Most Underrated PlayersBy Farrell Evans and Rick Lipsey
Being underrated at anything can cause even the nicest people to walk around with a chip on their shoulders. Tour players are no different. All the men on our list of the most underrated Tour players of the last 25 years spent years, and sometimes decades, answering questions about how their careers measured up against the game's best. Too bad, because all these guys were a heck of a lot better than most people realized.
Larry Nelson Definitely the most underrated golfer in history, except for Michelle Wie. (Wink, wink.) Nelson didn't start playing until he was 21, but he was breaking 70 within nine months, and he qualified for the Tour at 27. He won 10 Tour titles, including three majors, and he has 19 Champions Tour victories. Despite that resume, Nelson didn't get inducted into the Hall of Fame until he was 59, in 2006, and he might not have gotten in at all without a decade-long media campaign spearheaded by Sports Illustrated's Gary Van Sickle. Nelson aptly told Van Sickle in a 2004 SI interview: "You wonder, from a press perspective, how much is a major worth? If the person is someone who's supposed to win a major, it's worth a lot. If he's not supposed to win a major, it's not worth much."
2 of 8John W. McDonough/SI
John Daly Yes, he's the laughingstock of golf with his divorces, sodden escapades, WDs and other uncouth behavior. But Daly also has serious game booming drives that sometimes go straight, pure irons, syrupy hands and as much short-game touch as anybody. Daly is also part of our favorite golf statistic in history: JD has won as many majors (2) as Greg Norman. Who says Long John shouldn't be a Hall of Famer?
3 of 8Andrew Redington/Getty Images
Jose Maria Olazabal Has anybody ever played with more flair while generating less buzz? Perhaps that happens when you spend much of your career as Seve's other half and Ryder Cup partner. Olazabal is one of the all-time most exciting players to watch. He drives it wild, forcing him to have a panoply of Houdini-esque escape shots. Around the greens, he uses every club in the bag and is the ultimate up-and-down master, which is why he's won two Masters and has 27 other worldwide victories.
4 of 8Scott Halleran/Getty Images
Rory Sabbatini Yeah, yeah, we know, Rory's a mannerless loudmouth. But at least he, unlike his peers, speaks his mind he dearly wants to whip Woods. Rory's also got game to back up his fighting, if sometimes silly, battle cries. Since cruising through Q-school in 1998, Rory has never finished worse than 98th in earnings, he's won four times (all high-quality events) and last April he nearly took his first major, at Augusta, before finishing two shots behind Zach Johnson.
5 of 8Sam Greenwood/Getty Images
Mark Calcavecchia Cranky and pudgy, Calc doesn't look or sound like a stud athlete. And he's rarely, if ever, mentioned among the best players of the last 20 years. But Calc's record proves he deserves more props: 13 Tour wins, including the 1989 British Open; 27 runner-ups (which is second only to Davis Love's 29); and $23 million in career money (10th).
6 of 8AP
Tom Kite Also a bit cranky, and those monster eyeglasses made many folks see him as more of a bookworm than an athlete. Add the fact that he's spent his life in Ben Crenshaw's shadow and held the title of Best Player Without a Major for about 15 years, and it's easy to see how his extraordinary talent has long been underappreciated. But he didn't get into the Hall of Fame for nothing. He won 19 times, including the 1992 U.S. Open, and led the Tour's career money list from 1989-95. Perhaps nobody has been more accurate with a wedge from 100 yards than Kite.
7 of 8Scott Halleran/Getty Images
Bernhard Langer Langer may have the lowest pulse in Tour history. Except for the anguish exhibited after yipping away the Ryder Cup at Kiawah Island in 1991, Langer has otherwise spent his career hiding Woodsian talent and an unrivaled attention to detail behind his stoic visage. Anybody who's overcome the yips multiple times deserves to be in the Hall of Fame, which Langer is. His stats aren't shabby: two Masters, 61 total worldwide victories, three Champions Tour titles and a 21-15-6 record in 10 Ryder Cups.
8 of 8Mary Schilpp/PGA TOUR/WireImage.com
Calvin Peete Peete developed a poor image for being inflexible and sometimes withdrawing when playing badly. Being an African American in a white man's game also didn't help win him acclaim. But Peete's accomplishments definitely deserved more notoriety: 12 Tour wins, including the 1985 Players Championship, made him the winningest black golfer not named Tiger Woods; he is the straightest driver in history, having led the Tour in accuracy for 10 straight seasons; and he was 4-2 (2-0 in singles) in two Ryder Cups. Not bad for a former migrant worker who took up golf at 23.React
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