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The 15 Best Scottish Golfers Of All Time

Golf Care, 4th October 2021

best scottish golfers

 

A small country it may be, but Scotland punches well above its weight when it comes to golf.

Ever since the sport originated in this country back in the 15th century, golf and Scotland has been a match made in heaven. The Open, golf’s first major, was first played in Ayrshire in 1860, and since then, Scotland has produced an incredible 31 major winners with 55 combined majors (as of October 2021).

To put it simply, Scotland is a golfing institution, thanks to the iconic players it’s produced over the last two centuries.

Picking the best players to have come from this nation is no easy task, but we’ve given it a go. In no particular order, here’s our selection of the 15 best Scottish golfers of all time.

 

1.  Bernard Gallacher

Who better to start with than our very own ambassador and a former Europe Ryder Cup captain?

Bernard enjoyed a very successful career as a golfer, winning ten European Tour events and finishing in the top ten on the European Tour Order of Merit five times between 1972 and 1982, coming third in 1974. He was also the youngest man to represent Great Britain in the Ryder Cup in 1969.

A name synonymous with the Ryder Cup, Bernard beat Jack Nicklaus and Lanny Wadkins in singles matches at the tournament. Not many golfers can say that!

 

2.  Sandy Lyle

If you watched golf in the 1980s, you would have heard the name Sandy Lyle a lot.

Lyle holds the impressive distinction of having won two majors – the Open at Sandwich in 1985 and the Masters in 1988. The latter victory saw him become the first British golfer to win the Green Jacket.

He spent an incredible 167 weeks in the top-10 of the Official World Golf Ranking from 1986 until 1989 and was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2012.

Below is a clip of his iconic bunker shot at the 1988 Masters. You may have watched this countless times already, but it never gets old.

 

3. Old Tom Morris

Old Tom is widely recognised as the world’s first professional golfer and helped create the Open. It’s difficult to come up with a greater endorsement of the man.

He won the Open four times (1861, 1862, 1864, and 1867), and to this day, he’s the oldest winner of the championship at 46. He also holds the record for the largest margin of victory – 13 strokes in 1862.

June 16th marked Old Tom’s 200th birthday, and you can discover more about what made him so special – and how he helped golf grow around the world – by watching the video below.

 

4. Young Tom Morris

If Old Tom created an enduring legacy in golf, Young Tom certainly lived up to – and continued – his legacy. 

He won four straight Open titles from 1868 to 1872 (there was no Open in 1871) – a feat that’s still unmatched to this day. His first victory in 1868 is made all the more impressive by the fact that he produced a 51 in the opening round on the 12-hole course, the lowest score yet achieved in the Open.

His life ended in tragic circumstances as he died from a lung haemorrhage aged 24 on Christmas Day 1875.

However, he’ll be forever remembered more for what he did on the golf course and for being the first prodigy whom the sport ever saw.

 

5. Colin Montgomerie

Another name synonymous with the Ryder Cup, Colin Montgomerie is one of the tournament’s greatest ever players.

His win-lose-draw record of 20-9-7 puts him fourth on the all-time list for most points won by a European golfer. He also holds the joint record for most singles points won in Ryder Cup history, alongside Neil Coles. Monty, as he’s affectionately known, played in eight Ryder Cups from 1991 to 2006, winning the tournament five times.

On top of that, he’s won 31 European Tour events, the most of any British golfer and the fourth-most of all golfers. He also won a record eight European Tour Order of Merit titles, including seven straight titles from 1993 to 1999. 

 

6. Paul Lawrie

Paul Lawrie is best known for winning the 1999 Open, a championship notorious for Jean van de Velde’s collapse at Carnoustie.

But regardless of the circumstances, Lawrie showed nerves of steel to get the job done and win the Claret Jug via a playoff. To this day, Lawrie is the last Scottish golfer to win the Open.

Aside from this victory, he’s won eight events on the European Tour, and he finished in the top ten of the European Order of Merit three times between 1999 and 2002.

 

7. Sam Torrance   

At the time of writing, Sam Torrance is the joint-tenth most successful golfer on the European Tour, with 21 European Tour wins to his name.

Like Bernard Gallacher and Colin Montgomerie, Torrance is celebrated for his Ryder Cup success, having holed the putt that won it for Europe at the Belfry in 1985. He would play in the tournament on another seven occasions, winning it again in 1987, 1989, and 1995. You can read our exclusive interview with Torrance on the 1995 Ryder Cup here.

