Most PGA Tour Wins Before Winning a Major

Golf fans and media sometimes debate the "best golfer without a major" — those golfers who've won a lot but have not yet claimed a major championship. And on, we have the list of golfers who won the most all-time on the PGA Tour but never won a major. But sometimes, most of the time probably, frequent tour winners eventually do win a major. And that's what this article is about: The golfers who won a lot on the PGA Tour before winning a major.

So which golfers in PGA Tour history won the most before winning a major? The list that follows includes nothing but Hall of Famers. Fact is, a golfer who wins at least 15 "regular" tour titles is very likely to win a major, even if he hasn't yet. In tour history, only three golfers who have won major championships won at least 20 non-majors first, before claiming that initial major victory.

These are the golfers who won the most PGA Tour titles before winning their first major championship:

Ben Hogan, 30 wins before winning a major

Ben Hogan is the only golfer in tour history who won 30 or more times on the PGA Tour before winning a major championship title. (Imagine all the "best player without a major" articles he would have had to put up with, all the "why hasn't Hogan won a major yet?" jibes he'd have been subjected to, if today's media, fan and social media atmospheres had existed back then.)

Hogan's first major championship win was in the 1946 PGA Championship, and that was his 31st victory overall on the PGA Tour. He eventually won nine majors, tied with Gary Player for fourth-most in men's golf history.

Hogan had been playing the tour since the early 1930s, but he didn't win until 1938. Then he won a lot, including 13 times in 1946 alone. He also had multiple Top 5 finishes in majors before finally breaking through. Those included runner-up in the 1942 Masters (he lost an 18-hole playoff to Byron Nelson, 69 to 70) and in the 1946 Masters.

Sam Snead, 27 wins

Sam Snead's first major championship win was the 1942 PGA Championship, which was the 28th victory overall of his PGA Tour career. He went on to win a record-setting 82 times, including seven majors overall.

Snead first came close to major at the 1937 U.S. Open, in his second year playing the tour and in just his second appearance in any of the majors. He finished second to Ralph Guldahl. And although he won seven other majors, Snead never won a U.S. Open title.

Snead had 10 Top 10 finishes in majors before winning his first. Those included second-place finishes in that 1937 U.S. Open plus the 1938 PGA Championship, 1939 Masters and 1940 PGA Championship.

Phil Mickelson, 22 wins

Hogan, Snead and Phil Mickelson are the only major champions who won at least 20 times on the PGA Tour before their first win in a major. In Mickelson's case, that first major championship victory was the 2004 Masters, his 23rd overall win on the PGA Tour.

Mickelson had a slew of Top 10 finishes in majors before winning one. Those included runner-up in the U.S. Open in 1999 and 2002, and also in the 2001 PGA Championship. He'd finished third in five other majors, too, before winning that 2004 Masters. Mickelson eventually won six majors, including, at age 50, the 2021 PGA Championship, making him the oldest winner in the history of men's majors.

Others Who Won 15+ PGA Tour Titles Before Winning a Major

These are all the other golfers who won a major championship but posted at least 15 victories on the PGA Tour before that first major win:
  • Paul Runyan, 19 wins before first major: His first major was the 1934 PGA Championship. He finished with two majors and 29 overall PGA Tour wins.
  • Johnny Farrell, 17 wins: Farrell's first and only major championship victory was in the 1928 U.S. Open, where he beat Bobby Jones in a 36-hole playoff. He finished with 22 tour wins.
  • Horton Smith, 17 wins: The first major title for Smith was in the very first Masters Tournament in 1934. Then, in 1936, he became The Masters' first 2-time champion. He won 30 PGA Tour titles overall.
  • Craig Wood, 17 wins: Not only did Wood win 17 times before winning a major, but also lost in extra holes at all four majors (Masters, U.S. Open, British Open, PGA Championship) before he finally won one. Then he won two, both in 1941.
  • Leo Diegel, 16 wins: The 17th of Diegel's 28 career PGA Tour victories was the 1928 PGA Championship. He repeated as PGA champ the next year.
  • Tom Kite, 16 wins: The 1992 U.S. Open was Kite's only win in a major, and hit happened after he had already won 16 other tournaments on the PGA Tour. Kite had three second-place showings in majors and 19 Top 10s before finally winning one.
  • Gene Littler, 16 wins: "Gene the Machine" eventually won 29 times on the PGA Tour, but his 17th of those victories — the 1961 U.S. Open — remained his lone major.
  • Henry Picard, 15 wins: Picard had 15 wins on tour before earning his first major title at the 1938 Masters. He also won the 1939 PGA Championship and finished with 26 overall wins.
For the sake of comparison, Walter Hagen, Jack Nicklaus and Lee Trevino had zero PGA Tour victories before winning a major (a major was their first tour win, in other words). Gene Sarazen, Gary Player and Rory McIlroy had one; Byron Nelson and Tom Watson, two; Tiger Woods, three; Billy Casper, six; and Arnold Palmer, eight.

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