You have no doubt heard the stories of hyperinflation in German in the early 1920s after World War I — no doubt heard how people would have to carry their money in wheelbarrows and suitcases and how a loaf of bread would cost you 200 billion marks.*
*You can only imagine how much Mach 3 razor blades cost.
In a weird way, that’s what Tiger Woods did to golf majors the last 10 or 15 years, at least for himself. On June 16, 2008, he won his 14th major championship … and the assumption was that he would not only break Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 but race by that record without even pausing to take pictures. Scott Michaux, the fine columnist for The Augusta Chronicle, predicted then that Woods would break Jack’s record at the very Masters that they are playing now, and that was a perfectly reasonable prediction at the time. Five majors? What is five majors to Tiger Woods?
Of course, a lot has happened to Tiger since that final round at the U.S. Open — surgery, scandal, swing changes, and so on. One thing that has not happened … he has not won a major championship. He still needs five major championships to get Nicklaus.
There are many who still expect him to get it. He might get it. He’s in contention here at Augusta after a spectacular Friday back nine — though Saturday he looked considerably less steady. Once you know Augusta and have conquered it, as Jack Nicklaus proved until he was well into his 50s, as Fred Couples proves often, you can contend here anytime, for a long time.
But the point here is not to once again rehash the Tiger Woods debate but instead to remember just how hard it is for everyone else to win even a single major championship. Tom Kite won one major. Lanny Wadkins won one major. Gene Littler … Robert De Vicenzo … there’s a reason I’m listing just these men: They are all in the golf Hall of Fame. Outside of the Hall of Fame, there are many others — too many to list — who have been great players, terrific players, and won just one major championship in their entire career: Fred Couples; Davis Love; Jim Furyk; Tommy Bolt; Ken Venturi; David Duval; Paul Azinger; Craig Stadler; Lloyd Mangrum; Tom Weiskopf; on and on and on.
Or you can put it another way: Other than Tiger Woods, the only golfers to start at this year’s Masters with multiple majors were Phil Mickelson (4), Vijay Singh (3), Ernie Els (3), Padraig Harrington (3), Retief Goosen (2), Angel Cabrera (2) and Jose Maria Olazabal (2). If you win one major championship, golf fans will never forget you. If you win two, you might be a golfing legend. If you win three, you ARE a legend.
And there are more than a few terrific golfers who never won a major. We are in the midst of an absolutely fascinating Masters weekend, with young golfers and old golfers, with Tiger roaring again, but the two guys who strike me now are semi-contenders Sergio Garcia and Lee Westwood because they have been wonderful golfers for a while now … and neither one has won a major championship. In fact, I feel quite sure that they are already two of the 10 best players to never win a major championship.
Which, of course, led to me making a list: The 10 best golfers to never win a major.
10. Norman Von Nida
He was an often overlooked star of golf … he grew up in Australia and came of age in his game just as World War II was raging. After the war ended, he came over to Europe and finished second in the Order of Merit. The following year, he led the Order of Merit. In 1948, he won the British Masters, the Australian PGA and he would win the Australian Open three times. He finished Top 6 in the British Open in 1946, ’47 and ’48 … his best finish was third.
He apparently had a famously hot temper … he once almost got into a fight with Henry Ransom during a tournament in Australia and the police had to be called in. He also was fairly well known for throwing his putters into the woods after they failed him on putts. But he lived to be 93 and generously gave time to young golfers in his later years.
9. Harvie Ward
He was one of the great amateur golfers ever — he won the British Amateur in 1952 and won back-to-back U.S. Amateurs in 1955 and 1956. He was low amateur at the Masters three times and at the U.S. Open once. He never lost a Walker Cup match. He also teamed up with Ken Venturi in a match against Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson in what Venturi would later call, “the best golf I’ve ever seen.”
Ward decided to stay an amateur through his prime — though a mixup briefly cost him his amateur status — but he did become a pro later, and he was Payne Stewart’s swing coach. He finished fourth at the Masters in 1957.
8. Jumbo Ozaki
He won more than 100 times around the world — 94 of those on the Japanese Tour — but he only played in a dozen major championships before he turned 40. He never really came close to winning a major championship (his best finish was sixth place at the 1989 U.S. Open) but in Japan he was widely viewed as unbeatable. He was a controversial figure in world golf, as best told in this classic story by John Garrity.
7. Bruce Crampton
Bruce Crampton won 14 times on the PGA Tour, and he twice won the Vardon trophy for lowest scoring average on the PGA Tour, though he is probably even better remembered for the four times he finished second in major championships. Why? Because he lost all four — 1972 Masters, 1972 U.S. Open, 1973 PGA Championship and 1975 PGA Championship — to Jack Nicklaus.
