The Most Surprising Wins In PGA Major History
There are always favorites in any golf tournament. Many of the world’s best players perform at their highest levels when they compete for a Masters, British Open, US Open or PGA Championship. There is always the chance, however, that a contender can emerge from the most shocking of places.
Golf is the sort of game where one weekend can change a player’s life. From 1913 to 2022, there have been a number of relatively unknown players who saved their best games for when it matters most. Below is a list of the most surprising wins in PGA Tour history. The winners are listed in chronological order.
Francis Ouimet Wins The 1913 US Open
Perhaps the biggest surprise in major tournament history is also one of the first. Ouimet, who was only 20 years of age at the time of his big win, had caught the eye of USGA President, Robert Watson, with his fine play in amateur tournaments.
During the 1913 tournament, Ouimet went toe-to-toe with two former Major champions in Harry Vardon and Ted Ray. After capturing the win in 1913, Ouimet chose to maintain his amateur status for the rest of his golf career. He was able to take home two US Amateur Titles in 1914 and 1931.
Ed Furgol Wins The 1954 US Open
Ed Furgol grew up in New York City in the 1920’s and 30’s. When he was 12 years old, he had an accident on the playground and as a result, he had a crooked left arm that never quite healed. Eschewing other sports, he took up golf and quickly became quite good at it.
At the 1954 US Open, played at the Baltusroyal course in New Jersey, Furgol took on legendary golfer Ben Hogan. After Hogan’s poor play in the third round, the New York-born player chased Dick Mayer in the final round. Furgol was able to edge Mayer and took home his only Major.
Jack Fleck Wins The 1955 US Open
A year after Furgol’s win, Ben Hogan was again challenged by a surprising player. This time it was Jack Fleck, who was raised in rural Iowa. Fleck had begun his professional golf career after serving his country in the US Navy and taking part in the D-Day Invasion.
Fleck and Hogan went back and forth all weekend with the legend Hogan having trouble putting away the plucky Fleck. The tournament ended in a 18 hole playoff in which Fleck defeated Hogan by 3 shots. While the ’55 Open was Fleck’s only Major win, he continued playing his entire life which ended in 2014 at the age of 92.
Kel Nagle Wins The 1960 British Open
The shock of Kel Nagle’s 1960 Open Championship win was more about him being an unknown. In his native Australia, however, Nagle was known as one of the truly great players of the Australasian Tour. In an effort to better the level of competition, the British Open raised the winner’s purse by a significant amount.
This extra money brought in players like Nagle as well as American legend Arnold Palmer. Palmer and Nagle put on a show finishing nearly neck-and-neck through the rounds of the tournament. In the end, it was Nagle who prevailed, finishing ahead of Palmer by just one stroke.
Orville Moody Wins The 1969 US Open
Moody’s 1969 victory was a shocker as he only won one of the 266 PGA Tour Events he had played in. His path that got him to those tournaments, though, was much different than the other players he was competing against. Following High School, Moody embarked on a 14-year military career before leaving to become a professional golfer.
The 35-year-old Moody began the final round down three strokes to Miller Barber. He caught fire in the final round at Houston’s Cypress Creek Golf Course and was able to hold off Deane Beman, Al Geiberger and Bob Rosburg to capture his only Major win.
Charles Coody Wins The 1971 Masters
The 1971 Masters began with Jack Nicklaus as the favorite. The Golden Bear had already captured 3 green jackets, in 1963, 1965 and 1966. The field also featured the already legendary Arnold Palmer, who had won the tournament 4 times, in 1958, 1960, 1962 and 1964.
The weekend, however, would not belong to either of those men. Texas-born Charles Coody was able to win the 3 man race which also featured Nicklaus and Johnny Miller. Coody, who won a total of 3 PGA events in his career, played well into his 60’s capturing 5 Senior PGA tour titles.
