Tiger Passes Jack in PGA Wins --- Does That Change Your Opinion?

I’m just wondering whether Tiger Woods’ recent 74th PGA win has changed the opinion of anyone who formerly thought that Jack Nicklaus was the greatest player of all time.

Jack had 73 official PGA wins (71 individual wins, and two with Arnold Palmer in team events). When Tiger won his 74th individual PGA title, he left Jack with only one significant career stat that exceeds Tiger, namely major wins. Tiger had already passed Jack in the other major career stats two years ago, at age 34, holding the records for most money titles, most scoring titles, most years with the most wins, most Player of the Year awards, etc.

Team Jack will argue that none of that matters; the only thing that matters is professional major wins. Team Tiger will say that it’s ridiculous to ignore all but four events a year, and that majors were not the sole standard of excellence before Jack lobbied for it (after falling short of Snead’s career wins mark, which had been one of his goals, and which many considered the standard before Jack came along). For example, Walter Hagen was never widely considered the greatest golfer of all time, and he held the pro majors record for over 40 years before Jack broke it. And just incidentally, he won his 11 majors with only about half the opportunities Jack had, because neither the Masters or the PGA existed when he first hit his prime (the PGA was founded in time for him to win several, but the Masters wasn’t founded until he was 41), the British Open required almost a month out of the US for travel by ship, and WWI cancelled several majors.

Even today, Walter Hagen (11 majors) is almost always ranked below Ben Hogan (9 majors) on the all-time lists. Many Jack fans even rate Hogan above Tiger (14 majors). So it seems inconsistent at best for Jack’s fans to insist that majors are the only thing that matters.

It’s also significant that Tiger compiled his 74 wins in the hardest way possible, playing both fewer and tougher events than any top golfer since Bobby Jones. Due to injuries, he’s only played one full season (2009) in the last five years, and even when healthy he played fewer events than most players. And the events he did play were typically those with the most accomplished fields — majors, WGCs, and elite invitationals. There were a few Buick Opens in there for contractual reasons, but overall, and making the very reasonable assumption that the fields today are deeper than in the past, he has played the strongest schedule in history.

So my questions (mostly for golf fans who thought Jack was the greatest of all time as of January of this year, but comments welcomed from anyone) are:

  1. Does Tiger passing Jack for #2 in career wins change your opinion of who’s the greatest of all time?

If not,

  1. Would Tiger passing Sam Snead to become #1 in career wins do it, if he won no more majors?

  2. If Tiger finished his career with 17 pro majors, so that he and Jack were tied at 20 total (counting US ams), would his lead in the other stats do it?

  3. If Tiger finished with 18 pro majors, would that do it?

  4. If Tiger finished with 20 pro majors, and more total wins than Snead, would you still think Jack was the greatest because he had tougher competition, or wasn’t a whoremonger, or some other reason?

My opinions at the start of the season:

  • Any serious debate about the GOAT in a sport with any level of prominence is an exercise in futility, because there are simply too many factors (level of competition, rules, styles of play, the sport’s relative importance, equipment, etc.). There will never be 100% consensus or anything close to it. Declaring someone the GOAT, as far as I can tell, is trolling more than anything.
  • One of the most important considerations (if you’re truly interested in measuring possible candidates and not just trolling) is being able to clearly explain why this person merits consideration as the GOAT taking all factors into consideration. That’s what makes Michael Jordan so problematic: there’s never been a completely honest appraisal of his career, and you can thank things like referee favoritism, overexpansion, an offensive system perfectly geared toward his game made by one of the greatest coaches ever, and Scottie Pippen (whom some fans are trying to freaking write out of existence).
  • The hype around Tiger has been astronomical; more than Jack and Arnie put together. We’ve never seen anything like that surround a golfer, and it can be difficult to sift out the truth from the white noise.
  • How much do majors matter? Are we even trying to settle this question? 'Cause if we don’t, we’re not coming within a par 5 of nailing this down.
  • There needs to be some weight on the player’s lasting impact on the sport. That’s why I don’t think Pete Sampras deserves consideration; he completely vanished the moment he retired. Wayne Gretzky, on the other hand, did everything in his power to turn the NHL into a powerhouse, and you can’t argue that he had at least some success (two words: Phoenix Coyotes). Where are the minority children Tiger was supposed to be bringing to golf?
  • Walk before you try to run. Diving. Greg Louganis. Easy enough. Go for it.

