5 Greatest English Golfers of All Time
Next in 5 Greatest Golfers series it’s the turn of England. And like many of our other top 5 lists, this is a tough one to decide. England has produced a number of fine golfers over the years who have excelled in all forms of the games from Ryder Cup legends and matchplay maestros to Major winners.
And now we are left with the task of choosing our top 5 English players of All Time and it is no easy feat. We have previously mentioned the difficulties around writing these lists and comparing different eras. Is a major win a hundred years ago worth the same as a major win today? How can we compare the highly statistical and scientific game of today with all its launch monitors and technology to the feel-based game of wooden clubs, oddly shaped balls and suit coats of yesteryear?
After delving deep into the stats and going through career achievements we have finalised our list. Maybe you will agree, maybe you won’t, but we hope you sit back and enjoy the read!!!
There was an abundance of players who could have made it to the honourable mention, from looking at the old-school such as Henry Cotton, John Henry Taylor, Peter Oosterhuis and Neil Coles to more contemporary stars such as Ian Poulter, Luke Donald and Paul Casey but there is no one more deserving of an Honourable Mention than Justin Rose.
Many might have Rose in their top 5 but when it comes to us, the recent Payne Stewart Award recipient will have to settle for just outside it. Born in Johannesburg, South Africa to English parents, Rose moved to England when he was 5. He took up the game and quickly developed a talent for it, breaking 70 for the first time when he was 11 and was playing off +3 by the time he was 14.
Rose broke into the public eye as a fresh-faced 17-year-old after finishing T4th in the 1998 Open Championship at Royal Birkdale and won the low amateur. This was the best finish by an amateur at the Open Championship since Frank Stranahan’s runner up finish in 1953. Justin would turn pro the following day, leading onto a storybook career that is still being told.
Rose has recorded 24 wins worldwide to date and something refreshing to see is that he isn’t one of these players who rocked up on tour one week and was winning tournaments the next. No, in fact, the complete opposite is true and Justin had to scratch and claw during his first few years on tour.
He made his professional debut in 1997 at the Canon European Masters, missing the cut. His ‘98 and ‘99 seasons saw him miss 24 out of 29 cuts, a worrying return even for someone as young as Rose. But the turn of the millennium brought a change in fortunes. In 2000, he made 14 of 29 cuts, still a paltry return but his confidence grew. Two runner up finishes in Africa at the start of the 2001 season acted as a springboard as Rose continued to edge his way towards breaking into the world’s top 100.
2002 proved to be his breakout year, winning twice in Europe, once in Africa and once in Japan, cementing himself as not only a top 100 player in the world, but also someone capable of international success. Rose would spend the best part of the next decade yo-yoing up and down the rankings, going as high as 6th and low as 112th only recording another 2 victories.
2010 saw Justin kick it up a gear. He won every year from ’10 to ’19, notching up a total of 16 victories. The biggest of these wins was the 2013 US Open where he triumphed at Merion by two shots over Phil Mickelson and Jason Day. Add to this Rose became an Olympic Gold Medallist upon golf’s return to the Olympics in 2016. And his success is not just limited to singles play.
He has been a fine leader of the European Team in the Ryder Cup, playing in the 5 iterations of the event and being on the winning side 3 times. Though questions hang over whether he will make Padraig Harrington’s side this September. A disappointing couple of seasons following a questionable equipment change has seen Rose almost drop out of the world’s top 50 and he is well outside contention for automatic qualification.
His experience would prove invaluable to the side but with a number of other experienced players also looking like they need captain’s pick, what way will captain Harrington go?
5. Jim Barnes
World Golf Hall of Fame member Jim Barnes is the only pre-World War 2 player I have included on this list. As mentioned above, it is different to compare and contrast golfers from different eras due to technology, size of fields and quality of competition but there’s a good reason why Barnes is picked…he won the career grand slam. Sort of.
The golf historians among you will say, “no, no, no, that’s not right. Only five players have ever won the career grand slam, Sarazen, Hogan, Player, Nicklaus and Woods!” That’s correct too. Barnes’ major career spanned from 1912 to 1932 and the Masters was only first played in 1934. In those 20 years, Barnes captured the PGA Championship twice, and the US Open and Open Championship on one occasion each.
He would have one more victory on the PGA Tour after this, in 1937 at the Long Island Open, bringing his total to 22 PGA Tour wins. It also made him the oldest winner on the PGA Tour at the time, at over 51 years old, and stood for 28 years before Sam Snead won the 1965 Greater Greensboro Open two months shy of his 53rdbirthday.
A winner of all the majors available to him at the time, Barnes deserves the number 5 spot on this list.
4. Lee Westwood
Maybe a controversial one to have here but there is no denying that Westwood is one of the best English golfers to have ever teed it up. Many people will point to his lack of a major championship as being a reason why he shouldn’t be included but that would be unfair and overlook the rest of his sterling career.
Lee has notched up 41 wins worldwide. He has made the European Tour his home and sits 8th on the all-time win list with 25 victories. He has also found success in Japan, America and Asia and is, in fact, 6th on the all-time Asian Tour win list with 8 victories. These victories have spanned 24 years, from 1996 to 2020.
