Tiger Woods: The “Best Golfer Ever!”
Steve in the Swamps Blog, December 23, 2009
It’s frequently stated how Tiger (formerly Eldrick) Woods is the best professional golfer of all time. This may be, and possibly is true. However, there is also an exaggeration in how he is supposed to be the best of all-time!
My analysis even disregards that many never play golf, and very very few people even play golf enough to play professionally. Most play as a child, and never play again-or, wait until late teenage years to get serious about golf. And, Tiger Woods most likely started playing golf at much younger age (with yet more opportunities) than the other PGA Golf Greats.
1. Sam Snead 82 wins (1937-1980:25-68 years old). 43 years, with much in old age.
2. Jack Nicklaus 73 wins (1961-1986:21-46 years old, and futile shots later in his life) 25 years of primary play. He had a hip problem later in his career, and had to compete with Sam Snead and Arnold Palmer.
3. Tiger Woods 71 wins (1996-present: 20-34 years old and many more to play) 15 years of play thus far. Unlike the other players it should be noted that he has modern day medical technology to correct his vison to a degree superior to even default for most (which he did, with Lasik), heal injuries much more quickly than the other Golf Greats did (with a very new medical procedure which brought him back to his prime in no more than 8 months) , and legal muscle enhancement. Without spreading a rumor I cannot prove, I will also add that there is the opportunity to use steroids now (unlike the pre-90?s). He also has more money and financial opportunities than the other golfers, as the PGA is more of a major business than even its most entertaining era-and he has endorsement deals and big money that the other PGA golf greats could only dream of! It makes since he would have an unfair advantage.
4. Ben Hogan 64 wins (likely after 1930(for PGA)-WW2,1945 (?)-1949;17-29, 32-36) about 16 years in this first phase. He presumably fought in World War 2, from probably 1941-1945-much of his prime at age 29-33. He played maybe a year more than Tiger Woods thus far (which is unlikely, as he may have joined the PGA signficantly later than 1930), but Tiger Woods played more in his prime, and uninterrupted from outside influences like a War. Ben Hogan also got near-fatally injured in 1949, at the age of 36. He almost lost the ability to walk, if not his life. As indicated above, he also had to compete with Sam Snead during most of his first phase. He would also have circulation problems and other playing limitations for the rest of his life. [I think Tiger Woods should consider himself lucky! He keeps all but one of his overpaying endorsements after getting caught for 15+ affairs, while another man almost died, and had near-fatal injuries, trying to save his wife!] He recovered and returned in the 1950′s winning well, while struggling from injuries and competing with #1[in the official ranking of championships] Sam Snead. Apparently with complications, Hogan did not play well in his 50′s during the 1960′s. My source says he retired in 1970, although it should also be noted that he had to compete with Sam Snead throughout almost all of his career, and suffered from health complications in the 2nd phase of his career (after his mid-30?s, 1950-1970). Imagine, if he never fought in World War 2, never got injured in his car crash, and didn’t have to compete with Sam Snead?! He or Sam Snead would probably be the best golfer of all-time, not Tiger Woods!
Sam Snead also had to compete with Ben Hogan, so their numbers would both be higher without covering virtually the same time-period.
5. Arnold Palmer 62 wins (1955-1980 at the latest; 26-51) about 25 years of play. he also had to compete with Sam Snead and Jack Nicklaus for most of his career. For significant amount of time, he also competed with Ben Hogan.
6. Bryon Nelson 52 wins (1932 at the very earliest-1946; 20-34) 15 years of play in the PGA maximum. He played no more than Tiger Woods has already; and he had to compete with Sam Snead and Ben Hogan, for virtually his whole career. And he permanently quit, at Tiger Woods’ current age. He also started at the same time. The difference is that he had much more competition.
7. Billy Casper 51 wins (1954-presumably mid 1970?s; 23-44 years old.) about 21 years or so played with PGA. He had to compete with Sam Snead, Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus, and Arnold Palmer for most of his career.
8. Walter Hagen 44 wins (1912-1936?; 20-44?) about 25 years of play. He was among the first major players, being born in the 19th century. He didn’t have too much competition until very late in his career, but he did help revolutionize the game.
These are likely the eight best golfers of all-time. And most of them-Sam Snead, Jack Nicklaus, Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer, Bryon Nelson, and Billy Casper ALL had to compete against each other-although not all overlapped with all others. But, most overlap with each other almost perfectly, and in the golden age of the PGA. Now it’s Tiger Woods, almost all by himself. His closest competitor is Phil Mickelson, with 37 wins and maybe on the decline already-soon past his prime. His next top competitor is Vijay Singh, with 34 wins. At 46, Vijay is very apparently past his prime. Compared to the other golfers, Tiger Woods has very little competition. He also has medical surgery, and supplements to give him an advantage unavailable even twenty to thirty years ago. With new technology, he will be able to retire at a much later age, than the others, and thus play longer. It’s too subjective to just call Tiger Woods as objective absolute #1 of all-time.
While Tiger Woods will all but certainly break all of the major golf records-including total wins- and is considered the best ever already, there is a whole collection of factors that entail the question. Instead of being absolute number 1, would it be more appropriate to just name Tiger Woods merely as one of the elite golfers of all-time? I think so.