Legacy is a vile word in some sports media circles. It has become a catch-all when there’s nothing else to talk about and so often misused that it hardly means anything anymore. However, at a place like Augusta National Golf Club and at an event like the Masters, the word still carries a lot of weight.
Winning a green jacket is a big deal, maybe the biggest deal in all of professional golf. And there are some golfers who could use it more than others in terms of the way we think about their legacies. Not all of those golfers are ones you would expect. For example, if I said that it’s far more important for Rickie Fowler to win a Masters than Tiger Woods winning another one for their respective legacies, you might balk at that. But to me, Woods could win the next 10 Masters and it would not change that he’s the best of all time. A green jacket for Fowler would change some things, though.
So with that premise in mind, I took the players in the 2020 field — trying to lean toward more fully-developed legacies like Adam Scott and Dustin Johnson — and ranked whose legacies would change the most based on a Masters win this November.
1. Rory McIlroy: This one is somewhat incontrovertible. McIlroy’s legacy is already somewhat secure, but the one thing that can bump him from being an all-time great to an all-time legend is an elusive Masters victory. In golf, you’re simply trying to shrink the circles you’re in. To go from this huge pool of players who have never won a major to a pool of just 29 that have won four majors is a great achievement. But to go from that group of 29 to a pool of six — Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Gene Sarazen and Tiger Woods — who have won all four majors would be insane.
2. Dustin Johnson: Of the other top players in this field, Johnson has the most to gain. Despite winning 23 times on the PGA Tour, the resume still has some holes that need filling in. If he fills them with, say, a Masters and another U.S. Open or an Open Championship, all of a sudden we stop thinking about what could have been at the majors and start considering where he stands among the best of all time.
3. Bubba Watson: This is very specific to this tournament, but Watson could join a mega-exclusive list of eight players who have won three Masters. The list includes Nicklaus (6), Woods (5), Arnold Palmer (4), Nick Faldo (3), Phil Mickelson (3), Jimmy Demaret (3), Player (3) and Sam Snead (3). That’s a hell of a group to link up with at the most famous tournament in the world.
4. Collin Morikawa: This might not be a name you expected to see this high on the list, but let me explain. I think about Morikawa as being a one- or two-time major winner over the course of his career. He’s a really good player, but you have to be out-of-this-world good to win three or four majors in this era. Since he already has one, winning a second in this season at that age would really rattle my view of what he’s capable of over the rest of his career.
5. Webb Simpson: I think sometimes we wrongly think of Simpson as the guy who backed into a U.S. Open win and torched the field that one time at TPC Sawgrass. The reality here is that he’s been one of the 10 best players on the planet for multiple years. There aren’t a lot of guys historically who can say that, especially in such a competitive era. So a Simpson win here would simply elevate him to where he probably rightly belongs in the public eye. It would also give him a U.S. Open, a Players and a Masters, which would be pretty crazy.
6. Patrick Reed: I don’t think of Reed as being a multiple-time Masters winner, so him winning this year would make me recalibrate the way I think about his career, which is probably already underrated.
7. Justin Rose: Broadly-speaking, there is a group of players that has around 10 PGA Tour wins and one major. Rose is on that list, Simpson is on that list. Adam Scott, Sergio Garcia and Jason Day are all on that list. While you could argue that Scott and Garcia are better pure golfers, you could also argue that Rose is more accomplished, which is meaningful for our list. Adding a Masters to his U.S. Open, wins all over the world and Ryder Cup resume would be a big deal.
8. Rickie Fowler: Of the major-less group — Hideki Matsuyama, Tony Finau, Tommy Fleetwood, Xander Schauffele — he probably sticks out the most in terms of how differently we would view his career. It would change the way Garcia’s changed, but maybe even more dramatically, and all those wins from early on would be looked at in a much different light.
9. Bryson DeChambeau: I certainly think he will win a Masters, but if he goes back-to-back at Winged Foot and Augusta National, all of a sudden the view of him and his budding legacy starts to change in a meaningful way going into 2021.
10. Jordan Spieth and Brooks Koepka: I had to lump them together because right now it feels like both are done winning major championships. Spieth, because he cannot find a fairway. Koepka, because he cannot find a leg to stand on. That may or may not be true, but for Spieth to jump to four in the middle of this portion of his career or Koepka to get to five after a lost year would truly shift both legacies and change how we view the next 10 years.
You may notice I don’t have Jon Rahm or Justin Thomas on this list. Part of that is because they’re so young, but the other part is that I already think their trajectories are as multiple-time major winners so winning this year’s Masters wouldn’t really affect how I think about their still-developing legacies.