in close pursuit.
Only Tiger Woods has stood head and shoulders above the rest in his era. The late 1990s to 2008-2009 is really the only time we’ve had one player completely dominate an era, with the possible exception of Bobby Jones from 1923 to 1930.
Some may argue that Tiger dominated the golf world because their was no other “great” player at the time. Tom Watson was past his prime, and Nick Faldo was slowly exiting the scene as well. Mickelson was still learning to win the big ones, and not the player he is now. Others like to argue that Tiger dominated because he was playing the best golf the world had ever seen, which I’ll touch on more later in the story.
Major championships: While it difficult to say where the cut off line would be, I will arbitrarily select five (5) as the number of majors a player had to win to be considered on our greatest-of-all-time category. Here, too, we are on a slippery slope, because majors have changed.
The U.S. Amateur is a great example: In Bobby Jones’ era, surely it was a major. In Jack’s era, it may have been marginally a major, and today is clearly is not. The Masters, a modern day major, was not played until 1934, and the PGA Championship not until 1916. So we have to be careful when comparing on this basis alone. But majors are how we define good from great in our game, and, in some form, we have to consider their records in them.
Longevity: Again, using this as one of our criteria can get confusing, as golf is a game where most players do NOT stay at their peak for very long. Nicklaus, Snead and Player are notable exceptions, but many of the game’s greats have had short reigns at the top.
Jones was at his best from 1923 to 1930, while Nelson was in his prime from 1937 to 1945. Even in the modern era, all of Palmer’s majors came in an 8-to-9-year period. And often the flame burns brightest before it burns out: Nelson, 18 wins in 1945, gone two years later; Jones won the grand slam in 1930, retired the next year. A player named Ralph Guldahl, one of the premiere players in the 1930s, won back to back U.S. Opens and nothing after really — so did Curtis Strange.
On the other hand, Snead won events over a 30-year period as did Gary Player, and Jack over 25 years. So we still have to give longevity a place on the list.
Total Wins: There’s no denying that great golfers are able amass their share of total tournaments won around the world, not just the PGA Tour. Gary Player, for example, won only 24 events on the PGA Tour, but over 150 worldwide. Tiger is rapidly approaching Sam Snead’s all-time record of 83 PGA Tour wins, but of course he also has 14 majors victories. Considering all that, here is my vote for the top 10 players ever:
No. 1: Jack Nicklaus
With 18 professional majors, 2 U.S. Amateur titles and 73 PGA Tour wins over 25 years, Jack’s record speaks for itself. Tiger has won three more times on the PGA Tour than Nicklaus, but until him or someone else tops his record 18 major championships, there is no question that “The Golden Bear” is the greatest golfer of all time.
The best golf that has even been played was from Woods from 2000 to 2008, but he still has work to do to catch Jack in longevity (Nicklaus won his last major at the age of 46) and majors.
No. 2: Tiger Woods
In his prime, Tiger was the best golfer the world has ever seen. Winning the U.S. Open Championship by 15 shots, the British Open by 11, the Masters by 12 and the “Tiger Slam” are just a few of the things that separate him from the others.
Consider this statistic: Tiger has won 25 percent of the professional tournaments he has played. The next best on that list is Phil at 8 percent! And I, for one, believe his comeback is almost complete and inevitable. But until then he remains firmly in second place, four majors away from the No. 1 spot.
No. 3: Ben Hogan
Hogan was the consummate ball striker, winning three consecutive majors in 1953 — The Masters, the U.S. Open and the British Open (he didn’t play in the PGA Championship).
The “Wee Ice man,” as the Scots affectionately named him, was one of the best ever. His nine major championships in a five year stretch is the stuff of legends, and it seems that his legend is improving as the years go by.
Remember this: Hogan basically only played the majors after his near-fatal car accident.
No. 4: Walter Hagen
With the possible exception of Gary Player, Hagen was the best match play player ever, and maybe as good a putter who has ever lived as well.
Hagen taught golfers that confidence is a MUST in championship golf, personifying his self belief with his lavish dress and habits. He won four consecutive PGA Championships (1924-1927), five British Opens and 2 U.S. Opens.
Once, needing to hole out from the fairway from 155 yards to force a playoff, Hagen had his caddie remove the flagstick! That’s confidence.
No. 5: Bobby Jones
The best amateur golfer of all time, and his No. 5 ranking here could easily be higher — Jones quit tournament golf at the unthinkable age of 28! In 1930, his grand slam year, he only played in two other events.
