The Players Who Have Won the Most Majors in Golf – Can Jack Nicklaus’ Record Ever be Beaten?

Black and White Golfer SilhouetteThe beauty of golf as a sport is also one of the things that makes it so difficult for amateurs to improve at: it is an individual sport. Apart from the likes of the Ryder Cup, in which foursomes as a format allows players to work together to take on their opponents, which is also the same for fourballs, although to a lesser extent, golf is a sport in which the player is on their own out on the course. They can get advice from their caddy, sure, but the decision on what shot to take is ultimately theirs alone and whether they succeed or fail comes down to their own ability.

The flip side of that, of course, is that they also get to enjoy the glory. On that front, there is nothing more glorious than winning a Major, which are the ultimate competitions for golfers to take on. There are four events that are considered to be among the most prestigious in the sport, with the Masters Tournament, the US Open, the PGA Championship and the Open Championship are the competitions that golfers want to win more than any other, with the fact that Jack Nicklaus has won more of them than any other being a sign of just how talented a golfer he was in his prime.

Quick Answer: Which Player Has Won the Most Golf Majors?

Jack Nicklaus holds the record for the most wins in golf majors with 18 titles. His first major win came in 1962, winning the US Open at the age of 22. His final major win came at the 1986 Masters at the age of 46. The player with the second most major titles is Tiger Woods with 15 followed by Walter Hagen with 11.

Nicklaus holds the record for most wins at the Masters with six, the joint most wins in the PGA Championship with five, and the joint most wins in the US Open with four. In addition, the American also won the Open Championship on three occassions.

Looking at the Contenders

At the time of writing, there are 14 golfers that have won enough Majors to be considered ‘contenders’ for the title of the best players in the history of the game. As you’ll see, some of them are perhaps lucky to be on the list, but there are many that have won the same number as each other so it would be impossible to compile a ‘Top 10’ without including them all. Here is the information about the golfers in question:

Chart That Shows the Golfers with the Most Major Wins up to the End of 2023

You can see that Tiger Woods is the only golfer that has ever managed to get close to Jack Nicklaus, but even he fell short of the incredible 18 Majors won by Nicklaus. In many sense, he can be thought of as the greatest golfer ever to play the game, albeit he did so at a different time when the equipment and courses were not what they are in the modern era.

Jack Nicklaus – The Record Major Winner

Jack Nicklaus at the Masters in 2007

Jack Nicklaus played in 45 Masters Tournaments between 1959 and 2005, winning a record six times. Photo by Torrey Wiley, flickr

Now that we know that Jack Nicklaus is the leading winner of Majors in the men’s game, it is worth taking a closer look at him as a person as well as his 18 wins. Nicknamed ‘the Golden Bear’, Nicklaus was born in the US state of Ohio on the 21st of January 1940. Of German decent, his parents, Helen and Charlie, ran several pharmacy businesses under the name of ‘Nicklaus Drug Stores’. Charlie had played football for the Ohio State Buckeyes and was something of an all-round athlete, also being a local tennis champion when he was younger and a scratch golfer.

Jack Nicklaus followed in his father’s footsteps, insomuch as he was a talented all-round athlete and was offered places on basketball programs. He started playing golf at the age of ten and, as a sign of his innate ability, managed to score 51 in the first nine holes that he ever played. That was at Scioto Country Club, where he was taken on by the club professional, Jack Grout. He had been a decent golfer himself, playing on the PGA Tour, and went on to become Nicklaus’s instructor for the rest of his life. Nicklaus win five straight Ohio State Junior titles, breaking 70 at Scioto for the first time when he was 13.

His golf improved year-on-year, winning the Tri-State High School Championship as a 14-year-old when he shot 68. A year later and he shot 66 at Scioto Country Club, setting the amateur club record before winning the Ohio Open in 1956. Between the ages of 10 and 17, Nicklaus won 27 events in Ohio. He entered the US Open for the first time in 1957, failing to make the cut. It is reasonably fair to say that he learnt what he needed to from the experience, however, given the fact that that was the first of 44 consecutive appearances in the competition.

