When the time finally comes for professional athletes to retire from the sport they’ve dedicated their entire lives to, many are remembered for the milestones that defined their careers. Sometimes, however, the label attached to an athlete’s legacy has less to do with what he accomplished than what he didn’t.
Dan Marino‘s 17 seasons without a Super Bowl ring immediately comes to mind, as do the prolonged but championship-less careers of basketball stars like Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing, John Stockton and Karl Malone.
While athletes who play team sports can sometimes hide behind the excuses of failed chemistry, questionable coaching or poor management, it is far more difficult to avoid the spotlight and stigma in individual sports such as golf. And while tournament victories and career earnings provide a snapshot glimpse of a golfer’s success, the ultimate measuring stick of a PGA player’s career is his ability to capture a major championship.
With the first official major tournament dating back to 1860 (the inaugural Open Championship), the four majors have come to include the Masters Tournament, the U.S. Open, the British Open (still officially known as the Open Championship) and the PGA Championship. Since that time, there have been 427 major tournaments with a total of only 210 different champions.
Some of those champions managed to win them early and often (Tiger Woods, who won his first major at the age of 21 and went on to win 13 more), some made a career of piling them one on top of another (Jack Nicklaus, with a total of 18), and some were merely able to scrape together a timely weekend of exceptional golf only to disappear into the annals of history never to win – or come close to winning – again (Rich Beem, anyone?).
And then there are the unfortunate souls who spend their entire careers at the other end of the spectrum – piling up tournament victories and pocketing millions of dollars without ever achieving the elusive milestone of winning a major. For years, until he finally won the Masters in 2004, Phil Mickelson was one of those unfortunate souls, carrying the universal title of Best Player to Never Win a Major for much of his career. More recently, Justin Rose (the 2013 U.S. Open champion) and Adam Scott (the 2013 Masters champion) have shed the embarrassing moniker by finally breaking through and winning The Big One.
But while players like Mickelson, Rose and Scott have gotten the proverbial monkeys off their backs, there are still countless others on the PGA tour who – despite having managed to put together impressive careers – are at serious risk of being remembered for what they didn’t do.
Unlike other lists of the best golfers without a major, which are subjective and open to controversy, here is a list of the players with the highest career earnings who have yet to win when it matters most. Because while talent and potential can be subjective, dollars signs are not.
Without further ado, here is a list of the 10 highest earning golfers of all time to never win a major championship.
10. Robert Allenby, Career Earnings: $26,762,583
Since turning pro in 1992, Allenby has won four PGA tournaments, accumulated more than $26 million in career earnings and represented the International Team in four Presidents Cups. In 2005, he also become the first golfer to win the triple crown of the Australian Masters, Australian PGA and Australian Open in the same year. Yet despite all of his successes – both in the United States and internationally – the career-defining major has continued to elude him. The closest he’s ever come was a seventh place finish at the U.S. Open in 2004. At 42 years old, the Australian’s chances of winning a major are looking slimmer all the time, as he hasn’t won a professional tournament in 11 years.
9. Matt Kuchar, Career Earnings: $26,905,194
While American Matt Kuchar may not garner as much media attention as some of his countrymen, there are many who believe he is one of the best PGA players to never win a major. While he was something of a late bloomer, Kuchar has made a name for himself over the past decade or so, recording six PGA tour victories, including the Player’s Championship in 2012, and leading the PGA in total earnings in 2010. Between 2009 and 2012 alone, he collected almost $15 million en route to 30 top-10 finishes. He has also come close in several majors, recording five top-10 finishes overall and three in the past two years. His best showing was a third-place tie at the 2012 Masters. At only 35 years old, Kuchar is currently ranked No. 8 in the world and certainly has a shot to capture a major before he calls it quits.
8. Rory Sabbatini, Career earnings: $27,207,462
He may make more headlines for his controversial behavior than he does for his play on the golf course, but there is no denying Rory Sabbatini’s talent. Born in South Africa, Sabbatini turned pro in 1998 and joined the PGA tour in 1999. He has since won a total of six tournaments, earning more than $27 million along the way. Sabbatini has struggled in majors, however, finishing in the top 10 only once (T-2 at the 2007 Masters, where he finished two strokes behind winner Zach Johnson). At 37 years old and not having made an appearance in a major since the 2011 PGA Championship, it appears Sabattini’s chances are decreasing every year.
7. Scott Verplank, Career earnings: $27,474,543
For any sports fan in search of a feel-good story, the career of Scott Verplank is it. Despite being diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at the age of nine, the native of Dallas, Texas, has put together quite a career as a professional golfer. Not only has the 49-year-old been competing at the highest level for nearly 25 years, but he’s also managed to win five PGA tournaments and earn more than $27 million. He has also played in a total of 65 majors, making the cut 39 times and finishing in the top 10 seven times; the closest he’s come to winning was a T-4 finish at the 2011 PGA Championship. While his career will be considered a success whether or not he ever wins that elusive title, a major would certainly be a perfect ending to an already-inspirational story.
