This is a great, and never ending debate. (and I have not read the entire thread, but I've glance through it)
There are so many differences between the tour then and the tour now - that they are barely comparable.
So what has changed?
- race - Charlie Sifford was the first man of color to earn a PGA card, and that was in 1961. And while there isn't much more diversification there is some.
(full disclosure & csb: Charlie Sifford used to play at a course in Texas while I was there, he is a great guy and can tell a hell of a story)
- money - hundreds of guys can make a better living on the tour today than they could anywhere else doing anything else; that was untrue in the 60's and 70's - I'd guess that number would be dozens then. Guys used to leave tournaments to play exhibitions when I was a kid, because they needed the money.
So with the money it means that all the exempt players can focus 100% on their game, and not have to find something to help with the help pay the bills.
2013 to be in the top 125 you had to earn $610,000+
1980 (the first year listed on PGAtour.com) to be in the top 125 you had to earn $19,895 (not sure if that kept your card) but you'd better earn a living beyond that
- travel - only the top players traveled by private plane in the 60's & 70's and the bottom 1/2 of the field was likely driving between events, and they were not staying at the Four Season or the Penninsula; hard to quantify the effect but it limits the field week to week over the season.
- sponsorship - guys today are traveling billboards for golf companies, banks, brokers, etc and again 100's earn enough off of that to support their golf habit. Back in Jacks prime, I'd bet maybe the top 10 players earned some decent money though sponsors, and they likely had exhibition requirement to get full $ out of the arrangement.
So what does it all mean - same as asking if NBA players are better today, or other sports. Sports change, athletes change - hell in golf equipment changes, and it is more evenly spread out today.
So sure more guys can win an event today than in the past - but without Charlie Sifford breaking the barrier then Tiger wouldn't even play, and how would he do, physically, having to ride cars/busses/trains between events?
Hogan was the best, Arnie was the best, Jack was the best, Tiger was the best, and soon someone else will take that banner.