5 Greatest Scottish Golfers of All Time
Scotland is a special place for golfers, something akin to the golfing cradle of life. This is where it all began. While we don’t have the exact details on how the game started, we do know that early players used to hit a pebble with a bent stick over sand dunes. It still sounds pretty similar to the game we all know and love and yet, miles away. There were no pristine Pro V1s or 460 cc drivers. No metal shafts with different kickpoints and spins. No hi-tec golf shoes with comfortable souls and spikes.
And then we come to the Home of Golf. St Andrews. The first ever 18-hole course built in 1764. A course that is played by thousands upon thousands of people every year. It has its own aura, its own special nature and is used as a venue for the Open Championship every 5 years. It truly is a special sight to see the Open come home on those occasions.
Naturally Scotland has a rich history in the game and so do Scottish Players. The first 29 winners of the Open Championship were Scottish at a time whenf the fields were between 8 and 60 players in size. But despite Scotland’s early dominance at the Open Championship, the same can’t be said for the last 100 years when only two Scotsmen have lifted the Claret Jug.
It is difficult to pick the top 5 for this list. Many of the great Scottish players played in an era completely different to ours. Thus, does the criteria for participation change for this list? Do majors hold more or less weight than normal? How much of an impact do other successes play? It’s as clear as mud and a tough job, but someone has to do it!
On we go!
There is a near-endless list of people who could have made this honourable mention. ’99 Open Champion Paul Lawrie, Young Tom Morris, Willie Park Snr, Tommy Armour, Brian Barnes and so on. In the end though, it was Catriona Matthew who won the nomination.
Matthew is not the only quality female golfer Scotland has produced. Far from it. Catherine Panton-Lewis recorded 14 LET wins, Dale Reid has the second most wins in LET history at 21 and Janice Moody is a two-time winner on the LPGA Tour and a three-time Solheim Cup player (with an incredible record of 8 points out of 11 matches). But only one has ever won a Major Championship. And that is just one of the many triumphs Matthew’s enjoyed in her career.
Hailing from North Berwick, Catriona has a litany of underage and amateur successes. She was the Scottish Girls Champion, a two-time Scottish Under-21 Stroke Play champion, a three-time Sottish Amateur champion, British Amateur Champion and three-time member of the GB&I Curtis Cup team.
She turned pro in 1994 and played a mixed calendar between the LPGA and LET tours in 1995. Her first professional victory came on the Australian Ladies Professional Golf tour in ’96 at the Holden’s Women’s Australian Open. Wins were sporadic for Matthew. There was a victory on the LET in 1998 and on the LPGA tour in 2001. In fact, after the 2007 season, she had only recorded two victories in Europe, two in America and one in Australia.
But in 2009 came the biggest success in her singles career, a surprise three-shot triumph at the Ricoh Women’s British Open. It was the only major championship she played in all year and after shooting a superb 67 in the second round to gain a tie of the lead, she never let up.
This would be the catalyst to four more professional victories, one on the LPGA tour and three on the LET which including two wins at the Ladies Aberdeen Scottish Open, one of which was a ten-shot victory and a one-shot victory at the Ladies Irish Open.
Whilst being a successful singles player, Matthew also proved herself to be a very steely team player with a strong match play record. She represented the European Team 9 times in the Solheim Cup, recording a very impressive 22 points out of 37 matches. She was also a winning non-playing captain in 2019 and will take up the role of captain again this year.
Fun fact: 5 of Matthew’s 6 European Tour victories came in August. The other one? The 1st of September!
5. Sam Torrance
Torrance had a long and successful professional career that lasted from 1970 all the way up to 2017 when he decided to retire. It was a career that produced 44 professional victories, 21 of which came on the European Tour which puts him in a tie for 10th overall.
Sam’s first professional victory was in 1972, a year that also saw him win the Sir Henry Cotton Rookie of the Year Award. Wins came regularly for Torrance during the 80s and the 90s with his final victory on the European Tour coming in 1998 aged 44. But this comes with a caveat.
In 2006, aged 52, Torrance triumphed at the Hassan II Golf Trophy in Morocco with a playoff victory over Raphael Jacquelin. While it was not a part of the European Tour schedule at this time, it would become part of it in 2010. He joined the Seniors Tour upon turning 50 and enjoyed 11 victories – third in the overall standings – in six years.
Despite a strong singles career, he never had any great success in the majors. For much of his career, Torrance only played in the Open Championship and after a total of 41 major appearances, he only managed to finish in the top ten twice.
Despite the number of successes, it will be perhaps for the Ryder Cup that he is best known, An eight time player, he holed the winning putt in 1985 at the Belfry to take the title out of American hands for the first time in 28 years and was part of the team again in 1987, the first ever European team to win on American soil. He was also captain of the winning 2002 team.
Torrance was a great competitor, his career punctuated by his longevity and success but the longest lasting memory of his career will be that putt on the 18th green at the Belfry.
4. James Braid
As aforementioned, it can be difficult to equate just how good certain players were compared to their counterparts from different eras. But regardless of that, Braid has to make this list.
Born in 1870, we know that he recorded at least 19 professional victories, 5 of which were Open Championships. He won the major back to back in 1905 and 1906 and was the only European player to do so for over a century until Padraig Harrington achieved it in 2008!
