Since the early 1960’s, and concurrent with the rise in professionalism of the game of golf, the four Majors have taken on a far greater significance than in earlier years and the quality of the fields has simultaneously deepened.
This period, the past 50 years, is thus the focus of this article.
What does winning a Major mean?
In short, a lot!
Apart from the tangible rewards, a Major win is a career-definer that can somehow lift an otherwise average player to a higher level in our estimation and regard. Conversely, the absence of a Major victory on a player resumé causes us to mentally downgrade players a notch in comparison with a Major winner of similar ability.
For example, Louis Oosthuizen struggles to win golf tournaments outside South Africa, yet we regard him more highly than, say, DA Points who won the Houston Open earlier this year and the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am in 2011. In fact, Louis has not won outside South Africa since DA’s Feb2011 win at Pebble!
As mentioned above, there are tangible rewards as well – both on and off the course.
A Major win brings a not only a huge tournament payday and extra ranking points and thus increased future opportunity at the highest levels, but also 5-year exemptions and enhanced off-course endorsement and incentive earnings.
I’d be surprised if every player’s club, ball and apparel contracts didn’t contain ‘Major-Booster’ clauses with escalated payments arising from a Major win.
Contenders for this Unwanted Title
Phil Mickelson used to wear this title during an early career that included 22 PGA Tour wins and zero Majors. Though he won the Tuscon Open in 1991, he didn’t secure his first Major until 2004 at age 32 after six runners-up and plenty of heartache.
Tom Kite, too, used to be an ‘unwanted title’ contender but finally got the monkey off his back at age 42 after 62 winless Majors in a row. Incidentally. Westwood & Garcia are both around the 60 mark now and both winless!
Colin Montgomerie, with 5xMajor 2nd’s and 10xTop10’s has always rated mention in this context and surely he has a strong case. No player in all of golf history who has never won a Major has as many second places as Monty’s five.
During the period under consideration, the Poulter-level sartorially colourful Doug Sanders is a contender with 20 PGA titles and four Major 2nd’s, including that famous 72nd-hole 3-foot miss which would have won him the 1970 Open Championship.
Like Sanders, Bruce Crampton has four runners-up in Majors while among current players, Sergio Garcia & Thomas Bjorn have three. Sergio has a massive 18xMajor Top10’s and I couldn’t find anybody to top that; he’s still only 33 years old!
Bruce Crampton probably often wished during his peak years that Jack Nicklaus had never been born, finishing runner-up to Jack in Majors no less than 4 times! Crampton won 42 times in his career including: 14 PGA titles and, more recently, 20 Champions Tour wins.
Since Monty’s peak years, Sergio Garcia & Lee Westwood have been most often mentioned and in a Euro context one might also consider Luke Donald, Thomas Bjorn, Miguel Angel Jimenez, Henrik Stenson or, from earlier European days, Sam Torrance, Mark James, Mark McNulty & Graham Marsh.
Then there are the best asians such as: Masashi “Jumbo” Ozaki with 113 career wins and 3xMajor Top10’s from infrequent appearances, Isao Aoki with 77 career wins and five Major Top10’s, KJ Choi or Shingo Katayama.
And one only needs to scan US players with Zero Majors to uncover plenty of class and quality in the form of: Brandt Snedeker, Dustin Johnson, Bruce Lietzke, Hunter Mahan, Steve Stricker, Kenny Perry, Matt Kuchar, etc.
It’s a mixture of wins against quality fields, consistent contention in Majors without winning and overall ability as a golfer.
Applying those criteria, I arrived at the following:
My Top 5 (Best players never to win a Major) are:
1. Sergio Garcia
2. Doug Sanders
3. Colin Montgomerie
4. Steve Stricker
5. Lee Westwood
Cheers and good luck with your golf punting!