The Forgettable Five: Unheralded Major Winners of the 2000s

Who’s on this list? Surely you can venture a guess (or two).

Trap Five LogoThis week’s Masters marks the golf’s first major championship of a new decade, which means it’s officially possible to summarize the events of the 2000s. So, how about it?

The previous ten years in golf were dominated by Tiger Woods, who won 12 majors between 2000 and 2009. Underlining Tiger’s singular greatness during the decade (and also the lack of other talent) is the fact that even his supposed rivals could not manage more than three major titles during the same period.

Perhaps the worst indictment of golf in the 2000s beyond Tiger Woods is that these five men all managed to win majors during the decade. Major champions receive five-year exemptions on the PGA Tour and all major championships upon their victory, and these five players have struggled to maintain a presence in professional golf once that exemption expired. None of the following major winners have won on the PGA Tour since their major triumphs, and only one currently maintains full-time exempt status on the tour.

Number Five: David Duval (2001 Open Championship)
It’s hard to think that Duval, former World Number One and U.S. Open runner-up less than a year ago, could open this list. Unfortunately, the facts tell the story. DD’s well-deserved win at Royal Lytham in 2001 was his most recent on the PGA Tour. Before qualifying for last year’s U.S. Open, Duval hadn’t competed in a major besides the British Open (for which he has an exemption until the age of 60) since his five-year major exemption expired in 2006. A litany of injuries and personal problems plagued DD throughout the decade; he hasn’t finished inside the top 100 on the PGA Tour money list since 2002.

Number Four: Rich Beem (2002 PGA Championship)
Beem was working at a Radio Shack in Seattle before earning a PGA Tour card for 1999. He won the Kemper Open that year, but his career-best season came in 2002, when he won in back-to-back starts at the International and PGA Championship. Notably, he held off a hard-charging Tiger Woods to win his lone major title, which was also his only top-ten finish in a major. Since then, Beem has continually found himself near the cutoff for tour exemptions on the year-end money list. In 2009, he finished the year ranked 122nd.

Number Three: Shaun Micheel (2003 PGA Championship)
The 2003 PGA Championship was only Micheel’s third major championship, yet he pulled off one of the most improbable upsets in the sport’s modern history, knocking a 7-iron to within inches of the cup on the tournament’s 72nd hole to secure victory. As his performance on the golf course deteriorated over the next few years, Micheel discovered in 2005 that he had the testosterone levels of a 70-year-old. His career had a bit of resurgence after treatment in 2006, when he finished runner-up to Tiger Woods in the PGA Championship, but the results haven’t come to him since then, even with normal testosterone levels.

Number Two: Todd Hamilton (2004 Open Championship)
After struggling to maintain his tour card in the States, Hamilton became a mainstay on the Japanese tour during the 1990s, becoming the all-time foreign money leader in that country. Once he returned to the US in 2004, he won the Honda Classic, then defeated Ernie Els in a playoff to win the British Open. Like Beem, the win was Hamilton’s only top-ten major finish to date. The nadir of his game came in 2007, when he failed to finish in the top 25 in any of the 28 events he entered. While his form has improved somewhat since then, he just missed out on making the top 125 in the 2009 money list.

Number One: Michael Campbell (2005 U.S. Open)
When Campbell won the 2005 U.S. Open at Pinehurst, most observers thought the New Zealander was making the leap to join the upper level of the world’s golfers, having already won six times in Europe since 1999. Consecutive top-tens in the next two majors and a victory in the Wentworth Match Play Championship seemed to reinforce those claims. What actually unfolded was a complete collapse in Campbell’s game, routinely missing the cut in the events he entered and struggling to even break 80. As of this publication date, Campbell holds no status on the PGA Tour.

This article was written by Adam Myers, better known as Chilli Dipper in the forum.

4 thoughts on “The Forgettable Five: Unheralded Major Winners of the 2000s”

  1. The above talented players earned their victories and deserved their wins. Having surprise major winners makes golf more mysterious and fascinating to watch. What this article displays the most to me is how many opportunities Phil had to win more majors when Tiger was off his game.

    Surprise major winners of the ’65-’75 (Jack’s prime)

    Lou Graham (6 pga tour wins)
    Orville Moody only pga tour win was his ’69 Masters
    Dave Marr (3 pga tour wins)
    Robert de Vicenzo (7 pga tour wins)
    Charles Coody (3 pga tour wins)
    Tommy Aaron (3 pga tour wins)

  2. And don’t forget Arnie who didn’t win a Major after the ’64 Masters at age 34. Maybe Tiger’s career will be more like Arnie’s than like Jack’s.

  3. Nice job Adam! Though I’m gonna disagree with you on two points.

    First, I have to agree with uttexas that this is not an indictment of the game. It goes to show how much parity there is on tour. A hot putting week alone can get practically any player in the field into contention. And that is why the game’s elite are just that, they have the ability to get into contention more often than the rest.

    Secondly, I disagree with your choice of Duval for this list. He had been #1 in the world prior his breakthrough major win, and he had been in contention a few times. His fall from prominence and subsequent (though balking) reappearences are the stuff of Greek tragedy (minus the crows eating his liver and stuff). Forgettable — I don’t think so. I’d suggest that Ben Curtis or YE Yang (though the jury is definitely still out) more likely fit the premise, but that perhaps “surprise” or “unpredictable” would be more apt than “forgettable.”

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