He was part of “The Great Triumvirate” of golf, a grouping made up of Braid, Harry Vardon and John Henry Taylor as they were the greatest golfers of the end of the 19th century and the start of the 20th century. In a span of 21 years from 1894 to 1914, they won the Open Championship 16 times between them and on the other five occasions at least one of them finished runner up.
Braid is survived through his course design. The inventor of the ‘dogleg’, Braid has either designed or redesigned some of the Britain’s most famous courses, such as Gleneagles and Carnoustie.
3. Old Tom Morris
The Grand Old Man of Golf. An iconic figure with an almost godlike status. He was not the first to win the Open Championship (that was Willie Park Sr), but he was the second…and the third. Old Tom Morris would claim 4 Open Championship titles, the first of these at the age of 40, the last at the age of 46 in 1867.
His victory in 1862 was against a field of 7 other players and played over three rounds of 12 holes. He cruised home to victory with a massive thirteen shot victory, a record major winning margin that remained unbeaten for 138 years until some young upstart named Tiger Woods won the 2000 US Open by 15 shots.
Like Braid, he was heavily involved in course design and has a star-studded list to his name, including Carnoustie, Prestwick, Muirfield and in Ireland, Lahinch and Rosapenna. Next time you’re playing one of these great courses, give a little smile knowing that one of the most iconic figures in golf helped design it.
2. Sandy Lyle
Lyle has had an incredible career. There are no arguments over that. The only argument here is that maybe he should be number one on this list.
The Scot who was actually born in England turned pro in 1977 at the age of 19. He won the first of his thirty professional victories at the Nigerian Open in ’78 on the Safari Tour and recorded his first win on the European Tour in 1979. First three wins actually. In total he won 18 times on the European Tour which puts him in a tie for 12th overall. He also has 6 wins on the PGA Tour though 2 of these were co-sanctioned with the European Tour.
Lyle went on to record 7 European Tour wins from 1980 to 1984, setting him up for the best run of his golfing career. From ’85 to ’88 Sandy won 8 times on the PGA and European Tours with a number of high-profile triumphs. The first to mention is the Players Championship in 1987 where he won in a playoff against Jeff Sluman.
Then we come to the majors. And in all honesty, Lyle’s record looks pretty average. 99 major starts. 50 missed cuts. Only 4 top tens. But the thing is, 2 of those top tens were victories.
Lyle reigned supreme at the ’85 Open Championship and the ’88 Masters breaking long records in the process. His ’85 victory was the first time a Scot had won the Open Championship in 54 years and his Masters win was the first and, to date, only time a Scotsman has ever won the tournament.
In 1988 he reached a high of 2nd in the world and played in 5 Ryder Cups, including the historic ’85 and ’87 outings mentioned above. For many countries a record like Lyle’s would make him the standout performer but for Scotland, there’s still one player ahead of him.
1. Colin Montgomerie
Woah! Hold up, I know what you’re saying. Monty? But he never won a major! There’s a couple of reasons why Colin makes it into top spot. I grew up in the 90s at a time when Montgomerie dominated. His name was synonymous with Scottish golf and you couldn’t mention one without the other. The other reason…the Ryder Cup.
I once heard there are three certainties in life; Death, Taxes and Monty won’t lose in Ryder Cup Singles. Can’t argue with any of them.
Montgomerie’s professional career started in 1988 and naturally he won the Henry Cotton Rookie of the Year Award this year. His first win on the European Tour came in ’89 when he romped home to an eleven shot victory at the Portugese Open TPC (funnily enough the next ten of his wins would all be 1 stroke victories!).
In total Montgomerie would claim 31 European Tour wins, the 4th most of all time. He proved to be the personification of consistency for seven years from ‘93 to ’99, picking up 20 wins and topping the Order of Merit each year. He added an eighth year Order of Merit title to this tallyl in 2005 at the age of 42.
His last victory on the European Tour came in 2007 and then he transitioned over to the Seniors Tour and has recorded 13 wins since joining, 3 of which were Senior Major Championships.
The biggest argument against Monty topping this list is that he never won a major. That is true and he came close a number of times, finishing in runner up spot five times, two of those coming from playoffs. If he had won a ‘big one’ then no one would ever question his spot here.
But it’s not the 8 Order of Merits or 31 Tour Victories that he will forever be known, it’s his feisty and gritty performances in the Ryder Cup. Before there was Ian Poulter or Rory McIlory or Patrick Reed or any of the other stars of today, there was Monty.
He played in 8 Ryder Cups and has a points total of 23.5, two behind top European All-Time Points Scorer, Sergio Garcia. He holds the record of never having lost a singles match, recording 6 wins and 2 halves. His total of 7 points puts him as joint top Singles Points Scorer in the event’s history alongside, Billy Casper, Neil Coles, Arnold Palmer and Lee Trevino.
Monty was tough, grumpy and surly. He rubbed American fans up precisely the wrong way and was unflappable in the face of their jeers. He thrived in his position as a leader and will forever be remembered as one of the talisman’s of European golf.
Do you agree with our number one pick? If not then let us know on Facebook or Instagram who you think should take top spot. We look forward to hearing from you.