Which Two Golfers Have Won the Most PGA Championships?

By M.L. Rose
Walter Hagen prepares to play in 1920, prior to his record five PGA Championship victories.
Walter Hagen prepares to play in 1920, prior to his record five PGA Championship victories.

The PGA Championship is one of golf’s four major tournaments, along with the U.S. and British Opens, and the Masters. It was first played in 1916 and has been played annually since then, except for 1917 and 1918, due to World War I, and 1943, because of World War II. From 1916 through 1957 the event was a match play tournament, with each match consisting of 36 holes. Since 1958 the PGA Championship has been a stroke play event. Through the 2011 tournament Walter Hagen and Jack Nicklaus have won the PGA Championship most often, with five apiece.

PGA History

Walter Hagen was among 35 people invited by New York department store owner Rodman Wanamaker to a 1916 meeting at which the Professional Golfers’ Association of America was conceived. The group also decided to hold an annual tournament, which became the PGA Championship.

Walter Hagen’s Victories

Competing in the match play era, Hagen won his first PGA Championship in 1921, defeating two-time champion James Barnes 3 and 2. Hagen placed second to Gene Sarazen in a playoff in 1923, then won four consecutive PGA titles, from 1924 through 1927, defeating Barnes (2-up), William Mehlhorn (6 and 5), Leo Diegel (5 and 3) and Joe Turnesa (1-up).

Hagen survived two near-upsets in 1925, first beating Al Watrous 1-up in a 39-hole opening match. Hagen trailed Diegel by five holes midway through the quarterfinal, but rallied to 1-down after 35 holes. He won the 36th hole, then gained the victory by winning the fourth extra hole.

He was 2-down through 18 holes of the 1927 final, but then squared the match with a 29th-hole birdie. Hagen went 1-up with a par on the 31st hole and maintained his lead.

Jack Nicklaus’ Victories

Jack Nicklaus won five PGA Championships, all in stroke play. He shot 5 under par to win in 1963, then followed with victories in 1971 and 1973 (7 under par both times), 1975 (4 under par) and 1980 (6 under par). Nicklaus trailed by three strokes entering the final round in 1963, but rallied for a two-stroke victory. He led from start to finish in 1971, overcame an opening-round 72 to win by four shots in 1973, rallied from three shots down after two rounds in 1975, and triumphed by seven strokes in 1980.

All-Time Records

Nicklaus competed in the PGA Championship 37 times. In addition to his victories, he placed second four times and finished in the top five on 14 occasions. He made the cut 27 times, shot 53 rounds under par and won a total of $436,788. Hagen played in 15 PGA Championships. He won 40 of his 50 matches, advancing to the semifinals a record eight times. Hagen won 22 consecutive matches in PGA play during the 1920s. He won five matches in each of his four Championship victories from 1924 through 1927, then won twice in 1928 before losing to Diegel in the quarterfinal round, 2 and 1.

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