Beating a dead horse aside, the “who’s on your Mt. Rushmore of so-and-so” is always a fun topic. It has entertained barber shops, watering holes, break rooms, and internet blogs for years. Picking just 4 faces to be etched on a mountain for eternity is difficult, but you have to take in so many factors; not just the success they had in their given field. Were they an ambassador to their craft and did they help make it better? Here is my Mount Rushmore of this wonderful game we call golf. (No horses were harmed during the writing of this paragraph).
Bobby Jones – (9 professional wins, 7 majors) When Robert Tyre Jones Jr. was at his peak in the 20’s and 30’s, golf was more of an exhibition only played by the elite of the elite. As a matter of fact Jones never turned pro and played his entire career as an amateur. There just wasn’t much money in being a professional in those days, and his day job was practicing law as a lawyer. However, he won 9 professional events including 4 U.S. Opens and 3 British Opens. Jones was also a 5-time U.S. Amateur champion, a record that will certainly never be broken, and he won the British Am in 1930. His home club was East Lake, just outside Atlanta where The Tour Championship is held every year. Jones also helped design Augusta National and co-founded a tournament called The Masters. I think you’ve heard of it. Ironically, his best finish there was a tie for 13th in 1934.
Arnold Palmer – (95 professional wins, 7 majors) The King made golf cool. He made it popular. He made it mainstream. Arnie reached his prime right when golf started to become televised more frequently. Arnie’s Army grew from coast to coast as he found himself in the game’s greatest rivalry with a young, blonde, pudgy kid from Columbus. Palmer had to fight off the endorsement offers with a stick, as he was the total package; Hollywood good looks, a swashbuckling swing that dropped jaws, and a smile that lit up every fairway and living room. Arnie also helped start The Golf Channel in 1995. He was the first golfer to win the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2004. The best thing about him was his heart and his kindness. He knew why he was afforded the lifestyle he had, and why he was able to make a wonderful living playing a sport he loved; the people. The fans. He signed autographs and took pictures till dark at every stop he made. He did this from his home in Latrobe until the day he passed. Course design was Arnie’s focal point during the last quarter of his life, and his home club Bay Hill still hosts the Arnold Palmer Invitational on the PGA Tour every March.
Jack Nicklaus – (117 professional wins, 18 majors) The Golden Bear is arguably the greatest of all time (the 4th guy on this list has a strong case). Jack also won 2 U.S. Amateurs to go along with his 18 majors, and finished 2nd as an amateur to Arnold Palmer at the 1960 U.S. Open. He is one of five players in history to with the career grand slam, and the oldest to win The Masters at age 46 in 1986. Nicklaus’ rivalry with Arnold Palmer is one of the greatest in sports history, but their friendship is just as legendary. The pair helped the PGA Tour split away from the PGA of America in 1969, thus launching the game to new heights for the remainder of the 20th century. He, along with Palmer, has designed hundreds of golf courses all over the globe, including Muirfield Village in Columbus, OH which hosts The Memorial every year. Nicklaus won the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005.
Tiger Woods – (108 professional wins, 15 majors) There aren’t enough words in the English language to effectively explain what Tiger has done for the game of golf, especially at the professional level. Eldrick Tiger Woods made golf front page news; cover of SI news; cover of USA Today news; lead-in to Sportscenter news. He became a billionaire athlete, something only he and good pal Michael Jordan share. The moment his winning 5 footer dropped at the 1997 Masters, golf changed forever. Corporations rung the PGA HQ phone off the hook to get a piece of sponsorship, and corporations rang Tiger’s phone off the hook to get an endorsement deal. Winning a million dollars in season earnings was monumental in the 90’s, unheard of years before that. Tiger became the first player to eclipse the 2 mil mark that 1997 season. In 2019, 113 players won a million dollars or more. First place checks went from 400,000 in the mid 90’s to over a million at each week’s tour stop. Tiger not only made golf relevant, he made it cool and solidified that it is indeed a sport. Athletes growing up that would normally turn to football or basketball, took up golf. Fitness trailers became the norm at every tour stop. Drives started going farther. Club heads got bigger. Shirts got tighter. He holds pretty much every scoring record you can fathom. The Tiger Woods Foundation started in 1996 by him and his father Earl, helps improve education, health, and wellness for children in the United States. This program has lead to the creation of labs, sports complexes, and schools. Tiger Woods was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2019.
Honorable mentions: Byron Nelson, Ben Hogan, Annika Sorenstam, Phil Mickelson, Gary Player
Enjoy the game and each other,
Written by Seth Zipay – Head Golf Professional
Published by Craig Walton