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Golf Origins, Growth and History of the Game

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Golf History, Changes and Important Milestones including the greatest Players,

History Of the game of golf

'The Game Begins:'

'Almost all modern sports have origins in earlier games, going as far back as thousands of years - golf is no different. Most modern games then eventually developed into a more recognizable version in the last 200 years or so. In this respect, golf differs from its sporting counterparts. Though golf's origins lie in the ball-and-stick games of ancient times, the modern game of golf dates as far back as the 1400s in Britain, and more specifically Scotland. In its early days, Scottish kings - James II and James IV - actually outlawed the game, believing the popularity of the sport conflicted with military training. However, King James IV himself became enamored with the sport by the 1500s, and in the early 1500s, in a short peace with England, the game became popular there as well, though when the two countries were back at war with each other, golf receded in England again. However, when James VI of Scotland took the throne in England in 1603, the game came to England to stay.'

'The rise of the sport was helped considerably by its popularity among the ruling class. Mary, Queen of Scots often played, her clubs carried by students she called "cadets." It is believed this is the origin of the word "caddie." James I appointed both official golf club and golf ball makers in the 1600s, while also lifting the ban on Sunday golf. James II organized the first international match, between England and Scotland.'

'In both countries, the game continued as a sport not of one class, but of all classes - still, of course, those classes did not mingle on the courses. The courses back then were not always as seen in today's sport; golf in the 17th century was not as formally arranged, with little organization regarding the number of holes or even official rules. Formal golf courses did exist, however: clubs at Gosford, Blackheath (a seven-hole course near London) and St. Andrew's were regularly attended by the upper classes and nobility. Blackheath was founded as early as 1608, while St. Andrews Royal and Ancient Club was founded in 1754; yet St. Andrew's lays claim as the cradle of golf. Lower classes played on open land; early illustrations of the sport show men playing among herds of sheep.'

'The Early Equipment:'

'The biggest obstacle to golf being played by lower classes was the price of the golf ball. The early balls were made of feather and leather. In their earliest form, they were extremely difficult to make, and the makers could only produce about four or five per day per man. In the mid 1600s, they could cost as much as 2s 6d per ball (worth £9.45 today, or about $14). Balls became slightly cheaper to make by the mid-18th century, but would still cost too much to make golf balls accessible to the lower classes. '

'Early golf clubs were made of materials similar to today's clubs: wood and iron. However, the biggest difference between old golf clubs and modern ones was the use. Originally, irons were used only for getting out of difficult spots: ditches, ruts and similar hazards. Irons were rarely used for approaches, and woods were used almost exclusively in most parts of the game. Today, while iron clubs are still used for hitting out of tough spots (those clubs are called wedges), irons are also used for the approach, a development that did not occur until the mid-1800s. '


Golf Clubs of a Different Sort

'As golf progressed, it slowly developed the aura of exclusivity. This was helped greatly by the establishment of golf clubs (not the equipment). In 1744, a group of golfers (calling themselves "Gentlemen of Honour") formed the Company of Gentlemen Golfers, now known as the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, believed to be the oldest golf club in the world. The Honourable Company also drew up a set of rules for golf, and when the Society of St. Andrews Golfers came up with the St. Andrews code in 1754, they drew heavily from the Honourable Company's rules. In addition to the Honourable Company and the Royal and Ancient Club of St. Andrews, the Edinburgh Burgess Golfing Society (1773), Musselburgh (1774), the Bruntsfield Links Golf Club (1787) and the Glasgow Club (1787) were all formed in Scotland. These early clubs are actually aberrations: the vast majority of significant clubs formed in the 1800s. Additionally, no golf club was formed outside of Scotland before 1787, when the Honourable Company of Golfers was founded at Blackheath. By the 1850s, the United Kingdom had around 35 clubs. The first club formed outside of the U.K. was in Pau, France in 1856, and that club was actually begun by Scottish soldiers who had passed through and returned later to live and build a course.'

