The 15 Greatest Golfers in PGA Championship History

Byron Nelson 1939 PGA Championship Runner-up
Byron Nelson talks to his caddy on the 9th green of the Pomonok CC after Nelson won his match against Emerick Kocsis in the quarter-finals of the 22nd PGA Championship on July 13, 1939. (Photo by Bettman via Getty Images)

The 103rd PGA Championship is almost upon us. Golf’s most underrated major will be contested this year at the Kiawah Island’s iconic Ocean Course. To celebrate the history of the PGA, we’re ranking the 15 greatest PGA Champions of all time.

There have been 72 different golfers to claim the PGA Championship title with 19 of those champions winning multiple trophies.

The first winner of the iconic tournament was Englishman Jim Barnes, who beat the great Scotsman Jock Hutchison, 1 up, in 1916. The next two editions were canceled due to World War I, but Barnes returned n 1919 and successfully defended his PGA title. Barnes, who has been called the ‘Great Forgotten Champion,’ would go on to win the 1921 U.S. Open and 1925 British Open. (The Masters was not founded until 1934.)

Jack Nicklaus and Walter Hagen are the winningest PGA champs with five each. Hagen claimed his five trophies – including four in a row, during the age of match play, while Nicklaus claimed his in the modern era of stroke-play.

Tiger Woods has collected four PGA victories, with his first two coming back-to-back in 1999 and 2000.

Sam Snead and Gene Sarazen have each won three trophies, while fifteen players have won twice, including Rory McIlroy (2012, 2014) and Brooks Koepka (2018-19), the only active players with a chance to join Snead and Sarzen in the three-time club.

With that as a table setter, here are the 15 greatest PGA Champs of all time:

1. Jack Nicklaus

Jack Nicklaus wins the Wanamaker Trophy at the 1980 PGA Championship
Jack Nicklaus speaks to the crowd after winning the PGA Championship at the Oak Hill CC in Rochester, NY on Aug 10, 1980. (Photo by Brian Morgan of Popperfoto via Getty Images)

With five wins, Jack Nicklaus is tied with Walter Hagen for the most victories at the PGA Championship. Nicklaus was also runner-up on four occasions – 1964, 1965, 1974 and 1983 (which is also record).

Additionally, Nicklaus holds a host of other records, including most top-3 finishes (12), top-5 finishes (14) and top-10 finishes (15). Jack as No. 1 was by far the easiest of all spots to fill.

Jack Nicklaus’ PGA Championship Record
Wins:
1963 Dallas Athletic Club (-5)
1971 PGA National GC (-7)
1973 Canterbury GC (-7)
1975 Firestone CC (-4)
1980 Oak Hill CC (-6)

Other Top Finishes:
Runner-ups: 4 (1964-65, ’74, ’83)
Top 5s: 5 (1962, ’67, ’76-77, ’81)
Top 10s: 1 (1970)


2. Walter Hagen

Walter Hagen
Walter Hagen hits a tee shot at an exhibition golf tournament in Saint-Cloud, France in 1928. (Photo by Keystone-France – Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)

Five of Walter Hagen’s 11 major victories came at the PGA Championship, and all in a seven-year span. Hagen is without a doubt the greatest player of the PGA’s Match Play era.

The only reason Hagen’s wins aren’t as highly regarded, and why he could never overtake Nicklaus as No. 1, is because his greatest opponent during this era, Bobby Jones, never played the PGA Championship due to his amateur status. It would be like winning five PGA Championships during the 70s but without Jack Nicklaus in the field.

Walter Hagen’s PGA Championship Record
Wins:
1921 Inwood CC (3&2)
1924 French Lick Springs (2-Up)
1925 Olympia Field CC (6&5)
1926 Salisbury GC (5&3)
1927 Cedar Crest CC (1-Up)

Other Top Finishes:
Runner-up: 1 (1923)
Semis: 2 (1916, ’29)
Quarters: 1 (1928)


3. Tiger Woods

Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods celebrates after sinking a putt during the final round of the PGA Championship at Valhalla CC in Louisville, KY on Aug 20, 2000. (Photo by Robert Beck of SI via Getty Images)

Tiger Woods’ career has always been about peaking for the majors. To go along with his four wins at the PGA Championship, he also has three runner-up finishes and two other top-10s.

