Updated: Jun 3
Our Editorial Team tackles the topic of whether the "Tiger Slam" is the single greatest achievement in Sports
Thanks to an airing of a television program looking back on the "Tiger Slam" of 2000 - 2001, there has been plenty of conversation in some circles as to whether it was the single greatest achievement in a single season of sports. Our social circle was one of these, though the discussions occurred differently, via digital channels instead of at the pub or golf course.
Regardless of the banter and discussion, some of it getting a little passionate, the consensus was that the Tiger Slam is an incredible accomplishment in its own right. But, the question we wrestled with, was whether it is the greatest, single season sporting accomplishment? In all of the sports world, was there a greater individual sporting accomplishment achieved over a single season?
For those not familiar, the Tiger Slam refers to the last 3 major golf championships won by Tiger Woods in 2000 and the first one of 2001. It meant that Tiger Woods was the champion of all four major championships in golf at one time. These consisted of the 2000 US Open at Pebble Beach, the Open Championship at St. Andrews in Scotland, the PGA Championship at Valhalla, and the 2001 Masters tournament the following April.
So, after some thought, research and deliberations, we came up with a preliminary list of some of the greatest individual sporting achievements in a single season. How did we arrive at this preliminary list? After some discussion, we all agreed on the following criteria:
The accomplishment had to be achieved in the modern era (we arbitrarily chose 1930 as the start);
The sport and play had to be of a highly competitive nature and in a mainstream sport; and
It had to be considered as a reasonably difficult accomplishment over the course of a "season" (meaning it had to stand out and withstand the "test of time").
So, here is our preliminary list:
92 — Goals in a single season by Wayne Gretzky (1981-82);
56 — Joe DiMaggio's consecutive game hitting streak (1941);
5 — Individual Gold Medals won in a single Olympic games by Eric Heiden (1980);
74 — goals scored in a single season of European league soccer (football) by Jimmy Jones;
50 — goals scored in a single season of league football (soccer) by Lionel Messi;
130 — the stolen bases in a single season (modern era of baseball) by Rickey Henderson;
4,029 — single season points scored by Wilt Chamberlain (1961-62 Season);
and of course, 2 major achievements in golf:
1930 — the year of Bobby Jones Grand Slam (4 major championships); and
1953 — the year of Ben Hogan's "Slam" (all of the major championships he played in).
Other Sports — Tennis, Rugby, Cricket and Cycling
Many may ask – what about tennis? We did consider that as there were 5 seasons in which the Grand Slam in tennis was achieved (Don Budge –1938; "Little Mo", Maureen Connolly – 1953; Margaret Court – 1972; and Rod Laver – 1962 and 1969). Yet, after serious deliberations, we dropped them from further consideration on the basis that much of that period was either limited in who could compete in the majors and in terms of the "rarity" of the accomplishments, meaning that in that time period, it was more common to win the Grand Slam. Any athlete achieving that today would have to be considered though, as tennis has undoubtedly become far more competitive and with the passing of time, more rare.
We also looked at the single season sporting records in Cricket (test) and in Rugby. Again, no one individual, single season record stood out among the others. And, in the case of Formula 1, no driver stood out in a single season. Of course, some among us debated whether F1 was a sport, but it was considered.
We also looked at competitive cycling and the Grand Tours (Giro d'Italia, Tour de France, and the Vuelta d'España). Surely, any cyclist capable of winning all three events in a single season would have to be considered -- and they would have been head on favourites for the honour, but not one cyclist was able to achieve it; a testament to the extraordinary or near impossible effort that it would take to achieve it. Belgian cyclist, Eddy Merckx came the closest, having won both the 1970 Giro and Tour de France, but the effort expended prevented him from attempting the Vuelta that followed.
We also collectively came to the same conclusion regarding Rickey Henderson's single season stolen base record and for football (soccer's) single season league scoring records.
As talented as Lionel Messi may be, there were at least 7 seasons of greater goals scored in top flight, league play (remember, we only considered league play and not international duty or cup play). As for Jimmy Jones accomplishment of 74 goals in 1956-57, it was another incredible accomplishment, but it was removed from further consideration after it was collectively agreed that the top flight of the Irish League was not as competitive, and would have been much more difficult to achieve had it been one of Europe's top leagues (English or Scottish First Division, Spain, Germany or Italy).
We also removed the achievements of a 5-time Gold Medalist from further consideration on the grounds that the speed skating pool of competitors is somewhat smaller than the remaining feats. And let's be respectful of these athletes; everyone of these accomplishments are incredible sporting feats and all represent years of hard work, commitment, dedication and perseverance – at levels unknown to at least 95 percent of the population. The same rationale also applied in removing the venerable Bobby Jones's crowning achievement of the 1930 Grand Slam; the pool of competitors in the US Amateur and the British Amateur Championships were closed to just amateurs, preventing some of the best players in the world at the time from competing (such as Gene Sarazen, an aging Walter Hagen, and a handful of others).
