Top 10 Irish Golfers of All-Time

Ranking the Greatest Golfers Ever from Ireland and Northern Ireland

Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland plays a shot on the 14th hole during the third round of the World Golf Championships-Dell Match Play
Rory McIlroy, from Northern Ireland, is the greatest Irish golfer of all-time. Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

Who is the greatest Irish golfer of all-time? We're going to name our No. 1, and also nine more golfers from Ireland, to create the Top 10 Irish Golfers of All-Time list. Some of the golfers on this list might move up; and some of the younger Irish golfers on tour now, and in years to come, might play their way into the rankings. This Top 10 includes golfers from throughout the isle of Eire—both Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland golfers.

01
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Rory McIlroy

Rory McIlroy ascended to No. 1 on this Top 10 ranking in 2014. We could have moved him into the No. 1 position even sooner, but 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 age 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. He has since added a fourth major trophy, the 2014 PGA Championship, and he also won the FedEx Cup title in 2016.

After McIlroy's victory at the 2018 Arnold Palmer Invitational, he had 14 PGA Tour wins and 13 triumphs on the European Tour. McIlroy was named PGA Tour Player of the Year for 2012 and 2014, and European Tour Golfer of the Year in 2012, 2014 and 2015.

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 to do 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 15 wins on the European Tour and six on the PGA Tour (both totals include the three majors). He was the European Tour's Player of the Year in both 2007 and 2008, and won the PGA Tour Player of the Year Award in 2008.

Harrington was winless for eight years after claiming the 2008 PGA Championship, not winning again until the 2016 Portugal Masters.

03
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Darren Clarke

Irish golfer Darren Clarke pictured in 2011.
Stuart Franklin/Getty Images

For a long time, one could argue that Darren Clarke never quite lived up to expectations. But he definitely lived it up, with the reputation as a partier.

Still, Clarke put together an excellent career in golf, primarily on the European Tour where he racked up 14 victories. Clarke also has wins on the USPGA (3) 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.

04
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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 Great Britain & Ireland Ryder Cup teams: He played the tournament 10 times, participating in every Ryder Cup from 1955 to 1973. Alas, O'Connor's career coincided with a Ryder Cup period of near-total Team USA domination, and he holds records for most losses in multiple categories.

But O'Connor 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 championship (he only ever played in the British Open, never in the other three), but did post 10 Top 10s in the Open (and finished second in 1965).

05
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Graeme McDowell

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 he 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" European Tour events, won the U.S. Open, sank the winning putt in the Ryder Cup, then beat Woods head-to-head in a playoff at Woods' own tournament (which was then called the Chevron World Challenge).

When McDowell won that U.S. Open, he became the first Northern Ireland golfer to win that major, and the first Northern Irish golfer since 1947 to win any of the majors.

Through the 2017 year, McDowell had 10 career wins on the European Tour and three on the PGA Tour.

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 26 professional wins, a total that surely would be higher except for 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 Irish golfer didn't win a major until Harrington's 2007 victory in the British Open, and another Northern Ireland golfer didn't win a major until McDowel's win at the 2010 U.S. Open.

Daly had four other Top 4 finishes in the Open Championship. He never played any of the other majors (not uncommon for British and Irish golfers of Daly's era).

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 wins happened in 1979. In his last European Tour win, at the 2001 Madeira Island Open, Smyth broke the tour record for oldest winner. He was 48 at the time (Smyth's record has since been broken).

Smyth also won the Irish National PGA Championship six times; won twice on the Champions Tour in America; 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. 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. Bradshaw wound up with a 77 in that round.

Bradshaw is credited with 18 professional wins, including 10 in the Irish PGA Championship.

09
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Ronan Rafferty

Irish golfer Ronan Rafferty tees off in a 2004 tournament.
Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

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 this list of the Top 10 Irish Golfers, but we rank Rafferty ahead of the golfer at No. 10 because Rafferty had a higher peak as a golfer.

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 interchangeable as far as career value.