Woods set and then tied the scoring record in relation to par (-18) during his wins in 2000 and 2006, respectively. He’s also the only player in the stroke play era to successfully defend, and he did it twice (1999-2000 and 2006-2007).

Woods’ loss in 2009, when he went into the final round with a two-shot lead, only to shoot 3-over par and lose out to YE Yang, is considered by historians as the event that ended the Peak Tiger era.

Tiger Woods’ PGA Championship Record
Wins:
1999 Medinah CC (-11)
2000 Valhalla CC (-18)
2006 Medinah CC (-18)
2007 Southern Hills CC (-8)

Other Top Finishes:
Runner-ups: 3 (2002, ’09, ’18)
Top 5s: 1 (2005)
Top 10s: 1 (1998)


4. Sam Snead

Sammy Snead wins the Wanamaker Trophy at the 1942 PGA Championship
Sammy Snead tees off on the No. 1 hole in a match against Jim Demaret in the semi-finals of the PGA Championship at Seaview CC on May 29, 1942. (Photo by Bettman via Getty Images)

Another three-time winner of the PGA Championship is Sam Snead. Before winning his first championship 1942, Snead had already lost in the finals twice. Although Snead never won in the stroke-play format, he still posted eight top-10 finishes, including four top-5s.

Even at the age of 62, Snead was highly competitive and finished T3, three-strokes behind winner Lee Trevino in 1974.

Snead easily has the greatest record among players who spanned the two eras.

Sam Snead’s PGA Championship Record
Wins:
1942 Seaview CC (2&1)
1949 Hermitage CC (3&2)
1951 Oakmont CC (7&6)

Other Top Finishes:
Runner-ups: 2 (1938, ’40)
Semis: 0
Quarters: 4 (1941, ’48, ’54, ’56)
Top 5s: 4 (1958, ’60, ’72, ’74)*
Top 10s: 4 (1959, ’65-66, ’73)*
*Modern stroke-play era


5. Gene Sarazen

Gene Sarazen
Gene Sarazen takes a shot, surrounded by spectators in 1935. (Photo by Central Press via Getty Images)

One of five career Grand Slam winners, Gene Sarazen won the first of three PGA Championships at the age of 20. He also reached at least the final-eight on nine other occasions, including a runner-up to Tommy Armour in 1930.

A little known factoid about Sarazen is that he’s said to be the inventor of the modern sand wedge.

Gene Sarazen’s PGA Championship Record
1922 Oakmont CC (4&3)
1923 Pelham CC (38 Holes)
1933 Blue Mound CC (5&4)

Other Top Finishes:
Runner-up: 1 (1930)
Semis: 3 (1928, ’31, ’41)
Quarters: 5 (1921, ’27, ’29, ’38, ’40)


6. Ben Hogan

Ben Hogan 1953 British Open
British Open Champion Ben Hogan walks through the gallery of spectators en route to his win at the 1953 British Open. (Photo by Bob Thomas Sports via Getty Images)

Probably the greatest ball-striker of all time, Hogan’s first major was at the PGA Championship, which he won in 1946. He also won in 1948.

Following his life threatening car accident in 1949, Hogan opted out of the PGA Championship for the rest of his prime years.

According to legend, there were two reasons for this. First, as a match play event, Hogan’s skills and personality (introverted) were more suited to “shooting a number”— meticulously planning and executing a strategy to achieve a score for a round on a particular course.

Second, the PGA required several days of 36 holes per day competition, and after his accident, Hogan struggled to manage more than 18 holes a day. However, after the championship transitioned to a stroke-play event, Hogan made three final career starts, posting a T9 and T15 in his last two appearances.

Ben Hogan’s PGA Championship Record
Wins:
1946 Portland GC (6&4)
1948 Norwood Hills GC (2&1)

Other Top Finishes:
Runner-up: 0
Semis: 0
Quarters: 3 (1940-42)
Top 10s: 1 (1964)*
*Modern stroke-play era


7. Byron Nelson

Byron Nelson 1939 PGA Championship Runner-up
Byron Nelson talks to his caddy on the 9th green of the Pomonok CC after Nelson won his match against Emerick Kocsis in the quarter-finals of the 22nd PGA Championship on July 13, 1939. (Photo by Bettman via Getty Images)

Two-time PGA Champion Byron Nelson could have won much more if it wasn’t for his early retirement. In the nine times he played in the event, he reached the quarter-finals each and every time and lost in the finals three other times.