'The 1800s: Modern Golf Takes its Form:'

'The 19th century is considered by many to be the period when the truly modern game emerged. The changes that primarily spurned this modernization were to the equipment of the game. Up to 1848, golf balls, as previously stated, were featheries, made of feathers and leather. In 1848, a man named Rev. Adam Patterson was said to have created the first gutta percha ball, or "guttie," a ball made of the rubber-like sap of he Gutta tree, native to the tropics. The guttie was much cheaper to make than its predecessor, and quickly became the standard of golf. Additionally, gutties were much easier to repair, which added to their popularity. Initially the gutta percha balls were smooth, unlike the featheries, which cut down on the distance they could travel. However, in the 1880s, manufacturers began using patterns on the surface of the balls to replicate the effect of the old featheries. Later in the century, in the 1890s, many companies began using molds to create the balls, making them even more affordable. When rubber companies (like Dunlop, which still produces golf balls) began mass-producing golf balls, the handmade gold ball business virtually disappeared. The changes in golf balls also necessitated changes in golf clubs. It was the guttie ball that led to much greater use of the irons, while woods were made much firmer and fitted with leather heads to reduce wear.'

'Two notable figures of the period are Allan Robertson and Tom Morris. Both men were ball makers as well as players of the sport. Robertson and Morris, in fact, began working in the same shop (Robertson's) before a feud over golf balls led to the dissolution of the partnership. Robertson was a fierce proponent of the featherie ball, while Morris preferred the gutta. Robertson even became the first person to break a score of 80 at the Old Course at St. Andrews, shooting a 79 with a feather ball. However, Morris, after leaving Robertson's shop, set up one of his own, a shop which still stands today overlooking the 18th hole at St. Andrews.'

'Golf in the first half of the century was still largely an informal game: there was almost no distinction between amateurs and professionals, and matches were set up primarily to bet on, bets made between players and spectators. Some of the best early professionals only made about 7 to 17 shillings per week (which today would be about £20 to £50, or $31 to $77).'

'The organization of matches changed, however, with the advent of a new event in 1860: the Open Championship. Also called the British Open, the 36-hole tourney was played at Prestwick; its first champion was Willie Park. In 1873, the tournament site began rotating between Prestwick, St. Andrews and Musselburgh and in 1892, the Open Championship was extended to 72 holes (which is what it is today). The Open first began awarding money in 1864, giving £6 to the winner (worth £259 today, or $402).'

'Golf in America:'

'While golf thrived in the U.K. in the 1800s, and began to spread in the latter half of the century outside Britain's shores, golf in the U.S. was barely catching on. Golf had arrived, at best guess, at the tail end of the 18th century, primarily in the northeastern United States. For the vast majority of the 19th century, golf had a very difficult time gaining popularity in the U.S. The nation was busy first with building itself and its Civil War; when Americans did preoccupy themselves with sports, they turned primarily to horseracing, boxing and, in the second half of the century, Baseball . Golf, in fact, took hold in Canada before the U.S.; the first golf club on record in Canada was the Royal Montreal Golf Club, formed in November of 1873.'

'It would be fifteen years before the first golf course was built in the U.S. In February, 1888, a man named John Reid, a transplanted Scotsman, after ordering a set of golf clubs from Tom Morris back at St. Andrews, gathered together a small group of friends and set up three holes in a cow pasture in Yonkers, New York, the first recorded golf course in the United States. After playing through that summer, the group formed the St. Andrews Club of Yonkers in November, the first golf club in America. In 1889, a group of Englishmen in Kentucky established the Middlesboro Club there, and by 1894, there were nine more golf courses laid out in the U.S., with Chicago being the first site of a golf course off the East Coast and the country's first 18-hole course. Early on in American golf's history, Chicago became a key location: by 1900, there were 26 golf courses around Chicago alone.'

'Towards the very end of the 1800s, golf had increased in popularity in the U.S. to the point that many players began calling for an organizing body. In December 1894, delegates from golf clubs in Yonkers, Brookline (Massachusetts), Newport (Rhode Island), Southampton (New York) and Chicago met to form the Amateur Golf Association of the United States, later the U.S. Golf Assocation (USGA), with Theodore Havemeyer (of the Newport club) as its first president. Within a year, the association had organized the first national Open and Amateur Championships. At the first U.S. Open, first prize was $150 ($3,950 today), more than the British Open awarded that same year.'