Remember this: Jones averaged one round a week during his playing days, and he put the clubs away most of the winter! He was an amazing talent that may never be duplicated. In his last 12 national championships (U.S. and British), he was first or second a staggering 11 times.
No. 6: Gary Player
With nine majors and over 100 victories worldwide, Gary Player brought physical and mental fitness to the world of professional golf. He was also the first to play the game internationally at the highest level.
Player is one of only five players to win the modern grand slam, and he also won the World Match Play Championship an unprecedented five times! But because he played in the same era as Nicklaus, Player’s place in history is sometimes greatly underrated.
No. 7: Sam Snead
Sam Snead is still the winningest player ever on the PGA Tour, with one of the sweetest swings anyone has ever seen. He amassed 81 wins on the PGA Tour, all while while playing in the era of Hogan and Nelson.
He won the West Virginia Open 17 times, often playing in bare feet in the early days. A natural athlete who took great care of his body, Snead could kick the top of a door frame with his other foot on the ground!
No. 8: Arnold Palmer
Every young player who collects a big, fat paycheck today should quietly thank Arnold palmer. “The King” popularized the game and brought it to the masses like no player before him.
Loved and adored by fans for his go-for-broke style, Palmer saved a moribund game and Tour after the Hogan era. Consider this: from 1960 to 1966, Palmer won the U.S. Open once (Cherry Hills, 1960), and played off for the title in 1962, 1963 and and 1966. Although he lost all those playoffs, that is first or tied for first for four out of six years!
No. 9: Byron Nelson
His 18 wins (19 if you count the New Jersey Open) in 1945 puts him automatically on my top-10 list. A quiet man, who eschewed the spotlight, his ball striking has become the stuff of legends.
Byron was alleged to hit a golf ball straighter than anyone before or since him. But he disliked tournament golf, often to the point of nausea before big matches.
Once Ben Hogan, who saw Nelson with his head in the toilet before the 1942 playoff for the Masters, actually offered to delay the start of the match! They didn’t and Nelson won. After his record-breaking 1945 season, he retired two years later.
No. 10: Harry Vardon and Tom Watson
I’m copping out a bit here because although the two played some 75 years apart, the single dominance of the British Open alone (six wins for Vardon and five for Watson) make it very difficult to choose.
Vardon actually invented the more modern golf swing, and left us with the famous “Vardon Grip,” the overlapping grip as we know it, and dominated golf just as it was coming to America.
Watson won 39 PGA Tour events, eight of them majors, and of course came within a whisker of winning the British Open at the age of 59 in 2009. He may be best known for his memorable battles (and victories) with Jack Nicklaus when Jack was in his prime.
I would love to hear from anyone who would adjust my list. Please remember, this my the list as it stands today. My list does not include Mickelson yet, but he is surely a bullet!
How can my list NOT include Lee Trevino, Nick Faldo, Seve Ballesteros, Billy Casper et al? Well, again it is my list, and I was asked to write the piece. Again, era comparisons are difficult at best, but it makes for great 19th hole conversation.
Fianlly, I think Phil is a long way from through, and at some he will be on that list. His talent is that good.
As always, feel free to send a swing video to my Facebook page and I will do my best to give you my feedback.
Bag Chatter: An Interview with Uther Supply
Bag Chatter is a series of interviews that spotlights brands around the golf industry and the people behind them. We’re looking to make this a regular thing, so please comment and share through your medium of choice. If you have a brand and are interested in participating in these interviews, you can email email@example.com for consideration. This interview is with Daniel Erdman of Uther Supply.
Tell us about Uther. How do you pronounce that? What are you all about? How did you start?
It’s actually pronounced “other.” We’ve gotten that question a lot and, to be honest, we’re kind of OK with it. We wanted to brand ourselves as unique, so we think it fits well. We want to create products that no one else creates. That could be towels in unique prints or some other golf goods outside of that. We’re targeting the customer that wants to be different as well…people who want to demonstrate their unique personalities.
Forgive me for being a little direct, but golf towels may not strike a lot of people as being something a lot of people would start a business with. Were you seeing a lack of something in the marketplace somehow? What prompted you to start this company selling golf towels?
It may not be conventional and I definitely recognize that. Some of my friends have laughed at me for starting a golf towel business. I guess it hit me when I was working at private clubs (I have worked at The Thornhill Club and Ladies’ Golf Club of Toronto). When you work in the back shop and storage facility, you handle a lot of golf bags. I just noticed rows and rows of bags that all look the same and I thought it made a lot of sense to inject some personality into it. You know, people go crazy for how all the pros personalize their wedges and their bags. They buy towels and bag tags from courses like TPC Sawgrass and Pebble Beach to personalize their stuff, but in the end it all kind of blends together. Billy Horschel’s octopus-print pants at the 2013 US Open was something that always stuck out in my mind and in that moment when I was staring at all those bags, it all kind of came together in a way. I thought we could really add something to the marketplace.