In 1998 he won 7 times and in 2000 he recorded 6 wins. His superb performances led to him being voted the European Tour player of the year on both occasions, a feat he would match in 2009 and again in 2020, a testament to his longevity. And even at the age of 48, he doesn’t show any signs of slowing down, comfortably sitting inside the world’s top 50 and looking in better shape than he ever has in his career.
He is also an expert Ryder Cup player. Westwood has played in the event 10 times, a recorded only bested by Sir Nick Faldo. He failed to make the team in 2018 but looks set to equal Faldo’s record this year. He has won a total of 23 points for Europe which puts him 5th in the all-time rankings.
He also holds the dubious honour of having the most major starts without a win, standing at 88. But despite not winning a major, Westwood rose to the top of the golfing world and was the world’s number 1 ranked golfer in 2010. His longevity and success all over the world easily make him worthy of being on this list.
3. Tony Jacklin
There weren’t many English golfers succeeding on the absolute elite stage of the game during Jacklin’s time. Peter Oosterhuis and Neil Coles were certainly up there but in terms of major championships, the cupboard was bare. Following Max Faulkner’s victory at the 1951 Open Championship, there was a barren spell until Jacklin claimed victory at the ’69 Open Championship and the ’70 US Open. In fact, there wouldn’t be another English winner for 17 years after this until Faldo claimed his first major win.
Jacklin had great success on the European circuit. He won 9 times before the European Tour was established in 1972 and then went on to win a further 8 times on the Tour. He was also a strong performer in the Ryder Cup at a time when the American’s dominated the event, winning 17 points in 7 outings. Unfortunately for Tony he failed to tasted victory on any of these occasions but would find success as a non-playing captain. He led the European Team to victory in ’85 and ’87 and to a tie in ’89 where they retained the title.
The best English golfer of his era, Jacklin deserves his place on this list.
2. Dame Laura Davies
For our next pick we have to move over to the Ladies game. Never mind being a great representative for English golf or British golf, Laura Davies was an absolute stalwart for European golf. The Dame has won 87 times all over the world. Wrapped up in those 87 victories are 45 on the Ladies European Tour, a record by quite some margin – her closest competitor is Dale Reid with 21 wins. She has won 20 times on the LPGA Tour and has 4 major championships, although she did with the Women’s Open Championship once and the Evian Championship twice before they were classed as majors.
There’s no doubting Davies’ credentials. Her first professional victory came in 1985 at the age of 21 and so began Laura’s reign of dominance, a reign that would see her continue to taste victory for the next 25 years. In fact, the only year she failed to win in this period was in 2005. What’s even more spectacular is that her most successful year on the LET in terms of victories came in 2010 when she was 46, winning an incredible 5 times!!! (admittedly there were other years where she would have won more than this worldwide)
Davies is a 7 time LET Order of Merit winner, the first in ’85 and the last coming in ’06, a one-time LPGA Tour order of merit winner and a World Golf Hall of Fame inductee. And her accolades haven’t quite finished yet. Davies is 57 and has found a home partly on the Ladies Legends Tour, a tour for female golfers 45 years and over, winning 4 times, once in 2012 and 3 times in 2018, including 2 Senior Ladies majors.
She also holds the records for both the most Solheim Cup appearances at 12 and the most Solheim Cup points at 25. Davies is nothing short of a legend of the game but as good as she is, she cannot claim to be at the summit of English golf.
1. Sir Nick Faldo
The greatest English golfer of all time and there can be no questioning it. Regardless of what you think of him, love him or loathe him, whether you find him egotistical or abrasive, it is impossible to deny the success that Faldo has had.
43 wins worldwide. 9 on the PGA Tour. 30 on the European Tour (5th on the all-time win list). 6 majors; 3 Masters and 3 Open Championships. The only European to ever record more major titles was Harry Vardon whose final triumph came 73 years before Faldo’s first.
Faldo’s journey to the top started in 1977 when he won the Skol Lager Invitational in a three-man playoff. The win would see him become the youngest ever Ryder Cup player at the time at the age of 20 (a record now held by Sergio Garcia). Winning suited Faldo and he made a habit of it, including 5 European Tour victories in 1983. His best years were from ’89 to ’94 where he won a total of 19 times, a run that included 4 of his 6 major victories. He also ascended to the world number one position on 4 occasions between 1990 and 1994, holding top spot for a grand total of 97 weeks.
Faldo is a three-time European Tour golfer of the year and a one-time PGA Tour golfer of the year. He has been part of the World Golf Hall of Fame for over 20 years now but sadly we haven’t seen him tee it up anywhere since the 2018 PNC Father Son Challenge. Instead, Faldo has found a home on CBS as an analyst for the PGA Tour.
The final point of note about Faldo’s tremendous career is his record in the Ryder Cup. He has played in more events than any other European with 11 appearances (only Phil Mickelson can best that with 12) and held the all-time points record at 25 until Sergio Garcia bested that in 2018.
Faldo is without question England’s greatest ever player and arguably Europe’s finest.
And that’s it for this article. Do you agree with our top 5? Who would you have in there? Let us know on our Facebook and Instagram pages! We look forward to seeing you there