Top 10 Irish Golfers of All-Time

Ranking the greatest golfers ever from Ireland

Who is the greatest Irish golfer of all-time? Here we name our No. 1, and also nine more golfers from Ireland, to create the Top 10 Irish Golfers of All-Time list. Of course, we'll update this ranking as warranted, because several of the golfers below are sure to move up. We include golfers from throughout the isle of Eire on this list - both Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland golfers.

Rory McIlroy, one of the all-time best Irish golfers
Jamie Squire / Getty Images

We could have moved McIlroy to No. 1 much sooner than we did, but we resisted out of ... well, an abundance of caution. He's young, we thought, let's give him time.

But when McIlroy won the 2014 British Open, there was no more reason to wait: Even though he was only 25 at the time, it was clear that McIlroy already deserved to be called the best-ever Irish golfer.

That was McIlroy's third major championship victory, making him just the third golfer since 1934 to win a third major at 25 or younger. The first two? Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods.

McIlroy previously won the 2012 PGA Championship and the 2011 U.S. Open, both by eight strokes. More »

02
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Padraig Harrington

Padraig Harrington
Ross Kinnarid/Staff/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images

Padraig Harrington was the first Irish golfer to win multiple professional major championships, and the only one until McIlroy joined him. Harrington was a top player for years before his career exploded in the mid-2000s. It was then (in 2005, to be exact) that he won his first USPGA title. Then in 2007 he won the British Open, and in 2008 added another Open Championship plus the PGA Championship. For his career, Harrington has 14 wins on the European Tour and five on the PGA Tour (both totals include the three majors).

03
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Christy O'Connor Sr.

Christy O'Connor Sr. in 1957
Golfer Christy O'Connor in 1957 (more commonly referred to today as Christy O'Connor Sr.). Central Press / Getty Images

Christy O'Connor Sr. is not really a Sr. at all. But when his nephew, also named Christy O'Connor, joined the European Tour, everyone started referring to them as Sr. and Jr. And that's how they are forever known.

O'Connor was a stalwart on the GB&I Ryder Cup teams; he shows up often on our Ryder Cup records page, alas, often for losses (O'Connor's career coincided with a Ryder Cup period of near-total US domination). But he was one of the best players in Europe from the mid-1950s into the 1970s, winning dozens of tournaments on the precursor to the European Tour. He never won a major, and played in only the British Open, but did post 10 Top 10s in the Open (and finished second in 1965).

04
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Darren Clarke

For a long time, one could argue that Darren Clarke never quite lived up to expectations. But he definitely lived it up! And Clarke put together an excellent career in golf, primarily on the European Tour where he has more than a dozen victories. He also has wins on the USPGA and Japan tours. But until 2011, he had no wins in majors. That changed, however, at the 2011 British Open, where Clarke finally put his name on the Claret Jug. Clarke's previous best finishes at the Open were second in 1997 and third in 2001. Clarke also played in five Ryder Cups with a good overall record, in particular proving tough to beat in fourballs.

05
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Graeme McDowell

Graeme McDowell, one of the top Irish golfers
Andy Lyons / Getty Images

Graeme McDowell was putting together a fine career prior to 2010. He had four wins on the European Tour. He wasn't anything spectacular, but was solid. And then 2010 happened. And 2010 was one of the most momentous years for any golfer of the Tiger Woods Era outside of Woods himself. McDowell won two "regular" Euro Tour events, won the U.S. Open, sank the winning putt in the Ryder Cup, then beat Woods head-to-head at Woods' own tournament. That's called having a good year, my friends.

06
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Fred Daly

Fred Daly started winning tournaments in the late 1930s and continued into the 1950s. He is credited with 20-something professional wins (recordkeeping wasn't so great in those days), a total that surely would be higher except for that little skirmish known as World War II.

Daly has the distinction of being the first Irishman to win one of golf's professional majors - he won the 1947 British Open. Another Northern Ireland golfer didn't win a major until Graeme McDowell at the 2010 U.S. Open. Daly had four other Top 4 finishes in the Open Championship.

07
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Des Smyth

Des Smyth was a consistent, if unspectacular, player on the European Tour for many years, winning eight times. The first of those was was in 1979. In his last Euro Tour win, at the 2001 Madeira Island Open, Smyth broke the tour record for oldest winner. He was 48 at the time.

Smyth also won the Irish National PGA Championship six times; won twice on the Champions Tour; and posted three wins on the European Seniors Tour. His best finish in a major was a tie for fourth at the 1982 British Open. He played in two Ryder Cups.

08
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Harry Bradshaw

Harry Bradshaw won numerous tournaments in Britain and Ireland in the 1940s and 1950s, including a pair of British Masters and a pair of Irish Opens. He was a 3-time member of the Ryder Cup team. But he's probably most famous - or perhaps infamous - for one that got away. Bradshaw lost to Bobby Locke in a playoff at the 1949 British Open. But he might have won prior to the playoff if not for a strange incident in the second round. On the fifth hole, Bradshaw hit a wayward drive, and his ball came to rest in the bottom of a broken beer bottle. Hey, conditions were rough back then. Bradshaw was entitled to a free drop, but didn't take it. He played it as it lie. Glass went flying, but the ball barely did. He wound up with a 77 in that round.

09
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Ronan Rafferty

Ronan Rafferty was a 7-time winner on the European Tour between 1989 and 1993, and also won five times on the Australasian Tour. He made only one Ryder Cup team, but did lead the European Tour money list one year. It's a tough call among the players at the bottom of our list, but we rank Rafferty ahead of the golfer at No. 10 because we think Rafferty had a better peak.
10
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Eamonn Darcy

Eamonn Darcy was competitive for a longer time than Rafferty, winning on the European Tour in 1977 and in 1990 - but only twice in-between. Darcy also had second- and third-place finishes on the money list, and made three Ryder Cup teams. Rafferty, Darcy and David Feherty - who would be No. 11 if this list went to 11 - seem pretty interchangable as far as career value.