'Stars of the Game:'

'At the turn of the century, golf continued to grow in popularity, and the game's brightest star was an Englishman by the name of Harry Vardon. Born in 1870 in Jersey, Vardon became the British game's greatest champion, winning the Open Championship six times between 1896 and 1914. No other player has ever won the British Open that many times. Vardon's rivals of the period were J.H. Taylor and James Braid, both of whom won five Open titles. (Since those three, only two other players have ever won more than four - Peter Thomson and Tom Watson.) Between 1894 and 1914, the 21 British Opens were won by one of the three 16 times. Vardon's influence, however, extended beyond the U.K. For one, he developed a new grip, slightly overlapping, now referred to as the Vardon grip. He came to the U.S. to tour, playing exhibitions as well as play in tournaments, winning the U.S. Open Championship on his first visit in 1900. Vardon, in his trips to the U.S., also made a significant impact on one of America's greatest golfers, Bobby Jones, influencing his style and swing. The Professional Golfer's Association (PGA) would later name an award after Vardon, the Vardon Trophy, given each year to the player on the PGA Tour with the lowest scoring average.'

'In the U.S., though Vardon was highly regarded, the big winner of the time was Willie Anderson, another transplanted Scotsman. Anderson, however, was not a highly regarded player; he was extremely introverted, rarely speaking, and as a result gained little popularity. Still, he could win - Anderson became the U.S. Open's first four-time winner, including a string of three straight titles from 1903 to 1905. No player has won more U.S. Opens in history (with three other players winning four) and no other player has ever won three in a row.'


'Francis Ouimet and the 1913 U.S. Open:'

'The 1913 U.S. Open Championship was played at The Country Club in Brookline, Massachusetts, one of the earliest American golf courses. Harry Vardon had come back to the U.S. again and entered the Open, expected by many to win. His primary competition was expected to come from friend and fellow Brit Ted Ray. No one saw Francis Ouimet coming.'

'Ouimet was a 20-year-old amateur and former caddy from Brookline when he entered the U.S. Open in 1913. Tied with the two British stars after the first three rounds of the tournament, Ouimet managed two birdies in his final six holes to finish tied for the lead at the end of the four rounds. A playoff was required, and Ouimet, much to the shock and delight of the crowd, ended the playoff round with a one-over-par 72, beating out Vardon and Ray. Ouimet's victory became national news, catapulting golf into even greater popularity. Ouimet would go on to win two Amateur Championships and a French Amateur Championship. He would also appear on the American team in the newly-created Walker Cup in 1922, a tournament between American and British teams played every other year. Ouimet would play on every Walker Cup team from 1922 to 1949, captaining the squad between 1936 and 1949. In 1951, he was named captain of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews in Scotland, the first non-British person awarded that high honor.'

'The Amateur Game:'

'Both in Britain and the U.S., amateur golf was as highly regarded and popular in the 1800s and into the 1900s as professional golf. The Amateur Championships of Britain and America were extremely well attended and well thought-of events. In Britain, early amateur domination came in the form of John Ball, who won the British Amateur Championship eight times, three more than any other player has ever won. Interestingly, Ball never won twice in a row - all his victories came at least a year apart from each other. Ball also became the first to win both an Amateur and Open Championship, one of only three in history who have done so. Harold Hilton, another top amateur of the time, was the first to win both championships, winning two Opens and four Amateurs. He also became the first British player to win both the British and U.S. Amateur Championships.'

'In the U.S., the first amateur star was Walter Travis. The Australian who had moved to the U.S. as a child first won the U.S. Amateur Championship in 1900 and would collect two more titles. Only three other players have ever won three or more U.S. Amateur Championships. He also became the first American player to win the British Amateur Open, capturing the 1904 title. Following Travis's success was Jerome Travers, who between 1907 and 1913 won four titles. Travers would also become one of the first Amateur winners to also win a U.S. Open.'

