Here it is, everyone’s favorite argument: Who’s the best golfer without a major championship?

People, especially media members, love to have discussions such as this one. In basketball, the argument is for who’s the greatest player without an NBA Championship. In football, it’s usually the best quarterback without a Super Bowl. Even arguments such as “who’s the best actor without an Oscar” flood the Internet.

In most sports, athletes get about five years to prove themselves worthy of being on such a list, then by seven years in it’s the only questions they get in press conferences. LeBron knows what I’m saying; and so does Carmelo Anthony, although I think everyone’s given up on him by now. That question basically forced KD to the Warriors.

But in golf, the leash is unbelievably short. If you’re deemed a great golfer, you better start producing quickly. It seems Sergio Garcia came out of the womb with a “best golfer without a major” tag. I’m sure if he didn’t have to answer that question so much throughout his career, and if Tiger Woods wasn’t the greatest closer of all time, he would have got it done sooner. Tiger never had to deal with it himself because of how quickly he started winning. But Phil Mickelson got it bad. Colin Montgomerie probably still has nightmares about it, no matter what he says. Jon Rahm is only three majors into his career, and now that Sergio won the monkey-off-his-back-Masters, Rahm is next in line. I kind of feel for him, too; a victim of his own potential greatness.

As an individual sport, the light shines bright on golf’s “stars” to produce major victories. Regular PGA Tour wins are basically just measuring sticks to determine who’s ready to win majors. It’s weird, but it’s the nature of the sport post-Jack Nicklaus. When Jack decided to play a limited schedule and focus on majors, so did the media, and everyone else followed. Now it’s majors or bust.

If you’re “great” (have a solid resume but haven’t won a major) they ask “why haven’t you won yet?” If you’re great and have only won one or two, they ask “why haven’t you won more? What’s wrong with you?!”

The problem is, major championships are extremely difficult to win. There’s a learning curve and a progression. Beating 120-player fields without vast experience is just very unlikely. Jack and Tiger and Jordan (Spieth) are outliers. It’s just not that easy.

Therefore, I don’t think media members or fans should make arbitrary lists, labeling golfers as “the best without a major” without a specific question in mind. There’s a better way to evaluate those with a goose egg in the major wins column. For this argument, you should ask yourself, “How surprised am I that this golfer hasn’t won a major yet?” That way, you can determine who belongs on that “best without” list and who doesn’t. The last thing we want to do is label a great young talent as “best without” and have it become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Give them some time and space.

Here’s my run at it.

Doesn’t Belong: Luke Donald

GOLF: APR 02 PGA - Shell Houston Open - Final Round

Why he doesn’t belong on the “best without” list: Donald (39 years old) has won a PGA Tour Player of the Year, European’s Race to Dubai, and he held the No. 1 in the world spot for 56 weeks (that’s longer than Ian Woosnam, Fred Couples, Nick Price, Ernie Els, David Duval, Vijay Singh, Jason Day and Jordan Spieth). He’s had eight top-10s at major championships, five PGA Tour wins and seven European Tour wins. He finished T3 in his first ever appearance at The Masters in 2005, tied for his best ever finish at a major championship.

Despite a straight-up stacked resume, however, I find it hard to say I’m super surprised Donald never won a major. He’s a top-10 machine and a money maker, but even as a No. 1 in the world he never felt like a favorite. I’m not shocked he never got it done on the big stage, and I won’t be shocked if he retires without one.

Belongs: Lee Westwood

Why he belongs on the “best without” list: Wait, Lee Westwood never won a major championship? Can anyone from the media confirm?

Westwood is always one of the best ball strikers in whatever field he was in, but the fact is he has never putted well enough… especially when the heat was on. With 18 top-10s in the majors, you’d think he would’ve gotten lucky and hit the hole a few times in ONE of them. But alas.

Doesn’t Belong: Hideki Matsuyama

The Masters - Round Two

Why he doesn’t belong: Sometimes you can’t tell by his body language, but Hideki Matsuyama is so, so good at golf. At 25, he already has five top-10s in majors and four PGA Tour victories. He’s also ranked No. 4 in the world, and it’s inevitable he’s going to win a major. But am I surprised he hasn’t done it yet? Not yet, but he might be the best golfer in this entire article.