Can’t say nuthin’s changed since.

I’ll give my opinion as to who was the greatest golfer of all time down below. But first…

Look, 95 per cent of people who care will pick either Jack Nicklaus or Tiger Woods as the greatest golfer of all time (you’ll always have a few people going with Ben Hogan or Bobby Jones or ___).

ALMOST everyone who picks Jack as #1 has Tiger as #2, and vice versa.

So, given that virtually EVERYONE rates Tiger Woods as either the greatest or second greatest golfer of all time, it’s hard to see what more you want! Tiger is NOT underrated or underappreciated! And if, say, 25% of golf fans say “Jack Nicklaus was the best ever, just a hair ahead of Tiger Woods,” that is NOT some kind of unforgivable insult to Tiger!

My take: I say Tiger is #1 of all time, just a little better than Jack. I say that because Tiger was at LEAST as dominant as Jack against a stronger, deeper, more international field of competitors than Nicklaus faced in his prime.

But it doesn’t bother me in the least if other people stick with Jack as #1.

IMO, the standard is 18 majors, and will always be 18 majors

Pro Tiger People claim that the fields are deeper so tiger is beating a deeper pool of golfers.

Lets assume for a minute that is true, then it would stand to reason that the fields are deeper in Men’s Tennis. Yesterday morning I saw Federer win his 17th Grand Slams, three more Grand Slams than anyone else in the history of Men’s tennis.

More than Sampras, More than Laver, More than Emerson, Borg and Connors.

Federer had no problem breaking the grand slam record.

But my biggest beef in saying that Woods is the best golfer is the fact that people are claiming that 14 of today is greater than 18 of yesteryear. That is a slippery slope that I don’t want to get on. That mean 30 years from now, that 11 will be equal to today’s 14 which is equal to yesterday’s 18. 100 years from now, when are great children have grandchildren, it will only take 7 majors to equal Nicklaus 18 majors.

I will also note that Phil Mickelson has won 4 majors. By assuming 14 of today is better than 18 of yesteryear, then Mickelson’s 4 majors are better than Seve’s 5 majors, Nelson 5 majors, Snead’s 6 majors, Faldo’s 6 majors, Palmer’s 7 majors and essentially equal Watson’s 8 majors. Again, not a slippery slope that I want to get on.

From 1962 to 1980, Nicklaus was a factor in almost every major. During his prime, Nicklaus never held a 36 hole lead in major and failed to be a factor on Sunday, like Woods at the US Open. Nicklaus finished Second in 19 majors.

His scoring average during his prime years is about the same as it today. Sure golf courses are much longer today, but the equipment and technology is so much better. Nicklaus never had computer analysis of swing, trajectories, spin rates and had equipment designed to meet his swing. His swing had to adapt to the equipment. The ProV1 golf ball is so much better than the old thin-skin Balatas. Nicklaus had to change the ball on nearly every hole because it would go out of round after a 260 yd drive. Ever try to putt with wobbly ball?

The agronomy of today is so much better. Greens are consistently mowed. Drainage is better. Greens are perfect. The technology for green aeration and verticutting are generations ahead of 40 years ago. Tees are leveled with lasers. Fairways are scientifically irrigated.

And I haven’t even talked about the golf club. I got a set of my Dad’s Wilson Staff irons. Vintage 1960’s. They resemble the butter knives in my silverware drawer. Computer aided Design for maximum sweetspot. How about big headed drivers compared to the wood woods. the head of Dad’s vintage driver can fit into a coffee mug. The head of my driver barely fits into a salad bowl.

The golf shafts are matched so much better. I heard an old story from a 1970’s pro (might have been Watson) who said he had trouble hitting a 7 iron as consistently as his other clubs. After inspection, he found out the kick point was measured wrong and it threw off his accuracy.

Despite all of these advances in technology Nicklaus’s scoring average in his prime years is not a lot different than today’s best players…

Yes before anyone says it, Nicklaus never won a Vardon Trophy, only because he didn’t meet the qualifications, mainly a PGA Class A member and minimum rounds, he would have won at least 9 times with today’s rules in place, and maybe as many as thirteen times with the adjusted scoring average.

