Many people are called the “G.O.A.T” (greatest of all time) for golf, and it is a hotly-contested question. However, there can only be one G.O.A.T., and research can prove who that is.
Many different players have been suggested as the G.O.A.T., but here, we will look at the top three names that are mentioned the most frequently; Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, and Tiger Woods.
There will be three categories: statistics, winning, and impact on the game.
The Case for Arnold Palmer
Statistically, Palmer has one of the best careers in the history of the game. In addition to having 62 total victories on the PGA tour, Palmer has 38 second-place finishes, 27 third-place finishes, and a total of 245 top-10 finishes overall. Palmer also had played in 703 total events and made the cut in 543 of them, leading to a cuts-made success rate of around 77-percent. And if that wasn’t enough, Palmer also shot a career-low round of 62 during the 1959 Thunderbird Classic.
Aside from statistics, Palmer was also a winner on the golf course. He had 62 PGA Tour victories, 11 International victories, and nine of what the PGA Tour calls “additional” victories, leading to 82 total victories. Palmer also has several comeback victories, including a five-shot, come-from-behind victory in which he shot a final-round 62 to win the aforementioned 1959 Thunderbird Classic.
Most famously, he came from seven shots back at the start of the final round to win the U.S. Open in 1960. In addition to that U.S. Open win, Palmer also has a total of seven major championships; four Masters, two British Opens, and one US Open. When you include this alongside his 62 PGA Tour victories, it makes for an impressive resume.
However, Palmer’s impact on the game extends beyond just his accomplishments on the course. Whether it’s Palmer declaring the Open a major, and thus creating the quartet of major championships we all know and love today, or creating the iconic beverage named after him.
Many tour players idolize Palmer, and for good reason. The Arnold Palmer Invitational, held at Palmer’s beloved course of Bay Hill, has a purse of nearly $10 million, and it is one of the favorite events on the tour for many. After adding all of these things up, it is clear to see that Palmer has made a large impact on the game, and makes a great case to be the G.O.A.T.
The Case for Tiger Woods
Although Woods is at a slight disadvantage when it comes to stats, as his playing career is not over, he has certainly held his own, statistically-speaking. Woods has 31 career second-place finishes, 19 third-place victories, and 199 career top-10 victories. Woods has also raked in a massive $120,660,780 career earnings, according to the PGA Tour, which ranks first among all golfers. If that wasn’t enough, Woods has played in 361 career events and has made the cut in 328 of them, leading to a cuts-made success rate of nearly 91-percent, which is better than the other two players on this list.
However, statistics are not the only category in which Woods has been successful. His most noteworthy accomplishments in the winning category are likely his 82 PGA Tour wins, which is tied for first among all players alongside Sam Snead. Woods has also won 12 international events, and 14 additional victories. Woods has also won 15 major championships, which is second on the all-time list behind only Nicklaus.
Woods also has a career-low round of 61, shot at the 2013 Bridgestone WGC Invitational. However, perhaps his most notable victory was the 2000 U.S. Open. In this event, Woods put on a clinic, winning the tournament by a record-breaking 15 strokes, and truly put his name on the map, where it has remained for 20 years.
However, like his fellow G.O.A.T candidates, Woods has also made a prominent impact off the course as well. Most notably, his electric style of play has increased the media coverage and prize money on the PGA Tour. For example, in the 2000 U.S. Open which Woods dominated, the winner received $800,000. In this year’s open, held at Winged Foot, the winner will receive $2.25 million. Woods has also established the TGR Foundation, which has served over 175,000 students for education.
The Case for Jack Nicklaus
The Golden Bear has long been considered one of the greatest in the sport, and statistically, his career reflects that. Nicklaus has 73 total victories on the PGA tour, but he also has 58 second-place finishes, 34 third-place finishes, and a total of 286 top-10 finishes. Additionally, Nicklaus also finished with the lowest scoring average eight times throughout his career, and he was the runner-up six times. Nicklaus also has played in 584 total events and has made the cut in 495 of them, leading to a cuts-made success rate of nearly 85-percent.
Statistics aside, Nicklaus has a winning career that is arguably better than even Palmer’s. Not only does Nicklaus have the aforementioned 73 PGA Tour wins, but he also has 20 international victories and 19 additional victories.
However, some of the most successful winning Nicklaus has done has been in major championships. He has won a whopping 18 major championships, which is a record among all players all-time, and he has also won six Masters championships, which is also first all-time among all players.
However, one of those victories stands out among all others. In his age-46 season, Nicklaus shot a 65 in the final round at Augusta in 1986, including a 30 (-6) on the back nine, to win the tournament by one. When you add all of these things together, it is clear that Nicklaus’s resume is certainly worthy of the G.O.A.T. title.
Just like Palmer, however, Nicklaus’s impact on the game of golf extends far beyond the course. That 1986 Masters will forever live on as the stuff of legend, but that’s not all. Through his company Nicklaus Design, Nicklaus has designed over 410 golf courses around the world, including Harbour Town Golf Links in Hilton Head, SC, (along with Pete Dye) and Manele Golf Course in Maui, Hawaii.
Additionally, Nicklaus has established the Nicklaus Children’s Health Care Foundation, which as so far raised over $100 million for pediatric advancements. When you combine all of these things together, Nicklaus certainly has a fantastic career and is absolutely one of a select few names that are worthy of consideration to be the G.O.A.T.
The Verdict: Jack Nicklaus
While all players are certainly eligible for G.O.A.T. status, The Golden Bear has proved to be the most worthy. Whether it be his heroic victory at the ’86 Masters, his record 18 major championships, or his worldwide impact on the game, Jack Nicklaus is the rightful recipient of the highest award in golf; the Greatest of All Time.