Will Leivenberg

Devil Ball 100: The most important people in golf history, 20-11

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Welcome to the Devil Ball 100, our ranking of the 100 most important people in the history of golf. Over the next couple weeks, we'll be rolling them out, 10 at a time. Our list includes everyone from golfers to politicians to actors, and each one had a dramatic impact on the game as we know it today. Some names you'll recognize, some you won't. Some positions you'll agree with, and some will have you wondering if we've gone insane. Enjoy the rollout, and see where your favorites made the list!

20. Dinah Shore: Though famed for her career as a singer, actress and TV host, Dinah Shore was an integral force in creating the Colgate Dinah Shore, which has evolved into one of the most prestigious championships of the LPGA, the Kraft Nabisco Championship. Her ceaseless advocacy of women’s professional golf was a crucial building block to the immense, wide-ranging success of the LPGA Tour. Within seconds of winning the Nabisco Dinah Shore golf tournament in 1994, Donna Andrews grabbed tournament host Dinah Shore and the two impulsively leapt into the pond, laying the foundation for the traditional 18th hole pond jump, which has become the green jacket of the LPGA.

19. Frank Chirkinian: Frank Chirkinian is the reason golf fans can sprawl across their couches, chow down on some snacks and leisurely enjoy watching professional golf on television. Known as the "father of televised golf," Chirkinian radically altered the nature of watching golf. He implemented the use of a blimp for a birds-eye view of golf, had the cups painted white for easier viewing and placed microphones on the greens and tees to create a new, engaging connection between viewers and golfers. He worked intricately with the CBS network, transforming its format from simply directing the camera to show each shot and instead towards golf coverage that’s more dialed into the mechanics of the swing, the history of the players and layout of the course.

18. Sam Snead: For a kid who grew up in the backwoods of Virginia, Sam Snead had no trouble maneuvering the big-time, professional world of golf. Credited with creating the structure of the modern golf swing, Snead’s fluid stroke has become an ageless blueprint for students of the game. Between his colossal length off the tee, pinpoint accuracy with his irons and an innovative short-game, Snead’s versatility led him to 82 career PGA victories (the most all-time), as well as seven major championships.

17. Nancy Lopez: It’s a rarity that players in their rookie season, regardless of the sport, thrive, dominate, or have a record-setting season. But in the case of professional golfer Nancy Lopez, she was never intent on settling for average. In 1978, Lopez hit the LPGA Tour circuit and was propelled to stardom with nine victories, highlighted by a dominant stretch of five wins in a row. After capturing honors for Rookie of the Year, Player of the Year, Lowest Scoring Average – the first, and only, winner of all three accolades – as well as landing the cover of Sports Illustrated, Lopez roared back with another eight victories in 1979. Over the luminous span of her career she won 48 LPGA events and three major championships.

16. Pete Dye: If you ever play a golf course designed by Pete Dye, here’s some advice: expect the unexpected. Widely regarded as one of the most influential golf-course architects ever, Dye integrated an array of imaginative elements into his design that tend to stump and stagger golfers across the spectrum, from the local duffer to the elite professional. The paradigm of the Pete Dye design remains the most terrifying hole in golf, the treacherous Island Green, the 17th hole at TPC at Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida.

15. Walter Hagen: If you thought Rickie Fowler sported vibrant, loud colors on the golf course, try to imagine even brighter colors with the decadent fabrics of the 1920s and you may grasp a semblance of the distinctive, unique style of one of golf’s greats. In 2000, Golf Digest ranked Hagen the seventh-greatest golfer of all time, and rightfully so. Hagen not only won 45 times on the PGA Tour (eighth all-time), but he won 11 major championships (ranking third behind Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods), which includes a record five PGA Championships. Beyond his astounding successes on the golf course, Hagen was a forbearer to what Mark McCormack would permanently infuse into golf — the potent role, and effects, of business. Hagen transformed society’s perception of golf by introducing endorsements and other beneficial modes of business. As Gene Sarazen said of Hagen, "It was Walter who made professional golf what it is."

14. Gene Sarazen: Along with Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Nicklaus and Woods, Gene Sarazen remains the only other player in golf’s vast, luminous history to have won all four majors, earning the Career Grand Slam. Sarazen’s indelible mark on golf ranges from his innovative design of the first sand wedge to “the shot heard round the world” at the 1935 Masters, when he striped a four-wood from 235 yards that rolled into the cup for an albatross, or double eagle, and would lead to his major victory. Throughout the 1920s and '30s, Sarazen challenged golf’s elite players, like Bobby Jones and Walter Hagen, and captured 39 PGA Tour victories (10th all-time) and seven major championships over his career.

13. Mark McCormack: Before athletes dominated Coca-Cola campaigns and Under Armour commercials, there was the visionary mind of Mark McCormack, the prototypical sports agent. Considered one of the pioneers of sports marketing, McCormack fused the realms of business and sports when he founded the International Management Group (IMG). In 1960, he signed its first client in the charismatic Arnold Palmer, who would be followed by the likes of Player, Nicklaus and then, a few decades later, a hotshot kid from Stanford who would change the game forever. McCormack is also credited with creating the first, unofficial world-ranking system for professional golf, which effectively laid the groundwork for the current system in place.

12. Babe Zaharias: In an era of strictly defined gender roles, Babe Zaharias refused to conform to the traditional mold of femininity. She challenged the norm by not just competing, but excelling, in basketball, track and field, and most successfully in golf. Between 1940 and 1955, Zaharias won 41 LPGA Tour events, captured 10 major championships, compiled 17 consecutive amateur victories in 1948 and also completed golf’s most coveted feat, the Grand Slam, in 1950. But Babe truly defied all expectation when she became the first female golfer to compete against the men of the PGA Tour. Unlike contemporary female golfers like Annika Sorenstam, Suzy Whaley and Michelle Wie, Zaharias actually made the cut in a variety of PGA events.

11. Byron Nelson: There is a year in every sport in which a single athlete defies all expectation. Roger Maris eclipsed the Babe with 61 homers in 1961 and Michael Phelps surpassed Mark Spitz’s Olympic record with eight gold medals in 2008. It was in 1945 that Byron Nelson redesigned the golf landscape when he won 18 of 35 events, including an unbelievable 11 victories in a row. No Woods, Nicklaus or Palmer have ever challenged Nelson’s illustrious records, which along with his five major championships and 52 PGA Tour victories (sixth all time, not too shabby), deem him undeniably one of the most prodigious golfers in the history of the sport.

Previous Lists

21-30, 31-40, 41-50, 51-60, 61-70, 71-80, 81-90, & 91-100

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