This week we celebrated the Fourth of July. America’s birthday. For us lucky ones, that meant special times with family. Cookouts. Get-togethers. Plenty of food and drink. And of course, our hometown proud Phantom Fireworks.
For golf purposes, I thought it would be fun to share my thoughts on who I consider to be on the Mount Rushmore of American golfers. And let me preface that these are just my opinions and not necessarily based on any stats or quantitative data.
Francis Ouimet — You can’t talk American golf without mentioning Francis Ouimet. The inspiration for the movie “The Greatest Game Ever Played,” Ouimet put American golf on the map by winning the 1913 U.S. Open over Brit superstars Ted Ray and Harry Vardon. A lifelong amateur who also won two U.S. Amateurs in his lengthy career, Ouimet let the world know that the Americans were ready to compete on the world stage.
Walter Hagen — If Ouimet put American golf on the map, Hagen was professional golf’s first true superstar. If you’re ever in the mood for great golf stories, go read about Walter Hagen. When professional golfers weren’t given the same benefits and opportunities as amateur golfers in the ‘20s, Hagen single-handedly moved the game forward. With expensive colorful hand-tailored clothes and a brash attitude, Hagen won 11 majors (still third all-time), over 70 tournaments, and captained a new event, The Ryder Cup five times. For decades, professional golfers thanked Hagen for his advancement of the profession.
Bobby Jones — One of Hagen’s biggest rivals, Robert Tyre Jones Jr., better known as Bobby Jones, followed in Ouimet’s footprints and remained a lifelong amateur. Retiring at age 28 after completing the grand slam in 1930, Jones continued to practice law before founding a little club and tournament down in Augusta, Ga. That’s correct, Augusta National Golf Links and The Masters are all thanks to the one and only Mr. Bob Jones.
Ben Hogan — The Hawk, along with Sam Snead and Byron Nelson, dominated the game for a solid 15-year stretch. A meticulous player who survived a car crash that literally crushed both legs, Hogan went on to win nine majors and completed the career grand slam in 1953.
Arnold Palmer — American golf needed a superstar as televised tournaments became a reality in the 1950s. Enter Arnie and his army of fans. He may not have won the most majors or tournaments, but Arnold Palmer made golf an everyman’s game. And when he partnered with a man named Mark McCormack, founder of International Management Group (IMG) the athlete/sports agent relationship was born.
Jack Nicklaus — In my opinion, Jack is still the greatest of all time. No one won more majors. And his impact on the sport is still being felt today as the official host of two PGA Tour events and countless charitable causes around the world. Quite simply put, our sport could only have grown to the point it is today because we had a first-class superstar like Jack Nicklaus for so many years.
Fred Couples — Freddy, or Boom Boom as he used to be called, oozed “cool” for 20-plus years on the PGA Tour. Reaching world number one and winning the 1992 Masters, Freddy was the formidable face of American golf as the world saw an influx of international superstars.
Tiger Woods — What can you say about Tiger that hasn’t already been said. He said “hello world” in 1996 and the game has never been the same. Today’s players with their private jets and million dollar weekly earnings all need to go up and thank Tiger for making their game bigger, and wealthier, than anyone thought possible.
So there you have it, from Ouimet to Woods, these are the American men that, in my opinion, helped make our sport what it is today. Let’s thank them as we celebrate golf in America this week. And more importantly, let’s be sure to thank the service men and women that continue to protect our freedom and liberty this week. And every week.
Jonah Karzmer is a former golf professional who writes a Sunday golf column for The Vindicator. In his spare time he sells commercial insurance and loves getting feedback on his weekly columns via email at Jonah@thekarzmerinsurance.com.