Which Players Have Won A Men's Major On Debut?

Eight players have won a men's Major on debut – here are the stories of how they achieved it

Keegan Bradley celebrates winning the PGA Championship
Keegan Bradley is the most recent player to win a Major on debut
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Considering the first men's Major was held 164 years ago, the number of players to win one of the events at their first attempt is remarkably small. 

In fact, if we take the Majors as they are recognized today - The Masters, PGA Championship, US Open and The Open (previously, The Amateur Championship and US Amateur were also regarded as Majors) - only eight players have won on their Major debut.

Even then, the first time it happened, which came at the 1860 Open, was by default. That's because, as it was the first Major, someone had to win on debut. 

Here are the stories of the eight players on one of golf's most exclusive lists, and how they did it.

Willie Park Sr – The Open (1860)

Scot Willie Park Sr makes the list as the winner of the first-ever Major, The Open in 1860. The event was held at Prestwick Golf Club in Scotland and it was played to determine who would become regarded as the best player in the world after the death of Allen Robertson a year earlier.

Just eight players were in the field, with the event taking place over three rounds of 12 holes. Park Sr took the honours by two shots over Tom Morris Sr, writing his name in the history books in the process. He went on to win the tournament three more times.

Tom Kidd – The Open (1873)

In 1873, The Open moved away from Prestwick for the first time, taking place at The Old Course, St Andrews. By that point, the tournament was played over two rounds of 18 holes, and Kidd carded rounds of 91 and 88 to beat Jamie Anderson by a shot for what would be his only Major win.

As well as being the first recipient of the Claret Jug, Kidd also received £11 from the overall purse of £25.

Mungo Park – The Open (1874)

Musselburgh Links in Scotland held The Open for the first time in 1874, so it was appropriate that local player Park won. 

The field of 32 competed over four rounds of nine holes. An opening round of 37 set Park on his way and he eventually edged out Tom Morris Jr by two to claim the trophy and £8 prize money. Park made four more top-10 finishes at the tournament, but his debut remained his one victory.

Horace Rawlins – US Open (1895)

In 1895 a second Major was introduced, the US Open, and it was Englishman Horace Rawlins who won it in his first Major appearance. He was one of 11 players at the Newport Country Club event, and the one-day, 36-hole tournament saw him win by two over Willie Dunn to claim the $150 first prize and a gold medal.

Fred Herd – US Open (1898)

A 1920 image of Fred Herd

Fred Herd (center) won the US Open on his Major debut

(Image credit: Getty Images)

The fourth US Open took place at Myopia Hunt Club in Massachusetts, and it was the first to be played over 72 holes. However, the course had just nine holes, so eight rounds were required.

Herd had only emigrated to the US a year before the tournament from his native Scotland, but he soon claimed a piece of US Open history by winning on debut. He did it in style, too, finishing with a seven-shot lead over compatriot Alex Smith from a field of 45.

Francis Ouimet – US Open (1913)

Francis Ouimet putting

Francis Ouimet won the US Open as an amateur

(Image credit: Getty Images)

As Major debuts go, they don’t get any more impressive than the one of Francis Ouimet. After winning the 1913 Massachusetts Amateur and being knocked out in the quarter finals of the US Amateur, Ouimet played in the 1913 US Open at Brookline close to his home – firmly against the wishes of his father.

Incredibly, amateur Ouimet took Major winners Harry Vardon and Ted Ray to an 18-hole playoff. The expectation was that the two pros would ultimately slug it out for the title, but it was the largely unknown Ouimet who got to grips with the torrential rainfall to win by five over Vardon and six over Ray, creating headlines across the country and leaving him credited with helping the initial growth of the game.

Ben Curtis – The Open (2003)

Ben Curtis with the Claret Jug after winning the 2003 Open

Ben Curtis became the first player to win a Major on debut for 90 years

(Image credit: Getty Images)

After Ouimet became the sixth player to win a Major on debut, it was another 90 until the seventh was added to the exclusive list.

Ben Curtis only qualified for the 2003 Open two weeks beforehand after a tie for 13th at the Western Open. He made the most of his Major debut at Royal St George's Golf Club, moving into a tie for fourth after the second round. A round of 70 on the Saturday kept him firmly in contention and he went into Sunday two behind leader Thomas Bjorn.

Curtis made a dream start to his final round, shooting six-under in his first 11 holes to lead by two before eventually holding the clubhouse lead. Bjorn floundered over the remaining holes, eventually finishing one behind Curtis, who took the Claret Jug and a place in the history books.

Keegan Bradley – PGA Championship (2011)

Keegan Bradley with the PGA Championship trophy

Keegan Bradley won the Wanamaker Trophy after a playoff

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Keegan Bradley’s rookie PGA Tour season came in 2011, and he made an almost immediate impact with two top-10 finishes before his first win, on 29 May, at the HP Bryon Nelson Championship, where he defeated Ryan Palmer in a playoff.

Still, it seemed unlikely he would repeat the feat at the PGA Championship in August. After all, at that point he hadn’t even broken into the world’s top 100, and this was to be his first Major appearance.

Even after a first round of 71 at Atlanta Athletic Club left him eight off the lead, Bradley had other ideas. A stunning second round of 64 saw him tied at the top with Jason Dufner. By the end of Saturday’s play, he was still firmly in contention, one behind Brendan Steele.

During the final round, his chance appeared to be over when a triple bogey at the 15th saw him five shots behind Dufner, but back-to-back birdies on the 16th and 17th combined with three successive bogeys for Dufner were enough to see Bradley into a playoff with his rival.

In the three-hole decider, Bradley produced a birdie and two pars, and that was enough to make history.

Mike Hall
News Writer

Mike has over 25 years of experience in journalism, including writing on a range of sports throughout that time, such as golf, football and cricket. Now a freelance staff writer for Golf Monthly, he is dedicated to covering the game's most newsworthy stories. 

He has written hundreds of articles on the game, from features offering insights into how members of the public can play some of the world's most revered courses, to breaking news stories affecting everything from the PGA Tour and LIV Golf to developmental Tours and the amateur game. 

Mike grew up in East Yorkshire and began his career in journalism in 1997. He then moved to London in 2003 as his career flourished, and nowadays resides in New Brunswick, Canada, where he and his wife raise their young family less than a mile from his local course. 

Kevin Cook’s acclaimed 2007 biography, Tommy’s Honour, about golf’s founding father and son, remains one of his all-time favourite sports books.