December 30, 2010
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! And now we've reached the end of the line ... start your arguments now!
5. Francis Ouimet: If you were to name one tournament that changed the history of golf, you'd point to the 1913 U.S. Open. That's the year Francis Ouimet, an all-but-unknown amateur, beat the heralded Harry Vardon and Ted Ray in an 18-hole playoff. He made national news, and cemented golf, then still a growing sport, as one which could capture the public imagination at any moment. He opened American perceptions to golf, and inspired generations of amateurs to take up a game which had previously been reserved for only elites and private-course members. If you've ever swung a golf club and you're not a millionaire, you owe Ouimet a debt of thanks.
4. Jack Nicklaus: The Golden Bear won more majors than anyone ever, a record 18 that may stand forever. His rivalry with Arnold Palmer kicked off golf's golden age, and his win at Augusta in 1986 remains one of the greatest moments in all of sports history. He remains a vital and vibrant figure in the game today, and he's worthy of all the respect he receives and more.
3. Bobby Jones: Perhaps the greatest golfer in history, and he did it on a part-time basis. Codified the legend of the genius amateur, the player who could excel in both sport and business at once. Jones helped design Augusta National, and exemplified the best that golf had to offer in sportsmanship, grace and public bearing. Every golfer who behaves with a modicum of discretion on the course after a bad shot does so because of Jones' example. Most famously, at the 1925 U.S. Open, he called a two-stroke penalty on himself that cost him the tournament. When praised about it, he replied, "You may as well praise a man for not robbing a bank."
2. Tiger Woods: No athlete in the last 40 years has had the transformative effect on any sport that Tiger Woods had on golf. He brought multiculturalism into a previously white-dominated sport, he turned golf into a high-energy spectacle for the masses, and he transcended the sport to become a cultural icon. The fact that his scandal made worldwide news for more than two months is a testament to his celebrity, and the fact that golfers are regularly banking seven-figure annual incomes is a testament to the money he's brought into the game. He's one of the most significant figures in sports history, and only one man has had a greater effect on the game of golf.
1. Arnold Palmer: The King. His rise to prominence coincided exactly with the rise of televised golf, meaning he was the first golf star most of America knew. Good-looking, dashing and insanely talented, Palmer was one of the pioneers of the age of televised sports. Others won more than his seven majors, others won more tournaments or more money, but nobody has ever equaled his influence. All of golf history led to Arnold Palmer, and all of golf history since then proceeds directly from him.
Thanks to all of you for hanging with us for all 100! Take your cuts at the final order in the comments below. And if you can think of anyone we missed, let us know that too!