England has produced 19 male professional major championship winners, who, among them, have captured 35 major victories, third behind the U.S. and Scotland. Four English women have claimed official women’s majors, and the country also has had an impressive list of accomplished amateurs. Considering that the country’s golf history could date back as far as the early 17th century—when King James VI of Scotland became James 1 of England and began knocking balls about on the high ground at Blackheath above the Royal Palace in Greenwich—identifying its 10 best-ever players might have been tricky. But we think we found them.
1 Nick Faldo (b: 1957)
Prior to reconstructing his swing in the mid-1980s with the help of David Leadbetter, Faldo had won 11 European Tour events including three British PGA Championships. But he wanted more, specifically to be a regular contender/winner in the majors. In the decade after overhauling his technique, Faldo won six major championships, 12 European Tour titles, three PGA Tour events—for a career total of 41 professional wins—and was No. 1 in the world for a total of 97 weeks. He played on 11 Ryder Cup teams, earning a record 25 points. Faldo was elected to the Word Golf Hall of Fame in 1997, and knighted by Queen Elizabeth in 2009.
2 John Henry Taylor (1871–1963)
Winner of five Open Championships (1894, 1895, 1900, 1909, 1913) and six times a runner-up (a total of 23 top-10s in the Open between 1893 and 1925), J.H. Taylor was part of the Great Triumvirate—golf’s first Big Three—alongside Harry Vardon and James Braid. Orphaned at a young age, he grew up in the house of Horace Hutchinson, a fine English amateur golfer, writer, and instructor for whom he caddied at Royal North Devon Golf Club—England’s oldest course—and served as a houseboy. Taylor won 18 professional titles and became a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1975.
3 Jim Barnes (1886–1966)
“Long Jim” Barnes is easily the most underrated of England’s golfers, but his record surely earns him a place in the top three. Although born in Cornwall, Barnes didn’t become a great golfer until after emigrating to the U.S. at the age of 20 (he never changed citizenship). He won the first two PGA Championships in 1916 and 1919, the U.S. Open by nine strokes in 1921, and the 1925 Open Championship at Prestwick. In addition to his four major titles, Barnes won 17 times on the fledgling PGA Tour and was elected to the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1989.
4 Henry Cotton (1907–1987)
Thomas Henry Cotton won the Open Championship three times (1934, 1937, 1948) and 27 other notable events in Britain and on the Continent (37 professional wins in total) during a 30-year career. He played on three Ryder Cup teams, was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1980, and knighted in 1987 shortly before his death (made effective on the day of his death though not announced publicly until 1988).
5 Laura Davies (b: 1963)
Davies has amassed a total of 88 professional victories around the globe since winning her first—the Belgian Ladies’ Open on the Ladies European Tour—in 1985. She won four official major championships (her 1986 Ladies’ British Open and ’95 and ’96 Evian Masters wins were not recognized as major victories), and played on 12 Solheim Cup teams for Europe. She was elected to the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2014, and made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE, technically one rank higher than Sir Nick Faldo) in 2014.
6 John Ball (1861–1940)
England’s finest-ever amateur, John Ball shares a rare achievement with the greatest amateur of all time, Bobby Jones: winning the Amateur Championship (British) and Open Championship in the same season. The year was 1890, by which time Ball had already won the first of his eight Amateur Championship titles. A son of Hoylake and the Royal Liverpool Golf Club, Ball was a ferocious competitor who claimed his Claret Jug at Prestwick, becoming the first Englishman and first amateur to win the Open.
7 Harold Hilton (1869–1942)
A contemporary of Ball’s, Hilton was likewise a fine amateur and member of the Royal Liverpool Golf Club in Hoylake. Though he won “only” four Amateur Championships, he did outdo his rival by winning two Open Championships—at Muirfield in 1892 and Royal Liverpool in 1897.
8 Tony Jacklin (b: 1944)
In beating Bob Charles by two shots to win the 1969 Open Championship at Royal Lytham and St. Annes, Jacklin became the first Englishman to win the jug in 18 years. A year later, he became the first player from his country to hoist the U.S. Open trophy since 1924. Two majors, a total of 29 professional wins around the world, and seven Ryder Cup appearances as a player is impressive, but Jacklin’s brilliant Ryder Cup captaincy between 1983 and 1989 (two wins, one tie, one close defeat) does as much to earn him a spot inside the top 10.
9 Joyce Wethered (1901–1997)
It’s hard knowing where to place a female amateur from the 1920s and ’30s in this list, but since the great Bobby Jones called her swing one of the finest he’d ever seen and, after returning from a series of exhibition matches in Europe, said he felt “outclassed” by her, you can only conclude Wethered was pretty special. Sister of 1923 British Amateur Champion Roger Wethered, Joyce won the Ladies’ British Amateur four times in six appearances, and was English Ladies’ champion five years in a row (1920–24), the only five times she competed. She entered the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1975.
10 Lee Westwood (b: 1973)
Even though England boasts more than 20 major champions, we’ve given the 10th spot to a man who has come agonizingly close to winning a Grand Slam event without ever closing the door. Westwood has, however, finished in the top-three at a major nine times and recorded 19 top-10s. He’s also won 44 professional tournaments around the world, is a former world number one, and has earned 23 points in 10 Ryder Cup appearances.
Note: If you’re wondering why Harry Vardon and Ted Ray aren’t on this list, they are from Jersey, which is certainly part of the British Isles but not England. Jersey is a British Crown Dependency.