GREATS OF GOLF
BY. T.J. TOMASI
It’s always hard to single out a short list of the greats of the game because there are so many, but if you are new to golf, this little summary is a good starting place.
Walter Hagen (1892-1969)
Walter Hagen’s swing wasn’t perfect, but his demeanor was. Unperturbed by bad outcomes, he hit more off-line shots in one round than Ben Hogan did in a year. Sequence photos show that while Hagen was often accused of sliding ahead of the ball, his lower body was very active and his head was in the correct position at impact. And when he did hit it in the bushes, oh what a scrambler he was.
Byron Nelson (1912-2006)
The father of the modern swing, Byron Nelson’s one-piece takeaway created maximum swing width. Nelson set the club so perfectly at the top of his swing that all he had to do was “nothing” on the way back to the ball. And an absence of manipulation is a good thing if you’re going to win 11 tour events in a row — which he did in 1945.
Ben Hogan (1912-1997)
Hogan turned himself into a great ball striker by experimentation and a grinding practice regime. He actually trained himself to hit balls while exhausted, more Navy Seals training than golf practice. Hogan was like a scientist, studying and then experimenting in his laboratory — the practice tee. And it worked because nobody has ever hit it better from tee to green.
Sam Snead (1912-2002)
The third (Hogan and Nelson being the other two) of the best three golfers to ever reach their peak together. They were all born within six months of one another in 1912. Snead won more than 160 tournaments worldwide as a pro and 82 official events on the PGA Tour, which is the most in history. Never has there been such a perfect blend of power and tempo. When asked what he thought of Hogan’s swing, Snead said that he never watched Hogan because he was afraid to “catch” his tempo — a perfect example of “Snead on the snide” when it came to his rival Hogan.
Jack Nicklaus (1940- )
“Ferociousness under control” describes Jack Nicklaus’ attack on the ball. But Nicklaus was not just long, he was accurate, hitting so many greens in regulation that he didn’t need (nor did he have) a world-class short game. An upright swing arc with elbow flying, Jack’s swing reflected his teacher Jack Grout’s admonition, “Reach for the sky” — and 18 majors later that turned out to be really good advice.
Lee Trevino (1939- )
A one-of-a-kind who always played to a full house, Lee Trevino was and still is one of the most popular golfers of all time. One reason is his swing, a configuration only his banker could love. In his championship period, Trevino aimed his anti-hook assembly 30 yards left, looped the club to the inside coming down and cut the ball exactly to target. Someday there may be “the next Nicklaus” or the “next Tiger,” but there will never be another Lee Buck Trevino.
Tiger Woods (1975- )
In his never-ending quest to keep ahead of the pack, Tiger has once again modified his swing. Surely he holds the record for tournaments won with different swings. When Tiger first came on tour in 1996, he was a can’t-miss. After the 2000 season, when he led the tour in almost every significant category, he was labeled by some as the greatest golfer ever. By 2009 many saw him as just another good player — good but not great.
No great player has had such a staggered profile and there are still a few more chapters to go. It is my opinion that when it’s all been written, Tiger will take his place as a great (but not the greatest) player.