The 14 Most Athletic Golfers of All Time, Ranked

Wednesday December 21st, 2016
Ernie Els, shown here in 1994, even made cricket look easy.
David Rogers

Some people insist that golf is a game, not a sport. But plenty of top athletes are serious golfers, and a lot of top golfers are serious athletes. Here are 14 of the most jock-ish Tour pros of all time, ranked.

14. JIM COLBERT

Yes, Jim Colbert. Don't let the bucket hat and the hokey gestures fool you. The guy who calls to mind a Boca Raton grandpa was once a gridiron standout who earned a full ride to play football at Kansas State.

13. LEXI THOMPSON

As happens with a lot female athletes, Thompson's image has been sold to the public largely on the basis of her sex appeal. But those swimsuit photos have a way of distracting from the fact that Thompson is a fitness and workout fanatic, known for pounding range balls for three hours a day -- before squeezing in 18. Is she pretty? Sure. But she's also a power player who led the LPGA in driving distance in 2014.

Lexi Thompson takes fitness to a whole new level.
@lexi Instagram

12. BROOKS KOEPKA

Like his great-uncle, Dick Groat, who sparkled at shortstop for the Pittsburgh Pirates, Koepka was a handy baseball player as a kid. And though he never made the big leagues, the strapping Tour pro is frequently mistaken for a major leaguer, and no wonder: every one of his drives would clear the upper-deck.

11. GRAHAM DeLAET

A lot of top-notch hockey players are fine golfers. And the other way around. Take DeLaet, a Saskatchewan native who played junior hockey in the Great White North and still skates well enough to lace it up for laid-back practices with NHLers. That playoff beard he sometimes sports isn't just for show.

Graham DeLaet is a Saskatchewan native who played junior hockey.
PGA Tour YouTube

10. WILL MACKENZIE

Rock climbing. Skateboarding. Surfing. Heli-skiing. Name the extreme sport. Mackenzie tried it in his 20s, in a high-octane departure from the tee-to-green game he'd starred in as a kid. Because he didn't earn his Tour card until he turned 30, Willie Mac is often described as a late-bloomer. Another way to see it is that he was simply occupied with other things.

9. JESSICA KORDA

She can hook it, fade it, lob it, smash it. But that's to be expected from the daughter of two former professional tennis players. Here's what makes her special: she's got all those shots on the golf course, too.

Jessica Korda, a four-time winner on the LPGA, is the daughter of two former tennis pros.
Getty Images

8. ESTEBAN TOLEDO

If you think four days of tournament golf is tough, try going a few rounds in the ring. Before he made his name in golf, the native of Mexicali, Mexico, was a standout lightweight boxer with a 12-1 record. It was a burst appendix that forced him from the ring and set him on a course toward a cushier career.

7. ERNIE ELS

Before settling on golf in his childhood home of South Africa, the Big Easy made rugby and cricket look, well, easy. He was also an accomplished junior tennis player, capturing a prestigious regional title at the age of 13. But never mind sports. Let's talk blood sports: in a 2016 GOLF.com survey, Els was chosen by fellow Tour pros as the player they'd most want to have their back in a bar fight.

Ernie Els, shown here in 1994, even made cricket look easy.
David Rogers

6. FRANK STRANAHAN

Stranahan was raised in extravagant wealth (his father was one-half of an Ohio-based auto parts fortune) but that doesn't mean he grew up soft. In addition to being a renowned golfer, with 51 amateur titles and six PGA Tour wins, he was a competitive weight-lifter and body-builder who captured championships in those sports well into his 70s. Not for nothing was he known as "the Blond Adonis," though two other nicknames—-Muscles and The Toledo Strongman—fit him nicely, too.

5. DUSTIN JOHNSON

White man can't jump? Try telling that to the reigning U.S. Open champion, a jock for all seasons who excelled in soccer, baseball and basketball in high school, and who, word has it, can still dunk a basketball in bare feet.

Dustin Johnson can do more than just hit booming drives.
Gary Bogdon/SI

4. GARY WOODLAND

A cross-over athlete with a cross-over dribble, Woodland earned a basketball scholarship to Washburn University and played a year of college hoops before transferring schools to focus on golf. As fine a baller as DJ may be, we'd still bet on Woodland in a one-on-one.

3. HALE IRWIN

The three-time U.S. Open champ was a two-sport letterman at Colorado University, where he twice earned all-Big Eight honors as a cornerback on the football team.

Hale Irwin was a two-sport letterman at Colorado University.
University of Colorado Athletics

2. BABE DIDRIKSON ZAHARIAS

No disrespect to Justin Rose, but his Olympian achievement in Rio this past summer pales before the feat pulled off by the Babe, who won two track-and-field golds at the '32 Olympics and then went on to greener pastures. By which we mean 10 major titles on the LPGA tour.

1. JOHN BRODIE

A lot of NFL'ers retire from the gridiron to a life on the golf course. Brodie turned the game into a second career. After 17 seasons as the quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, he played 17 more on what was then the Senior tour.

San Francisco 49ers quarterback John Brodie looks for an open receiver against the Detroit Lions during a game in 1967. After the NFL, Brodie went on to play on the Senior tour.
Focus On Sport

 

More From the Web

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN