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The tallest professional golfers

Great golf has been played by golfers of every size and shape, including golfers with severe handicaps. However, very tall yet successful golfers are a rarity.

Although theoretically height gives a golfer the advantage of a bigger swing arc, timing and control become more difficult. The two most successful golfers in history are by modern standards of average height: Jack Nicklaus is 5ft 10in (1m.78) and Tiger Woods stands 6ft 1in (1m.85).

Historically, tall golfers were handicapped by a lack of appropriate equipment, adapted for length and especially for lie to their height.

George Bayer - 6ft 5in and hugely powerful
George Bayer

However, American George Bayer (right) won three PGA Tour titles in the late '50s and early '60s, stood 6ft 5in (1m.96), and was a phenomenon of power, regularly driving the ball over 300 yards with standard length clubs in the era of laminated or persimmon woods and golf balls with often inconsistent rubber windings. Were Bayer to play today with modern customised equipment and golf balls, it is probable that he would be the longest driver in the game.

So here is the (rather short!) list of extremely tall professional golfers:

THE TALLEST MAJOR CHAMPIONS

George Archer, 6ft 5½in (1m.97), won the 1969 Masters and a total of 12 US PGA Tour titles in his career, to which he added another 19 Champions Tour victories. For a big man, Archer possessed a superb putting touch, and held the PGA Tour record for the fewest putts over four rounds with only 95 putts at the 1980 Sea Pines Heritage Classic. His record stood until 1986 when another tall major champion, Bob Tway (see below) reduced it to 94.

Bob Tway - 6ft 4in, 1986 PGA Champion and 2003 Canadian Open Champion
Bob Tway

Bob Tway, 6ft 4in (1m.93), won the 1986 PGA Championship, famously holing a bunker shot on the 18th in the final round at the Inverness Club in Ohio to defeat Greg Norman by two shots. That victory helped him spend 25 weeks in the top ten of the Official World Golf Ranking in 1986-7. Less gloriously, Tway also holds the record for worst recorded score at the Sawgrass Stadium Course's infamous island green 17th, when during the third round of the 2005 Players Championship he put four balls in the water, finding the green with the fifth and then three-putting for a 12. he won eight PGA Tour titles in his career.

Stewart Cink, 6ft 4in (1m.93), won the 2009 Open Championship in a playoff with 59 year old and five times Open Champion Tom Watson. He has also finished third in each of the other three majors, in the 2008 Masters, the 2001 US Open and the 1999 PGA Championship. He has a totla of 6 PGA Tour wins to his credit.

Sir Nick Faldo, 6ft 3in (1m.91), is easily the most successful very tall golfer in terms of major championships won, with a total of six. He claimed the Open Championship in 1987, 1990 and 1992, and the Masters in 1989, 1990 and 1996. He also finished second in the 1988 US Open and tied for second in the 1992 PGA Championship. He won 30 European Tour titles and 9 times on the PGA Tour, winning the European Order of Merit in 1983 and 1992. He is also the most successfukl Ryder Cup player of all time, having won 25 points from 46 matches in 11 appearances. Not a particularly long hitter, after the swing changes made in the mid-80s with coach David Leadbetter he became one of the game's most controlled and composed golfers, famously winning his first major, the 1987 Open at Muirfield, with a final round composed of 18 straight pars. He now plays little competitive golf, concentrating on TV commentary at CBS, his course design business and his Faldo Series of junior events intended to help promising young golfers around the world. He was knighted for services to golf in 2009.

Ernie Els, 6ft 3in (1m.91), is the second among tall golfers to Faldo in major championship victories with two US Opens in 1994 and 1997 and an Open Championship in 2002. In addition, he was runner-up in the Masters in 2000 and 2004, and third in the PGA Championship in 1995 and 2007. He has a total of 16 PGA Tour wins and 24 European Tour titles, won the European Order of Merit in 2003 and 2004, and has won many more titles around the world. Els epitomises the seemingly effortless power of the tall golfer, earning the nickname of 'The Big Easy' for his smooth, rhythmical swing.

Tom Weiskopf and Davis Love III, also both 6ft 3in (1m.91), have each won one major.

Tom Weiskopf - 6ft 3in, 1973 Open Champion and twice Canadian Open Champion
Tom Weiskopf

Weiskopf took the 1973 Open Championship, as well as six other tournaments around the world that year, ending the year ranked world number two. Despite that, and despite a career total of 16 PGA Tour wins and four Champions Tour titles (including the 1995 US Senior Open - a senior major), he is often considered one of the game's great under-achievers, frequently preferring to go hunting rather than play golf. This earned him much criticism in 1977, when he passed up a Ryder Cup place after playing in the winning 1973 and 1975 US sides.

Love III won the 1997 PGA Championship, and a total of 20 PGA Tour titles, giving him a lifetime Tour exemption. He also won the Players Championship in 1992 and 2003, and rose to be world number 3. The son of a famous teaching pro, Love was an exceptionally long hitter in his amateur and early professional days, and although he preferred to reign in his power in favour of accuracy as his career developed, he remains among the longest drivers in the game when he chooses to be.

Craig Smith - 6ft 8in, the world's tallest touring professional
Craig Smith
THE TALLEST KNOWN PROFESSIONAL GOLFERS

Craig Smith, 6ft 8in (2m.03), unsurprisingly nicknamed 'The Giant', is believed to be the tallest ever touring professional, and today plies his trade mainly on the Asian Tour. Although without a major professional success to date, he has won two smaller pro tournaments, the West Wales Open on the 2006 Dragon Tour and the Carmarthen Open on the 2007 Celtic Pro Tour. Turning pro in 2005 at the late age of 25, it remains to be seen if he can join the ranks of successful, extremely tall pros.

Phil Blackmar, 6ft 7in (2m.01), was, until Craig Smith appeared in 2005, the tallest. He played the PGA Tour from 1985-2000, winning three tournaments, then in 2007 on turning 50 moved to the Champions Tour, where he has won once. He also works for American TV as a golf commentator.

George Bayer, 6ft 5in (1m.96), as detailed above, won three PGA titles between 1957 and 1960. He had a long career spanning 1955-97 on the PGA and Champions Tours, and was known for the astonishing length of his drives, using woefully inadequate equipment for a man of his build. His first PGA victory was the 1957 Canadian Open, which strangely would also be won by 6ft 3in Tom Weiskopf in 1973 and 1975, by another 6ft 5in golfer, Peter Oosterhuis, in 1981 and by 6ft 4 in Bob Tway in 2003. Bayer died in 2003 at the age of 77.

Robert Karlsson, 6ft 5in (1m.96), has nine European Tour wins to his credit and was the 2008 European Order of Merit winner. To date his best performance in a major championship was a tie for 4th in the 2008 US Open.

Chris Wood, 6ft 5in (1m. 96), burst on the scene as an amateur when he finished tied 5th in the 2008 Open Championship, winning the Silver Medal for Low Amateur, and immediately turned pro, gaining his European Tour card for 2009 after finishing fifth at the Qualifying School. His superb rookie season in 2009, in which he finished tied third in the Open Championship and made €679,559 from 25 starts, saw him win the Sir Henry Cotton Rookie of the Year Award.

Peter Oosterhuis - 6ft 5in four time European Order of Merit winner and 1981 Canadian Open champion
Peter Oosterhuis

Peter Oosterhuis, also 6ft 5in (1m.96), had a very successful career on the European Tour in the early seventies, taking seven titles and winning the Order of Merit four consecutive times from 1971-74, a record that stood until 6ft 1in Colin Montgomerie overtook him in 1997 with a fifth consecutive title, then going on to win seven Orders of Merit in a row from 1993-99. Oosterhuis then played to the PGA Tour from 1975-86, where he won just the one tournament, the 1981 Canadian Open. He came close to winning a major championship three times, finishing runner-up in the Open Championship in 1974 and 1982, and leading the Masters in 1973 after three rounds and remaining in contention throughout the final round until a costly 6 at the 15th, finally finishing third. Oosterhuis' height caused him to develop a very abbreviated backswing, which would occasionally get him into trouble, but he possessed a superbly deft touch around the greens. He played in the Walker Cup in 1967, and made six Ryder Cup appearances from 1971-81, claiming memorable singles victories over Arnold Palmer and Johnny Miller. He now works as a commentator for CBS and for Sky Sports.

TALL WOMEN GOLFERS

Among the ladies, successful golfers measuring more than 6ft are very rare. The greatest woman golfer of recent times, Annika Sörenstam, measures only 5ft 6in (1m.68), and of those women who have won more majors than her, only Mickey Wright is taller at 5ft 9in (1m.75). Another recent former women's world number one Lorena Ochoa, like Sörenstam, is 5ft 6in (1m.68). The two most recent women's number one, Jiyai Shin and Ai Miyazato are both 5ft 2in (1m.57).

Carol Mann - 6ft 3in and twice a women's major champion
Carol Mann

Women's golf has only two players over 6ft to have made a significant impact on the game:

Carol Mann, 6ft 3in (1m.91), is easily the most successful golfer among tall women. Playing in the '60s and '70s, she won two women's major championships, the 1964 Women's Western Open and the 1965 US Women's Open, and in her career lifted 38 LPGA Tour wins. She won the 1969 LPGA money list and the Vare Trophy, awarded for the best scoring average. Inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1977, she was throughout her career self-conscious about her height.

Michelle Wie, 6ft 1in (1m.85), had a fine amateur career including victory at the U.S. Women's Amateur Public Links in 2003 at the age of 13, becoming the youngest ever player, male or female, to win a United States Golf Association adult event. While still an amateur, she finished tied for second in the 2005 LPGA Championship behind Annika Sörenstam, and tied for third in the 2005 Women's British Open. Turning professional one week before her 16th birthday in 2005, she finished tied third again in two women's majors in 2006, the Kraft Nabisco Championship and the US Women's Open. Her subsequent professional career has been difficult, and she had to earn a place on the 2009 LPGA Tour by finishing tied 7th at Qualifying School, but she finally broke through with her first professional victory at the Lorena Ochoa Invitational in Mexico in November 2009, having also won 3½ points out of a possible 4 in the Solheim Cup.

June 2010

 Photos courtesy of The Canadian Open and Craig Smith

 






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