As the dust settles on the Ryder Cup, the competition still remains as the ultimate bragging rights for one of the most revered battles in sports, where the greatest do battle for the right to be called the best.
— Ryder Cup USA (@RyderCupUSA) 5 October 2016
And in the spirit of celebrating greatness, from past, to present, to future, we here are going to break down just who is the greatest of all time, in their respective decades.
And we’re going to do it like this. From the 1960s to the present day, decade to decade, who would be on the Mount Rushmore of golf?
Mount Rushmore is a symbol of immortality. It represents the fathers of greatness as they loom large and live on as part of the very earth for which they served and represented loyally.
But Mount Rushmore is more than that. It can also be a fun and interesting hypothetical question. It’s been done many times: who would be on the Mount Rushmore of soccer? Of basketball, Of comedy? Of professional wrestling? Anything!
And golf is no different. So that’s what we’re going to do. Bear in mind, before you tell me how wrong I am, that this is just one guy’s opinion.
But before we kick off, let’s set the ground rules: each representative quartet will be statistically decided mainly on wins against number of tournaments played and overall success in that decade. So let’s get started!
There can be only one way to start, and that is with the King. He had it all: a solid winning game, a larger than life presence and Hollywood good-looks. The late great Palmer was a true man of the people. But at the forefront of everything were his skills on the green. Palmer won 43 times in the 1960s and won six majors between 1960 and 1964. The first half of the decade, unquestionably, belonged to Arnold Palmer.
The South African was the first international household name since the 1930s, and while he may have only won 10 times on Tour during the decade, he made them count, as four of those 10 wins were majors. On top of that, he completed his grand slam by winning the 1968 Open Championship.
It could be argued that the ‘Big Three’ of golf dominated golf in the 1960s. And Jack Nicklaus gets his place on the 1960s Mount Rushmore along with the other members of the Big Three. Though Nicklaus would go on to have an even more successful decade in the 70s. Nicklaus still found enormous success in the 1960s with 7 major championship wins in the 60s. Couple those wins within the fact that Nicklaus was still in the spring of his career, and you have, in my opinion, a worthy third face atop the great monument.
The first three places were pretty set in stone, and as such this proved to be the hardest choice. Though Slammin’ Sammy’s heyday may have been in the decade prior, he was still a force to be reckoned with in the 1960s. It was never going to be easy to content in a decade that belonged to the Big Three, but Sam made his presence known with seven top-10 finishes at majors in the 60s, including third-place results at the 1960 PGA Championship and 1963 Masters (two strokes back each time). He was the U.S. captain at the 1969 Ryder Cup.
The career of the Kansas City native truly blossomed in the 1970s with 22 wins in a six year span starting in 1974 with the Western Open. In that decade, he won three major championships and he was awarded PGA player of the year for three straight years from 1977 to 1979.
Making his second appearance on this list as the second face adorning the 1970s Mount Rushmore of golf, is Gary Player. With 11 winsand four major championships, Player was behind all but two other golfers in the 1970s. Which brings me to…
In the 1970s, the Texas-native Trevino was tied with Tom Watson for overall number of PGA Tour titles with 22. He also matched Gary Player in number of majors with four. Trevino won the 1971 U.S Open, the 1971 British Open, the 1972 British Open and the 1974 PGA. He is arguably the greatest Hispanic player of all time.
It should come as no surprise that the Golden Bear not only takes the last spot on the 1970s monument, but takes the spot as the MVP of the 1970s. With 38 titles and eight majors in the decade, he achieved more in this time than some accomplished players manage in a whole career. He was the leading PGA Tour money winner 5 times and he was the PGA player of the year 4 times. The 1970s belonged to Jack Nicklaus.
English born Sir Nick Faldo, who was officially the top ranked golfer in the world for a total of 97 weeks, was one of the most dominant golfers of the 1980s. He may have only won 2 PGA Tours within the decade, but he won seven times that many in Europe. He represented Europe in every Ryder Cup of the decade and is still regarded as the greatest player for either side in the history of the competition. He played in 11 Ryder Cups over his career and holds the record for most matches and most points.
We’re beginning to see a pattern here. Although Nicklaus’ career apex came in the two previous decades, he still maintained himself as one of the best golfers on the planet during the 1980s, winning five PGA Tour events and three majors. Who could forget his remarkable win at the 1986 Masters in Augusta? His dramatic and historic one-stroke victory made him the oldest winner in Masters history at 46. This may just be one guy’s opinion, but it would be remiss of me to not give Jacky Baby yet another place on this list, based on what he achieved and continued to achieve.
The late great Spanish native, Seve Ballesteros, had tremendous success in the 1980s. He won seven times on the PGA Tour in the 80s but made his biggest mark in Europe. To this day, he remains as the all-time leading player in Europe, with 50 career wins. Seve won four of his five majors in the 1980s and spent 61 weeks at the end of the decade as the world’s top ranked player. He was also a regular fixture for Europe on the Ryder Cup team, scoring 22.5 points for his team over the years.
Closing out the Mount Rushmore for the best golfers of the 1980s, we have only one place to stop. If the 1970s belonged to Jack Nicklaus, then the 1980s belonged to Tom Watson. The World Golf Hall of Famer had 19 wins and five majors in the decade. As well as the five major titles, he finished in the top five on eight other occasions, with four of those five being second place finishes. For the entire decade, he was either there and there abouts at the pinnacle of golf. Even for all the majors he won, it could have been so many more, had it not been for fractional errors. Easily one of the top 10 golfers in history, Watson made bad weather play his bread and butter and could be argued as one of the greatest link players ever.