6. Steve Stricker
Here’s one for you: Steve Stricker is 11th all time on the PGA Tour money list. Obviously, the game has changed a lot, and the money has changed even more. Still … 11th.
Stricker has been one of the best players in the world the last few years; he was actually ranked second in the world to Tiger Woods at one point, and has been a staple in the Top 5 the last three years. He’s ranked seventh in the world now. There has long been a feeling that he would break through at a major. But after battling Vijay Singh on the final day at the PGA Championship in 1998, he really has not come particularly close to winning a major championship.
5. Macdonald Smith
You want to talk a rough time: Macdonald Smith won 24 times on the PGA Tour, and he finished in Top 10 in a major championship 17 times (even though the Masters won not even founded until he was 42 years old), and he never on a major championship. And that’s not even the bad part. The bad part is that two of his brothers, Willie and Alex, DID win major championships. They both won U.S. Opens. In fact, Mac lost in a playoff to his brother Alex.
Macdonald Smith had what many consider the best swing of the early part of the 20th Century. Ben Hogan was said to have studied in relentlessly.
4. Sergio Garcia
The thing about Sergio Garcia is that the year he turned 22, he finished in the Top 10 at all four major championships. He had been the youngest player to ever play at the Ryder Cup, and he teamed with Jesper Parnevik to win 3 1/2 points. He was such a phenom that winning majors did not just seem inevitable, he was in contention so often that is almost seemed like he already HAD won major championships.
Only, he hasn’t. He’s won seven times on the PGA Tour and eight more on the European Tour. He’s put up one of the greatest even Ryder Cup records. He’s finished Top 10 in major championships 15 times, including a playoff loss to Padraig Harrington at the Open. And his game is so inconsistent now, that even though he’s 31 years old there’s just no telling how his game will evolve over the next few years. He has had good moments at these Masters, but at last check he had fallen off the leaderboard.
3. Harry Cooper
Lighthorse Harry Cooper won 31 times on the PGA Tour — the most for any player who has not won a major championship. Part of it was just circumstance. He played in only one British Open and the Masters did not begin until he was in his 30s (though he did finish second, fourth and second in three straight Masters from 1936-38). He won the Western Open in 1934 when it really was considered a Major Championship.
He was nicknamed Lighthorse by Damon Runyon, who appreciated his speedy style of play (Runyon had watched Cooper play a round in 2 1/2 hours). He lived to be 96 years old, and in his later life life he became a pro in Hollywood where he taught golf to Bob Hope.
2. Lee Westwood
Westwood is the only player without a major championship who has spent some time ranked as the No. 1 player in the world. It has been an interesting career. He really emerged on the scene in 1998, when he won four times on the European Tour. He won three more times in 1999, and in 2000 he topped the European Order of Merit.
And then he lost his game. He missed nine cuts in majors from 2001 to 2006. He dropped way down in the rankings. He seemed to feel burned out, he tried a bunch swing changes, it certainly seemed like it would never come back.
And then … it came back. He won twice in 2007, twice more in 2009 — the year he again led the Order of Merit. He began contending at majors, finishing third at the 2009 British Open and PGA, and second at last year’s Masters and British Open.
And he moved up to No. 1 in the world — though, to be honest, nobody really understands or particularly likes the World Golf Rankings. He has won 33 times around the world. He is on the cusp of contention at the Masters this year, though nobody has talked much about him.
1. Colin Montgomerie
In making this list, there are many players — Adam Scott, Bruce Lietzke, Paul Casey, Darren Clarke, Doug Sanders, several others — who could have made the Top 10. But nobody else is even close to No. 1. Montgomerie led the Order of Merit eight times. Eight. He finished second at five major championships. He finished as one of the 10 best players in the world every year from 1994 to 2000, topping out, poetically, at No. 2.
There seemed something doomed about Monty, something difficult to capture. There are certain people in sports who just seem to have the Charlie Brown cloud over their heads, and Montgomerie had that. He battled with the tabloids. He said things that got him in trouble. He often looked on the golf course like he could use a hug. But more than anything, he could not finish the job at Royal Lytham when he led after 36 holes, he lost the U.S. Open at Winged Foot when he had the lead going into the 18th hole, he lost a U.S. Open playoff to Ernie Els and a PGA Championship playoff to Steve Elkington.
It is hard to call him a tragic figure because he’s one of the best golfers of the last 30 years. But it’s also hard to be, almost unquestionably, the best golfer never to win a major championship.