I thought part of the knock on Tiger was that he dominated a relatively weak field in his prime. He didn’t have a Tom Watson eating up a bunch of other majors.

I think I’ll keep Jack at #1 because he dominated for so long. There are 23 years between his first and last major. Tiger’s first major was in 1997 and I do not think he’ll be winning tournaments in 2020.

For the people think Tiger is the GOAT:

Where do you put Phil Mickelson on your GOAT list? (40 wins/ 4 majors)

Do you rank him ahead:

Sam Snead (7 majors, last one 1954)
Gary Player (9 Majors, last one 1978)
Arnold Palmer (7 mjors, last one 1964)
Byron Nelson (5 majors, last one 1945)
Tom Watson (8 majors, last one 1983)
Nick Faldo (6 majors, last one 1996)
Seve Ballesteros (5 majors, last one 1990)
Walter Hagen (11 majors, last one 1929)
Bobby Jones (7 pro majors, last one 1930)
Ben Hogan (9 majors, last one 1953)
Lee Trevino (6 majors, last one 1984)

IMO, if you put Tiger Number 1, then you have to put Phil Mickelson in the top 5 of all time. Because if you diminish Jack’s majors (last one 1986) you have to diminish the accomplishments of Hagen, Jones, Player, Snead, Nelson, Seve, and Watson.

If I go by the assumption that Woods is the GOAT, then Mickelson should be ranked about 5th, behind Woods, Nicklaus, Hogan, and maybe Snead. Mickelson would be ranked ahead of

Tom Watson (close)
Arnold Palmer
Byron Nelson
Gary Player
Lee Trevino
Seve Ballesteros
Billy Casper
Walter Hagen
Bobby Jones

And for sure ahead of players prior to the Jones/Hagen era like Harry Vardon.

And to put Mickelson anywhere close to one of the top Five or 6 GOATs is not a slippery slope that I am will to get on.

I got Mickelson about 15th/16th on my list, behind all of the players listed above.

IMO, Snead’s record became a not priority with Nicklaus after Barbara started dropping kids about every two years. Jack pledged to his wife that he would not be away from home for more than two weeks at at time.

By the time, kid number 5 came along in the early 70, Jack was playing a very limited schedule compared to the other PGAT pros. His design business and business relationship with MacGregor got increase priority because it allowed him more flexibility with his home life. Other top pros were playing 30+ events per year while he was playing 18. IMO, if he continued playing 25-26 events per year like he was doing in the beginning of his career, he would have easily broken Snead win record.

But as I said, that record was not a priority after Barbara started to drop kids.

Jack started in the golf architect business int he late 60’s. this wasn’t a token name. he built a business and getting into the nuts and bolts of design. He had to learn about agronomy, drainage, etc. He didn’t act as a token consultant and say I think we need a bunker here and kidney shape green there. It was Hands on.

Yes, Tiger plays a similar schedule, but any outside business dealings is only as a figure head. He is not scouring blueprints and topographical maps in his fledgling design business. Or getting into the nuts and bolts of running a club manufacturer like Nicklaus did with MacGregor.

I was hoping to get answers to the OP before this turned into another Tiger vs Jack debate, but I guess that’s not going to happen. Oh well, I like Tiger vs Jack debates, too.

I don’t follow tennis, so I don’t know how good your analogy is, but my first impression is that it is an excellent argument. Of course, Tiger isn’t done yet, so we don’t know yet whether he will have a problem breaking Jack’s record. My guess is that if he stays healthy, he won’t, but that’s a big “if.”

I won’t say this is a straw man, but I will say that I have been a daily denizen of various discussion boards dedicated to golf for over 15 years, and I can’t remember any intelligent Tiger fan making that argument. I suppose some people have, but they are not taken seriously. Tiger fans have their hands full just refuting the opposite assertion, i.e. that the competition was much tougher in Jack’s day, as “proven” by all the Hall of Famers he played against. I recall one Jack fan seriously asserting that since Jack’s competition was five times as good as Tiger’s, Tiger needed 91 majors to pass Jack.

