Thrill List: Golf

Wednesday July 8th, 2009

These lists are not mere compilations of all-time bests in their respective sports but all-time bests at quickening the pulse and evoking a visceral response from those fortunate enough to have witnessed their artistry.

10. Seve Ballesteros For not hitting a straight shot in his life. For having his brother/caddie tend the flagstick from 20-feet away. And for winning a British Open from a car park and a Masters from a cathedral of pines, to say nothing of his exuberant Ryder Cup play.

9. Walter Hagen For winning again and again in the 1910s and '20s in golf's most thrilling form, match play, with panache and in stylish plus-fours.

8. Young Tom Morris For traveling the British Isles by boat, train and buggy during the 1860s and '70s to take on the game's greatest players, usually playing for his own money and nearly always winning. (For more details, see the 2008 book Tommy's Honor, by SI Golf Plus contributor Kevin Cook.)

7. Greg Norman Not for his wins, which were thrilling enough, but for his wildly entertaining losses -- to Larry Mize, to Jack Nicklaus, to Bob Tway, to Raymond Floyd, to Fuzzy Zoeller and to Nick Faldo.

6. Tiger Woods (professional golfer)

For the sake of brevity, let's start with his 12-stroke win at the 1997 Masters, his first triumph in a professional major. Let's conclude with major-win No. 14, his playoff victory over Rocco Mediate at the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines. As for his wins over Bob May, Sergio Garcia, Chris DiMarco and all the others, go to the SI Vault, or your own memory bank.

5. Tiger Woods (amateur golfer) For winning 32 consecutive matches while earning six straight USGA amateur titles -- three as a junior, three as a (very young) adult, including his epic comeback over Steve Scott at the U.S. Amateur at Pumpkin Ridge in 1996.

4. Laura Davies For being the first woman to hit drives that were a mile high and, downwind, a mile long.

3. John Daly For being golf's greatest savant, able to stand, grab a wedge and play the most delicate and complex pitch shots in the time it takes ordinary people to say, "Whaddyathink?"

2. Mickey Wright For the excitement of watching her make what no one less than Ben Hogan called the best swing in golf, by woman or man.

1. Arnold Palmer For driving the 346-yard first hole at Cherry Hills in the final round of the 1960 U.S. Open, which jump started his comeback from seven shots down. For screwing up the 1966 U.S. Open at Olympic with an assortment of crazy-man shots from gnarly lies. And for taking the break out of countless putts at Augusta National by hitting the ball way over the speed limit.

Agree or disagree with Bamberger's selections? Weigh in here.

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