The Most Underrated Players in Golf History
I recently wrote a piece featuring legendary golfers who defined generations. Without exception they were men and women who are written into the history and folklore of this game we love so much.
And it got me thinking about golfers who achieved great things in the game but whose part in our sport is largely overlooked.
They may not have gripped the imagination in the way that the likes of Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods have but they are golfers who definitely deserve a mention.
The New Zealander was a trailblazer - he was the first left-hander to claim a major, winning The Open in 1963. He picked up the Claret Jug after beating American Phil Rodgers by eight shots in a 36-hole playoff. He won six times on the PGA Tour, four times on the European Tour and claimed 80 professional titles in all. He beat his age twice during a tournament as a 71-year-old and was widely regarded as one of the best putters the game has ever seen.
DeVicenzo won The Open in 1967, becoming one of the oldest men to do so at the age of 44. He should also have won The Masters in 1968 but signed for an incorrect score that cost him a place in a playoff against Bob Goalby, who walked away with the Green Jacket. He famously said afterwards: “What a stupid I am.” DeVicenco, from Argentina, won seven times on the PGA Tour and claimed an astonishing 229 professional titles.
Casper was one of the greatest putters to have graced the game. He won The Masters in 1970 and the US Open in 1959 and 1966 and finished runner-up in the US PGA three times. He also won 51 times on the PGA Tour but rarely figures in conversations when people talk about the greatest golfers to have graced the sport. He played on the Ryder Cup eight times and is the USA’s record points scorer.
You may not have heard of Yancey. He was an American who possessed one of the sweet swings in golf. He turned professional in 1960 and won seven times on the PGA Tour between 1966 and 1972. It was all the more remarkable when you learn that he suffered from manic depression, which led to him being discharged from US Army and spending nine months in a psychiatric hospital. When Tony Jacklin decided to try to crack the PGA Tour, he was befriended by Yancey. Before Jacklin went out to play in the final round of the US Open, which he won by seven shots, he found message from Yancey pinned to his locker. It simply said: “Tempo.”
If you think that Tyrrell Hatton has a temper (and he does!) you should have seen Weiskopf in his prime. His nickname was Towering Inferno, which tells you everything you need to know. He once took 13 shots at the par-three 12th at Augusta National. It was a miracle that he was able to complete his round such was the anger he felt. But Weiskopf was a hugely talented golfer. He won 16 times on the PGA Tour, which in itself was some achievement when you consider his temperament. But it is still hard to believe that he only landed one major, The Open at Royal Troon in 1973. He suffered plenty of heartbreak at The Masters, where he finished second four times. He also designed more than 40 world-class courses.
It is all too easy to overlook Jacklin’s achievements. He recorded the first televised hole in one for starters. Then he won The Open in 1969 and the US Open by seven shots in 1970. For a spell of two or three years he was the best golfer in the world. And he helped to transform the Ryder Cup, insisting that his players travel first class, stay in five-star hotels and travel with their wives.
What a swing he had. He won the US Amateur in 1953 and his only major came in 1961 when he claimed the US Open. He was runner-up at The Masters in 1970 and at the US PGA seven years later. He recorded an impressive 29 victories on the PGA Tour and 54 in all as a professional. He represented the USA at the Ryder Cup seven times and was inducted in the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1990.
Stewart is largely remembered for his flamboyant clothing and plus fours. But there was much more to him than that. The American won the US PGA in 1989, and the US Open in 1991 and 1999, when he famously holed a 15-foot putt on the final green to secure a one-stroke victory. He won 11 times on the PGA Tour and four times on the European Tour. The fans loved him. And he was a true sportsman. He conceded his singles match to Colin Montgomerie at the 1999 Ryder Cup in protest at the way the partisan US fans were abusing Monty. Tragically, he died in a plane crash soon afterward at the age of 42.
The Scot will probably be remembered for being the best golfer never to have won a major but he achieved some wonderful things during his career. He won the European Tour order of merit eight times, including seven in a row. He finished second in majors on five occasions. Monty, who was renowned for his temper, won 31 times on the European Tour but was never able to land a PGA Tour title.
Furyk had a swing that all his own but it worked. He won the US Open in 2003 and claimed 17 tournament wins on the PGA Tour. He was FedEx Cup champion in 2010 and holds the record for the lowest ever score on tour - a remarkable 58 in the final round of the 2016 Travelers Championship. He also shot a 59 at the BMW Championship in 2013. He played in the Ryder Cup nine times. Furyk was one of the straightest hitters the game has known.
Goosen is a South African who, like so many of his countrymen, was a truly global golfer, and one who does not get the credit he deserves for what he achieved. He was the first non-European to win the European Tour’s order of merit, something he achieved in 2001 after three wins and 11 top-10 finishes. He won the US Open in 2001 and again in 2004, and twice finished second at The Masters. There were seven wins on the PGA Tour, 14 on the European Tour, five on the Asian Tour and six on the Sunshine Tour. He had a glorious touch around the greens and a simply wonderful temperament.
Thomas was a hugely gifted Welsh golfer who won 18 times. What you may not know is that he finished second at The Open on two occasions - in 1958 and again in 1966, when he was runner-up to Jack Nicklaus at Muirfield. He was also a four-time Ryder Cup player. But his real legacy came as a course designer. He designed more than 100 courses around the world, including the Brabazon Course at The Belfry.
Let’s not forget that Lyle won both The Open and The Masters before Nick Faldo. Many believe he was the most naturally gifted golfer of his his generation - a generation that included the likes of Seve Ballesteros, Faldo, Ian Woosnam and Bernhard Langer. He won on both the European Tour and the PGA Tour. And he was an absolute gentleman. His time at the summit was all too short because he somehow got it into his head that he needed to change his golf swing.
I first saw Gallacher when he was a teenager and I was certain that I was watching somebody very special. He won four times in 1969 at the age of 20 and topped the order of merit and played in the Ryder Cup. Gallacher was one of the best putters I ever saw. He won 10 times on the European Tour and played in the Ryder Cup eight times. He also had three stints as captain.
The thing that makes Coles special was his longevity. Born in 1934, his first European Tour win came in 1972, when he was 37 years old. The last of his European Tour wins came 10 years later, aged 48. But that is only a tiny part of his story. He won the Gor-Ray Cup in 1956 and the Lawrence Batley Seniors in 2002 when he was 67. He won 55 professional events and represented GB&I in the Ryder Cup on eight occasions.
And on the subject of longevity, nobody can come close to matching the extraordinary German. He won The Masters twice, claimed three titles on the PGA Tour, won 42 times on the European Tour (second only to Seve Ballesteros) and has so far accumulated a record 46 titles on the Champions Tour and eight on the European Senior Tour. And is still going strong at the age of 66.
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