Serious “Tiger is the greatest” arguments have more to do with your premise that majors are the only thing that matters, which IMO is absurd. For guys like Tiger and Jack, who thrive on pressure, majors are actually easier to win than regular events (as shown by their winning percentages in majors and non-majors during their peak years), so IMO it’s ridiculous to throw out all but four (or less) events per year when evaluating a career. IMO Jack’s major record is a large factor in determining who’s best, but it’s Jack’s only important record that Tiger hasn’t broken, and by itself it can’t stand up to Tiger’s dominance in every other important stat.

Not even Jack would make that claim. On his own website, he claims that he had the lowest scoring average in 8 seasons, but he gives no data to support it, and I’ve never been able to find any (you can compare his posted averages with the Vardon winner, but since Jack is ignoring the minimum rounds, how do we know there wasn’t somebody else with less than the minimum rounds who was lower than Jack?)

The Class A PGA thing affected at most two of those mythical titles. The other six were strictly due to not playing enough rounds, and that was his choice. Palmer, Casper, Trevino, and Watson all won multiple Vardons under the same rules that Jack found too oppressive, so the minimums were clearly not unreasonable for top golfers of the time. And playing fewer regular events gave Jack time to scout the major venues, which gave him a big advantage over his opponents at the majors. That may be why his winning percentage in majors was quite a bit higher than his winning percentage in non-majors.

Tiger has nine official scoring titles, and if he wanted to ignore the minimum rounds like Jack did, he could claim 11, including 1996 and 2008. But he doesn’t have the brass to do so.

I played golf in the 1960’s, on a public course in a small desert town, and the fairways and greens were just fine. The changes you talk about, as well as the lengthening, make courses tougher, not easier. It’s a lot easier to hit a slow, wide fairway with a 270-yard drive than it is to hit a slick, 20-yard wide fairway with a 320-yard drive. It’s a lot easier to hit to a pin in the middle of a slow green than to hit to one that’s three yards from the edge of a green running 13 on the Stimpmeter.

As for the equipment, I commend to you Jack’s 1996 autobiography, where he talked about all the changes in the modern game. His conclusion was that the new equipment was more forgiving, and thus made it harder for the better players to separate themselves. After reviewing other factors like the increased purses and the increase in great international players, his conclusion was that the middle of the pack players in 1996 were as good as the top players of his day.

It’s useless to compare scoring average across eras. It’s the easiest thing in the world for course setups to be manipulated so that the best players end up averaging around 68 – that’s what all the lengthening, narrowing of fairways, etc. has been about, and that’s why during a typical PGA season, you see the events with the weakest fields won by scores of -20 or less, while the toughest fields may be won by a shot or two under par. Today’s players with today’s equipment would make mincemeat of 1960’s courses.

We ARE talking about greatest Golfer of all time. Not greatest Dad, or Husband, or Course Designer, or Club Designer.

He cuts back on his golfing to pursue other interests, he gets a demerit on his Greatest Golfer credentials, namely fewer PGA wins. Tiger has always played a somewhat limited schedule, but he’s passed Jack in total PGA wins, and has lots of good golf in his future.

If I was going to go by the numbers, I’d go 50% Majors and 50% PGA wins. That would put Tiger slightly behind Jack, today. If Tiger goes on to crack Snead’s record, he’ll probably get another couple of Majors under his belt, so I think by then Tiger will have pulled ahead.

Here is the data (from wiki) on Jacks Scoring average versus the winner until 1980.
Year … Jack … Winner … Diff
1962 … 70.8 … 70.27 … 0.53
1963 … 70.42 … 70.58 … -0.16
1964 … 69.96 … 70.01 … -0.05
1965 … 70.09 … 70.85 … -0.76

1966 … 70.58 … 70.27 … 0.31
1967 … 70.23 … 70.18 … 0.05
1968 … 69.97 … 69.82 … 0.15
1969 … 71.06 … 70.34 … 0.72
1970 … 70.75 … 70.64 … 0.11
1971 … 70.08 … 70.27 … -0.19
1972 … 70.23 … 70.89 … -0.66
1973 … 69.81 … 70.57 … -0.76
1974 … 70.06 … 70.53 … -0.47
1975 … 69.87 … 70.57 … -0.70
1976 … 70.17 … 70.56 … -0.39

1977 … 70.36 … 70.32 … 0.04
1978 … 71.07 … 70.16 … 0.91
1979 … 72.49 … 70.27 … 2.22
1980 … 70.86 … 69.73 … 1.13

Years 1963-1965, he was victimized by the PGA rule of Class A Membership, rescinded when the PGAT and PGA of America split.