'The greatest amateur of the first half of the 1900s, however (and one of the greatest of all-time) was Bobby Jones. Of the seven U.S. Amateur Championships between 1924 and 1930, Jones won five of them; those five victories are also the most all-time in Amateur Championship history. His greatest feat, another unmatched in history, came in 1930. In that single year, Bobby Jones won the U.S. Open, the British Open, the U.S. Amateur Championship and the British Amateur Championship. That accomplishment was dubbed the "Grand Slam." No other player has ever completed a single-season Grand Slam, though five others have completed a career Grand Slam, winning all four majors in their career.'

'The Professional Game:'

'In 1916, as professional golf gained more ground in the U.S., players wanted an organizational body to govern the game: U.S. amateurs had the USGA and British players had the R&A (taking its name from the Royal and Ancient Club), so they wanted one of their own. That January, the Professional Golfer's Association of America was born. Seven months later, they established the first PGA Championship, played at a course in Bronxville, New York, with $2,500 awarded to the winner (equal to $50,000 today). '

'The earliest PGA star was undoubtedly Walter Hagen. While Bobby Jones dominated the amateur game in America, Hagen controlled the pro game. In his career, Hagen won 11 professional titles: the U.S. Open twice, the British Open four times and the PGA Championship five times. His five PGA Championship titles are the most all-time, along with Jack Nicklaus' five wins. Four of those victories came in a row, from 1924-27. No other golfer has ever won more than two in a row. Over his career, Hagen earned about $1 million in prize money, by far the most at the time (and equal to about $12.5 million today).'

'The Game Changes:'

'Bobby Jones' retirement in 1930 marked the beginning of a new era in golf. Steel-shafted golf clubs became the standard, and with the improved equipment, scores began lowering: shooting par generally wasn't good enough anymore. Crossover between the amateur and pro games began to end as well. After Jones' 1930 Open victory, only one other player (Johnny Goodman in 1933) won the U.S. Open as an amateur. Amateur success in pro tournaments (or lack thereof) was attributed to the much higher amounts of money coming into the game after 1930; as soon as an amateur player could compete on the pro level, they made the jump to professional. '

'The PGA Tour, which had been established in 1916 along with the PGA, began recognizing the money winner of each year's tour in 1934. That first season, Paul Runyan was the highest money winner, tallying seven wins and just over $6700 (equal to $107,000 today). That same season, the pro tour earned a profit of $135,000 ($2.16 million today). By 1949, under the leadership of Boston promoter Fred Corcoran, the tour earned a profit of $600 thousand, and raised that total to over $2 million in the '60s (today, those totals are equal to $5.4 million and $14.5 million, respectively).'

'The 1930s also saw the creation of a new tournament, the Masters (originally named the Augusta National Invitation Tournament). The first tourney was held in 1934, with Horton Smith its winner, and quickly became one of the premier golf events on the PGA Tour schedule. The creation of the Masters Tournament also ushered in the era of the modern majors. Originally, the majors (the four major golf tournaments of the year) were the British and U.S. Opens and Amateur Championships. With the rise of professional golf, the majors eventually became the U.S. and British Opens, the PGA Championship and the Masters.'

'The 1930s in golf, however, failed to produce a single dominant figure. While there were certainly star players, no one controlled the game like the figures before. From 1934 to 1939, no player won the money leader title more than once. It wasn't until 1940 and Ben Hogan that golf once again had a titan. Hogan, a Texan, won the money title five times in his career. He tallied four U.S. Open titles, won the Masters twice, the PGA Championship twice and won a single British Open, becoming only the second player (after Gene Sarazen) to win the career Grand Slam in the Masters era. He also won the Masters, U.S. Open and British Open in the same year, 1953, considered one of the greatest achievements in golf history.'