Looking at Nicklaus’s Major Wins

Jack Nicklaus officially turned professional towards the end of 1961. Having played in PGA Tour events as an amateur numerous times, including setting the record for the best score by an amateur golfer in the 1960 US Open, a record that remained until Viktor Hovland broke it in 2019, he began touring as a professional the following year. It didn’t take the Golden Bear long to register his first Major win, we’ll look at each in more detail below, highlighting Nicklaus’s overwhelming ability to pick up the most prestigious tournaments in the sport.

#1 – US Open in 1962

Date Age Course 72-Hole Score Winning Margin Earnings
June 14th to 17th 22 Oakmont Country Club 283 (-1) Playoff $17,500

His first PGA tournament win came in his 17th start, with Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer being tied for the win in the 1962 US Open at Oakmont. Nicklaus won the 18-hole play-off on the Sunday, shooting 71 to Palmer’s 74.

Chart That Shows the Scores at Each Hole of the Playoff in the 1962 US Open Tournament

The win meant that he was the US Open and US Amateur champion at the same time, as well as being the youngest US Open champion since his idol Bobby Jones. It thrust Nicklaus into the spotlight of US sport, featuring on the cover of Time magazine. It also began the rivalry between Nicklaus and Palmer, which ended up being a major draw for golf as a whole, with viewers tuning in to see which of the two would be able to come out on top when they took to the course. By the end of 1962, he’d added the Seattle Open and the Portland Open to his list of successes.

#2 – Masters Tournament in 1963

Date Age Course 72-Hole Score Winning Margin Earnings
April 4th to 7th 23 Augusta National 286 (-2) 1 Shot $20,000

Held at Augusta National Golf Club, as the Masters always is, the 1963 edition saw 84 golfers enter the tournament and 50 of them make the cut. Jack Nicklaus was 23-years-old at the time, shooting 74 in his first round, 66 in his second and 74 in his third. He holed a three-foot putt on the 18th in order to take the green jacket from Tony Lema thanks to a final day round of 72. He had taken the lead after the third round and held onto it for a total of 286 over the four rounds of golf, with his 66 on day two being pivotal to his win.

#3 – PGA Championship in 1963

Date Age Course 72-Hole Score Winning Margin Earnings
July 18th to 21st 23 Dallas Athletic Club 279 (-5) 2 Shots $13,000

Just months after winning the Masters and his second Major, Nicklaus won his third thanks to an outstanding performance in the PGA Championship. Held at the Blue Course of Dallas Athletic Club, he was third place as he entered the final round, trailing the leader by three strokes. ‘Stroke’ could have been the operative word if preceded by ‘heat’, given that the temperatures reached 38 degrees centigrade during the final round. Nicklaus was able to shoot 68, whilst Bruce Crampton, who had been in the lead, made it home in 74. When he picked up the trophy, Nicklaus had to use a towel it was that hot.

#4 – Masters Tournament in 1965

Date Age Course 72-Hole Score Winning Margin Earnings
April 8th to 11th 25 Augusta National 271 (-17) 9 Shots $20,000

It is back to Augusta National for Nicklaus’s fourth Major. He was tied for second after the first round, shooting 67 and being two shots off Gary Player. He moved up to tied first with Player and his long-term rival Arnold Palmer on day two, shooting 67 before following that up with a 64 on day three. That give him the lead on his own by five shots and when he shot 69 on the final round it set a record for the competition of 271 shots that would last for more than 30 years. The nine stroke winning margin was also a record that lasted for 32 years until Tiger Woods beat it.

#5 – Masters Tournament in 1966

Date Age Course 72-Hole Score Winning Margin Earnings
April 7th to 11th 26 Augusta National 288 (Even) Playoff $20,000

Some players dream of winning a green jacket, but Jack Nicklaus had won three by the age of 26. It wasn’t quite as easy for him in 1966 as it had been a year before, even though he took the lead after an opening round of 68. He was tied for third after the end of day two, having shot 76, moving back to tied for first thanks to a 72 on day three. When he finished with level par overall after scoring 72 on the final day, he was tied with Gary Brewer and Tommy Jacobs, meaning a play-off was required. Nicklaus shot 70, winning it by two from Jacobs’ 72.

