Monday, July 22, 2013

Muirfield Miracle? No, Just Phil Being Phil.

EDIT: These rankings are mostly done so on career victories with weighting on major championships.  The rankings could be a little more fluid based on important/relevance on golf as a whole, but I think as the rankings stand they're fairly solid.

Phil Mickelson's three shot victory at Muirfield is not only a touchstone on the man's career, it is a jumping off point at which the player has cemented himself as one of the ten best golfers of all time.

The question now, is, "How great is Phil Mickelson?"  As far as fan support goes, Phil ranks in the top five and maybe is only outdone by the man himself, Arnold Palmer.

But realistically, where does this win rank Phil?  Statistically, it doesn't rank him that much higher - now standing at 6 major victories Phil is currently tied for all time with Nick Faldo and Lee Trevino.  We're going to dig a little deeper, though, because Phil's legend transcends not only himself, but the actual all time rankings.

To look at this objectively, we have to start at the top.  Jack Nicklaus is the greatest golfer of all time.  Until Tiger takes over his major victory total, there is no argument.  A concession could be made that Tiger will no doubt surpass Sam Snead's career win total of 82 (that IS a record that will fall without question) but until Tiger gets to 19 majors, Jack's place at number 1 is not at risk.

So that makes Tiger the indubitable number 2.  Here's where things get a LITTLE hairy.  Walter Hagen stands at 11 major championships.  11.  That's pretty freaking crazy.  If Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods did not exist, the entire golfing world would be touting Hagen as the greatest of all time.  Why?  The man also owns 45 worldwide victories.  I've been trying my whole life to say that Hagen is unworthy of being the 3rd greatest golfer of all time - but how can I do that?

The answer is fairly easy - Ben Hogan.  9 major championships, and 68 professional titles.  If any golfer is deserving of being called the third greatest golfer of all time it's Hogan.  Not only did the man have his entire body crushed in a car accident to the point that doctors said he wouldn't walk again, the man went out and won The Open Championship months after getting back in to game shape.  Hogan is virtually the most prolific golfer of all time - Tiger's athleticism and mental fortitude, and Jack's clinical approach and innate talent are the only things that trump the dig it out of the ground work ethic of Hogan.  If Hogan never got hurt, there may be nothing that could have stopped him being number 1.  That's an incredibly bold statement, but not without merit.

So we have our top four - I'll keep Hagen in there.  Here on out LOOKS like it gets even more dicey.  But it doesn't.  Gary Player owns 9 major victories - and 168 worldwide titles!  168.  Let that sink in.  What have you done 165 times that ranks as something resembling victory.  No, that doesn't count.  Palmer and Hogan were touted as the Americans that brought relevance to The Open Chamionship - Player brought golf to the masses, read: the entire world.  I'm not touting golf importance outside of wins in these rankings, but Player transcends all of that.  The man won everywhere he went.

Sixth goes to Tom Watson.  8 major championships and 70 career wins.  A hero's haul if ever there could be.  But man, how many more could he have had?  Answer: A LOT. If the man's putting didn't go south faster than an unladen swallow from the kingdom of Camelot the man could have at least three more majors and countless other wins.  That's not that he's "relegated" to sixth, it's just that his resume is so good that this is just where he lands.  Personally, he's one of my favorite golfers of all time, and as long as his career has lasted, highlighted by his finish at The Open four years ago, there's no doubt that his place is cemented.

The list gets a little more fluid here - we're now talking about those players that won seven major championships, and there are arguments to be had.  I'm going to put Arnold Palmer at number seven on the list, and not just for his importance in the history, nay pantheon of golf.  I haven't spoken of the career grand slam yet, because it hasn't been necessary.  But if Arnold won that one U.S. Open, and gotten to 8 major championships, he'd most likely be sitting at sixth, MAYBE better, but probably not.  Arnold had 95 total wins, and would surpass Gary Player to get to fifth, no doubt, if his importance as the man that brought golf to the masses was the criteria for this list.  Alas, it is not.  Irregardless, the man is an all time legend.

Eighth goes to Sam Snead - the man owns the most PGA tour wins with 82, which will most certainly be surpassed by Tiger, but also owns seven majors, and arguably owns the most athletic and beautiful swing of all time.  Sam Snead played professionally well in to his golden years, winning his last PGA tour title at the Greater Greensboro Open at the age of 52.  The man's longevity and indisputable talent make him a solid eighth of all time.

So we come to Phil - this seems like a tough road to hoe, but it's not.  The man has battled in the new golden age of golf to be second only to Tiger, and to pull himself up to this point on the list.  I hesitate to keep the man after him down as low as he is, but in numbers alone, and sheer talent, Phil is a solid number 9.  I have conspicuously ignored discussing the Career Slam, if only to try to ignore Phil's SIX U.S. Open runner up finishes.  I can not ignore it anymore.  If Phil were to win the U.S. Open, and get major number 6 to go with his 51 career wins, it's most probably that he overtakes Snead and MAYBE even Palmer.  The disparity in talent that Phil has defeated vs. Arnold in his early days and Snead during his career makes that a very compelling argument.

#10 - Bobby Jones - I HATE to downrank him so far - he is the model of a champion, and a man who chose to compete as an amateur when his talent could have made him an all time great.  Bobby Jones won the Grand Slam - even though the modern grand slam is different, Bobby Jones was the first to do it, winning both US and British amateurs and opens in a calendar year.  Bobby Jones CREATED The Masters.  Bobby Jones is a legend, and he would be higher if this was based on influence on the game of golf itself - but, frankly, so would others.

So there it is - a totally unscientific yet mostly subjective ranking of the ten greatest golfers of all-time.  I believe that Phil has a lot of work to do to get in to the top five, but I actually don't doubt that the possibility exists that he could still do so. Oak Hill looms large on the horizon, mostly for Tiger, but now also importantly for Phil, as he claims he's playing some of the best golf of his career.  For those who watch, it's difficult to doubt it, and it's difficult not to root for the man.

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