So what was left on our list for the final review:
Wayne Gretzky's single season record of 92 goals scored;
Joe DiMaggio's 56 - game hitting streak;
Ben Hogan's 1953 "Slam";
Wilt Chamberlain's 4,029 points in a season;
and of course the Tiger Slam years of 2000-2001.
The debate began anew, this time with much more detailed discussion on the individual achievements and how they rated within their own sports and in comparison to others. We also discussed whether we should consider the shear athleticism involved in these accomplishments and whether greater weight or consideration should be given to traditionally more physical sports.
So after much spirited debate and skilled advocacy, we arrived at the following conclusions:
5. Wilt Chamberlain's single season points scored.
Basketball is undoubtedly a physically challenging and demanding sport requiring good conditioning, stamina, shooting skills and ability to create opportunities in the offensive zone. Wilt dominated in the early to mid 1960s and he did it with aplomb. Yet, we arrived at this conclusion on the basis that his accomplishment was completed over a full season (80 games), pitting Chamberlain and his team against several weaker teams. Another consideration, perhaps unfairly, was that Chamberlain and his Warriors could not get past Bill Russell and the Celtics to earn a place in the NBA Finals, let alone win the championship.
4. The Tiger Slam (2000 - 2001).
This may not be a popular decision these days given all of the Tiger nostalgia that has arisen since his 2019 victory at the Masters. Yet, when put into the context of our criteria, we could not see this achievement finishing higher than 4th or 3rd on our list. Remember, the question that we asked of ourselves at the outset, was whether the Tiger Slam was the greatest individual sporting achievement within a single season. It is that last part that kept this achievement from ranking higher. Undoubtedly, Tiger Woods dominated for the most part in his three major championships in 2000, winning at Pebble Beach by 12 strokes, the Open Championship by 8 strokes and the PGA Championship in a 3-hole playoff at Valhalla.
He would go on to win the Masters the following April by 2 - strokes over David Duval and the "Tiger Slam" was born.
The single season aspect is what needed to be carefully considered in our analysis. It is never easy winning a major, but these accomplishments are for a single season. When we looked at Tiger's 2000 Masters Tournament, he finished 5th, some 6 strokes behind the winner, Vijay Singh. To put it into context, Jordan Speith's 2015 year was remarkable, probably the most talked about season of golf since Tiger's 2000. His 2015 started off with a win at the Master's, a win at the US Open; at the Open Championship, he missed the playoff by 1 - stroke, and he finished second at the PGA Championship by 4 - strokes. Collectively, he missed the single season Grand Slam be a mere margin of 5 - strokes, one less stroke than Tigers' incredible 2000.
The obvious difference was that Tiger won three of the four majors on offer that season and that is why Speith's 2015 season was not on the preliminary list. But, in order to be a single season Grand Slam champion, which is what the term means, one must start the Grand Slam by winning the Masters first, not last.
3. Ben Hogan's 1953 "Slam Year".
It was an extremely close call for us when debating the golfing accomplishments of Ben Hogan's season with the Tiger Slam. Indeed, we nearly agreed to conclude with a tie - or perhaps a "halve" would be a more appropriate term. Hogan only returned to competitive golf in 1950 after his near fatal, head-on crash with the Greyhound bus. We seem to forget that Hogan could hardly walk after that crash; he required his legs to be wrapped regularly for support and even then he was in constant pain. He would play an extremely limited schedule as a result. It robbed him of some of his best playing years and yet, he still pulled off a season for the ages.
In 1953, Hogan won the first major of the year, the Masters, by 5 strokes over runner up, Ed Oliver. Then he won the US Open at Oakmont C.C., often recognized as one of the most difficult courses on the US Open rota, with Hogan winning by 4 strokes over Sam Snead. Then, in his only appearance in Great Britain, Hogan won the Open Championship by a 4 - stroke margin. The Championship was hosted at Carnoustie — probably the most difficult course on the entire Open rota, earning the nickname of "Carnasty" in some corners.
When Hogan's accomplishment is discussed in today's golf world, people seem to forget that in 1953, it was a very rare proposition to play in Europe for most American professionals. Commercial air travel in those days was still in its infancy, so much of the transatlantic travel still occurred by ship, which took 5 - 7 days to cross the Atlantic. This meant that Hogan would not be able to compete in the 1953 PGA Championship as it overlapped with the Open Championship, denying him the opportunity to complete the first modern Grand Slam in golf.
