The 6 Most Surprising Winners of the Masters Tournament

Larry Mize at the 1987 Masters
Larry Mize leaps for joy after sinking a 140-foot chip shot to win the 1987 Masters. David Cannon/Getty Images

When we look down the list of Masters champions, which names jump out as the most surprising today? Golfers you might not expect to see on a list of major winners, or golfers who are not well-known today?

That's the approach we took to compiling this ranking of the most surprising Masters champions. All of the golfers we talk about were very talented, but some of them are little-known today, and others — while their names are still recognizable to many golf fans — never lived up to the promise that winning The Masters Tournament implies.

06
of 06

Larry Mize

Mize's win in 1987 was one of the most dramatic. He birdied the final hole to force his way into a three-way playoff with Greg Norman and Seve Ballesteros, two giants of their era. No way was the little-known Mize going to win! But he did.

Ballesteros was eliminated on the first hole. On the second playoff hole, Mize chipped in from 140 feet to beat Norman and win the Green Jacket.

Mize was a journeyman over his PGA Tour career. He had one tour win prior to the 1987 Masters, and after won twice more, for a total of four PGA Tour victories.

05
of 06

Trevor Immelman

2008 Masters winner Trevor Immelman in the Green Jacket
Trevor Immelman after donning the Green Jacket following the 2008 Masters. Harry How/Getty Images

At the time Trevor Immelman won the 2008 Masters, he appeared to be a young golfer on the rise. He'd already won once on the PGA Tour, three times on the European Tour and five times in his native South Africa. He'd been part of two International teams in the Presidents Cup.

So surely that Masters win in 2008 was a stepping stone to a very big future? It didn't work out that way. Immelman's career was waylaid by injuries, and he didn't win another tournament — anywhere — until 2013 on the Web.com Tour. Immelman lost his PGA Tour card once, won it back, then lost it again.

04
of 06

Tommy Aaron

1973 Masters champ Tommy Aaron tees off in the 2003 tournament
Tommy Aaron playing The Masters in 2003, 30 years after his victory at Augusta National. Andrew Redington/Getty Images

Tommy Aaron's accomplishments never quite matched his talent, except for his 1973 Masters championship. It was one of just two tour victories for Aaron.

But Aaron did show his talent in several other ways: there was a runner-up finish in another major, the 1972 PGA; he was named to two U.S. Ryder Cup teams; he finished in the Top 10 at The Masters five times. In his career, Aaron finished second so many times that he came to be known as "The Bridesmaid."

03
of 06

Charles Coody

Charles Coody playing the 2002 Masters at Augusta National
Charles Coody plays in the 2002 Masters. Craig Jones/Getty Images

Charles Coody won just three PGA Tour titles: the 1964 Dallas Open, the 1969 Cleveland Open, and the 1971 Masters. That Masters title came in style. Coody birdied two of his last four holes to beat Jack Nicklaus and Johnny Miller by two strokes.

02
of 06

Claude Harmon Sr.

Claude Harmon Sr. during the 1948 Masters Tournament.
Claude Harmon Sr. during his 1948 Masters victory.

Bettman/Getty Images

 

Quick, what do you know about Claude Harmon? Have you ever heard of him? Many golf fans today know nothing about him. But you might have a vague sense of knowing his name. If so, it's probably because of present-day golf instructor Claude Harmon III. Harmon III is the son of Claude Harmon Jr., who is better known as golf instruction giant Butch Harmon. And Butch's dad was Claude Harmon Sr., winner of the 1948 Masters.

At the time of his victory, in 1948, Harmon winning didn't surprise his golf peers. He was a very talented golfer who simply preferred the stability (and the guaranteed paycheck) of the club pro life to the then-not-necessarily-lucrative world of the touring pro. He later won another PGA Tour event, and posted eight Top 10 finishes in majors. That included third-place at the 1959 U.S. Open.

But what most people know about Harmon today — if they know anything about him — is this: He's the club pro who won The Masters, the last club pro to win any of the majors.

01
of 06

Herman Keiser

Bobby Jones presents victor's purse to Herman Keiser at the 1946 Masters
Gotta get paid: Bobby Jones (left) hands the winner's check to 1946 Masters champ Herman Keiser. Bettman/Getty Images

Herman Keiser posted just five PGA Tour victories in his career, although he did lose several prime years to World War II. He won once before the war, and four times following the war, including his 1946 Masters victory.

Today, though, Keiser is largely forgotten. His name is recognized only by avid fans of golf history, or the most avid of Masters fans.

Keiser approached the final green of that 1946 Masters with a one shot lead over Ben Hogan, who was playing in a group behind Keiser's. Keiser proceeded to 3-putt. It appeared it might cost him the Green Jacket. But when Hogan reached the last green, he 3-putted, too. Keiser won by a stroke.