'Following World War II, another golfer hit the scene, challenging Hogan's dominance: Byron Nelson. Nelson became the first golfer on the PGA Tour to win more than 10 events in a single year, winning an astonishing 18 events in 1945 (an unmatched feat in history). He also became the first player to top $50,000 in winnings in a single year, earning over $63,000 in '45 (worth $751 thousand today). '

'One golfer of the era not remembered for singular dominance by rather for consistency was Sam Snead. Playing across four decades on the PGA Tour, Snead won three money titles, three PGA Championships, three Masters and a British Open, never able to capture a U.S. Open titles (though he was a runner-up five times, including losing a playoff in 1947). Snead's claim to fame, however, is his PGA Tour win total. Between his first victory on the Tour in 1936 and his last in 1965, Sam Snead won 82 Tour events, the most all-time. '

'Women's Golf:'

'Evidence from the history of golf says that women have been involved and interested in the game almost since its inception. The Royal and Ancient Club was founded in 1754 - within 60 years, women were on record as being active on the course. Within another sixty years, they had formed a club as well, the Ladies Golf Club of St. Andrews in 1867. In 1893, the Ladies Golf Union was formed, the governing body for women's golf in the U.K. and Ireland. In the U.S., women came to golf just about as early as men; just one year after John Reid set up the first golf course, he and his wife played another couple in mixed doubles, the first recorded mixed doubles match in the U.S. '

'As in men's golf, early domination of the sport belonged to Great Britain. However, by about the 1920s, American women had developed a greater affinity for the game. In 1932, The USGA and the Ladies Golf Union established the Curtis Cup Match, a competition between American and British teams held every two years. The first was held in England, with the Americans winning. Much like its male counterpart, the Walker Cup, early domination in the Curtis Cup belonged to the U.S.'


'Though women's golf has never achieved the same level of popularity as men's golf, it certainly has had its stars. Its first (and perhaps biggest) was Mildred Didrikson Zaharias, better known as Babe. Zaharias, widely considered perhaps the greatest female athlete of all time, did not excel solely in golf. As an 18-year-old, she entered a national track and field event in Illinois and won the team title - as the only member of her team. She entered eight of the 10 events, winning six of them (and placing 2nd and 4th in the other two) and set three world records. She went on to win two gold medals at the 1932 Olympics, and was disqualified from winning a third for diving over the bar in the high jump (something that had never been done before, and was later legalized). With her popularity skyrocketing, she went on a tour of the country, first as a vaudeville performer, later playing baseball, football, basketball, trying out skiing, boxing and fly-casting.'

'Though she started playing golf shortly after the Olympics, she decided to get serious about the game a few years later. It was during this period that she was paired with a professional wrestler at a tournament in 1938, George Zaharias. The two made an immediate connection and were married shortly afterward. However, as much as Babe's private life was enjoying success, her professional life was not - women's pro golf was not yet established, and the only two major tournaments were for amateurs (the National Women's Amateur Championship and the British Ladies' Championship). As a result, Zaharias applied for amateur status and, in 1944, the USGA approved it. As soon as World War II ended and those tournaments got started up again, Zaharias won them, winning the Women's Amateur Championship once, in '46 and the British Ladies' Championship once, in '47. By this time, women's pro golf was finally starting to come together.'

'There have been a number of major championships in women's golf throughout the years. The earliest is the Women's Western Open, which began play in 1930. The second was the Titleholder's Championship in 1937, the third the U.S. Women's Open in 1946. All three of these were retroactively named majors by the LPGA. The Ladies Professional Golfer's Association was formed in 1950 by a group of 13 golfers, one of whom was Babe Zaharias. Of the three majors formed during her career, Zaharias won all three, winning the Western Open four times, the Titleholders three times and the U.S. Open three times.'

'Sadly, she was stricken with cancer and died in 1956 at 42. '

'Arnie's Army Storms Golf:'

'The 1950s were another period without a clear dominating figure in men's golf. In the decade, no player (other than Sam Snead) captured the events winner title (awarded to the player who won the most events in the season) and no one won the money leader title more than once. Players like Hogan and Snead were nearing the end of their careers, no longer ruling the scene. Nelson had retired in the '40s. Golf's popularity was still on the rise; it was now entering television for the first time, as major tournaments appeared on TV on Saturdays and Sundays. The sport, however, needed a national figure, and at the end of the decade, one finally appeared.'

'Arnold Palmer, born in Pennsylvania in 1929, turned pro in 1954 after winning the U.S. Amateur Championship, and within three years captured the events winner title. A year later, in 1958, he won the money title. He would win three money titles in his career, as well as a U.S. Open title, a British Open title and four Masters titles, at the time the most in history. Palmer became the game's first superstar, attracting a horde of followers at each tournament nicknamed "Arnie's Army." He totaled 62 PGA Tour wins in his career, ranking 5th all-time.'