He played his first major in 2011, but he didn’t start playing a full major-championship schedule until 2013. So he’s only in his fifth year competing for real. I’ll give him two more years — as is standard in these arguments as we established in the intro — until I start hitting him with the shocked face.

Doesn’t Belong: Rickie Fowler

Why he doesn’t belong: Fowler is a tough one. As we know, he finished in the top 5 in every major in 2014. But that year, he lost by six shots to Bubba in The Masters, eight to Martin Kaymer at the U.S. Open, started six back of Rory McIlroy heading into Sunday at The Open and came in third behind Rory and Phil at the PGA. Did we truly, honestly expect him to win any of those?

He’s 28 and has four PGA Tour wins, including a Players Championship. He’s had a great career so far. And if I’m being honest, a better career than I even expected to this point. Fowler was definitely a stand-out amateur, but I just never expected much of him as a PGA Tour pro. And that’s mainly because of his swing. Until his work with Butch Harmon, I never trusted his swing to hold up under pressure.

Over the past few years, he seems to have toned down big misses and has a phenomenal short game that saves his mediocre iron play. But am I surprised Rickie Fowler isn’t yet a major champion? Why do you ask, because he looks like a superstar and seems like the coolest guy ever? Golf wise, no I’m not surprised. Talk to me in five years.

Belongs: Ryan Moore

2016 CIMB Classic Golf - Day 1

Why he belongs: People tend to forget, probably because of his lack of star power, that Ryan Moore was one of the best amateur golfers ever. He won the NCAA Individual Championship, the U.S. Amateur Public Links and the U.S. Amateur in 2004. By all accounts, he was destined for greatness in the big leagues.

Since then, he’s recorded five PGA Tour wins and a few top-10s in major championships. The best he’s ever finished in a major was T9, which he tied on Sunday at The 2017 Masters. He was in the third-to-last group, but everyone wrote him off; they turned out to be right.

At 34, Moore is one of the most talented and accomplished golfers never win to a major — at least in the modern era. He has a goofy swing, but I always thought that made him some sort of golfing savant. When he turned professional, if you asked me how many majors Moore would have by now, I’d probably have said three or four.

Doesn’t Belong: Matt Kuchar

Why he doesn’t belong: He was a brilliant amateur golfer — he lost to Tiger Woods in the semi-finals of the 1996 U.S. Amateur then won it in 1997 — and is an absolute cash machine as a professional. He won the Honda Classic in 2002, then all but disappeared for seven years. Since then, I think he’s finished in the top-10 in every single tournament he’s played (don’t fact-check me). He also won The Players Championship in 2012.

The 38-year old has eight top-10s in majors and seven PGA Tour wins. Fact of the matter is, he doesn’t find the winner circle very often, but plays really steady no matter the course or weather.

Give me a choice to finish top-10, it’s Kuchar. Give me a guy to win? It’s not Kuchar.

Belongs: Branden Grace

U.S. Open - Final Round

Why he belongs: Grace is 28, and he already should have won a major. More specifically, he should have won the 2015 U.S. Open at Chambers Bay. He fanned one on No. 16 out of bounds all but ending his chance at victory, which still drives me crazy. Keep that in bounds, birdie the relatively easy par-5 18th and it’s probably over — or at least he’s in a playoff. Aside from that, Grace also has three other top-5s in majors.

He’s a stud who has one PGA Tour win and seven European Tour wins. In terms of being surprised he doesn’t have a major, I would say very. But he’s still young and entering his prime years. If he ends up without a major that shows how difficult major championship golf is, not Grace’s shortcomings as a golfer.

Doesn’t Belong: Bill Haas

Why he doesn’t belong: Haas has just one top-10 in the majors. Yes, the 34-year old has six PGA Tour wins, but he simply hasn’t been in a realistic position to win a major yet.

Belongs: Paul Casey

Why he belongs: Another great amateur who was destined for greatness, especially while at Arizona State University. And you know what, he put together a great professional career… just not in the United States. He’s won 13 times on the European Tour, but just once on the PGA Tour (2009 Shell Houston Open in a playoff, and he lost in two other playoffs).

