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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.