Tommy Aaron Wins The 1973 Masters
Tommy Aaron was the surprise winner of the 1973 Masters. He golfed collegiately at the University of Florida before turning pro in 1960. It took the Georgia-born golfer quite a while to be successful. He captured PGA Tour wins at the Canadian Open in 1969 and the Atlanta Classic in 1970.
In order to win the 1973 Tournament, Aaron had to hold off many previous champions such as Sam Snead, Jack Nicklaus and Bob Goalby. After he captured their green jacket at the age of 36, Aaron did not win another tour event. He was elected into the Georgia Hall of Fame in 1980.
John Mahaffey Wins The 1978 PGA Championship
Golf Legend Tom Watson was expected to win the 1978 PGA Championship. While he won over 70 events in his career and the other three major championships, the PGA Championship had long eluded him. Watson began the tournament on fire and went into the final round of play holding a 5 stroke lead.
Texas-born John Mahaffey had begun the tournament poorly, shooting four over in the first round. He then shot 12 under over the next three rounds and reached a three-way playoff between himself, Watson and Jerry Pate. Mahaffey won the playoff, capturing the only major championship of his career.
Jack Nicklaus Wins The 1986 Masters
It would seem silly to ever call Jack Nicklaus an underdog in any golf tournament. He was, of course, a five time Masters champion last winning the title in 1975. By 1986, though, Nicklaus was nearing the end of his career. The 46 year-old legend was not expected to win against younger players like Seve Ballesteros and Greg Norman.
Experience, however, won the day in the 1986 tournament. Nicklaus shot an incredible -7 during the final round of play. This was enough to hold off Ballesteros and Norman as well as veteran golfer Tom Kite. This was the 18th major win for the Golden Bear.
Larry Mize Wins The 1987 Masters
Fittingly, Larry Mize was born and raised in Augusta, Georgia. In addition to being born in the hometown of the Masters, the Georgian crafted a competent career that included 4 PGA Tour wins. Mize, though, was certainly not a favorite in the 1987 Masters which featured past champions such as Bernhard Langer and Tom Watson.
Like in the 1986 Tournament, Seve Ballesteros and Greg Norman played well enough to win and finished 2nd and 3rd respectively. Mize was able to capture the tournament with a miraculous shot on the 11th hole in the playoff round. The shot is still considered one of the most famous in golf history.
Jeff Sluman Wins The 1988 PGA Championship
The time period of the mid-80’s featured a number of surprising major wins. Jeff Sluman, a New York-born golfer, had a nondescript career for most of his 20’s. Once he reached his 30’s, though, his career went on a significant upswing. The first big moment came when his captured the 1988 PGA Championship.
Sluman went head-to-head with the much better known Paul Azinger for much of the weekend. He was able to pull away from Azinger by shooting 6 under in the final round. Sluman’s career uptick continued with a 2nd place finish at the 1992 US Open and a 4th place finish at the 1992 Masters.
John Daly Wins The 1991 PGA Championship
To say John Daly wasn’t expected to win the 1991 PGA Championship would be a tremendous understatement. The little-known golfer barely made it into the tournament as he was the last and final alternate. He received a stroke of luck when his caddy Squeaky Merlin agreed to work with him since Merlin’s regular client, Nick Price did not play in the tournament.
Daly was a revelation playing in just his 3rd career major. Hitting long drives off the tee the entire weekend, Daly was able to capture the tournament in relatively easy fashion, leading the last three rounds of the Championship.
Steve Jones Wins The 1996 US Open
After a slow start to his playing career, New Mexico native Steve Jones began to play very well in the mid to late 1980’s. All that forward momentum came to a sudden stop when Jones was injured in a 1991 motorcycle accident. The ligament damage to his finger cost him three years of tour play.
He started his comeback in 1995. While he was able to capture a few tournament wins, he wasn’t seen as a contender for the 1996 US Open. In the final round, Jones was able to overcome Tom Lehman’s three stroke lead to capture his first and only major.