#6 – Open Championship in 1966

Date Age Course 72-Hole Score Winning Margin Earnings
July 6th to 9th 26 Muirfield Golf Links 282 (-2) 1 Shot $5,880

Great golfers don’t just win in America and Jack Nicklaus proved it with his win in the Open Championship of 1966. It was played at Muirfield in Scotland and was the first Open to be played over four days. The first round saw him tied for the lead thanks to a one-under-par 70, with round two resulting in a 67 that put him in the lead on his own by a shot. He fell behind Phil Rodgers when he shot 75 on the third day, but a 70 in the final round resulted in him shooting 282 overall, which handed him the win by a single stroke from Doug Sanders in second.

#7 – US Open in 1967

Date Age Course 72-Hole Score Winning Margin Earnings
June 15th to 18th 27 Baltusrol Golf Club 275 (-5) 4 Shots $30,000

Held at the Baltusrol Golf Club west of New York, the 1967 US Open pitched Nicklaus up against his long-term rival Arnold Palmer. Remarkably, Nicklaus had missed the cut in the Masters earlier in the year and was not selected for the Ryder Cup team that year as a result. He struggled on the opening day, shooting a 71, but followed that up with a 67 on day two to move himself into second. A 72 on day three saw him tied for second with Billy Casper and Arnold Palmer, but a remarkable 65 on the final day saw him win it outright, finishing four shots clear of Palmer.

#8 – Open Championship in 1970

Date Age Course 72-Hole Score Winning Margin Earnings
July 8th to 12th 30 St Andrews 283 (-5) Playoff $12,600

To win the Open Championship is an achievement that most professional golfers can only dream of, so to win it more than once is pretty special. To enjoy one of the wins at St. Andrews, the home of golf, is something else entirely. That is what Nicklaus managed in 1970, being tied for eighth after shooting 68 on the opening day. He moved up to one shot behind Lee Trevino with Tony Jacklin in second after a 69 on day two, remaining there on day three after hutting a 73 but slipping two behind the leader. A 73 on the final day saw him enter a playoff, which he won by a shot.

#9 – PGA Championship in 1971

Date Age Course 72-Hole Score Winning Margin Earnings
February 25th to 28th 31 PGA National 281 (-7) 2 Shots $40,000

Nearly a decade after his first PGA Championship win, Nicklaus picked up his second at what was then the PGA National Gold Club and is now BallenIsles Country Club. He led on day one after shooting 69 before extending his lead to two strokes thanks to the same score on day two, adding a 70 on the penultimate day to put himself four shots clear of Gary Player. When he shot 73 on the final day it was enough to give him the win by two shots and was the first time he won a Major having lead across all four rounds.

#10 – Masters Tournament in 1972

Date Age Course 72-Hole Score Winning Margin Earnings
April 6th to 9th 32 Augusta National 286 (-2) 3 Shots $25,000

Ten years on from winning his first Major, Jack Nicklaus won his tenth, appropriately enough, thanks to a win at Augusta National in 1972. An opening round of 68 saw him lead by a shot after day one, which remained the case after he shot 71 on day two. His slender lead remained intact after the third day of play, when he shot a 73, meaning that he needed to be at his best for the final round. Though he shot a 74 for a total of two-under 286, it was enough, with no one else doing better than +1 over the four days and allowing him to win his second wire-to-wire Major.

#11 – US Open in 1972

Date Age Course 72-Hole Score Winning Margin Earnings
June 15th to 18th 32 Pebble Beach 290 (+2) 3 Shots $30,000

A decade on from winning his first US Open and Nicklaus won his third, this time at Pebble Beach. It was the first time that the US Open had been held at the Californian course and Nicklaus ended up tied for first after day one with 71 on his scorecard. He remained tied for first after a second round 73, then took first place all to himself on day three thanks to a 72, leaving him one shot clear of Bruce Crampton, Kermit Zarley and Lee Trevino. He won his third straight Major after leading for the entire round, albeit having been tied for lead, with a final day 74.

#12 – PGA Championship in 1973

Date Age Course 72-Hole Score Winning Margin Earnings
August 9th to 12th 33 Canterbury Golf Club 277 (-7) 4 Shots $45,000

Ohio’s Canterbury Golf Club was the venue for Nicklaus’s second successive PGA Championship title and third overall. The win came in spite of a tricky first round that left him outside the top 11 players, but he followed up that 72 with a 68 to put him tied for third. He took the lead on his own after shooting another 68 on day three, with Don Iverson and Mason Rudolph trailing by a shot. A 69 on the final day propelled him to his 12th Major, putting him just one behind the record that had been set by his idol Bobby Jones, finishing -7 with 277.

#13 – Masters Tournament in 1975

Date Age Course 72-Hole Score Winning Margin Earnings
April 10th to 13th 35 Augusta National 276 (-12) 1 Shot $40,000

You don’t get to be the greatest golfer of all time without doing well in all of the Majors, but there’s little doubt that the Masters was Nicklaus’s favourite. His fifth victory in the competition came in 1975 when he finished day one tied for second with Allen Miller and behind Bobby Nichols thanks to a 68. Day two saw him hit 67 and move into the front with a five stroke lead, only for a 73 on day three see him slip back down to second, a shot off Tom Weiskopf. He was back to his best on the final day, though, shooting 68 and winning by a stroke from Miller.

#14 – PGA Championship in 1975

Date Age Course 72-Hole Score Winning Margin Earnings
August 7th to 10th 35 Firestone Country Club 276 (-4) 2 Shots $45,000

If the Masters was Nicklaus’s first love then the PGA Championship was his mistress. He won it for the fourth time in his native Ohio at the South Course of the Firestone Country Club, in spite of an opening day 70 leaving him three of the lead. He managed it round in 68 on the second day to move him up to tied-third, then a 67 on day three put him in the lead by four from Bruce Crampton in second. Despite shooting his worst round of the tournament on the final day, it was enough to see him win the PGA Championship by two strokes, ending up with 276.

#15 – Open Championship in 1978

Date Age Course 72-Hole Score Winning Margin Earnings
July 12th to 15th 38 St Andrews 281 (-7) 2 Shots $23,750

Having taken the lead from Bobby Jones in terms of Majors won thanks to his PGA Championship win three year prior, Jack Nicklaus proved he was one of the greatest ever to play the game when he won his third Open Championship and his second at St. Andrews. The most remarkable thing about it is that he didn’t trouble the leaderboard on day one or day two thanks to a 71 and a 72 respectively, but a 69 on day three moved him into tied for third. He repeated that score on the final day to put himself two shots clear of his nearest rivals with a -7 281.

#16 – US Open in 1980

Date Age Course 72-Hole Score Winning Margin Earnings
June 12th to 15th 40 Baltusrol Golf Club 272 (-8) 2 Shots $55,000

If ageing was causing Nicklaus to slow down in terms of his tournament wins, it wasn’t doing much to stop him setting records. He and Tom Weiskopf shot a record-equalling 63 on day one to take the lead, with Nicklaus then taking the lead on his own when he shot 71 on day two. Japanese player Isao Aoki was one of four players to be two shots behind him and moved level with him on day three thanks to his third straight 68 compared to Nicklaus’s 70. It was a 70 for Aoki on the final day whilst Nicklaus shot his score of 68 to take the win by two shots.

#17 – PGA Championship in 1980

Date Age Course 72-Hole Score Winning Margin Earnings
August 7th to 10th 40 Oak Hill Country Club 274 (-6) 7 Shots $60,000

Oak Hill Country Club provided the setting for Nicklaus’s fifth and final PGA Championship win. The 40-year-old had won the US Open two months eater and was tied for tenth place after shooting 70 on the opening day. A 69 on day two allowed him to move up to second, before an impressive 66 on the third day put him out in front and three shots clear of Lon Hinkle. Any concerns he might have had heading into the final day didn’t show in his play, with his second 69 of the tournament seeing him win his 17th Major thanks to a seven shot lead from Andy Bean.

#18 – Masters Tournament in 1986

Date Age Course 72-Hole Score Winning Margin Earnings
April 10th to 13th 46 Augusta National 279 (-9) 1 Shot $144,000

It is probably fair to say that most people thought Nicklaus had won his last major six years prior, but he was always a golfer that knew his way around Augusta National. Once again he struggled to challenge the leaderboard on the opening two days, shooting a 74 and a 71, but a 69 on day three put him tied for ninth. Still no one was really thinking he’d be able to win, with Greg Norman on -6. The final round was one of the most exciting in the history of golf, with five players having a share of the lead at some point. Nicklaus shot 65 to win by a single shot over Tom Kite and Greg Norman.