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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
- 23 years old
- 4 PGA Tour wins
- 0 major top-10s
- 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.