6. Stuart Appleby, Career earnings: $27,556,646
The second Australian on the list, Appleby has come a long way from smacking golf balls in the rural northern town of Cohuna, Victoria, where he grew up. Since turning pro in 1992, he has played on several tours and excelled at every level. In addition to winning nine tournaments on the PGA circuit, the 42-year-old has represented the International Team in the Presidents Cup four times and cracked the top 10 in the Official World Golf Rankings in 2004. In 2002, Appleby came excruciatingly close to winning a major when he made it all the way to a four-way playoff at the British Open, only to lose to Ernie Els. He has also finished in the top 10 in the U.S. Open (T-10 in 1998), the PGA Championship (T-4 in 2000) and the Masters (T-7 in 2007).
5. K.J. Choi, Career earnings: $28,897,923
Since turning pro in 1994, Choi has piled up a total of 20 tournament victories, including eight on the PGA tour. In addition to spending 40 weeks on the top 10 of the world rankings, he has accumulated nearly $29 million in prize money and represented the International Team in the Presidents Cup three times. Despite being Asia’s most prolific golfer of all-time, the 43-year-old South Korean has struggled to break through in a major tournament. The closest he has come in 51 events is a third place finish at the 2004 Masters. He has finished in the top 10 a total of six times, most recently in 2011, where he tied for eighth at the Masters.
4. Luke Donald, Career earnings: $30,859,079
While it’s difficult to argue with Donald‘s success over the course of his 14-year career, his performance in major tournaments is somewhat of an enigma. Given his long list of accomplishments – five PGA Tour wins, seven European Tour wins, more than $30 million in earnings, several corporate sponsorships and a former No. 1 world ranking – it’s surprising that the 36-year-old Englishman has struggled when it comes to winning the big one. In fact, he has only made the cut in 27 of the 41 majors he’s entered and the highest he’s ever placed is third (T-3 at 2005 Masters and T-3 at 2006 PGA Championship). The good news, however, is that his showings at major tournaments have improved in recent years; since 2011 he has finished in the top 10 four times, including a T-8 finish at last year’s U.S. Open. Still relatively young, and currently ranked No. 20 in the world, Donald has to be optimistic that his major is still a real possibility.
3. Kenny Perry. Career earnings: $31,850,152
The oldest golfer on the list, 53-year-old American Kenny Perry has won a whopping 14 PGA tournaments and amassed more than $31 million in career earnings. He has also come within a single stroke of winning a major championship not once, but twice. In the 1996 PGA Championship, he went to a playoff with Mark Brooks and in the 2009 Masters he went to a three-way playoff with Chad Campbell and eventual winner Angel Cabrera, failing to make the career-defining putt to put him over the top both times. And while Perry has proven he may still have what it takes to win the big one (since turning 50 and joining the Champions Tour in 2010, he has won both the Constellation Senior Players Championship and the U.S. Senior Open), he hasn’t played in a PGA major since 2010 and may never get another chance.
2. Sergio Garcia. Career earnings: $33,359,713
When Sergio Garcia broke into the PGA after shooting the lowest amateur score in the 1999 Masters Tournament at the age of 19, many wondered just how many majors the talented Spaniard would accumulate over the course of his career. In the 15 years since, the question has become whether or not he will ever win one. Despite 18 top-10 finishes, including three showings as runner-up, Garcia just can’t seem to come through in the clutch. And as time marches on, his chances seem to be fading; since 2009, the 34-year-old has missed the cut in four major tournaments and his highest finish was a T-7 at the 2011 U.S. Open. Still, if Garcia’s career stats (eight PGA tour victories, 11 European Tour victories and more than $33 million in earnings) are any indication, his major title may only be one tournament away.
1. Steve Stricker. Career earnings: $39,520,093
While Steve Stricker has become a familiar name over the PGA tour in recent years, it may surprise many that he is the highest-earning golfer of all-time to never win a major. Given his talent and consistency, however, it is a title he could shed at any moment. Currently ranked N0. 11 in the world, the 46-year-old native of Edgerton, Wisconsin, has taken the PGA by storm in recent years, piling up eight of his 12 career victories since 2009. He has also fared relatively well in majors (60 events, 46 cuts made and 11 top-10 finishes), but the closest he’s come was a second place finish at the PGA Championship way back in 1998. Add that to the fact that he has only placed in the top 10 twice in the past four years, and it may seem like an uphill battle for Stricker. Having banked almost $40 million in career earnings, you can bet he’s no longer motivated by the money.
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