Aside from The Masters, where he always seems to be a factor at some point over the weekend, his game just hasn’t fared well at the U.S. Open and PGA Championships. With that being said, I wouldn’t blink twice if Casey won The Open this year. Well, I’d blink a lot, but it’s just a phrase.

Problem is, at 39, time isn’t on his side.

Doesn’t Belong: J.B. Holmes

World Golf Championships-Mexico Championship - Round Three

Why he doesn’t belong: When Holmes needed brain surgery in 2011, then needed more surgery after realizing he was allergic to the adhesive used, he was more likely to end up on a list of potential greats who’s career ended short, not a list of best golfers without a major. So I must say I’m ecstatic to even bring him up in this argument.

Holmes played 26 events in 2012 but no majors, and played only 6 events (no majors) in 2013. Before that, he played in only 13 majors. In 2015, however, he recorded a T4 at The Masters and solo third at The Open.

I can’t say that I’m surprised the 34-year-old hasn’t won a major, simply for the fact he hasn’t been in the position to win enough. But he has fearlessness off the tee and a long ball that’s simply unmatched on Tour. He’s an extremely skilled Tour player, and if he stays healthy, he will win a major. I’m not surprised he has zero at the time being, but if you tell me in five years he hasn’t won yet, I’ll probably slap you in the face.

Belongs: Ian Poulter

Why he belongs: Devastating Ryder Cupper. Great PGA Tour pro. He has 12 European Tour wins and two PGA Tour wins. He also has eight top-10s, including a solo-second at the 2008 Open (albeit four strokes behind Padraig).

Poulter has always been a reliable ball striker and has knack for draining the big putt. I think he was always so easy to root against, especially for Americans, that we didn’t want to give him proper credit for his skill and competitiveness. I’m legitimately shocked he never got the job done and ripped out the hearts of U.S. golf fans everywhere. But at 41, a major victory now just seems unlikely. He doesn’t hit it particularly long, but maybe he can sneak out an Open Championship victory before it’s over.

Doesn’t Belong: Patrick Reed

Why he doesn’t belong: Reed is ranked No. 14 in the world and has all but backed up his infamous “top 5″ interview with 5 PGA Tour wins — including The Barclays at major-championship venue Bethpage Black. He’s also already proven himself as an opponent to be terrified of at the Ryder Cup. But at 26, he’s yet to record a top-10 in a major. He’s the type of competitor, however, that you expect to win if he’s in the final group of a major on Sunday. He just has to put himself in the position.

In my opinion, he’ll win multiple majors and continue to haunt European Ryder Cup fans for years to come. But should he have a major trophy or Green Jacket already? Not yet.

Belongs: Brandt Snedeker

The Masters - Round Two

Why he belongs: The fact Brandt Snedeker hasn’t won a major is beyond me. He’s had three top-10 finishes at Augusta, four top-10s in the U.S. Open and a T3 at The Open. He’s long been regarded as the best, or one of the best putters on tour. He’s also a superb ball striker, and seems to have a fairly even keel that’s beneficial in the majors.

He’s 36, has eight PGA Tour victories and one European Tour win. He also won the 2012 FedEx Cup. But no majors. You have to imagine his putter will heat up so hot that he wins one before it’s said and done.

Doesn’t Belong: Brooks Koepka

Shriners Hospitals For Children Open - Round Two

Why he doesn’t belong: If someone wants to say they’re surprised Koepka hasn’t won yet, I’ll entertain their argument. But the fact is, he’s 26 and only has one PGA Tour victory. Yes, he has four top-10s in majors, but let the kid get his major championship legs under him, OK? Let him learn how to win out there, struggle a bit in some final groups in the majors and see what happens.

Closing Thoughts

This whole argument reminds me of a quote from the movie Social Network. Mark Zuckerberg’s character turns to the Winklevoss twins and says, “If you were the inventors of Facebook, you’d have invented Facebook.” Savage quote, but it relates to what we’re talking about here; if a player is truly good enough to have won a major already, he’d have won a major already.

I also wanted to mention the following two names so I could prove I didn’t forget about them. If anyone can make an argument for saying they’re legitimately surprised they haven’t won a major yet at this point in their career, have at it.

