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The Best Golfers You Have Probably Never Neard Of

By: | Wed 13 Mar 2024

We all know the names of Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Gene Sarazen, Gary Player, Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer, Nick Faldo and Phil Mickelson.

What these men have achieved in the game assures their legendary status. They have won bucketloads of majors between them, not to mention hundreds of other tournaments around the world. In the main, we know the names of the golfers because of what they have achieved in the majors.

But there are plenty of properly good golfers who came oh so close and who prove that the man who comes second is almost never remembered. There have also been plenty of men who have won more than their fair share of tournaments but slipped off into the mists of time and history.

We thought it might be fun to try to identify a few of the best golfers you have probably never heard of.

Harold McSpaden

You may know that in 1945, Byron Nelson won 18 times in 30 starts in a run that nobody has come close to matching. What you almost certainly won’t know is that McSpaden finished second to Nelson seven times. He also had a further six runner-up finishes that year, being pipped by the likes of Sam Snead and Ben Hogan. Remarkably, McSpaden won 17 times. But have you ever heard of him?

Moe Norman

Norman was a Canadian golfer who was seen by his rivals as being something of an oddball. This was because he was autistic and struggled to mix with people. But he may be the most underrated golfer who has ever lived. He had a technique that was all his own and was renowned for his straight hitting. He won 55 times on the Canadian Tour and in 1957 he entered 21 events and won 17 of them. In an exhibition match in 1990, rather than lay up short of a creek hazard which could not be carried, Norman rolled his drive across the bridge that crossed the creek.

Harry Cooper

Harry who? Check this out - Cooper finished second in majors on four occasions, had 18 top 10 finishes and 24 top 25 finishes from just 38 starts. You have never heard of him because he was never able to win a major. You may be surprised to learn that Cooper won 30 times on the PGA Tour (I know that I was!). He had the misfortune to be in his prime at the same time as the likes of Walter Hagen and Gene Sarazen.

Ed Dudley

Dudley was the first head professional at Augusta National, home of The Masters. It was a position he held from 1932 until 1957. His record in the majors was hugely impressive. He took part in 49 of them, with 24 top 10s and 34 top 25 finishes. His 24 top-10 finishes is a record for a golfer who did not manage to win one. Dudley won 15 times on the PGA Tour. He taught President Dwight Eisenhower, Bing Crosby and Bob Hope!

Dick Metz 

Metz was runner-up at the US Open in 1938, one of 17 top-10 finishes he enjoyed in the majors. He played in 42 majors and managed 26 top-25 finishes. He won 10 times on the PGA Tour. He married actress Jean Chatburn before giving it all up to become a cattle rancher.

Ted Kroll 

Kroll was a Second World War hero who received three Purple Hearts and was wounded four times, but survived. His PGA Tour career began in 1949 and he would go on to win eight times, including three victories in 1956. In 1954 he became only the third man to shoot a round of 60 in competitve play. In 41 major starts he finished second once, had 11 top 10s and 28 top 25s. He played in the Ryder Cup in 1953, 1955 and 1957.

Macdonald Smith 

Smith was born in Carnoustie in 1880 but spent most of his life in America, becoming a US citizen in 1918. His brothers, Willie and Alex, both won the US Open. Smith’s own record in the majors was pretty impressive too. He finished second three times, had 17 top 10s and 26 top 25s - all of this from just 29 starts. He won 25 times on the PGA Tour. In 1930 he finished second at both The Open and US Open - both tournaments were won by Bobby Jones.

Ralph Guldahl

The thing all the golfers above have in common is that they were never able to win a major. There have been plenty of golfers who have won a solitary major title. Guldahl claimed three, but have you ever heard of him? Between 1936 and 1940 he was one of the best golfers on the planet. He won 16 PGA Tour titles. He won the US Open in 1937 and 1938 and The Masters in 1939. That year he wrote a book, Groove Your Golf, returned to the PGA Tour, won twice more in 1940 and then lost his swing. He would later say that he simply grew fed up of all the travel and fell out of love with the game. He spent the rest of his life working as a club professional.

Bruce Crampton

Crampton was born in Sydney and won 14 times between 1961 and 1975. In 1973 he had his best year, winning four times. The Australian had a remarkable record in the majors. He took part on 56, finishing second four times, in the top 10 on eight occasions and in the top 25 on 28 occasions. His four second places, at the 1972 Masters and 1972 US Open and the US PGA in 1973 and 1975, were all to Jack Nicklaus. Had it not been for the Golden Bear, Crampton’s career would have been very different.

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