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The Career Grand Slam Chasers in Golf

By: | Fri 21 May 2021 | Comments

Winning one major is a dream, winning multiple majors is a legacy, but winning all four of them is something truly historic.

The Career Grand Slam places a golfer into a unique bracket, indeed only Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Ben Hogan, Gary Player and Gene Sarazen have officially earned that distinction.

But it's a complicated topic to view historically; while the modern professional majors are now established, it wasn't until the 1960s that the concept was accepted. Before, there simply existed big, meaningful championships, and depending on you asked, some of them were majors.

When the legendary amateur Bobby Jones completed his 'Grand Slam' in 1930, it was the US Open, US Amateur, Open, and Amateur Championship. Despite the emergence of the PGA Championship in 1916 and the Masters Tournament in 1934, events like the Western Open and North and South Open were just as (if not more) significant.

So, many golfers achieved the Grand Slams of their times. But viewed through the modern, accepted view, it remains an elite five, with several iconic names having come up just short of claiming all four.

These days, it's regularly discussed whenever Rory McIlroy is at the Masters, Jordan Spieth plays in the PGA, or when Phil Mickelson reflects on his six US Open runner-ups.

We look back and put into context the Career Grand Slam Chasers in Golf.

Walter Hagen

The flamboyant American, Walter Hagen made a living out of winning PGA Championships in the 1920s, claiming a joint-record five of them. He earlier picked up a pair US Opens before embarking on memorable tours of the British Isles, lifting the Claret Jug aloft on four occasions. However, once the Masters came round in 1934, Hagen was past his peak and didn't contend in five appearances. But his career must be put in the context of history - back then the Western Open was considered a premier event. Hagen won it five times. Extraordinary record.

Tom Watson

Most revered for his five victories in the Open Championship, the Kansas-native also twice won the Masters and unforgettably defeated Jack Nicklaus to clinch the US Open at Pebble Beach in 1982. But despite 33 appearances, Watson wasn't able to etch his name on the Wanamaker Trophy, his best chance coming in 1978 when he squandered a five-shot lead after 54 holes before losing a playoff to John Mahaffey at Oakmont.

Sam Snead

Arguably no one has ever played better for longer than Sam Snead, who was a major contender into his 60s. The 82-time PGA Tour winner triumphed on three occasions at the Masters, won a trio of PGA Championships, and even claimed the Claret Jug at St Andrews in 1946. But remarkably, despite four runner-up finishes, Slammin' Sammy never did win the US Open. 

Arnold Palmer

The man who helped to popularise the concept of the modern Grand Slam ironically failed to achieve it. Four times a Masters champion, twice the Champion Golfer of the Year, and his resurgent charge to lift the 1960 US Open at Cherry Hills remains legendary. But like Tom Watson, the PGA Championship was elusive to the great man, ultimately finishing in a runner-up position three times.

Lee Trevino

From poverty in Texas to the Marine Corps and eventually the summit of the golf world, Lee Trevino's life stands as one of the most remarkable in the game, a player whose talents thrilled galleries across the planet. Despite not reaching the PGA Tour until his late 20s, Super Mex won six majors - two US Opens, two Opens and two PGAs - often at the expense of Jack Nicklaus, but he never did successfully crack the environment of Augusta National and the Masters Tournament, often finding himself in conflict with club chairman Clifford Roberts.

Byron Nelson

The Texan is now best remembered for his unfathomable record during the 1940s, including winning 11 consecutive events and 18 titles in total in 1945. However, by the following year, Nelson had essentially retired from regular competitive play, aged 34. Despite that short career, his 52 PGA Tour victories featured two Masters Tournaments, a pair of PGAs and the 1939 US Open. But he only played in the Open Championship twice, in 1937 and later in 1955. Had his tenure been longer, we suspect that Lord Byron would have won it all.

Phil Mickelson

Having faced a rich supply of heartache in the majors, Mickelson finally enjoyed his breakthrough at the Masters at the age of 33. And he made up for lost time, ultimately triumphing on three occasions at Augusta National, securing the Wanamaker Trophy in 2005, before crowning it all with a memorable victory at Muirfield in 2013. He later made history by winning the PGA Championship for a second time at the age of 50. However, America's national championship has eluded the left-hander, despite an astonishing six runner-up finishes.  

Jim Barnes

Born in Cornwall, Jim Barnes emigrated to the United States as a young man, enjoying considerable success as a professional golfer, winning the first two PGA Championships and the 1921 US Open. He made a return to the United Kingdom four years later, securing the Claret Jug in the final Open that was held at Prestwick. Barnes never competed in the Masters Tournament, meaning he falls short of the modern Grand Slam, but his triumphs in the prestigious Western Open and North and South Open mattered greatly in the early 20th century.

Raymond Floyd

One of the most formidable competitors of his era, Raymond Floyd won his first of two PGA Championships in 1969, seven years before a dominant, record-setting performance at the Masters. Contending in the biggest events for decades, Floyd then claimed the US Open at Shinnecock Hills in 1986, aged 43. However, despite 20 appearances, he wasn't able to get his hands on the Claret Jug, finishing two shots behind Jack Nicklaus at St Andrews in 1978.

Rory McIlroy

When he etched his name on the Claret Jug in 2014, the Northern Irishman had won three of the four major championships at the age of 25, just three years after his character building loss at the Masters. Since then, McIlroy has driven down Magnolia Lane with eyes fixed on him, and he has featured on the leaderboard consistently at the Masters, most notably in 2018, when he was in the final pairing with eventual champion Patrick Reed. But the Grand Slam will prove elusive until he places his arms inside the Green Jacket.

Tommy Armour

Born in Edinburgh and a veteran of the First World War, during which a mustard gas attack blinded him in one eye, Armour moved to America in the 1920s and embarked on a professional career, winning the US Open at Oakmont, before defeating Gene Sarazen at the PGA Championship in 1930. The following summer, Armour was back in Scotland and won the first Open Championship held at Carnoustie. He later played in several Masters Tournaments, finishing in a tie for 8th in 1937, but that event came past his peak years. But a success at the Western Open in 1929 underlined his elite status.

Jordan Spieth

Achieving legendary things at a young age, Spieth was brilliant at the Masters in 2015, before winning a dramatic US Open that summer and briefly threatening the possibility of the Grand Slam in a single year. Following some tough losses, few will ever forget his Open Championship victory at Royal Birkdale in 2017, one of the most extraordinary finishes in recent memory. The PGA Championship is the major that the Texan requires to complete the set - with focus naturally on him at every attempt.

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