Some might argue, as this writer does, that the 1990s were a bit of a dark age for golf. There were many fantastic players, but there were few, if any truly great golfing superstars that were made in that particular decade alone. That is to say, the 60s had the Big Three, the 70s had Nicklaus and the 80s had Ballesteros. Each decade had a handful of superstars that came to define the time because they were made within it. The 90s never quite had that, until Tiger Woods came along.
With two majors and 17 titles in just over three seasons, Tiger Woods proved immediately that he was the new face of golf. He dragged golf into a new age of bumper TV ratings and won the 1997 Masters with a margin of 12 strokes. This dominating victory put the 21 year old on the map.
Possessing one of the finest and most fluid swings in all of golf, the Big Easy won 3 major tours and claimed 40 victories in the 1990s. The South African became the first foreign player in almost 100 years to win the U.S Open twice and won the European player of the year in 1994. Though Els best years were still to come, it would nonetheless be difficult to argue that Els certainly staked his claim as one of the best golfers of the 1990s.
The man from Zimbabwe ripped through the competition in 1993 and 1994, winning the 1993 Players, the 1994 British Open and the 1994 PGA Championship. Many may not consider the Players a major, but nonetheless it tests every single shot in a golfer’s locker. In addition to that Price notched up 40 of his 50 professional victories by the end of the 1990s. He was named the PGA Player of the year in 1993 and 1994 and also was named the PGA Tour Player of the Year in the same two years.
Faldo not only notched up 40 victories and five major championships during the 1990s, but he was also granted the honour of Sir. Nick Faldo was on top of his game in the 1990s and was playing some of the best golf of his career. In the 1980s, he was one of the best players in the decade. But as the 80s gave way to the 90s, it could be argued that Nick Faldo was the player of the decade.
Surprised? I didn’t think so. During the first decade of the new millennium, Tiger Woods cemented his place as not only the best player of the decade, but in some camps he cemented his place as the best player in the history of the game. Picking up where he left off in at the back end of the 1990s, Woods achieved 56 PGA wins and 12 majors over the course of the decade. Apart from 2004 and 2008, Woods was named PGA Player of the Year every year of the from 2000 to 2009. Tiger Woods won everything there was to win during the 2000s and brought golf into the new millennium and made it one of the most watched sports in the world. Tiger transcended golf to become arguably the most recognisable sportsman in the world. Much can be said and has been said about Tiger’s contribution to not only golf but sports in general, but let’s just sum it up by saying Tiger Woods was, undisputedly, the best player of the 2000s. He takes his place on the Mount Rushmore of 2000’s golf, but he will also take his rightful place on the Mount Rushmore of golf, period.
Phil Mickelson is the Cristiano Ronaldo to Tiger Wood’s Lionel Messi. In any other time period, in any other decade, he would have been on top of the world. But unfortunately for Lefty, for whatever success he has had, and it has been substantial, he was just in the right place at the wrong time. That being said, Mickelson was still one of the stand-out players of the decade with 24 wins and three majors. He came into the decade as perhaps the best player never to win major and finished up the decade with a very impressive record and a worthy name in the Golf Hall of Fame.
The Big Fijian enjoyed a bonfire Indian summer during the 2000s. Already in his 40s, he was one of the very few players to break Tiger Woods’ anaconda-like grip on the PGA Player of the Year, having held the number 1 spot for 32 weeks between 2004 and 2005. In 2004 especially, he was arguably, albeit briefly, the best player in the world. With 26 wins and 2 major championships to his name, a Hall of Fame induction in 2006 and 3 years as the leading PGA Tour money winner, Big Daddy V was one of the leading names and best players in a decade which was always going to be dominated by one man.
This was a difficult one. But just ahead of Retief Gooson, Padraig Harrington and Jim Furyk, I decided to go, for a second time, with The Big Easy (still the best nickname in all of golf by the way). Winning 1 major and amassing 9 tour wins, Els was part of the fabled ‘Big Four’ that dominated the first half of the decade.
So there you have it: the Mount Rushmore for every complete decade since 1960. You may be asking why there is no Mount Rushmore for the 2010’s thus far but that, in my humble opinion, is best left for another day.
After all, Rory McIlroy been the dominant force up until the last three years, but who is to say someone else won’t take the second half from his grasp? So until 2019, that question will remain unanswered, by me at least.
We have only one place left to go, and that is, as I’m sure you might have been wondering, who would make the final four?
The ultimate foursome of greatness and legend.
Who makes the final Mount Rushmore of golf? The four greatest players since the 1960s based on a winning ratio? Well we think it may be something along these lines…
- Arnold Palmer – 6 majors from 43 wins. Player of the 1960s.
- Jack Nicklaus – 8 majors from 38 wins. Player of the 1970s.
- Tom Watson – 5 majors from 19 wins. Player of the 1980s.
- Tiger Woods – 12 majors from 56 wins. Player of the 2000s.
So there you have it. The Mount Rushmore of golf from the 1960s onwards.
If you disagree then tell us how you feel in the comment section below, who would be on your Mount Rushmore of golf?