Golfers Who Won the First Two Majors of the Year (and How They Did in Their Next Major)

Ben Hogan trading card from the 1950s
The first step in chasing the single-season grand slam on the PGA Tour is winning the first major championship of the year. The second step is winning the year's second major. The third step is ... well, nobody has ever made it to the third step: No golfer has ever won the first three men's majors of the year, much less all four.

But several golfers have won the first two majors of the year. How many? Six golfers so far, seven different years. Here we take a look at those seven instances when a golfer won the first two men's majors of the year, and also at what happened when he tried to win the third major on the schedule.

Note that the first year in which all four professional majors of men's golf existed was 1934: The Masters was first played that year, joining the U.S. Open, British Open and PGA Championship. (Bobby Jones is the only golfer credited with a single-season grand slam, but it happened before The Masters existed and, as an amateur, he was ineligible for the PGA Championship. Jones, in 1930, won the U.S. and British opens, plus the U.S. and British amateur championships.)

Craig Wood, 1941

The first golfer ever to win the first two majors on the PGA Tour schedule was Craig Wood, who, prior to 1941, was considered more of a hard-luck loser. He was a good PGA Tour player who had one unfortunately remarkable thing on his resumé: He had lost in extra holes at all four majors. And hadn't won any of them.

That changed in 1941 when Wood won The Masters by three over Byron Nelson; then won the U.S. Open by three over Denny Shute.

What happened when he went for three in a row? The British Open was not played in 1941, on hiatus due to World War II. (There's a strong possibility Wood would have skipped it anyway — it was common for Americans to skip the Open before 1960 due to travel concerns, qualifying concerns, lack-of-a-large-purse concerns.)

The PGA Championship was played little more than a month after the U.S. Open in 1941. In that third and final major of the year, Wood was knocked out in the match play Round of 32.

Sam Snead, 1949

Snead won the 1949 Masters by coming from one back after the third round to win by three strokes over the runners-up, Lloyd Mangrum and Johnny Bulla.

The second major of the year in 1949 was the PGA Championship, which took place two weeks prior to the U.S. Open. Snead beat Jimmy Demaret in the quarterfinals, Jim Ferrier in the semifinals, and then, in the championship match, defeated Johnny Palmer, 3 and 2, for the title.

Then came the 1949 U.S. Open, and Snead came this close to winning the year's third major, too. He needed a birdie on the last hole to force a playoff but settled for a par. He finished tied for second place, one stroke behind Cary Middlecoff. Snead never won the U.S. Open in his career.

Ben Hogan, 1951 and 1953

Ben Hogan won the first two majors of the year twice, in 1951 and 1953, in both cases pulling off The Masters-U.S. Open double. He is the only golfer to start a year winning the first two majors more than once.

The better-known of Hogan's two Masters-U.S. Open doubles is the one from 1953, because of what he did next: He also won the 1953 British Open. That made Hogan the first male golfer ever to win three professional majors in the same calendar year. Only Tiger Woods has done it since.

But, technically, Hogan did not win the third major on the PGA Tour schedule that year. That's because the PGA Championship concluded three days before the British Open did in 1953. They essentially overlapped, meaning that even if Hogan had wanted to play both (he was skipping the PGA anyway at that time), he couldn't have. So in the third major of 1953, Hogan took a DNP; then, in the fourth major on the calendar, he won.

In 1951, Hogan won The Masters by two strokes over Skee Riegel; then won U.S. Open by two strokes over Clayton Heafner. The PGA Championship and British Open dates conflicted that year, too. Hogan could have played one or the other, but not both. But, in fact, he played neither.

Arnold Palmer, 1960

Our modern concept of the single-season grand slam — winning all four pro majors in one calendar year — comes courtesy of Palmer's 1960 season. That year, he became the first golfer to really chase the grand slam, and to talk about doing so.

Palmer played the British Open for the first time in 1960, and he did so because he had already won the year's first two majors. He won the 1960 Masters by one stroke over Ken Venturi; then won the 1960 U.S. Open with his famous come-from-behind victory at Cherry Hills.

And although Palmer didn't win the 1960 British Open (he finished second to Kel Nagle), his decision to play the Open was something of a turning point in golf history. First, most American golfers skipped the Open Championship in those days. The travel expenses were large and the tournament purse was relatively small (and, as we've seen, in previous years there often was a conflict in dates with the PGA Championship). Plus, the Open just didn't resonate in the minds of the American golfing public the way it had in Bobby Jones' days.

Palmer's decision to chase the grand slam by playing in 1960 changed that. Recall that Jones' Grand Slam in 1930 was the two Opens plus the U.S. and British amateurs. In a magazine article under his byline in the Saturday Evening Post, Palmer said that "the modern grand slam" should be considered the Masters, U.S. Open, British Open and PGA Championship.

Jack Nicklaus, 1972

Some suggest that Nicklaus' greatest year was 1972, when he won seven times total and was runner-up another three times. It's debatable because Nicklaus had so many similar seasons.

In 1972, though, for the only time in his career, Nicklaus won the first two majors of the year. He won the 1972 Masters by three strokes over the trio of Bruce Crampton, Bobby Mitchell and Tom Weiskopf. Then he won the 1972 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach by three strokes over Crampton.

And when Nicklaus tried to make it three in a row at the 1972 British Open? He appeared out of that tournament after losing ground in the third round; he trailed third-round leader Lee Trevino by six. But Nicklaus came out blistering hot in the final round, taking the lead by the time Trevino made the turn. Nicklaus wound up shooting 66 and posting the clubhouse lead at 279.

But Trevino, who thwarted Nicklaus at multiple majors, was back in front by one shot when he made an unlikely chip-in par save on the 17th. Nicklaus finished second to Trevino, one of a record seven runner-up finishes by the Bear in the Open. It came during a remarkable 15-year stretch from 1966 through 1980 in which Nicklaus never finished lower than sixth in a British Open: three wins, six 2nds, two 3rds, one 4th, one 5th and one 6th.

Tiger Woods, 2002

Woods began the final round of The Masters in 2002 tied with Retief Goosen. He ended it with a three-stroke win over Goosen.

A couple months later, at the year's second major, the U.S. Open, Woods claimed another three-stroke victory. That time the runner-up was Phil Mickelson.

That sent Woods to the third major of 2002 trying for the third leg of the grand slam. Woods was tied for ninth place at the halfway point of the British Open. But the third round, a cold, wet day at Muirfield, turned out to be Woods' worst day as a pro to that point. He shot 81, and his grand slam dream was dead.

By that point, though, Woods had already become the first (and so far only) golfer to win the Tiger Slam, holding all four major championship titles simultaneously in 2000-01.

Jordan Spieth, 2015

The most-recent year in which a golfer won the first two men's majors is 2015 (part of the 2014-15 PGA Tour season). Spieth pulled off The Masters-U.S. Open double that year.

In The Masters, he won by four strokes over runners-up Mickelson and Justin Rose. In the U.S. Open, Spieth won by a stroke over Dustin Johnson and Louis Oosthuizen.

And Spieth came close at the next major up, the British Open. He wound up tied for fourth place, but just one stroke out of a playoff.

And there you have it, the seven years (by six golfers) in which someone won the first two majors on the PGA Tour schedule. No golfer has yet won that third leg of the grand slam after winning the first two, although Hogan did win all three majors he played in 1953. Snead in 1949, Palmer in 1960, Nicklaus in 1972 and Spieth in 2015 all came close, each finishing one stroke off the lead in the British Opens in those respective years.

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