Phil Changed History

Phil Changed History

By Bradley Turner Keiser University College of Golf Director of Online Golf Instruction – MBA, PGA

Phil Mickelson has changed the history books with his PGA Championship victory at Kiawah Island. At the age of 50 years and 11 months, he is now the oldest player ever to win a major championship eclipsing Julius Boros’s previous record of 48 years and 4 months. Father time took a beating from Phil as he proved he had the length off the tee to win on the longest golf course in major championship history. On Sunday, he hit the longest drive of the day on the 16th hole, a 366-yard bomb that helped propel him to an easy birdie. His victory has brought life to the smoldering embers of his place in golf history. The pundits have begun to discuss the possibility of Phil cracking the list of the top 10 golfers of all-time. Thus far, no golf expert wants to put him in this illustrious group. I beg to differ.

Criteria for Greatness

The major championships are the most important tournaments in professional golf. Quantifying the level of importance is arbitrary as there are so many factors that can influence the outcome. Some pundits are biased toward the greatness of golfers in the early era of golf. Young Tom Morris won the British Open three consecutive years and then added a fourth Open title. For a short period of time, he played the best golf in the world, but his career was cut short by his untimely death at the age of 24. Bobby Jones may have been the best player of his era, winning seven professional major championships and six amateur titles. Even in those days, the best players in the world were professional golfers, so it is difficult to measure Bobby’s record against the all-time greats. He also retired from competitive golf at the young age of 28. What could have been for Young Tom Morris and Bobby Jones is not the same thing as what did happen. In the end, the scoreboard tells the story of a career worthy of a top 10 list.

Winning tournaments is the core motivation for world-class players. The value of a PGA tour win may not measure up to that of a major championship victory, but it is very important in a professional career. The following list of the top 10 players of all-time is based on the data of professional victories. The major championships have been the focus of so many of the great players that the value of a major title is five times more important than a regular PGA tour win. By looking at the results of these criteria for greatness, the list is very accurate. This is a pragmatic look at the greats in history without the bias of era and personal favorites.


The only asterisk to this list is that of the great Gary Player. He amassed an amazing 160 professional victories in his career. He competed all around the world and won everywhere he played.

His greatness value score does not include all of his international victories. His rank, however, is appropriately included in the all-time great list.

Professional Majors PGA Tour Wins Greatness Value
1. Jack Nicklaus 18 73 145
2. Tiger Woods 15 82 142
3. Sam Snead 7 82 110
4. Ben Hogan 9 64 100
5. Arnold Palmer 7 62 90
6. Walter Hagen 11 45 89
7. Gary Player 9 24 60**
8. Byron Nelson 5 52 72
9. Tom Watson 8 39 71
10. Phil Mickelson 6 45 59

The Case for Phil

Since Phil made the top 10 list, who did he knock off the list? Gene Sarazen drops to the eleventh spot with 7 major titles and 38 PGA tour wins, a greatness value of 68. Gene Sarazen is one of only five golfers to win the career grand slam. The greatness criteria will not put more value on one major championship over the other. The data simply suggests that Phil has just edged out the Squire in all-time greatness. For those that will argue that the career grand slam is an ultimate achievement in a professional golf career, I would add that being the oldest player in history to win a major championship is a pretty cool achievement too.

Phil has also competed for most of his career against Tiger Woods. Except for Tiger, any of Phil’s contemporary players fall significantly behind him in greatness value. These players are likely to never win again on the PGA Tour, including Vijay Singh with a greatness value of 46 and Ernie Els at 35. The current superstars have a long way to go to reach Phil. Rory McIlroy (age 32) has a greatness value of 35, Dustin Johnson (age 36) has a value of 32, and Jordan Spieth (age 27) is next at 24. With so many great young professional golfers, ascending the all-time list for these three is much more difficult than in previous eras.

With Phil earning an exemption into the majors for the next five years, there is a possibility that he could pass Tom Watson and Byron Nelson with one more major victory. Last week, I would have thought it was not a possibility, but I clearly misjudged the greatness of Phil Mickelson.

If you’d like to study with Bradley Turner and other PGA Master Professionals, contact the College of Golf today.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Comments are moderated. If you don't see your comment, please be patient. Required fields are marked with *.