What do you think differentiates your products from others in the marketplace? Why do you think people would buy your products?
We’ve already addressed the fact that we offer different and bold prints, but that’s obviously the first thing that most customers will notice. Beyond that, though, we put a lot of attention to detail into our products. We went through 40 different suppliers to get things right. My grandparents had a really successful flooring mat company when I was growing up. Watching them run the family business gave me the bug at a very young age to start my own business. It also taught me how much quality matters and getting the right suppliers and materials. It was so much more difficult back then without the internet, but now, a quick google search just does so much of the legwork for you.
Something that I think is very interesting here is you’re very young at only 22 years old. A lot of the people I’ve talked to recently have been in their twenties as well. Tell me a little bit about what it took to start this company. Did you have to secure an investment? A lot of people shy away from starting a company for fear of the hill being too steep to climb, if you will. Since you’re in the process of climbing it, what’s that actually like?
It definitely was difficult. The only outside funding I got were some grants and loans from business accelerator programs. Those helped tremendously. I remember having to place a very large order at my supplier at the same time my one of my funding opportunities was being processed. That particular one only had like a 20 percent acceptance rate, and if I didn’t get it, I honestly wasn’t sure how I was going to fund the order. The way everything happened to be timed, I had to I place my order before I heard back from my funding application to meet a deadline. It turned out I was accepted, so that was a relief, but it was definitely pretty stressful. You know, in the beginning, you’re working for months before you generate any income. You’re doing everything for the first time like sending stuff through customs, dealing with suppliers, collecting transactions, you name it. You’re bound to make mistakes along the way and when you have zero money coming in, the mistakes you make hurt so much more. You have no processes or systems in place. It’s something you need to accept for what it is and grind through it. Social media helped accelerate things quite a bit (including meeting my sales partner Luke through Instagram). Selling on Amazon and going to the PGA show last year gave us a boost as well. It’s hard to say what the hardest part is specifically. It’s just the grind in the beginning trying to get momentum behind it. Once you get over the hump, it’s really exciting and fun, but getting up to that point is definitely not easy.
It should also be mentioned that you’re based out of Canada. A lot of people would assume being in the Great White North would make the game of golf a challenging proposition. How long/short is your golf season in Ontario? How do you stay sharp over the Canadian winters? And what’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done to play golf when it’s far too cold for most of us? To what lengths will you go?
It can get interesting for sure. I first started golfing because of my hockey friends. Yes, a lot of us do play hockey up here. It was a natural transition for a lot of us to play hockey in the winter and golf in the summer. However, if you do happen to get a golf itch in the winter, you will have to get creative. It’s pretty easy to go to just an indoor simulator to practice. Sometimes I would go to Golf Town (our version of Golf Galaxy) to pretend to demo clubs in order to practice my swing. That can get you by for a while, but it’s not the same as hitting an actual golf ball and watching it fly through the air, you know? So when you get to that point, there’s a nice indoor/outdoor range near me with covered, heated hitting bays. Our golf season is from like April through October, so that leaves a lot of time in between. Golf vacations become necessary sometimes.
Before starting Uther, you alluded to your experience working at golf courses. First off, you must have some good stories. No need to mention any names, but what’s your favorite story from that stage of life? Also, what was it like to go from working at a club to having to court those golf clubs to become your customer, stock your products, etc? Was that really easy or really difficult?
Well, I have a bunch of stories involving golf carts. Just in case the old golf directors read this, I won’t give too many details. Working at a course is great. You can’t get a better “office” than going to the course every day. There’s nothing like watching the sunrise on a dew-covered golf course, especially when you’re being paid. Some of my best memories were after tournaments where three of us guys would clean like 80 golf carts. We would all have fun and get to know each other. It didn’t really feel like work.
In both instances (working for a course and now selling to them), it doesn’t really feel so much like work. It does take a lot of work, don’t get me wrong, but it doesn’t feel like drudgery, that’s for sure. The difference is that there’s a lot more behind the scenes work that I’m doing now. We recently did a towel for the San Francisco Public Golf Alliance in collaboration with State Apparel. It took us a lot of back and forth to get that product right, but once we did, we came up with a custom, one-off product that our customers really loved. And watching them react to it was incredible. Stuff like that really keeps you going.