Nelson’s 1945 PGA Championship victory was part of his 11-consecutive win streak that year.

Byron Nelson’s PGA Championship Record
Wins:
1940 Hershey CC (1-Up)
1945 Moraine CC (4&3)

Other Top Finishes:
Runner-up: 3 (1939, ’41, ’44)
Semis: 1 (1942)
Quarters: 3 (1937-38, ’46)


8. Gary Player

Gary Player wins the Wanamaker Trophy at the 1962 PGA Championship
Gary Player clowns as he’s asked to “kiss the trophy,” after winning the 44th PGA Championship on July 22, 1962 at Aronimink GC in Newtown Square, PA. (Photo by Bettman via Getty Images)

The only non-American to achieve the career Grand Slam, Gary Player won two PGA Championships, with his PGA wins coming 10 years apart.

His second win, in 1972, was courtesy of a “miracle” 9-iron shot. Coming off bogeys on 14 and 15, Player pushed his drive on the 16th and had somewhat of a shot over a willow tree and a pond – but he went for it and stuck it four feet from the pin. Player would go in to win by two shots.

The South African golf legend also has two runner-ups (Floyd in ’69 and Trevino in ’84) along with four additional top-10 finishes.

Gary Player’s PGA Championship Record
Wins:
1962 Aronimink GC (-2)
1972 Oakland Hills CC (+1)

Other Top Finishes:
Runner-ups: 2 (1969, ’84)
Top 5s: 2 (1966, ’71)
Top 10s: 2 (1963, ’74)


9. Jim Barnes

Jim Barnes, PGA golf champ, and Jack Dempsey, heavyweight champ
Champions of the links and mitts: World famous world champions Jim Barnes, PGA golf champ, and Jack Dempsey, heavyweight champ, together at Tampa, Fla on Feb 9, 1926. (Bettman via Getty Images)

Jim Barnes is considered by many to be one of the greatest golfers history has forgotten. The 6’4″ Barnes was nicknamed “Big Jim” by friends and competitors and “Long Jim Barnes” by the New York Times. His two PGA titles were the first in the event; there was no tournament in 1917 or 1918 because of World War I.

“Barnes is long, lanky and deliberate and every inch of the golf marvel of story books,” wrote the NY Times in reporting his second win.

Jim Barnes’ PGA Championship Record
Wins:
1916 Siwanoy CC (1-Up)
1919 Engineers CC (6&5)

Other Top Finishes:
Runner-up: 2 (1921, 1924)
Semis: 0
Quarters: 1 (1923)


10. Raymond Floyd

Raymond Floyd wins the Wanamaker Trophy at the 1969 PGA Championship
Gary Player looks on as Raymond Floyd is interviewed by ABC announcer Jim McKay after winning the 51st PGA Championship on August 17, 1969 at the South Course of NCR CC in Kettering, Ohio. (Photo by Martin Mills via Getty Images)

At 26-years old, Raymond Floyd won his first major title at the 1969 PGA Championship, edging Gary Player by a shot. He won his second PGA title some 13 years later in 1982 at nearly 40 years of age.

Floyd claimed that second Wanamaker with a brilliant opening-round 63 in sweltering hot conditions at Southern Hills Country Club. Floyd’s round of 7-under 63 was the lowest round in a major championship until 2017 when Justin Thomas shot a 9-under 63 at Erin Hills (U.S Open).

Ray Floyd’s PGA Championship Record
1969 NCR CC South (-8)
1982 Southern Hills (-8)

Other Top Finishes:
Runner-ups: 1 (1976)
Top 5s: 0
Top 10s: 4 (1970, ’75, ’88, ’91)


11. Nick Price

Nick Price wins the Wanamaker Trophy at the 1992 PGA Championship
Nick Price poses with the trophy after winning the PGA Championship on May 16, 1992 at Bellerive CC in Town and Country, Missouri. (Photo by PGA TOUR Archive via Getty Images)

Nick Price won his first PGA Championship in 1992, and two years later went wire-to-wire to claim his second, six strokes clear of runner-up Corey Pavin.

The win was Price’s second consecutive major and second PGA Championship in three years. Following this win, he moved to the top of the Official World Golf Ranking.

