7 BYRON NELSON
Career victories: 54 Majors: 5
Peak years: 1937-46
You know the deal: He was the other Texan of the forties. Caddied at the same club as Hogan. Peaked before Hogan did. Quit young. Was he helped because a blood condition kept him out of World War II while guys like Hogan were spending years in the military?Sure. But during the 1940s, Nelson played in 133 tournaments and was in the top ten in every single one of them. Nelson won two Masters, two PGAs and a U.S. Open, and in 1945 Nelson put together the golf version of Joe DiMaggio's fifty-six-game hitting streak, winning an astounding eleven tournaments in a row.
On this list, you move way up if you did something nobody will ever do again. And nobody, not even Tiger, will ever roll that kind of eleven.
8 ARNOLD PALMER
Career victories: 80 Majors: 7
Peak years: 1956-69
Yeah, yeah, yeah. He blew that Open to Casper at Olympic. He missed the putt on the seventy-second hole at Pecan Valley—after the damnedest three-wood of his life—that would have tied Julius Boros and maybe finally won him the damn PGA. And he never really did squat in a major after Jack started being Jack. But in star power and income generated and building something to last, Arnold Palmer was the most important golfer of them all—and that includes Mr. Woods—even if he wasn't close to being the best.
He invented golf on television by the force of his personality. He reinvented the British Open; his presence made it a bigger deal than it had been when Jones or Hogan or Snead played it. In many ways, just by talking about it, Arnold invented the modern Grand Slam.
Arnold made everybody who came after him a whole lot richer. And he isn't just the best ambassador golf has ever had or ever will have, he's the five best ambassadors.
9 HARRY VARDON
Career victories: 68 Majors: 7
Peak years: 1896-1914
Start here: How many other guys have a grip named after them?He won six British Opens, starting in 1896. He came to America and won the 1900 U.S. Open. He nearly won two more of them, including the famous Open at Brookline in 1913, when Francis Ouimet beat Vardon and Ted Ray in a playoff, and he was still good enough to make a run at the Open of 1920. Vardon had been weakened by tuberculosis long before then; there were people who said that as well as he played over the last twenty years of his life, he was never really strong again. In that 1920 Open he lost seven shots in the last seven holes and Ray beat him.
Vardon grip, Vardon trophy. Who else has a double like that?Add it all up and Vardon is the greatest non-American golfer of all time.