In the 70’s he was victimized by the 80 round mininum. In 1988, that minimum was reduced to 60 rounds.

Also in 1988, the scoring average started to use an adjusted scoring average. IMO, that calculation would have helped Nicklaus win additional Vardon Trophies in 1967, 1968, 1970, and 1977. Nicklaus typically did not play the pitch and putt golf courses, he played the tougher tracks which would have hurt his actual scoring average versus his peers.

Jack claims 8 Scoring titles, but actually was lower than the Vardon Trophy 9 years. Jack does not claim the scoring title in 1963, which tells me that there was another player who scored lower than Nicklaus that was not eligible for the award. someone like Ray Floyd.

TonySinclair, what players do you think might have won a scoring average, while playing a semi schedule, ~60 rounds.

too Oppressive????

Who said anything about the round minimum being too oppressive? Not me, not Jack, and not anyone that I know of. IMO, that is sensationalizing and borderline trolling.

Jack chose to play a limited schedule, but the fact remains his scoring average was lower in the 6 times in the 1970’s than his peers. the Vardon Trophy was obviously was not a priority with him.

Who said anything about Greatest Dad, Family man, etc…

The OP made this claim:

And I countered that his priorities changed after Barbara started to have Kids. I once thought that I wanted to be a CEO of a big company when I graduated from college. when I realized how much I would have to sacrifice to do that, my priorities changed.

If longevity is your most important criterion, then Sam Snead is the best ever. Personally, I don’t understand why an extra ten years of mostly mediocre golf, with a major win here and there, should have anything to do with who was the best during his peak years.

And it certainly has nothing to do with dominance. Dominance, as defined by Tiger’s career, is being so far ahead of everyone else that there is no question who’s the best in the world. You win the most events, the most money, the scoring title, the Player of the Year, etc.

Tiger’s already had 9 years like that, and seems headed for more. Jack had only five years like that. He was one of the best players in the world for over 20 years, but he was THE indisputable best for at most five of those years, and only once (1972-3) was he dominant for more than a year at a time. Arnie was better than Jacl was in the early 60’s; Casper was better than he was in the late 60’s; Trevino and Miller were better than he was in the early 70’s; and Watson ate his lunch in the late 70’s.

Jack’s fans like to sit around the cracker barrel and recall how he had to battle Palmer, Player, Trevino, and Watson down the stretch every time he played, but the fact is that he only had to fight any of those guys off to win a major one time, maybe twice. Trevino and Watson never finished second to Jack in a major. Player did once, but was nine shots back. Palmer lost by four one time, and in a playoff in Jack’s very first major win.

That’s not meant to diminish his achievements. I grew up idolizing Jack; he was my hero when I took up golf as a ten-year old in the early 60’s, and he remained my favorite golfer for nearly 40 years. His 1965 Masters was the greatest thing I ever saw in golf, until 2000. But it’s just not true that he won or contended every time he played, or that he had Palmer, Player, Trevino, and Watson nipping at his heels every time he played.

In fact, there wasn’t that much overlap. Watson wasn’t even on the radar until Jack was past his peak, and Palmer won his last major just two years after Jack turned pro. Jack could only beat the guys he played, and he did that regularly, but he didn’t play them all at once.

That’s absurd, and it’s based on an assumption that only you have made, namely that majors are worth two or three times more now than in the past. Nobody has said that but you.

What Tiger fans say is that Tiger is better than Jack by virtue of having more career wins, more money titles, more scoring titles (even counting Jack’s imaginary Vardons), more POYs, etc. Tiger is second to Jack in majors, and exceeds him in everything else.

Phil doesn’t have a single year-end award — no money titles, no POYs, no Vardons. He hasn’t even won a FedEx Cup. He hasn’t even been ranked #1. It’s not easy to win any of those awards during the Tiger era, but a dozen or so players have done it — Ernie, Vijay, Duval, Donald, McIlroy, Westwood, Harrington, Furyk, Kuchar, and Haas, just to name some off the top of my head. If Phil can’t get into that group, then he certainly has no business in the top 5 of all time.

Unlike you, I will use the standard you set, rather than one I made up.

