The 1910s: Ted Ray
At 6’0”, 220 lbs, this two-time major winner (pictured at right, with Harry Vardon in Bronxville, N.Y., in 1920) might be golf’s first bomb-and-gouger. Known for huge drives and poor accuracy, Ray competed against some of the best, including J.H. Taylor, James Braid, and Francis Ouimet, and eventually captained England in the unofficial Ryder Cup in 1926. His strength, size, and playing style were uncommon in an era when the prehistoric equipment forced most players to favor finesse over power.
2 of 11George S. Pietzcker / USGA
The 1920s: Jim Barnes
One of the original big hitters on Tour, “Long Jim,” was known both for his unusual height (6’4” made you a freak in 1910) and his prodigious driving distance. Barnes used a lanky frame and long, muscular arms to crank drives past the likes of Walter Hagen and Harry Vardon on his way to four major championships and 21 Tour wins. His nine-stroke margin of victory in the 1921 U.S. Open (President Warren G. Harding is presenting him with this trophy in this photo) was a record that held up until Tiger’s win at Pebble Beach in 2000.
3 of 11AP
The 1930s and 1940s: Sam Snead
Known for one of the smoothest and most powerful swings in the history of the game “The Slammer,” (shown here teeing off at the 1954 Masters) routinely out-drove Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson while accumulating a record 82 PGA Tour victories and seven majors. Snead had incredible flexibility and he used it along with impeccable timing and overall athleticism to hit powerful tee shots with effortless grace.
4 of 11Associated Press
The 1950s: Arnold Palmer
Arnold Palmer's swing with its famous helicopter finish is one of the game's most distinctive. It also generated tremendous power. Palmer used his tremendous strength to swing hard and without fear, a style that made him one of the most popular players the game has ever seen. In this photo, Palmer drives from the first tee in opening round of 17th Southern Intercollegiate golf tournament at Athens, Ga., April 29, 1954.
5 of 11LANE STEWART / SI
The 1960s and 1970s: Jack Nicklaus
Everyone knows The Golden Bear for his 18 major victories and legendary run in the final round of the ’86 Masters, but along with his ability to make clutch putts and out-think opponents was one of the most powerful driver swings the game of golf had ever seen. An all-around great athlete, Nicklaus (shown here at the 1975 PGA Championship) used his strong legs and stocky build to consistently hit extremely long, high fades that routinely found the fairway when it counted the most.
6 of 11JACQUELINE DUVOISIN / SI
The 1980s: Greg Norman
The Shark might have caught a few bad breaks in the final rounds of major championships but there’s no doubt he’s one of the longest, straightest drivers in the history of the game. Primarily using a power fade to find fairways, Norman (shown here at the 1994 Players Championship) had the ability to swing so hard the club rebounded off his back in the finish but still nail his target. Don’t try it at home unless you possess prodigious strength, flexibility and confidence.
7 of 11JACQUELINE DUVOISIN / SI
The 1990s: Fred Couples
Nicknamed “Boom Boom,” for good reason, Couples' incredibly effortless, relaxed swing belied the massive power it produced. Born with unusual flexibility and an outrageous amount of talent, Couples (shown here at the 1991 Ryder Cup) often said all he thought about when driving the ball was turning his left shoulder under his chin and then hitting it has hard as he could with his right hand. If only it were that easy.
8 of 11JACQUELINE DUVOISIN / SI
The 1990s: John Daly
If you want proof of Long John’s prodigious power, consider this: From 1989 to 2007, Daly ranked in the top five in driving distance every season on the PGA Tour, including 14 years when he manned the top spot. Daly’s freakish combination of Gumby-like flexibility and huge forearm strength allows him to swing the club well past parallel in the backswing and then create enormous lag and clubhead speed in the downswing. Though his results are hard to argue with (he’s shown here at the 1991 PGA Championship, which he won), Daly’s motion is probably not one to even think about copying.
9 of 11Robert Beck / SI
The 2000s: Tiger Woods
You wouldn’t think that someone with the nickname Urkel could turn into a physical specimen whose swing speed and power would rival that of just about anyone in the history of the game, but in Tiger’s case it happened. (He’s shown here at the 2000 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, which he won by a record 15 shots.) Though it’s easy to think that his weightlifter’s biceps and impressive physique are the keys to Tiger’s massive power, the truth is his swing speed is more a product of core strength, amazing coordination, and sheer athletic talent.
10 of 11Robert Beck / SI
The 2000s: J.B. Holmes
With a swing more reminiscent of a lumberjack than a golfer, this long hitter from Kentucky has averaged well over 300 yards in driving distance every year since the 2003 season (peaking in ’05 with a preposterous 324-yard average). An unusually short backswing and a lot of strength and speed allow Holmes to overpower even the longest courses with the same grip-it-and-rip-it-style popularized by John Daly.
11 of 11John Biever / SI
The 2010s: Bubba Watson
The defending Masters champ (shown here at the 2012 Masters) is one of the most unusual long hitters in the history of the game. Watson has a tall, relatively slight build and and unorthodox swing during which he almost completely leaves his feet -- those aren't the kind of things that normally lead to drives in excess of 350 yards, but in Bubba’s case they do. In addition to producing mind-numbing distance, Bubba also curves it about as much as anyone on Tour, playing 30-yard draws and fades at will.
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