Best Match Play Records in the PGA Championship

Once upon a time, the PGA Championship was a match play tournament. From the year it was first played, 1916, through the 1957 tournament, this major championship used a match-play format. Which golfers during that era of the tournament were the best match players?

Highest Winning Percentage in PGA Championship Matches

The record for best winning percentage in PGA Championship matches is shared by two golfers, one a legend, the other little-known today. With a minimum of 15 matches played as the threshold, these are the golfers with the best match winning percentages in the PGA Championship:
  • 82-percent — Byron Nelson, 37 wins, 8 losses
  • 82-percent — Walter Burkemo, 27 wins, 6 losses
  • 81-percent — Ben Hogan, 22 wins, 5 losses
  • 80-percent — Walter Hagen, 40 wins, 10 losses
  • 78-percent — Sam Snead, 50 wins, 14 losses
  • 77-percent — Jim Barnes, 24 wins, 7 losses
  • 76-percent — Cary Middlecoff, 13 wins, 4 losses
  • 74-percent — Jock Hutchison, 17 wins, 6 losses
  • 72-percent — Jim Ferrier, 18 wins, 7 losses
Nelson, the legend, just ekes out Burkemo, who is little-known today. Using three digits, Nelson's percentage was 82.2, Burkemo's 81.8.

Every golf fan knows Byron Nelson, who is still talked about a lot today. His name, long after his death, remains in the title of a PGA Tour tournament. Plus, he had that 1945 season: 18 wins, 11 consecutive, records that will never be broken. Nelson won the PGA Championship twice during its match-play era, and reached the championship match three other times.

Who was Walter Burkemo? He was mostly a club professional, albeit one clearly talented enough to have played on tour full-time had he chosen. He won the 1953 PGA Championship, and reached the final in 1951 (losing to Sam Snead) and 1954 (losing to Chick Harbert). He also made the semifinals in 1957, the last year the match-play format was used in this major.

Of those golfers on the list above, only Burkemo and Jim Ferrier are not members of the World Golf Hall of Fame today.

Most Career Matches Won in PGA Championship

Bonus record: The biggest career win totals in PGA Championship matches. Only five golfers in the tournament's match-play era (1916-1957) won at least 30 matches. Those golfers are listed along with their wins-losses and winning percentage:
  • 57 — Gene Sarazen (57-25, .695)
  • 50 — Sam Snead (50-14, .781)
  • 40 — Walter Hagen (40-10, .750)
  • 37 — Byron Nelson (37-8, .822)
  • 35 — Denny Shute (35-16, .686)
Each of these golfers won the PGA Championship at least twice. Hagen won it five times overall, including four consecutive years from 1924-27.

Related articles:

PGA of America. PGA Media Guide 2012, PGA Championship Player Records — Match Play

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