If you truly believe that pro majors are the only standard, then do you rank Hagen third of all time, ahead of Hogan, Palmer, Nelson, etc.?

Do you think that Hagen was the greatest golfer of all time for the 40+ years he held the “most majors” crown?

Do you think he should be ranked even higher than Jack, since he won 11 majors at a time when he could only play two majors a year most years, and zero or one for several years?

I disagree with Jack’s opinion. I think it can be easier to dominate now with pristine conditions. A certain amount of randomness “rub of the green” has been taken out of game.

Let me give you this example.

Suppose we have a two putting contest between Tiger Woods and me.

First Contest: A putting contest of varying lengths from 5 ft to 50 ft, on a pristine, tour quality green. Perfect green without spike marks, pitch marks, with the green stimping to a consistent 11.

Second Contest: A putting contest of varying lengths from 5 ft to 50 ft, on a 1960’s vintage green. Green is pitted with pitch mark, spikes marks, fungus, different types of grasses with dead spots that has been aerated or verticutted all year.

Chances are pretty good that I am going to lose both putting contests, but I can tell you that I have a better chance in Contest two, with element of randomness (rub of the green) than in Contest one where the putts are predictable.

extrapolate the randomness into 72 holes of golf, I think the equipment advances has even put further separation from journeyman player and the superstar golfers.

I’m pretty certain Tiger will be winning championships in 2020. He’ll only be 44. Vijay Singh is 49 and playing great golf. Kenny Perry should have won the Master’s a couple of years ago at age 48.

As to the first part, it’s often said, but nobody who really knows golf, including Nicklaus, believes it is true. Between Nicklaus’ fist and last major, a total of eight different non-American players won majors, and half of them came in the time between his 17th and his 18th in 1986. In the time since Tiger won his first major, 19 non-Americans have won them. Golf was an almost exclusively American game in Nicklaus’ time. You had a handful of Aussies, one South African, one European (Tony Jacklin) until Seve came along, and Roberto DiVincenzo. No Asians. During the entire time Nicklaus was winning golf tournaments, the Ryder Cup was in U.S. hands all but the very last year before his last major.

The pool of PGA quality players is about three times as deep now as it was during Nicklaus’ time. The pool of U.S. players is much deeper as well, as evidenced just this weekend when the Greenbriar was a playoff between two guys, one ranked in the 200’s and the other in the mid 400’s, in a tournament that had both Tiger and Phil in the field.

You keep coming up with stuff that Jack himself has refuted. He said that he needed the time off. Tiger says the same thing about his own schedule. It’s a lot of strain to win a tour event, and you can only keep it up so long. Bobby Jones couldn’t even handle four events a year; he quit competitive golf because he was losing 15 pounds during an event from the strain of competing.

And just by the way, Tiger has played 271 PGA events to date. Jack played his 271st event in mid-1974, so he had plenty of time during his absolute peak to match Tiger, and he didn’t do it.

Phil has never won any:

Money Titles: Irrelevant
PoYs: Irrelevant
Vardons: Irrelevant

Phil has never been Number 1. Irrelevant. (FWIW, Nicklaus was never ranked number 1 either)

What is also irrelevant that Mickelson is going to (probably) qualify for 18 straight post season team.

what is also irrelevant that Mickelson is nearing a 1000 straight weeks inside the top 25 of his profession.

You know why they are irrelevant? Because those things are the consequence of wins and good play, they are the residue of excellent play, not the good play itself.

And FTR, Majors are the biggest part of my equation for the GOAT, but there are other factors as well. Including regular wins and some subjectivity on my part. My formula is about 80% Objective (50% Majors and 30% regular wins) and the remaining 20% is Subjective. I can tell you that PoY, Vardon Trophies, Number 1 ranking doesn’t enter into my calculation.

My subjectivity includes consistency, times in the top two, top three, top 5, top 10 and competition.

I don’t know where you get this stuff. I played at as low-rent a golf course as you could find during the 60’s. I think there were only three people maintaining the course. And the greens were perfect. Not nearly as fast as a PGA green, but nothing like the moonscape you describe. I honestly can’t remember ever missing a putt because my ball hit some bump or pit. And I’m pretty sure that the greens at Augusta were better than the ones at my Podunk Muni.