Nick Price’s PGA Championship Record
1992 Bellerive CC (-6)
1994 Southern Hills C (-11)

Other Top Finishes:
Runner-ups: 0
Top 5s: 3 (1985, 1998-99)
Top 10s: 2 (1987, ’96)


12. Lee Trevino

Lee Trevino wins the Wanamaker Trophy at the 1974 PGA Championship
Jim McKay, Jack Nicklaus, and winner Lee Trevino at the US PGA Golf Championship at Tanglewood Park in Clemmon, NC on Aug 11, 1974. (Photo by Al Satterwhite of ABC via Getty Images)

The last two of Lee Trevino’s major victories came at the PGA Championship. One of the classic final round battles between Trevino and Nicklaus took place in 1974, in which the “Merry Mex” triumphed.

Trevino was struggling with his putter, so just days before the tournament he switched to a new putter, which he found in the attic of the house he was renting for the week.

In 1985, Trevino came close to winning his third, and going back-to-back after an eagle on the fifth hole gave him a one shot lead over Hubert Green in Sunday’s finale. The two were tied on the 15th tee, but two late bogeys by Trevino gave Green a two-stroke win at Cherry Hills.

Lee Trevino’s PGA Championship Record
Wins:
1974 Tanglewood GC (-4)
1984 Shoal Creek CC (-15)

Other Top Finishes:
Runner-ups: 1 (1985)
Top 5s: 0
Top 10s: 2 (1978, ’80)


13. Brooks Koepka

Brooks Koepka
Brooks Koepka reacts after winning the PGA Championship at the Bethpage Black course on May 19, 2019 in Farmingdale, NY. Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Brooks Koepka won the U.S. Open in 2017 and 2018, and then the PGA Championship in 2018 and 2019, becoming the first golfer in history to hold back-to-back titles in two majors simultaneously.

Injuries have hampered Koepka the past two seasons, but at just 31 years old, he is still considered the best big-game player of his generation.

Brooks Koepka’s PGA Championship Record
Wins:
2018 Bellerive CC (-8)
2019 Bethpage Black (-8)

Other Top Finishes:
Runner-ups: 0
Top 5s: 2 (2015, ’16)
Top 10s: 0


14. Leo Diegel

Leo Diegel
Leo Diegel tees off from the 18th tee during the 2nd Ryder Cup Matches at Moortown GG in Leeds, England on July 27, 1929. (Photo by Central Press/Getty Images)

Little-known Leo Diegel won back to back PGA Championships in 1928 and 1929. Diegel’s claim to fame was defeating both Walter Hagen and Gene Sarazen en route to both victories.

In fact during his maiden win, in 1928, he ended Hagen’s streak of 22 consecutive matches won, and four straight PGA Championship titles (1924-1927). He then walloped Sarazen 9 & 8, who historians say was overconfident after expecting to face Hagen. In 1929, Diegel did it again – this time beating Sarazen in the quarterfinals, and Hagen in the semis.

Hagen’s match play record at the PGA Championship in the 1920s was an incredible 35-3. He lost to Sarazen in 38 holes in the 1923 finals, and then lost to Diegel TWICE!

Leo Diegel’s PGA Championship Record
1928 Baltimore CC (6&5)
1929 Hillcrest CC (6&4)

Other Top Finishes:
Runner-up: 1 (1926)
Semis: 0
Quarters: 1 (1925)


15. Rory McIlroy

Rory McIlroy wins the Wanamaker Trophy at the 2014 PGA Championship
Rory McIlroy wins the PGA Championship at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Ky on August 10, 2014. (Photo by Jeff Moreland-Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Rory McIlroy owns two PGA trophies, winning in 2012 at Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course (the host venue in 2021) and 2014 at Valhalla Golf Club.

In his first six career starts at the PGA, Rory posted two wins, two T3s and a top 10. In his last six starts, though, he’s posted just a single top-10, which was a backdoor type in 2019, amid Brooks Koepka’s blow-out win.

Rory McIlroy’s PGA Championship Record
Wins:
2012 Kiawah Ocean (-13)
2014 Valhalla GC (-16)

Other Top Finishes:
Runner-ups: 0
Top 5s: 2 (2009-10)
Top 10s: 2 (2013, ’19)


Saurav Ghosh contributes to this report.



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