Justin Thomas
  • 23 years old
  • 4 PGA Tour wins
  • 0 major top-10s
Jon Rahm
  • 22 years old
  • 1 PGA Tour win
  • Has participated in three majors

Lastly, if Anthony Kim still played golf and he didn’t win a major by now, he’d lead the list. No one golfed their ball harder.

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Andrew Tursky is the Assistant Editor at GolfWRX. He played on the Hawaii Pacific University Men's Golf team while earning a Masters degree in Communications. He also played college golf at Rutgers University, where he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism.

47 COMMENTS

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  1. It’s not like we’re talking about the best players without a triple double here. There are only 4 majors per year, so there’s no surprise that many haven’t won one.

    The reason this title fit for Sergio is because his game and otherworldly abilities showcased how hard winning a major is. He alone (after Monty’s retirement) held the title of best player without a major. DJ and possibly Day were in the same conversation but not at the same level as their time felt like it was still coming. Sergio was always knocking on the door but never made it across the threshold. No one else on your list or any other list comes close to this status.

    Maybe your main classification should be players who have had the opportunity (or multiple) to win one but let it slip through their fingers. For example, Poulter came 2nd in The Open, but he didn’t push Harrington or really contend so I don’t think he belongs anywhere near this list and that is me speaking as a European RC fan.

  2. Poulter??? C’mon… He folds on Sunday when it’s time to close the deal. He’ll never win a major much less keep his card. Web.com here’s your newest recruit. Oh and the “who’s the most overrated player” poll they did with the pros was spot on about him and not Rickie. Rickie will win a major.

  3. I’ve said it time and time again, this list or the the Question Who is the best player not to have won a major?” Is totally useless. IF you are good enough to win a major you would have won one. People that come top ten in majors are consistent but maybe they’ve played out of their skin to finish top ten. You could have Rory or Phil play average and still top ten.

    When john Daly won his first major he was head and shoulders above the rest of the field, a seriously naturly talented player, probably never knew how good he actually was at the time maybe.

    • Strong disagree… there have been PLENY of players good enough to win a major that never won one. There are so many variables through 72 holes it’s ridiculous. Your basically saying the winners of majors are the only ones good enough to win majors. If that was the case then why did they even hold the competition? Was Sergio “not good enough” to win unroll this masters? Then he magically he came good enough? No he was always good enough it just didn’t happen until this year. To say he wasn’t good enough before is incorrect IMHO

      • Sergio always plenty good enough on paper but lacked patience he is now a major winner. Look at Greg Norman should have won far more majors and was beaten by chip ins or holed bunker shots maybe or maybe he just finished poorly or pressed self destruct button (happened on at least two occasions in the masters).

        Occasionally we’ll see surprise major champions, calcavechia and clink to name two guys who were consistent but got lucky ( Greg Norman gifted it to calc and Watson gifted it to cink)

        It’s ok to disagree

      • Garcia has openly said perhaps he wasn’t good enough, particularly around Augusta, but a change in personal circumstances has made a big difference to him.

        • Absolutely feeling sorry for himself he gave this interview a few years back. But getting is life / golf balance right means now he is a serious major winner.

          Always plenty good enough but a poor accepter of missed putts. Best bunker player you’ll ever see!

    • Why do you care about his PR? That’s for the kids. 4 wins and top 5 in every major before age 30 is a very good PGA career. If Rickie can get two majors in the next 15 years, he will be in the HOF.

  4. Your personal bias is showing on some of these. Rickie has a weird swing so he doesn’t belong but Ryan Moore having a weird move makes him a savant? Lol c’mon now…

  5. Monty and Westwood are the only valid ‘belongs’ in this list due to length of career, number of tour wins and number of near misses.

    All the others are either too young, their time may come, generally actually aren’t that good, I’m thinking Poulter and Donald, or their majors performance is too poor. How does someone with T9 as a best major performance even get into this article.

    Shank off a cliff into a volcano.