 

8. Allan Robertson

Like Old Tom Morris, Allan Robertson is considered to be among the world’s first professional golfers.

Robertson became the golfer to score below 80 at The Old Course at St Andrews in 1858, a year before his premature death from jaundice at the age of 43.

He was the best-known golfer of his generation and generally thought to be the best player of his day. Such was his impact on golf that the Open came about as a result of his death – in 1860, a group of professional golfers gathered in Prestwick to decide who would succeed Robertson as the ‘Champion Golfer’. The rest is history.

 

9. James Braid

A tall, powerful player, Braid was part of the ‘Great Triumvirate’ of himself, JH Taylor, and Harry Vardon that dominated golf in the late 19th and early 20th century.

Braid won the Open five times between 1901 and 1910 and finished runner-up four times (1897, 1902, 1904, and 1909). He also performed strongly on the continent, picking up the French Open title in 1910.

Braid retired in 1912, and his many impressive feats saw him inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame.

He overcame putting problems early in his career to pioneer the use of aluminium-headed putters, and he helped found the world’s first PGA.

 

10. Brian Barnes

If Bernard Gallacher enjoyed a fruitful Ryder Cup career, he owes much of this success to his playing partner Brian Barnes. The pair enjoyed a formidable partnership in foursomes and four-ball matches, winning five and a half of their ten matches together.

In the 1975 Ryder Cup, Barnes famously beat Jack Nicklaus twice in one day – to do it once in a day is good enough!

Barnes racked up nine wins on the European Tour and enjoyed a successful career in senior golf, winning back-to-back Senior Opens in 1995 and 1996.

Those who knew him well will remember him as one of golf’s great characters who left his mark on the sport.

 

11. Willie Park Sr.

As this article highlights, the mid-19th century was a golden era for Scottish golf, and Willie Park Sr. was right at the heart of it.

A tall, strong golfer, Park Sr. was a very long hitter and an excellent putter who won the inaugural Open in 1860. He would follow this up with three more victories in 1863, 1866, and 1875. In fact, he held the record for most wins at the Open until James Braid broke the record in 1910.

Park Sr. finished runner-up on a further four occasions and in the top five 11 times, writing his name into folklore in the process.

 

12. Willie Park Jr.

Like Young Tom Morris, Willie Park Jr. had a lot to live up to, considering his father’s huge success as a golfer. And live up to it he did.

Park Jr. won the Open in 1887 and 1889 and finished in the top ten on 12 occasions. Such was his stronghold on the championship in the late 19th century that he only finished outside of the top eight twice between

His legendary status was confirmed when he was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2013.

 

13. Catriona Matthew

Good things come to those who wait, and Catriona Matthew had to wait until she was 40 to win the Women’s British Open at Royal Lytham – but how sweet a victory it was. Matthew became the first Scot to win a women’s major, having given birth 11 weeks prior and escaping a fire only 11 days before. Talk about winning in exceptional circumstances.

The 2009 victory was just rewards for Matthew, who had twice finished in the top ten at the Women’s British Open and would go on to achieve another three top-ten finishes. In addition, she finished runner-up in the women’s PGA Championship in 2013, only losing through a sudden-death playoff against world number one Inbee Park.

 

14. Tommy Armour

Nicknamed the Silver Scot, Tommy Armour was a Scottish-American golfer who achieved success on both sides of the Atlantic.

Born in 1896, he spent the first part of his life in Edinburgh, studying at the university there, before enlisting in the army for World War I. After a mustard gas explosion caused him to temporarily lose the sight in his right eye, Armour recovered and moved to the States after the War, turning professional in 1924. 

He would go on to win three different majors – the US Open in 1927, the PGA Championship in 1930, and the Open in 1931. As a result, he was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1976.

 

15. Willie Anderson

Completing our list of the best Scottish golfers of all time is Willie Anderson, who, like Tommy Armour, emigrated to the United States from Scotland.

Anderson was the first golfer to claim four US Open victories, winning the championship in 1901, 1903, 1904, and 1905. Only Bobby Jones, Ben Hogan, and Jack Nicklaus have won the same number, and to this day, Anderson is still the only golfer to win three straight US Open titles.

His life was cut short by epilepsy at the age of 31, but he achieved a huge amount in his short career, and he was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1975.

 

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