The Best Majors Champion: The Nineties

In our discussion of who is the Best Majors Champion, we’ve covered some ground. We’ve talked about the American Triumvirate, the best players from the 1970s and those from the 1980s. We’ve talked about the current crop of golfers, and even isolated the analysis to The Masters. And now, it’s time to focus on a more recent decade – the 1990s.

Yes, a certain kid named Eldrick debuted this decade but like Jack and Arnie, we’re reserving our discussion of him for later. Also, his true success was in the 2000s, a decade we’ll be talking about next. But for now, we focus on the decade of Jennifer Aniston and Pamela Anderson.

Does that bring you back? It should. Because while the quality of golf in the 1990s was phenomenally better than in the 1980s, the fashion took a wild turn. I lived it, I loved it, but I really didn’t appreciate how damn BAGGY everything was.

Here’s Tiger Woods at the 1999 Ryder Cup:

I can’t find another photo funnier than that, so I’ll leave it on its own. But please note – if you see any pro golfers biceps in photos, it’s an accident. The short sleeve shirts draped down to the elbow. It’s pretty weird.

So who are we talking about when we talk about the 1990s? These are our guys:

GolferAvg Finish# of Majors# of WinsTop-10%Top-25%
Paul Azinger41.4665115.4%33.9%
Ernie Els27.8891438.5%59.3%
Lee Janzen44.075429.26%31.5%
Tom Lehman36.1147123.4%44.7%
Phil Mickelson29.94104536.6%53.9%
Colin Montgomerie42.8767014.9%31.3%
Mark O’Meara40.5180213.8%33.8%
Corey Pavin40.3672116.7%40.3%
Vijay Singh28.9668332.6%60.3%
Payne Stewart33.7565327.7%46.2%

It’s a fun list – these are the guys who were constantly on my TV back then, and a lot of them still show up in majors, on the Champions Tour, etc.

But, we can eliminate some folks real quick here. Colin Montgomerie may have won the Order of Merit a lot, but with zero majors and hardly any top-10s, he’s gone. Paul Azinger, Tom Lehman and Corey Pavin won a single major each, and while they were quality golfers really didn’t otherwise shine in majors.

Lee Janzen deserves his own paragraph here because my guy won TWO majors in the 90s, and almost didn’t show up otherwise. He has no second place finishes, no third place finishes and only three other top-10 finishes aside from his wins. For a guy with two majors to not even be considered here is impressive in its own weird way. And by the way, he’s the poster child for weird 90s golf fashion:

That exercise whittles us down to this:

GolferAvg Finish# of Majors# of WinsTop-10%Top-25%
Ernie Els27.8891438.5%59.3%
Phil Mickelson29.94104536.6%53.9%
Mark O’Meara40.5180213.8%33.8%
Vijay Singh28.9668332.6%60.3%
Payne Stewart33.7565327.7%46.2%

Now, we’re cooking with gas. There’s a pretty serious outlier here, and it’s Mark O’Meara. His performances overall are just not impressive enough. He ain’t it. And with apologies to the late Payne Stewart, whose three majors are probably not talked about enough, he didn’t finish in the top-25 even half the time. That’s not going to make our list.

So we’re left with the three guys you probably thought we would end up with — Ernie Els, Phil Mickelson and Vijay Singh. 12 major wins between them, and fairly consistent top-10 and top-25% amongst them. Each has had some close calls that could have netted him another major victory or two. These are all world-class golfers and I’ll just note that Els has long been one of, if not my absolute favorite golfers. That swing, that chill vibe AND the fact that he apparently used to drink more than anyone else and get into wrestling matches on his private plane? I’m in.

Do this. (If you can.)

But when it comes down to it, none of these guys are quite THE Best Major Champion Golfer. Indeed, when compared to golfers we’ve already discussed – let alone the troika of studs we have yet to discuss – none can quite compare to Ben Hogan, Sam Snead or Tom Watson. In fairness, for pure major performance, they’re not quite up to the level of Rory McIlroy or Brooks Koepka.

Next up, we go back to the Oughts, the 2000s and see if any of the golfers who thrived in that decade can emerge as a contender.

The Best Majors Champion: A Primer

The Modern Crop

The American Triumvirate

The Best Masters Champion

The Swinging Seventies

The Eighties

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