  6. Maybe being on the list of best not to win a major not such a bad thing in the long haul. List of 1 time major winners is full of people who never fulfilled expectations after finally getting a major. I agree with wondering about Ian Poulter on the list. Never recall him even contending in a major. Westwood and Montgomery for sure were on that list. I would prob put Fowler and Matsayama as ones to want to quickly get off that list asap

  7. Lee Westwood isn’t just a questionable putter. He’s a fairly awful putter when the pressure gets ratcheted up. On top of that, he has a mediocre chipping and short game. He’s always been on leaderboards because of tee-to-green game. Nice guy, but he’s never going to win the Masters or any other major with a game so suspect around and on the greens. Ian Poulter? If it wasn’t for a couple Ryder Cups where his putter suddenly started channeling mid-60s Jack Nicklaus, it’s possible nobody would even know exactly who Ian Poulter is. Paul Casey — (not an American hater, btw!) — has game to win any major. Ian Poulter has a good agent and very good publicity guy.

      • Ha ha ha love that call!

        Can’t believe some folk believe Westwood and Monty. They had there time and either didn’t take advantage of the situation or we’re just beaten by a much better player, or of course as Tom Watson would say, just lost their bottle.

        RC doesn’t mean anything it’s matchplay, no score card, so until there is a major with matchplay features then it doesn’t count for anything.

        • I fully agree that ultimately they are both poor under pressure, but Westwood was in the fifth from last group last week, so ‘had their time’ (you had a typo), isn’t completely true in his case. I also agree with your earlier comment that these sort of articles are meaningless.

  8. No European players should be on the “Belongs” list….
    Fact is, Q school failures are stars over there
    Why should a player should have won a major playing weaker fields and slower greens
    Face it, someone has to win the “beneath Web.com” tournament they just get world record points for traveling.

  9. No one golfed their ball harder than Anthony Kim. That may be the funniest golf related statement I’ve ever heard. Well outside of people thinking Tad Fujikawa could ever make it to the show or Michelle Wie’s parents signing her up for men’s events.

  10. Agree that this article is pretty awful. Totally incoherent at times. Mentioning Jon Rahm has a monkey on his back (or will soon) in the opening paragraph. What on earth is this guy talking about. “No one golfed his ball harder.” Who talks like this?

  11. If I were to honestly evaluate this list and say that none of these are elite golfers in my opinion. Rickie and Lee are the only ones who have the talent with some career accomplishments that make you scratch your head and wonder why they haven’t won. Sergio was in my opinion the last great golfer who couldn’t win one.

  12. Lol. You say media members shouldn’t make arbitrary lists but then you go and do the exact same thing. Just because you are asking the incredibly vague question of “How surprised am I…?” doesn’t make your list any better than the others. You are all over the board with your logic too. Bringing up how nice a guys swings is and if they exceeded your personal expectations for them are two of the worst ways to judge someone. You also give credit to some guys for having wins on both tours but not Fowler. Just terrible.

  13. Casey and Poulter? You have to be joking. One glaringly obvious neglect: Monty. Dude belongs at the top of this list.

    Kudos for mentioning Kim. I followed the dude in a couple tournaments and still remember he hit it amazingly. Like Tiger-esque.

    Now you know what would be really fun… let’s have a list of worst players with a major. My picks: Keegan, Bradley, Willet. Ready set go.

    • Agree on Monty. He was an exceptional player who just couldn’t get it done. I think Westwood will end up the same.

      Worst major winners? Bradley and Willet aren’t in the top 10.

      Beem
      Micheel
      Ian Baker Finch
      Larry Mize
      Lawrie
      Grady
      Steve Jones

      • Its clearly not just best current golfer… Ian Poulter is on the list. And if it was best current golfer without a major the author thinks Matsuyama is the best player in the whole article, but for some reason doesn’t belong. The criteria in this article changed with every player.

          • Pal… sorry you can’t understand complex points. If you want to call that complex. Its highlighting that there was no criteria for the article. The fellow who I replied to stated “best current golfer.” The author states Matsuyama is the best player on the list, yet doesn’t belong… because he’s too young. Ok… so best actively playing golfer is not the criteria. Sooo best resume who hasn’t won one I presume??? Nope Monty can’t be on the list because its best current golfer. Ok, back to square one. Whats the criteria?

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