Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Newest Phil Debate

No doubt you heard some of the debate on Monday; in fact, you may have been involved in the debate with your friends: With this latest win, where does Phil Mickelson rank among the elite players of the game?

It's far from having an easy answer. This post is going to give you some of the figures that shape the debate, as well as some of the other considerations that aren't so easily quantified. While I don't know if I can give you any clear answers, perhaps I can provide some extra ammunition for your own debates! The lists were either taken from Wikipedia or derived from those lists.

TOTAL MAJORS
This is the number that seems to have gotten the most attention on TV. Here's where Phil sits in the major count. Please note that I've listed players with the same number of majors in no particular order; I merely wanted Phil's position to show how many men are ahead of him. Note also that Bobby Jones is only credited with professional majors in this list; if his US and British Amateurs are counted, he has 13 majors... but he's ahead of Phil in either case:
  1. Jack Nicklaus -- 18
  2. Tiger Woods -- 14
  3. Walter Hagen -- 11
  4. Ben Hogan -- 9
  5. Gary Player -- 9
  6. Tom Watson -- 8
  7. Gene Sarazen -- 7
  8. Arnold Palmer -- 7
  9. Sam Snead -- 7
  10. Bobby Jones -- 7
  11. Harry Vardon -- 7
  12. Lee Trevino -- 6
  13. Nick Faldo -- 6
  14. Phil Mickelson (and 5 others) -- 5
By this list, Phil is tied for 14th in total majors.

TOTAL PGA TOUR WINS
When you count total wins, Phil ranks much higher among the greats. Please note that these are only PGA Tour wins, not worldwide wins:
  1. Sam Snead -- 82
  2. Tiger Woods -- 78
  3. Jack Nicklaus --73
  4. Ben Hogan -- 64
  5. Arnold Palmer -- 62
  6. Byron Nelson -- 52
  7. Billy Casper -- 51
  8. Walter Hagan -- 45
  9. Phil Mickelson -- 42
Phil is 9th alone in total wins. Note, however, that Billy Casper has only 3 majors and Byron Nelson has 5 majors just like Phil.

I wanted to do worldwide wins, but that info wasn't readily available. I can tell you that Phil has 9, giving him 51 wins on the PGA and Euro Tours combined, while Seve (who also has 5 majors) has 9 PGA and 50 ET wins, for a total of 59. I don't know how many other worldwide wins the two have, but I suspect Seve has a decided advantage there.

CAREER SLAMS
Phil's win gave him the 3rd leg of the career slam. I'm including only players with at least 5 majors here. The dotted line divides "career slammers" from "3-leggers." Phil comes in here at #12:
  1. Jack Nicklaus -- 3 career slams
  2. Tiger Woods -- 3 career slams
  3. Ben Hogan -- 1 career slam
  4. Gary Player -- 1 career slam
  5. Gene Sarazen -- 1 career slam
    --------------------------------------
  6. Walter Hagen -- 3 legs of slam
  7. Tom Watson -- 3 legs of slam
  8. Arnold Palmer -- 3 legs of slam
  9. Sam Snead -- 3 legs of slam
  10. Lee Trevino -- 3 legs of slam
  11. Byron Nelson -- 3 legs of slam
  12. Phil Mickelson -- 3 legs of slam
Note that I have placed Byron Nelson ahead of Phil. That's because he has the same number of majors but more overall wins.

MAJOR/TOTAL PGA TOUR WIN PERCENTAGE
This one shows what percentage of a player's PGA Tour wins are majors. Consider this a measure of how often the player shows up at big events.
  1. Bobby Jones -- 77.8%
  2. Nick Faldo -- 66.7%
  3. Seve Ballesteros -- 55.6%
  4. Gary Player -- 37.5%
  5. Jack Nicklaus -- 24.7% 
  6. Walter Hagen -- 24.4%
  7. Lee Trevino -- 20.7%
  8. Tom Watson -- 20.5%
  9. Tiger Woods -- 17.9%
  10. Gene Sarazen -- 17.9%
  11. Ben Hogan -- 14.1%
  12. Phil Mickelson -- 11.9%
  13. Arnold Palmer -- 11.3%
  14. Byron Nelson -- 9.6%
  15. Sam Snead -- 8.5%
This list looks skewed because some players had very few PGA Tour wins. Jones, Ballesteros, and Faldo only have 9, while Player only has 24. Without complete win totals worldwide for each player, I decided to settle for PGA Tour wins only. But bear in mind that all the majors count as PGA Tour wins, so this isn't an unreasonable decision. Jones has 6 majors in his 9 pro wins -- simply amazing!

Even with the clearly skewed percentages for the Top 4, Phil still comes in at #12. (I was very surprised at how low Tiger is on this list.)

Personally, given these figures, it seems to me that Phil can be fairly ranked at #12 all-time. If Phil can snag a US Open, completing the career slam, I think that and his win total would be enough to push him into the Top 10. Two more majors -- any two majors -- would do it for sure.

No matter where you stand in the debate, one thing is no longer in doubt: No one should underestimate Phil Mickelson anymore!

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