When Brooks Koepka eased to victory at the 2023 USPGA Championship he struck a huge blow for the LIV circuit. However, on a personal note, the Floridian took a giant leap towards the pantheon of golf’s greatest-ever players by moving from four wins in major championships to five: one small step numerically, one giant leap for Koepka.
His success at Oak Hill saw him move past players such as Rory McIlroy, Ernie Else and Bobby Locke, and level with Seve Ballesteros, Peter Thomson and Byron Nelson. However, whilst Koepka may have more major titles to his name than almost any other player that is still currently active, in terms of players with the most majors ever he still has a long, long way to go. One more win would move him level with Nick Faldo, Phil Mickelson and Lee Trevino but the 33-year-old would need at least two to really be able to consider himself among the true legends of the sport.
7 Majors – Vardon, Jones, Sarazen, Snead, Palmer
The list of golfers to have claimed seven majors during their careers is one that any player would be proud to join. Harry Vardon is the only man on that list to have a grip named after him and whilst his achievements are perhaps somewhat overlooked, having occurred over 100 years ago, there is no doubting his brilliance. The Jersey-born ace claimed six Opens (a record haul) and the 1900 US Open.
The other four players with seven majors are all American: Bobby Jones, Gene Sarazen, Sam Snead and Arnold Palmer. Vardon’s in pretty good company, right? Of those, Sarazen is the only one to have claimed the career Grand Slam, one of only five players to have done so. That is a goal being chased by Rory, Jordan Spieth and Mickelson, who are all just one win away, but in terms of overall major titles, there are levels and there are levels.
8 Majors – Tom Watson
American legend Watson stands alone with eight majors to his name, the bulk of those coming at the Open. The Brit-loving links ace won five Open Championships and, amazingly, came so close to lifting a sixth at the age of 59 but missed an eight-foot putt at the last and then went down in a play-off. That near-miss came almost three decades after his last major and the USPGA is the only big one missing from Watson’s incredible CV.
9 Majors – Ben Hogan and Gary Player
Both of these golfers have completed the career Grand Slam, Hogan collecting his nine majors between 1946 and 1953 and Player from 1959 to 1978. Both were just one win away from the double career Slam, the former only having a single Open to his name and the latter only winning the US equivalent once.
11 Majors – Walter Hagen
The US Masters was not founded until 1934, when Hagen was in his 40s. He competed at Augusta six times but was unable to win the green jacket and it is this that stops him boasting the career Grand Slam. Even so, the New York native won 11 majors between 1914 and 1929 and would surely have won a Masters had he been born just a few years later. He was also a talented baseball player – a pitcher – but he will be remembered for his five USPGA titles (including four in a row from 1924), four Open victories and two US Opens.
15 Majors – Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods could yet add to his tally – writing him off has often been a bad call in the past. But even if he doesn’t, there are many who believe he is the greatest golfer to have ever played the game. For many years it seemed almost certain that he would accumulate more major titles than anyone but personal issues and injuries put paid to that.
No player has won more PGA Tour titles than the American, whilst he is third in terms of wins on the European Tour. For a period of time either side of the millennium he seemed almost unbeatable and would go into golf tournaments priced at the ridiculous odds of 2/1 – or even shorter. He spent 683 weeks as the number one player in the world and some of his performances seemed to defy belief.
There are too many to mention but obvious ones include his 12-stroke victory at the Masters in 1997, when he claimed his first major aged just 21; his win at the 2000 US Open where he was fully 15 shots clear of the field; or his triumph at the 2008 US Open where he famously won “on one leg”.
His “Tiger Slam” of 2000/2001 saw him win four majors in a row and he won two or more in four separate seasons. In all Tiger currently has five Masters, three US Opens, three Opens and four USPGA titles to his name. Where did it all go wrong, Tiger?
18 Majors – Jack Nicklaus
Records are there to be broken and few last forever but with the uncertainty surrounding the future of golf right now there is a chance that Jack Nicklaus’s incredible haul of 18 major titles will never be bettered. The Golden Bear collected his majors between 1962 and 1986, that incredible span created by his 1986 US Masters triumph at the age of 46. His full “trophy cabinet” at the majors can be seen below:
- 6 US Masters – 1963, 1965, 1966, 1972, 1975, 1986
- 5 US PGA Championships – 1963, 1971, 1973, 1975, 1980
- 4 US Opens – 1962, 1967, 1972, 1980
- 3 Open Championships – 1966, 1970, 1978
Nicklaus was born in Ohio in 1940 and was a decent basketball player as a youth, although a fine all-rounder who competed in a range of sports. However, by 12 he was a superb golfer, breaking 70 at his local club aged 13 and playing off +3 before he was 14. It rapidly became clear just how good he could be but he didn’t turn pro until 1961.
Overall he didn’t win as many tournaments as Woods and tended to focus on and excel at the majors. As well as his 18 major wins, Nicklaus also finished in the top three (including ties) a further 27 times! That astonishing consistency is far ahead of anything even Tiger achieved and given Nicklaus was competing against the likes of Palmer, Player, Watson and Trevino during his career, his place as the GOAT is well and truly confirmed. Sorry Tiger fans.