Commentary

The greatest golfer debate rages on

Updated: January 20, 2011, 5:42 PM ET
By Bob Harig | ESPN.com

A question last week asking where Bobby Jones ranked compared with Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods in a discussion about the greatest players of all time sparked some other responses to the mailbag. Here is a sampling.

There is no question who the greatest golfer of all time is. He won the US open on a broken leg. Case closed.
-- Brian Bonnell

[+] EnlargeBen Hogan
AP PhotoOne of our mailbag contributors felt that leaving Ben Hogan out of the greatest golfer of all time debate simply wasn't right.

You can not leave Ben Hogan out of the debate.
-- Rich Harrell

I think Jones' US Open record is underpublicized. He played in eleven of them, finishing first four times, second four times, top ten twice and eleventh once. Not bad!
-- Lee Perkins

I am curious if you would agree with me that Walter Hagen deserves not just consideration but a possible elevation to No. 1 all time. The Western Open, considered a major during his heyday, if added to his other majors, would solve the discussion as to "who's best?" Tiger and Jack would now become 2a and 2b. What say ye?
-- Jan Van Mir

Harig: These "greatest ever" discussions make for great debates. If you go simply by the record, it's Nicklaus, with 18 majors to Woods' 14. If you go by some measure of all-around game, you might pick Woods or Hogan, who won nine majors despite being severely limited after a near-deadly car crash.

Walter Hagen brings other aspects into the discussion. He is third in majors with 11 -- two U.S. Opens, four British Opens, five PGA Championships. The prime of his career was completed before the Masters was born, but he did win five Western Opens, a tournament which at the time was on a par with a major championship

So if you add those in, it's two behind Jack, two ahead of Tiger.

But what about the two Western Opens that Nicklaus won in the 1960s? And Tiger won the Western three times before it became a playoff event known as the BMW Championship -- which he's won twice. You could argue that the playoff events of today are as big and difficult as the Westerns that Hagen won.

Let the debate continue.


Question: I don't think that fans should be viewing and calling violations, but players should be aware of the rules. I am an infrequent player, but on seeing the ball rolling back to Camilo Villegas and watching him, I immediately thought that his actions were inappropriate. I was viewing with the sound off, so I was not influenced by any audio from the show. These guys should quiz each other weekly over cocktails in the clubhouse.
--Michael Farrelly

Harig: Even if you had been listening, you would not have heard anything about a rules violation and Villegas at the season-opening Hyundai Tournament of Champions. Had the discussion occurred, there is a chance the infraction would have been brought to Villegas' attention before he signed his card, meaning he could have added the 2-stroke penalty and not been disqualified. The bottom line, however, is that many professional golfers miss rules such as this.


Question: Do you, like me, wish that golf had not followed the lead of college football (GoDaddy.com Bowl, PapaJohn's.com Bowl) in NAMING their tournaments for the sponsors? It is hard to think about past champions and other tournament history for a Northern Trust Open or a Farmers Insurance Open, and barely possible for a Waste Management Phoenix Open. In the short term it may raise sponsor fees, but in the long term I suspect that it reduces demand for the product. I would like to see the tours draw the line at "Phoenix Open, presented by Waste Management, Inc." [See "Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard."] I suspect that would also help the longevity of the marginal tournaments (see Greater Hartford and Greater Greensboro opens, which cycled sponsors many times, as I recall.
-- Bill Locke

Harig: Golf beat college bowls to the title sponsor game many years ago. As unwieldy as it can be, having a title sponsor is a necessary part of life in professional golf. It can cost $7 million and beyond to sponsor a tournament on the PGA Tour, and no sponsor is going to pay that kind of money and not get its name highlighted. In the example you cited with Arnold Palmer and MasterCard, because the credit card company is a presenting sponsor, it pays far less in its deal. Why don't they all do that? Well, the money in golf would then be far less. The title sponsor, in essence, is paying for the purse and television production costs. Ask the players if they'd like to take a hefty pay cut, and perhaps we could go back to days of the L.A. Open.


Question: Each year every player goes in with the goal of winning a major to have an ultra successful season. Are those 4 tournaments truly the hardest tests of golf every year based on the field and courses played? Could winning the TPC or some other tournament be a greater accomplishment based on field and course than winning a major?
--Edward Virgona

Harig: The simple answer is yes, other tournaments statistically have stronger fields than some of the majors. The Masters has a small field, and the U.S. Open and British Open have upwards of 50 qualifiers. Last year top-30 players Justin Rose and Rickie Fowler were not exempt for the U.S. Open. The Players Championship typically has a strong, deep field, as does the PGA Championship, which attempts to include the top 100 ranked players in the world.


Question: When an amateur finishes in the money, what happens to his share? Is that just given back to the tour purse, or is it divided up among the rest of the professionals that finished the same or below that person?
-- Eric Meyer

Harig: It is basically treated as if the amateur was not in the field. If an amateur wins, the second-place finisher receives first-place money and it follows from there.

Have a question? Send it to Bob Harig's mailbag at BobHESPN@gmail.com to see if it gets used next week.

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com

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