To be fair, it cannot be said with certainty that Hogan would have played the PGA Championship. He had stopped playing in it a few years prior, due mostly to the injuries to his damaged legs and the format that combined the vagaries of match play with gruelling daily double rounds of golf played over five consecutive days. Had the Championship format been changed to a medal play format earlier, then perhaps Hogan would have played in it more than he did.
Other considerations that gave the slight nod to Hogan's year over Tiger's, is that the courses that Hogan played and won on were considered a bit more difficult, particularly when comparing Carnoustie to St. Andrews. Another, is one that the majority of people do not remember or are even aware of – that in 1953, Hogan had to learn how to play a smaller golf ball than the one mandated by the USGA. In today's game, it is hard to conceive of golf played with two different sized golf balls, but that was the way it was until 1990 when the R&A permanently banned the use of the smaller ball, adopting the slightly larger USGA ball. Though, the R&A did mandate the use of the larger USGA ball for the Open Championship starting in 1974.
Two other factors that were considered, weighing in Hogan's favour, was that the 1953 Open was Hogan's first and only appearance at the championship event. Prior to Carnoustie, he never had the experience of playing true links courses or in an Open Championship. So Hogan decided to go to Britain early, so that he could learn the intricacies of the golf ball, the links style of course and Carnoustie in particular, and he had to qualify to play in the Open. The modern day golfer rarely has to navigate these kinds of considerations.
2. Scoring 92 – Goals in an NHL Season by Wayne Gretzky. For over 40 years, the gold standard for scoring was Rocket Richard's 50 goals scored in 50 games (1945). It was the most goals scored in a single season until it was bettered by Chicago's Bobby Hull in 1965 - 66. Since then, the record has been bettered by Hull in 1968-69 and then a new standard was set in 1970-71 by Boston Bruin, Phil Esposito's 76 goals. It was not until 1981-82 that Gretzky obliterated both Esposito's most goals in a season (with 92) and Rocket Richard's decades old record of 50 goals in 50 games, by scoring 50 in 39 games.
This is probably one record that will stand up over time as the game of hockey has been fundamentally altered, away from the free flowing, high octane offensive play that characterized the NHL prior to the 1990's. Hockey is now a much more defensive game influenced by elaborate defensive schemes like the "trap" defence, larger goaltending equipment that drastically reduces areas of open net, limiting scoring opportunities, and the specialization of players similar to the developments in baseball with relief pitchers and designated hitters. Had Gretzky been able to win the Stanley Cup in 1981-82, it may have been the year to end all years in hockey, but his Edmonton Oilers were eliminated from the playoffs in an early round upset by the Los Angeles Kings.
1. Joe DiMaggio's 56 - game hitting streak.
Of all of the individual, single season sporting accomplishments considered, this one, remarkably, still stands out as arguably the greatest individual season in sport. In 1941, the Yankee Clipper, managed to hit safely in 56 consecutive games, starting on May 15th and running to July 17th. To put it into perspective, the next closest season was achieved by Pete Rose's 44-game streak in 1978.
Only six players in all of baseball history managed a hitting streak of 40 plus games, and all but two of them (DiMaggio and Rose) played before 1930 and of those four, only one of them, Ty Cobb, was considered to have played in baseball's modern era.
It is not the object of wanton hyperbole, but rather the recognition of the amazing sporting feat that it was. Many baseball observers have called 1941, the greatest year in major league baseball history. The sport was inarguably the top sport in America; it was America's past time in 1941 as many of its athletes played baseball, choosing it over other sports such as football or basketball. It is one of the factors as to why Chamberlain's single season scoring feat was not rated higher; more athletes played baseball than basketball. It was also the year that Ted Williams finished the season with a .406 batting average. It was the last time that a player has finished the season with a batting average of .400 or better. One other factor in favour of "Joltin' Joe" was that he also managed to guide his Yankees to a World Series Championship in 1941, as the Yankees beat their crosstown rival Brooklyn Dodgers in 5 - games.
So, we realize that there is bound to be plenty of debate and contrary opinions about our list. It is expected. After all, this what we do when there is a bit of down time, whether it be sitting around a campfire, over a few beers, perhaps a glass of wine instead, or after a round of golf — we talk sports and sporting accomplishments.
Share your comments with us and your fellow readers. Did we get it right? Did we miss the mark? Was our criteria missing something? How would you have rated these accomplishments? We look forward to reading them. One thing is certain though, there is not one accomplishment on our list that anyone in the world would turn down and that is a testament to the hard work that all of these athletes put into their respective sporting endeavours.
Of course, we could have concluded that the single greatest individual sporting achievement included horses — if so, 1973 and Secretariat would have topped this list having won all three triple crown races with track record times in all three that still stand to this day, but that is a different discussion for another day.
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