Ben Curtis Wins The 2003 British Open
Ben Curtis was a successful golfer in High School and College, capturing the Ohio Amateur title in 1999 and 2000. After he left Kent State, he joined the Hooters Tour and attempted to work himself up to the PGA Tour. He earned his tour card in 2003.
Curtis entered the British Open of that year ranked as the 395th best golfer in the world. The 300-1 underdog battled well-known golfers Thomas Bjørn, Davis Love III, and Vijay Singh. Curtis played for another 13 years before deciding that golf wasn’t for him. He now works as a tour pro in his home state of Ohio.
Todd Hamilton Wins The 2004 British Open
After Ben Curtis’ surprising win at the 2004 British Open, Illinois-born Todd Hamilton came through with a shocker of his own. After failing to make the PGA Tour at the age of 22, Hamilton joined Japan’s professional tour while still trying to gain access to the PGA. In 2004, at age 38, he finally got his spot.
The relatively unknown Hamilton took on a field that included pros like Ernie Ells and Tiger Woods. It was Ells who Hamilton defeated in a four-hole playoff to take the title home. The golfer lost his spot on the PGA Tour in 2010.
Y.E. Yang Wins The 2009 PGA Championship
Y.E.Yang is a talented golfer who hails from South Korea. He parlayed his success on the Korean Tour into some opportunities to play on the PGA Tour. In 2008, he attended Q School in an attempt to earn a full-time spot on the tour. He was successful and won the 2009 Honda Classic.
In 2009, Tiger Woods was on top of the golfing world and the favorite in any and all tournaments. During the 2009 PGA Championship, Yang not only took on Woods, but he came from behind to defeat him. He became the first Asian player to win a Major tournament and it referred to in his native South Korea as, “The Tiger Killer.”
Lucas Glover Wins The 2009 US Open
Lucas Glover comes from an athletic family background. His Father, Ron Musselman, played Major League Baseball and his Grandfather, Dick Hendley, was a fullback in the National Football League. Glover, however, decided that his calling was golf and played collegiately at Clemson University.
Following his college career, Glover puttered around on different golf tours for a number of years before joining the PGA for good in 2004. While he played well from 2005-2007, he endured a major slump in 2008. He snapped out of that slump in a big way in 2009 by winning the 2009 US Open. He has not won another major since, though he still plays on the Tour.
Keegan Bradley Wins The 2011 PGA Championship
Golfers tend to come from warm weather states either in the South or on the West Coast. Keegan Bradley was born in Woodstock, Vermont and played collegiately at St. Johns University in Queens, New York. He began his career on the Hooters and Nationwide Tours eventually playing well enough to make the PGA Tour.
Bradley won the very first major he played in, the 2011 PGA Tour. The young player spent most of the weekend going head to head with Jason Dufner and Scott Verplank. He captured the major after defeating Dufner in a playoff. Bradley won the 2018 BMW Championship which stood as his first PGA Tour win in 6 years.
Jimmy Walker Wins The 2016 PGA Championship
Jimmy Walker grew up near San Antonio, Texas and played his college golf at Baylor University. He turned pro in 2001 and had an incredibly rough start to his career. Walker was unable to win any of the first 187 tournaments he played in. He has a minor breakthrough in 2014 when he won 3 PGA events.
Walker achieved his true career highlight during the 2016 PGA Championship. He played well the entire weekend and remained in first place wire to wire. During the final round, Walker was able to defeat 2015 PGA Championship winner, Jason Day, by one stoke.
Tiger Woods Wins The 2019 Masters
There was a time and place where to consider Tiger Woods an underdog would be a preposterous idea. That was, however, before Woods health and personal life took a significant dip in November of 2009. Since then, the 15-time major winner has worked hard to get himself back to a high level of play.
Beset by injuries, Woods was not considered a top contender for the 2019 Masters. Throughout the weekend, though, Tiger turned back the clock and played some of his best golf. Woods finished at 13 under, finishing just one stroke ahead of new American standard bearers, Brooks Koepka, and Dustin Johnson.