Such is their significance, the four major golfing championships (the Masters, US PGA Championship, US Open, and the Open Championship) can often define a player’s career. If you didn’t already know, Jack Nicklaus has won 18 majors and Tiger Woods 15 at the time of writing. These are some impressive hauls, we think you’ll agree.
But though these elite golfers have made winning such prestigious prizes look easy, not every golfer manages to clinch a major.
And those who haven’t been able to win one have still had mightily impressive careers, as there’s no shortage of top-level competitions in professional golf.
In no particular order, here are the 14 best golfers never to win a major.
1. Bernard Gallacher
Bernard has been involved in golf for more than four decades and is one of golf’s most highly-respected names.
Despite never winning a major, Bernard still enjoyed a very fruitful golfing career, winning ten European Tour events and finishing in the top ten on the European Tour Order of Merit five times.
He also beat Jack Nicklaus and Lanny Wadkins at the 1977 and 1979 Ryder Cups, respectively and became the youngest man to ever represent Great Britain at the Ryder Cup in 1969, aged just 20.
Now retired from playing professionally, Bernard has commentated on golf tournaments for broadcast outlets, including BBC Radio 5 Live. He’s also a PGA captain and has been awarded an OBE.
2. Colin Montgomerie
Although his name is synonymous with the Ryder Cup, Colin Montgomerie, or ‘Monty’ as he’s affectionately known, has never actually won a major.
Montgomerie, who hails from Scotland, played in eight Ryder Cups from 1991 to 2006, winning it an impressive five times. He’s also the joint record-holder for most single points won in Ryder Cup history (seven), alongside Neil Coles.
Montgomerie’s win-lose-draw record of 20-9-7 at the Ryder Cup also places him in an impressive fourth place on the all-time list for most points won by a golfer from the continent at the tournament.
On top of all that, he’s won 31 European Tour events – the most of any British golfer – and a record eight European Tour Order of Merit titles, seven of which were in consecutive years from 1993 to 1999.
It’s probably fair to say he’s never lost sleep over not winning a major.
3. Lee Westwood
Anyone who knows a thing or two about golf will be familiar with Lee Westwood.
Known for his solid consistency out on the green, he’s part of an elite group of golfers to win tournaments on five continents – Europe, North America, Asia, Africa, and Oceania.
He’s won titles in four consecutive decades since the 1990s and represented Europe in ten Ryder Cups – so it’s safe to say his career has been everything but quiet.
In 2010, Westwood officially became the world number one, overtaking Tiger Woods and becoming the first British golfer to rank best in the world since Nick Faldo held the coveted position in 1994.
With 44 career wins at the time of writing, Westwood is widely considered one of the best golfers in history without a major championship victory. He’s also one of only two golfers to have held the world number one ranking without winning a major – Luke Donald being the other .
However, he’s finished runner-up three times at major championships – twice in the Masters (2010 and 2016) and once in the Open Championship (2010). He also won the European Tour Order of Merit in 2000.
In 2011, he was awarded an OBE in recognition of his services to golf.
4. Harry Cooper
Though you won’t be old enough to remember Harry Cooper from his actual playing days, you may be familiar with his legacy. And if you’re not, you’ll certainly remember his name after reading about him.
A legend of the 1920s and 1930s golf scene, Cooper bagged 30 PGA Tour victories during his long and impressive career in the sport.
After winning the inaugural Los Angeles Open in 1926 by completing the full 18 holes in just two-and-a-half hours, Cooper earned himself the nickname ‘Lighthorse Harry’.
Although he never won a major, he did win the 1934 Western Open, one of the world’s most important golf titles at the time. You could say he was a victim of his era.
After he retired from the professional game, Cooper became a highly-rated golf instructor, imparting his knowledge and expertise to golf’s next generation well into his 90s.
Cooper was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1992 in recognition of his achievements in the sport, and he passed away in 2000, aged 96.
5. Paul Casey
Paul Casey enjoyed solid success in his amateur career, including three consecutive wins at the Pac-12 Championships. He also played a pivotal role in Great Britain and Ireland’s winning Walker Cup team in 1999, before turning professional and joining the European Tour in 2001.
From then on, Paul’s career continued to push boundaries and reach new heights. In his first season as a pro, Paul recorded a win at the Gleneagles Scottish PGA Championship, finished 22nd on the European Tour Order of Merit, and won the Sir Henry Cotton Rookie of the Year award – not bad.
Despite the lack of a major on his CV, Paul’s certainly been no stranger to a record or two. During the 1999 Walker Cup-winning campaign, he became only the third player in 77 years to record four victories without a single defeat.
And in 2006, Paul became the only golfer in Ryder Cup history to win a foursome match with a hole-in-one.
In 2009, he reached third in the Official World Golf Rankings – the highest position he’s held to date.
6. Doug Sanders
In terms of sheer style and swagger on the fairway, not many come close to the late, great Doug Sanders.
Nicknamed the ‘Peacock of the Fairways’ for his flamboyant, colourful dress sense, Sanders was named one of America’s ten best-dressed athletes by Esquire in 1972.
But he didn’t just walk the walk – Sanders talked the talk, too. Although he never won a major, he secured an impressive 13 top ten finishes at the various championships throughout his career. In fact, he finished runner-up at four majors – namely at the 1959 US PGA Championship, 1961 US Open, and the 1966 and 1970 Opens.
In 1966, he became one of the few players in golf history to finish in the top-ten of all four major championships in the same season, despite winning none.
This record is a testament to Sanders’ consistency and perseverance out on the green.
He died in April 2020, aged 86, but his distinctive, short, flat golf swing (and luminous outfits) will always be remembered.
7. Bruce Crampton
The term ‘nemesis’ isn’t one too commonly associated with golf – but it’s fair to say that Bruce Crampton had a nemesis in the form of Jack Nicklaus.