'The Golden Bear and the Black Knight:'

'Palmer's fame was helped along by the presence of two significant rivals, Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus. Player was a South African who turned professional in 1953. He joined the PGA Tour in '57. Within two years, he already began to win. His first major championship victory came in 1959 at the Open Championship, the first of three British Open titles he would win. He won the PGA Championship twice and the Masters three times. He finally completed the career Grand Slam in 1965 when he won the U.S. Open (his only victory there). He is one of only eight golfers to have won the Masters three times or more. His last major victory came in 1978, at the Masters, when he stormed back from a 7-hole deficit after three rounds to win by a stroke. He was nicknamed "the Black Knight" because he famously wore all black while playing. Player, though considered a rival of Palmer, was considered more a rival of his contemporary, Jack Nicklaus.'

'Nicklaus, nicknamed "the Golden Bear" because of his build and hair color, would retire from professional golf considered by many to be the greatest golfer of all time. During his career, he would eclipse all golfers that came before him by winning a total of 18 majors, a record that still stands today. His 73 PGA Tour wins rank him second on the all-time list. He turned pro in 1961, winning his first major (the U.S. Open) within a year. He won each major at least three times, becoming history's first three-time career Grand Slam holder. He won the U.S. Open four times, the British Open three times and the PGA Championship five times. His greatest success, however, came at the Masters. The six-time winner of the tournament (by far a tournament record) last won a major title at Augusta in 1986. The win came as a shock to the golf world, as Nicklaus had last won a major six years previous. However, the Golden Bear had enough magic left to capture the Green Jacket, an honorarium bestowed on each winner of the Masters, one last time.'

'Changing and Adding:'

'In 1968, the PGA Tour, which had, since its inception in 1916 been governed by the PGA of America, broke off, becoming its own organization. Initially, tournament players had formed their own group, the Association of Professional Golfers. They quickly abandoned this, forming the PGA Tournament Players Division, later simply named the PGA Tour. All the records of the PGA Tour prior to the split were carried over. In '72, Europe finally had its own official tour, the PGA European Tour, which comprised 15 different countries. Its all time leader in wins is Spaniard Seve Ballesteros (who also had success on the PGA Tour).'

'In 1974, a local board of directors in Pinehurst, North Carolina established the World Golf Hall of Fame, inaugurating their first class that year, comprised of Patty Berg, Walter Hagen, Ben Hogan, Bobby Jones, Byron Nelson, Jack Nicklaus, Francis Ouimet, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, Gene Sarazen, Sam Snead, Harry Vardon and Babe Zaharias. While the Hall of Fame was initially a local venture, it eventually came under the purview of the PGA, moving to St. Augustine, Florida in 1998 and continuing as world golf's official Hall of Fame.'

'That same year, 1974, a new tournament was established, one that would go on to be considered alongside the four majors. The Tournament Players Championship, later renamed simply The Players Championship, is played in Florida every year, dubbed by many "the Fifth Major" though it has never officially received that distinction. The Players Championship awards the highest prize money of any golf tournament; its first winner, Jack Nicklaus, received $50,000 out of a total purse of $250,000 ($217,000 and $1.09 million today). Nicklaus also holds the distinction of winning the tourney three times, the most in history.'

'The World's Number One:'

'With the official addition of the European Tour, and its subsequent legitimization among the world's top golfers, more and more golfers began splitting their time between the European and PGA Tours. Many golfers (non-Americans) would primarily play on the European Tour, then play in the major tournaments in the U.S. This led to a problem for the Royal and Ancient Club: their system of invitation to the British Open was now leaving out many top golfers because they split time between the tours. This led to the development of the World Golf Rankings. This system, endorsed by the four majors and the six top international golf tours, ranks the world's golfers on a points system, derived from their finishes in tournaments. The rankings were first released prior to the 1986 Masters Tournament - the top six were Bernhard Langer, Seve Ballesteros, Sandy Lyle, Tom Watson, Mark O'Meara and Greg Norman. Interestingly, the top three were all European players - none of them ever finished as the money or wins leader on the PGA Tour. However, that first year, Greg Norman ended the year ranked number one, which he would do six more times in his career, a record when he retired. Only one other golfer would tally more year-end number ones than Norman…but we'll get to him later.'

