The untouchable records in golf

April 22, 2020
Justin Ray

There are some records in sports that occupy uninhabitable islands; numbers so distant and outlandish they may never be exceeded, or even rivaled.

Some can be tied to changes in rules or philosophies in a particular sport. For example, in baseball, there are 120 pitchers who have made 52 or more starts in a single Major League Baseball season. All 120 of them happened before 1900. Pud Galvin’s record of 75 starts in 1883 isn’t falling anytime soon.

Some are reflective of a player’s sheer physical dominance within that era. Eighteen times in NBA history, a player has averaged 22 or more rebounds per game over the course of a season. All 18 of those seasons belong to either Wilt Chamberlain or Bill Russell.

What are the most untouchable records in golf? 15th Club dove into the superlatives, and did our best to assemble the best of the best.

Barely Missing The Cut

For this thought exercise, there were several incredible feats considered that, while amazing, one could see an eclipse happening at some point.

Annika Sorenstam holds a ton of LPGA distinctions – the most famous being that she is still the only player in the Tour’s history with a sub-60 round. The record of hers that might last the longest, though, is her run of 14 consecutive rounds in the 60s she had in 2005. Since then, no player has even had a run of ten in a row.

Vijay Singh won 22 times on the PGA Tour after turning 40 years old, five more than even the great Sam Snead. Though that number has not been closely approached since, advances across the board have made competing later into a career more likely than in the past. So, could it happen someday? Sure.

Could someone win a PGA Tour event by more than 16 shots? That’s the record – done four times – the last being Bobby Locke in Chicago in 1948. Tiger did it at a major by 15, but no player on Tour has won by double-digits in eleven years (Brian Gay, by 10, at the 2009 RBC Heritage).

Those numbers will be difficult to pass, for sure – but they aren’t quite in the same category as the feats below.

Iron Byron’s Unreachable Season

The season that Byron Nelson put together in 1945 is something that challenges the boundaries of even the thickest thesaurus.

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Nelson won 18 times that year, five more than anyone else in PGA Tour history. Eleven of those wins came in succession – a streak Tiger Woods got to within four of from 2006 to 2007, but never closer than that.

Maybe most staggering of all, though, was that NINE of them came in consecutive weeks on the schedule. The second-longest streak in history is just four, by Jack Burke, Jr.  in 1952.

Nelson’s ’45 season is part of a lesser-known record he holds – most consecutive top-ten finishes on the Tour. From 1942 to 1946, Byron finished tenth or better in 65 STRAIGHT starts, by far most in history.

Historians would make one note about Byron‘s 1945 season: many fields could be criticized as weakened by the ongoing war.

Youthful Exuberance

Quick, name the player with the most wins on the PGA Tour before turning 23 years old. Has to be Tiger Woods, right? Incorrect. This is one record Woods didn’t claim in his prolific youth.

Tiger won six times on Tour at age 22 or younger, second-most in history. Jordan Spieth did it five times, also an impressive feat. But the leader in this statistic is Horton Smith, best known for winning the first and third-ever editions of the Masters Tournament. Smith won 14 times before his 23rd birthday, a record that may never be approached again.

When it comes to winning at a crazy clip while extremely young, it’s tough to imagine anybody meeting the pace of Lydia Ko. In 2015, Lydia won her 10th LPGA title at the age of 18 years, 6 months and 1 day – three-and-a-half years younger than the next player on the list, Nancy Lopez.

An honorable mention in this category: Matteo Manassero, the Italian who is the only player in European Tour history to win at age 17 or younger. He did it twice.

Prolific LPGA Winners

She’s got the most career victories in the history of the LPGA Tour with 88, but that’s not the most incredible number associated with the name Kathy Whitworth. Whitworth won at least one LPGA title in a staggering 22 different seasons – 17 of them in a row – both LPGA records.

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Mickey Wright may have a couple of marks in the record books that last even longer. Wright won a record 13 tournaments in one season in 1963, and amazingly won 50 LPGA tournaments before she turned 29 years old. Only five other players in LPGA history even have 50 wins over the course of an entire career.

Jack Nicklaus in Major Championships

It’s highly unlikely that anybody will cultivate the enormous total of high finishes in majors that the Golden Bear put together.

Sure, 18 wins will be nearly impossible to match – but it’s the other numbers that are truly other-worldly.

– Jack has 19 runner-up finishes in majors – eight more than any other player (Mickelson, 11).

– Jack has 56 top-five finishes in majors – 23 more than any other player (Woods, 33).

Jack has 73 top-ten finishes in majors – 25 more than any other player (Snead, 48).

Nicklaus’ longevity can also be explained this way: at the 1960 U.S. Open, Jack finished in the top-ten in a major for the first time. Ben Hogan finished tied for ninth that week. At the 1998 Masters, Jack finished in the top-ten in a major for the final time. That week, Tiger finished tied for eighth.

The Tiger Woods Section

Earlier this week, I asked folks on Twitter an impossible question: which of Tiger Woods’ array of achievements was least likely to be matched ever again?

Is it the 15-shot margin of victory at the 2000 U.S. Open? Tiger is the only player since 1900 to win any of the four major championships by ten strokes or more – and he did it twice (12 shots at the ’97 Masters).

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How about the immortal cuts made streak? Woods played 142 consecutive PGA Tour events from 1998 to 2005 without missing a single cut. His run is 29 longer than any other player in recorded Tour history – Byron Nelson is second, with 113 in a row.

Years ago, Mark Broadie uncovered a previously-unknown Woods fact: from August 1999 through November 2000, Tiger beat the field scoring average a ridiculous 89 consecutive times. The second-longest streak over the last four decades is just 33 straight.

Or how about his prolific victory total at a young age? Tiger won 46 PGA Tour titles before he turned 30 – 16 more than any other player in Tour history (Jack Nicklaus had 30). Woods’ win total before his 30th birthday is two more than legend Phil Mickelson has in his entire career (44). That’s not even counting his crazy run in the amateur ranks – six straight USGA titles (3 straight in both the U.S. Junior Amateur, then the U.S. Amateur).

Over the last 15 years, only 46 percent of outright 54-hole leaders on the PGA Tour have gone on to win. Woods won a ridiculous 37 straight times holding the outright 54-hole lead from 1997 to 2009.

Number of weeks as the world’s number one player, perhaps? Since the inception of the World Ranking in 1986, Tiger’s 683 weeks are more than twice as many as any other player (Greg Norman is second, at 331). The entire continent of Europe has combined for 411 weeks in the top spot.

A personal favorite of mine involves average stroke differential against the field. Basically, on average, how much did you beat the field scoring average by? There are five instances in the last forty years where a player beat the field by an average of three or more strokes per round over the course of an entire season. Tiger has all five of those instances.

Still, the most untouchable mark may be the simplest answer: holding all four major championship trophies at the same time.