During his professional career, Crampton came runner-up in four major championships – one Masters, one US Open, and two US PGA Championships – all to Nicklaus.
However, the Australian enjoyed regular victories in tournaments such as the Australian Open, New Zealand PGA Championships, Philippine Open, and the Far East Open. In fact, he won 20 times on the Champions Tour and even topped the ‘money list’ in the mid-‘80s.
Crampton was ranked in the world’s top five golfers in 1972 and 1973 and was inducted into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame in 2001.
He also represented his country at the Golf World Cup five times from 1957 to 1972.
8. Luke Donald
Luke Donald turned professional in 2001 and made his debut at the Reno-Tahoe Open in California. From there, he continued to hone his craft to become one of the best golfers in the world.
Just four years after turning pro, in 2005, Donald made his Masters debut and finished in joint third-place – an almost unthinkable result for a first-timer.
As a result of his display at the 2005 Masters, he jumped an almighty 117 places in the golf world rankings, from 130th to 13th.
He spent a cumulative total of 56 weeks as world number one between 2011 and 2012 with more than 200 weeks spent in the world’s top ten, beginning at the same time – proving that consistency is key.
He and fellow Englishman Lee Westwood are the only two golfers to have ranked number one in the world despite never having won a major.
Donald was awarded an MBE in 2012 in recognition of his achievements and services to golf.
9. Rickie Fowler
Another golfer known for his colourful dress sense, Rickie Fowler is no stranger to a pair of bright orange chinos.
In fact, it’s become a Fowler tradition to wear orange on the final day of a tournament in honour of Oklahoma State University, where he studied.
Despite only being in his early thirties at the time of writing, Fowler has risen right to the top and achieved some impressive feats.
Before turning professional in 2009, Rickie was once the number one ranked amateur golfer in the world – a title he held for 36 weeks between 2007 and 2008.
As a pro, Fowler won the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship in 2016 to leap to a career-high of fourth in the world overall.
Fowler has finished runner-up at three majors – namely the Masters in 2018, US Open and the Open Championship in 2014, and the Open Championship. He also finished third at the US PGA Championship in 2014.
10. Ian Poulter
With a father and older brother who are both keen golfers, Ian Poulter has been surrounded by golf his entire life. As such, it’s no wonder he’s had such an enviable career in the sport.
He started playing golf aged just four and had turned professional by the time he reached his 19th birthday.
Poulter’s first professional win came in 1999 at the Open de Côte d’Ivoire as part of the European Tour’s second-tier challenge tour. Later that year, he qualified for the European Tour itself. He has since won 12 events on the Tour, at the time of writing.
To date, Ian’s career highlights include his two World Golf Championship wins at the 2010 WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship and the 2012 WGC-HSBC Champions.
Although success at the majors has, so far, evaded him, Poulter came runner-up at the 2008 Open Championship and has finished in the top ten of major tournaments eight times.
11. Jay Haas
At his professional peak, Jay Haas, or Jaybird as he’s otherwise known, had a reputation for being one of the most consistent players on the PGA Tour. In fact, he competed in just shy of 800 events throughout his career.
Since turning professional in the mid-‘70s, Jay has more than made up for his lack of a major.
He won an impressive nine titles on the PGA Tour between 1978 and 1993, and he finished in the top five at three majors – the 1995 US Open, the 1995 Masters, and the 1999 US PGA Championship.
12. Matt Kuchar
Nine-time PGA Tour winner Matt Kuchar is another of the ‘major-less’ greats.
Once ranked fourth-best in the world, he’s also proved one of the highest earners in the sport too. He ended the 2018-19 season with mouthwatering career earnings of more than $50m.
Matt represented the US at the Ryder Cup in 2010, and he made history at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio by becoming the first recipient of an Olympic bronze medal for golf for more than 100 years. Not since 1904 had such a feat been achieved.
Though a major is yet to grace his trophy cabinet, Matt has had several close shaves – his second-place finish at the 2017 Open Championship at Royal Birkdale Golf Club being the closest of them all.
13. Jeff Maggert
If you live on a golf course as a child, chances are you’re going to grow up with an interest in golf. That was the case for Jeff Maggert, anyway.
A Texas upbringing laid the first foundations for a man that would later become one of the best golfers never to win a major.
Maggert turned professional in 1986 and, by the early ‘90s, had already witnessed success both at home and overseas. He won the Malaysian Open in 1989 and the very first Vines Classic in 1990 – an event held on the Australasian Tour until 2005.
During his career, Maggert represented the US three times at the Ryder Cup and once at the Presidents Cup.
At the 2003 Masters tournament, he was the 54-hole leader, with victory looking well within reach. However, a disappointing final round, which included triple and quintuple bogeys and two balls in the water, meant he ended up in fifth place – which to this day remains his best career finish at the tournament.
Maggert has finished in the top five at the majors eight times in his career. Namely:
- 4x US Open: 1995, 1997, 2002, 2004
- 2x PGA Championship: 1995, 1997
- Open Championship: 1996
- Masters: 2003
14. Sam Torrance
Sam Torrance’s transatlantic and European triumphs more than make up for his lack of a major title. His distinctive, daring, long driving, and accurate short iron playing style certainly proved fruitful on that front.
From 1981 to 1995, Sam played in eight straight matches and was Europe’s winning Ryder Cup captain in 2002. In 1985, he sank the winning putt to deny the US their first title for almost 30 years, and two years later, in 1987, Sam was part of the Europe side which tasted victory on American soil for the first time in history.
With 21 wins on the European Tour, only Colin Montgomerie has accumulated more without also winning a major.
Sam also represented Scotland eleven times at the Golf World Cup and has been awarded an MBE and OBE for his outstanding contributions to the sport.