'Between 1986 and 1997, Norman's last year at number one, there were only five players who finished the year at number one: Norman, Ballesteros, Ian Woosnam, Nick Price and Nick Faldo. Of those five, only Faldo achieved that feat more than once. Norman dominated the world rankings, yet only won the money title on the PGA Tour three times in his career and only ever won titles in one major championship, winning the British Open twice. Other golfers of the era were big winners in the majors: Tom Watson won five British Opens, a U.S. Open, and two Masters, failing to capture the career Grand Slam by never winning the PGA Championship. Faldo won two Masters and three British Opens while Ballesteros accomplished the same feat, and Curtis Strange became the first player since Ben Hogan in the Fifties to win back-to-back U.S. Opens, winning in '88 and '89 (and no player has done so since). But on the horizon as the calendar turned to the late '90s was a player that would capture golf's attention and awards like almost no one else before.'


'Eldrick Woods was born in 1975 in California, and his father Earl had him playing golf from an incredibly early age - even appearing on a TV talk show to showcase his talents at the age of two. After attending Stanford University for two years and winning the U.S. Amateur Championship three times (including as the youngest ever, a record which stood until 2008), he turned pro in 1996. The man nicknamed "Tiger" immediately became a sensation, winning the 1997 Masters with a still-record low of -18. The son of an African-American man and a Thai woman, he also became the first non-white player ever to win at Augusta. He wouldn't stop there - Woods, at present, has captured a total of 14 major victories, second all-time to Nicklaus. With four Masters titles, three U.S. Open titles, three British Open titles and four PGA Championship titles, he is also the only person besides Nicklaus to have completed three career Grand Slams. In 2000-01, he also became the only person in history to hold all four majors titles simultaneously, winning the 2000 U.S. and British Opens and PGA Championship, followed by the 2001 Masters title. However, since he did not win them in the same year, it did not count as a single season Grand Slam. Still, he managed to best Bobby Jones in 2008 when he won his 14th major, eclipsing Jones' 13. He also has 71 PGA Tour wins, 3rd all time, only two behind Nicklaus and 11 behind Snead. At only 34, many believe he will someday beat Snead's record. Tiger also holds the record for most number one year-end rankings (with 11 as of 2009) and the record for most weeks at number one (with 615 straight weeks - 284 more than Greg Norman, who is second). Woods has also won more money than any other golfer in history, with his prize money as of 2010 totaling over $93 million.'

'Golf Today:'

'Tiger still dominates the fans' attention in golf, though due to injury and personal problems he has failed to win a major since 2008. TV ratings when Tiger is playing for a championship as opposed to when Tiger isn't are considerably higher. Still, the sport of golf in general is strong, attracting strong TV revenues and awarding higher and higher purses every year - for example, the Players Championship, the highest purse in golf, awarded the equivalent of $217,000 to the winner out of $1.09 million in its first year. The 2010 Players Championship gave its winner $1.71 million out of a $9.5 million purse. Golf is going strong. What remains to be seen is what will happen when Tiger finally retires, and whether a new figure can arise to capture the world's attention in the sport.'

Back To: Sports History Home Page


  • 'Golf: Its History, People and Events by Will Grimsley'
  • 'A History of Golf in Britain by Bernard Barwin (ISBN: 9780940889309)'
  • 'Golf: Illustrated by Henry Cotton'
  • 'The Story of American Golf: Its Champions and Championships by Herbert Warren Wind (ISBN: 9780394490205)'
  • 'The History of the PGA Tour The History of the PGA Tour by Al Barkow (ISBN: 9780385261456)'
  • 'Golf, The Greatest Game: The USGA Celebrates Golf in America by Arnold Palmer and John Updike (ISBN: 9780060171353)'

Our New Sports Section and the specific sports pages were written and researched by a passionate sports fan while majoring in journalism at the University of Missouri. He is now the State News Reporter for Indiana Public Broadcasting
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