Rooting For History: 10 Golfers With Best Storylines

Tiger Woods and Brooks Koepka
Tiger Woods and Brooks Koepka wait on the 17th tee during the second round of the PGA Championship at the Bethpage Black course on May 17, 2019 in Farmingdale, NY. Photo by Stuart Franklin/Getty Images

The PGA Championship tees off on Thursday morning at TPC Harding Park in San Francisco, California. It’s the PGA Tour’s first major contest of its COVID-interrupted season.

The field will include all kinds of familiar faces, marquee names and rising stars. A win by any will be entered into the record books for posterity, but a victory by one of the following 10 players would produce the most historical of storylines.

1. Tiger Woods

Tiger Woods Wins Zozo Championship
Tiger Woods speaks at the award ceremony following his win at the Zozo Championship at Accordia Golf Narashino CC on Oct 28, 2019 in Inzai, Chiba, Japan. Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images

Getting a 16th major – two short of Jack, fifth Wanamaker to tie Hagen, and 83rd PGA Tour title to edge Snead for the most all time – in his native California, no less – would be the ultimate in historical conquests.

2. Brooks Koepka

Brooks Koepka
Brooks Koepka poses with the Wanamaker Trophy during the Trophy Presentation Ceremony after winning the PGA Championship at the Bethpage Black course on May 19, 2019 in Farmingdale, NY. Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

The first PGA three-peat in modern (stroke-play) history, and only second time overall, when you include the match-play days of Hagen and Sarazen… Only Nicklaus (5) and Woods (4) would appear more times on the Wanamaker in the stroke-play era. Plus five majors at the age of 30? Enough said. Historic!

3. Jordan Spieth

Jordan Spieth Wins 2015 U.S. Open
Jordan Spieth poses with the trophy after winning the 115th U.S. Open Championship at Chambers Bay on June 21, 2015 in University Place, WA. Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images

The one-time Golden Child ends a two-year (or so) slump by finishing off the long-awaited career Grand Slam? America loves a comeback story, but a tale of reclamation en route to history would be next-level emotional.

4. Phil Mickelson

Phil Mickelson WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational at TPC Southwind
Phil Mickelson smiles on the putting green during the third round of the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational at TPC Southwind on Aug 1, 2020, in Memphis, TN. Photo by Ben Jared/PGA TOUR via Getty Images

Already historic and iconic, a sixth major, and 45th Tour win, would almost be running up the score in terms of legacy. But to do it at 50, becoming the oldest major champion, would be record-setting astounding. (Now, if he did it next month at Winged Foot to close out the career Grand Slam, we are talking movie-script level!)

5. Rory McIlroy

Rory McIlroy Wins 2015 PGA Championship
Rory McIlroy poses with the Wanamaker Trophy after winning the 96th PGA Championship, at Valhalla Golf Club, on August 10, 2014 in Louisville, KY. Photo by Montana Pritchard/The PGA of America via Getty Images

Won here in 2015, at the age of 25 – just nine months removed from winning his second PGA, and fourth major, at Valhalla. The wunderkind returns five years and three months later – now 31-years old, and STILL a four-time major winner. For the former can’t-miss kid, the storyline here is all about redemption and rebirth… A third PGA trophy, a fifth major title, and a return to world No. 1. It’s all there for the taking.

6. Justin Thomas

Justin Thomas
Justin Thomas poses with the Wanamaker Trophy after winning the 2017 PGA Championship at Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte, NC. Credit: Streeter Lecka

A 14th career PGA Tour win and second career major at just 27 would set the current world No. 1 on a path to become one of the very best of his generation, and among the all-time greats… Additionally, two PGA wins (2017, 2020) to bookend Koepka’s two straight (2018-19) would give the American rivals a four-year lock on the Wanamaker Trophy – marking a first-time occurrence where two players have won twice in a four-year span.

7. Dustin Johnson

Dustin Johnson
Dustin Johnson poses with the trophy after winning the 2016 U.S. Open at Oakmont Country Club on June 19, 2016 in Oakmont, PA. Photo by Keyur Khamar/PGA TOUR

After breaking through in 2016 for his first big-league win at Oakmont, majors were expected to come in bunches for the superbly talented South Carolinian. Yet, despite being one of the Tour’s most prolific winners immediately following his maiden major, a second one never materialized. Instead, his one-time sidekick and apprentice became THE big-game hunter… The time is now. Adding a second major, and 22nd Tour title this week would make up for lost opportunities, and place him in some historic company – as one of only 24 golfers who have won at least 22 times with multiple majors.

8. Rickie Fowler

Rickie Fowler
Rickie Fowler tees off on the first hole during the final round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational at the Bay Hill Club and Lodge on Mar 22, 2015 in Orlando, FL. Photo by Michael Cohen/Getty Images

A major breakthrough for the snake-bit American star. Not too many fans would walk away disappointed if the California native hoisted his first major trophy on Sunday evening. The nice guy finally finishes first, and possibly breaks the ice for a mid-career run like Phil.

9. Justin Rose

Justin Rose Wins Fort Worth at Colonial
Justin Rose celebrates after winning the Fort Worth Invitational at Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas on May 27, 2018. Credit: Getty Images/Stan Badz

Bursting on the scene as a 19-year old phenom at the 1998 British Open – where he holed out from the rough on the 72nd hole to finish T4, an entire career lie ahead. Some 15 years later he won the U.S. Open at Merion – his first and only major. He added an Olympic Gold medal in 2016, and a world No. 1 ranking in 2018. In between he’s won over 20 times around the world while claiming season-long titles on both major tours (Order of Merit 2007, FedExCup Champion 2018). A PGA Championship title, and second major, would set up the always-classy Brit as a sure-bet Hall of Famer.

10. Webb Simpson

Webb Simpson Wins PLAYERS Championship
Webb Simpson poses with the trophy with his caddie Paul Tresori after his victory at THE PLAYERS Championship on the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass on May 13, 2018 in Ponte Vedra Beach, FL. Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images

Like Rose, the 2012 U.S. Open winner could become a double major champ. Even better, a victory would push him to world No. 1 – an achievement some say is even more valuable than winning a single major as it measures performance over a two year period, not four days. In the bio, “world No.1 and PGA Champion” would look awfully impressive next to “U.S Open and PLAYERS Champion.”

First-Time Winner

While they won’t make much in terms of history, these golfers are all expected claim a major very soon. So a victory by any will sort of get it out of the way and set up history down the road. The best players without a major (and a big upside for long-term gains): Jon Rahm, Bryson DeChambeau, Xander Schauffele, Patrick Cantlay, Collin Morikawa, Tommy Fleetwood, and Hideki Matsuyama.


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