This question is unabashedly inspired by (ahem…lifted from) one of Rick Shiels’ recent posts. (Giving credit where it’s due here). If you had to “Tin Cup” it (i.e. play a round of golf with only one club), what club would it be and how many extra strokes do you think it would take? So, if you were to play your home course, your normal score is what? And what would your “Tin Cup” score be, you think?
If I had to choose one club for a Tin Cup round, I think it would be a five iron. My home course (and the public golf course I worked for) is Richmond Hill Golf Club. It’s only like 6,000 yards, so I feel like I could totally get by with a five iron and get on any green in 3. I typically shoot like an 80-85. I don’t think I would be that far off the number honestly. I trust the five iron, but also, I know my course pretty well and I think that club would suit it nicely. Now that you ask, though, I feel like I’m dying to try it!
What tour pro would you most like to have a beer with? Not necessarily the guy you’d want to play golf with or pick his brain about the game. Who do you think is the most likeable guy on tour? Who would you most like to befriend, if you will?
I would definitely have to go with Rickie Fowler. He’s got a bold style for sure, but he owns it and I really dig that. I love that he congratulates the other guys on tour and is supportive of them when they win tournaments. He seems so humble. He’s also really adventurous. He’s into motocross. I’m not into motocross, but I love the adventurous spirit. He just seems like a really cool guy from what I can tell.
It’s almost hard to believe, but the PGA Merchandise Show is fast approaching (January 23-26, 2018 in Orlando, FL for those who don’t know). Will you be exhibiting? What are you most looking forward to? That question is, of course, about what steps you think Uther will take, but also, are you looking forward to anything specific from other manufacturers? What companies’ booths are you planning on going to?
We will definitely be at the show and we’re really looking forward to it. Come see us at booth 3988! I walked the show last year but wasn’t exhibiting, so I would go up to potential customers and pitch my products to them. That was a lot of work and it was quite stressful being out on a limb like that. We’ve been working on this year’s show since August and I think it’s going to be a ton of fun. We’ve got some really cool stuff planned. You also get to meet so many people there, which is just a blast. As far as other stuff I’m looking forward to, Greyson Clothiers is definitely at the top of the list. Charlie’s story is so interesting and I just love their products.
Lastly, what do you guys have in the works? Are there any product releases forthcoming? Tell people how to find you on website, social media, etc.
So, the big news is that we will be expanding beyond golf towels. We will be launching some gloves and hats that I’m really excited about. We have six different golf gloves as well as bucket and baseball hats we’ll be rolling out in some very fun prints and colors (because that’s what we do). Definitely a good idea to check out our website, which is www.uthersupply.com. The website has a link to sign up for our email list which will send out some discount codes from time to time. There will also be some exclusive and limited-edition products on the website at times too. @Uthersupply is our handle on all social media platforms. Business customers can reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org to collaborate with us on custom products. We’d love to have people come see what we’re about!
Tara Iti: A Golfer’s Paradise
This trip couldn’t have started better. Tara Iti Golf Club is magic! No disrespect to the home of golf, but this course might be as special as it gets when it comes to playing links golf.
Catch Up: The Start of My Golf Adventure
Tara Iti is a masterpiece that opened late in 2015. It’s designed by the famous golf architect Tom Doak, and it’s located on a large piece of land on the North Island of New Zealand around 1.5 hours from Auckland. It’s well hidden from houses and traffic, so you can just focus on your game and the stunning property.
The course brings swift fairways and plenty of risk-reward opportunities, offering a bevy of challenging shots that you need to plan carefully in order to get close to the flag. I loved especially the shapes presented by the fairways and waste areas, which make it feel as though the entire course is seamlessly woven together. I also like the idea they’ve got here of playing the ball as it lies. No bunkers, just waste areas.
On a personal note, my match against Johan was halved. He played very well on the first nine while I did well on the back nine.
What’s key to success to Tara Iti is a polished short game in combination with the ability to hit the fairways. I found my favorite hole at No. 17, a strikingly beautiful short par-3 that pops up between the wild sand dunes. There are three iconic trees to the left with the sea and a beautiful island as a backdrop.
Up Next: Kauri Cliffs on the northern peak of New Zealand. It is said to be one of the most scenic courses in the world.
Life as a left-handed golfer
“My bad, forgot you were a lefty,” my cart partner says, driving to the wrong side of the ball for the third straight hole.
“All good. Let me just grab my wedge and putter and you can head over to your ball,” I say, realizing I left that wedge on No. 2.
“Too bad you can’t use one of mine!” my hilarious buddy jokes. And just like that, we’re off. The life as a lefty.
