Best Player Never To Win a Major? Here’s a new class of major ‘winners’ to debate

August 8, 2017

Sergio Garcia, noted killjoy, has taken all the fun out of the Best Player Never To Win a Major debate. His breakthrough at the Masters eliminated Garcia from the conversation and leaves behind a tepid crew that, frankly, is not worthy of the dreaded title: Rickie Fowler, 28, is too callow and hasn’t had his heart broken often enough. And Lee Westwood, 44, is years past his prime and employs such a wounded short-game that it’s hard to imagine he can ever break the curse. So I’ve decided to move on from the BPNTHWAM debate and create my own major-centric categories.

Worst Player to Have Won a Major

So many strong candidates! Jack Fleck is often cited as the archetype of the fluky major champion, but the Hogan-slayer actually won two PGA Tour events after the ’55 U.S. Open. Todd Hamilton gets some consideration, but he won 11 times in Japan, which is not nothing. No, we have to go with Shaun Micheel, whose out-of-nowhere win at the 2003 PGA Championship remains his only Tour victory, and for the rest of his career he finished better than 22nd in a major only once.

Best Player With Only One Major

This is an elegant way of identifying golf’s biggest underachiever. It’s somewhat astonishing how many Hall of Famers won only one measly major: Fred Couples, Roberto De Vicenzo, Tom Kite, Davis Love, Ken Venturi, Lanny Wadkins and Ian Woosnam, to say nothing of other great players not in the Hall, like Lloyd Mangrum, Tom Weiskopf, Hal Sutton, Jim Furyk and sundry others. But for my money, nobody has ever done less with more than Couples, an uber-talent who seemed to find more joy in sitting on his couch than winning tournaments.

Most Underrated Achievement in the Majors

That would be Karrie Webb’s Super Slam. The definition of a major championship is more fluid than the casual fan might realize. Bobby Jones’s Grand Slam included the U.S. and British Amateurs, which were a huge deal in his day but not so much anymore. Similarly, one former LPGA major is now defunct: the du Maurier Classic. But Webb won it in 1999 and then went on to triumph at the Dinah Shore, Women’s British, Women’s U.S. Open, and Women’s PGA Championship, making her the only woman to win five different majors. Of course, that might change now that the Evian Championship has been granted major championship status.

Best Player(s) to Have Been Screwed By Major Championship Bureaucrats

This is a tie between Gary Player and Ben Hogan. Player won three Senior Open Championships before the Champions Tour began recognizing them as majors. They still don’t count toward his career tally of senior-circuit majors, which stands at six. Much was made of Bernhard Langer recently winning his “record” ninth senior major, which includes two Senior Open Championships. Player was rightfully pissed. Meanwhile, in 1942, the USGA put on a wartime tournament called the Hale American National Open. It had all the accoutrements of the U.S. Open, with 69 sites of local qualifying and a gold medal for the winner, Hogan, which was identical to the four he was given for winning the, uh, U.S. Open. The Hawk went to his grave insisting he had won five U.S. Opens, and he had an ardent supporter in acclaimed sports writer Dan Jenkins. But the USGA, and history, haven’t agreed.

Worst Player With Two Major Wins

This is the ultimate good news/bad news category. Hey, you’ve won two majors! But that’s about all you’ve won. John Daly has a mere five PGA Tour career wins, but since one came at the Old Course, he gets a pass. Angel Cabrera has only three Tour wins but has been prolific in Europe, Asia and especially South America. No, the choice here is Andy North, whose two U.S. Open victories, in 1978 and ’85, comprise two-thirds of his lifetime win total. As with most of the folks in this column, we offer our both congratulations and condolences.