Saturday morning rounds usually start casually enough. Tees are thrown and partners drawn. As I approach the ball, my laser-like focus after a terrible range session is typically interrupted by everyone’s favorite knee-slapper.
“Did anyone ever tell you you stand on the wrong side of the ball?” ZING!
“Actually, I’m standing to the right of the ball if you really look at it,” a younger me once quipped, a joke that would confuse and embarrass all involved. And then, with the confidence of an awkward night at the improv, I dead block one that nestles next to a tree.
As we cruise down the rough, my chauffeur politely asks, “You pulled your drive, correct?”
“Yeah, missed left side,” I mumble, preferring not to get into that brain teaser.
Now, this ball may be perched to the right of the tree, giving me a lucky angle in. “Man, what a time to be left-handed, eh?” Or, to my chagrin, settled just to the left of it forcing me to play it sideways. “Ugh, what a tough break being left-handed, huh?”
Lather, rinse, repeat.
Now, I don’t fault anyone for making these observations; even I think left-handed players look outrageous on the golf course. The most experienced golfer will still see a fellow lefty in the middle of their ensuing fairway and wonder, “Why is this guy hitting it toward us?”
We’ve been conditioned to think this way. I like to call it The Ugly Duckling Syndrome. Maybe someday, we too will turn into swans and have the beautiful swings that all right-handed golfers like to say we have (we don’t). The compliment usually comes in around No. 6 as he’s starting to get the hang of this cart thing and your wedge is still holes behind.
“You have a good swing there. You remind me of Phil Mickelson. I bet you are a big fan of his?”
Sure, why not. I also have a Mark Brunell jersey, Mike Vick fathead, and I exclusively watch James Harden play basketball.
Sarcasm aside, us lefties are a proud bunch and really do love playing with or seeing another lefty on the course. For many of us, it’s the only chance we have to try different equipment. We take full advantage.
Seeing another lefty at the club is like seeing a long-lost friend on Thanksgiving Eve. We might wave, give a head nod or take an air swing, but I promise you we are acknowledging each other. Have you ever been out on the lake and pulled off the friendly wave to a fellow boater? That’s being a lefty on the golf course.
Now, we like you righties; we know your charm. You provide us an endless supply of dad jokes and sometimes you have an original one. And when we finally have a second to go grab that wedge left on No. 2, we know you’ll return it with a smile. “Well, at least you knew I wasn’t going to keep this one, Mickelson!”
Lather, rinse, repeat.
Spotted: A TaylorMade “M4” driver (via Instagram)
Tiger Woods WITB (2017 Hero World Challenge)
Match of the Ages: 30 Years of Tech Goes Head to Head
Hybrids or Long Irons? A Teacher’s Perspective
See what GolfWRX members are saying about Titleist’s new AVX golf balls
Spotted: Titleist’s new Vokey SM7 wedges
Callaway Rogue and Rogue Sub Zero drivers hit USGA conforming list
10 things you need to know about Cobra’s new King F8 lineup for 2018
The hottest blade irons in golf right now
Rickie Fowler’s Winning WITB: 2017 Hero World Challenge
The Things I Do to Play Golf
It’s 9:00 p.m. on a random Thursday evening in November. It’s dark, cold, and I’m exhausted. I’ve seen a deer,...
Rickie Fowler’s touching Instagram tribute to dying man he played golf with
Rickie Fowler posted this photo to Instagram, Thursday. Fowler’s caption reads “38 days ago I flew up to Atlanta to play...
Gamechanger? USGA allows smartphone use for distance information during competition
Good news, competitive golfers, you can now use your smartphone for distance information. That’s right. The USGA, responding directly to...
Which problem club can absolutely wreck your round?
“Drive for show, putt for dough,” they used to say. Of course, in this “strokes gained” era, we generally think...
pga tour2 weeks ago
Tiger Woods WITB (2017 Hero World Challenge)
Equipment6 days ago
Callaway Rogue and Rogue Sub Zero drivers hit USGA conforming list
Equipment3 weeks ago
The hottest blade irons in golf right now
pga tour1 week ago
Rickie Fowler’s Winning WITB: 2017 Hero World Challenge
19th Hole2 weeks ago
Tiger Woods driver swing video, on-site reports as he prepares for Hero World Challenge
Instruction4 days ago
Left Arm Bend: The Difference Between PGA Tour Players and Amateurs
Opinion & Analysis2 days ago
Hello USGA, we need to talk….
Equipment2 weeks ago
TaylorMade is turning the tables, accuses PXG of patent infringement