4. Tom Watson
Watson was one of the leading players in the world for the majority of his career on the PGA. According to official ranks, he was number one in the world for a four-year span from 1978-1982, and when he relinquished the number one ranking, Watson remained number two in the world for the next two years. When the Sony Rankings were created in 1986, Watson spent 32 straight weeks ranked in the top-10.
An illustrious career that is decorated with five Open Championships, two Masters titles and one U.S. Open title, Watson once again grabbed the spotlight in 2009 at 60 years of age. A quarter century since his last Major title, Watson led much of the 2009 Open Championship before ultimately losing the tournament in a four-hole playoff. He also captained four Ryder Cup teams, most recently the 2014 Ryder Cup tournament held in Scotland.
3. John McEnroe
His touch and volley were one of the finest the game has ever seen.
The former top ranked player in the world, John McEnroe made his biggest splash at the ripe age of just 18. Playing alongside Mary Carillo in 1977, the duo won the mixed doubles tournament of the French Open. That very same year, he made it through the qualifying tournament and into the main draw of Wimbledon. McEnroe would ultimately see defeat at the hands of Jimmy Connors in the semifinals, but it would amount to the greatest performance by a qualifier at a Grand Slam tournament and a record performance by an amateur in the open era.
McEnroe would arrive at Stanford in 1978, immediately winning the NCAA singles and team titles. 1978 would be his first year on the ATP, where he would go on to win five titles, including defeating Arthur Ashe in straight sets at the Masters Grand Prix. Ultimately as a singles competitor, McEnroe would collect four U.S. Open titles, three at Wimbledon, one at the French Open and one at the Australian Open. He would become the ITF World Champion and ATP Player of the Year for three years (1981, 1983, 1984) and earn an International Tennis Hall of Fame induction in 1999.
2. Tiger Woods
I can't even figure out where to start with Tiger Woods.
The records Woods has set in the sport are unprecedented and will likely remain untouched for a very long time. He has been world number one for the most consecutive weeks and for the greatest total number of weeks of any golfer. He has the record of leading money winnings in ten different seasons.
Woods arrived on The Farm fresh off Stanford's 1994 Division I golf championship. The choice was the most obvious for the only golfer to ever be recruited so much you would have thought he was a 6-foot-4 quarterback with a 4.5 40-yard dash time. In 1995, Woods successfully defended the U.S. Amateur title, garnering himself Pac-10 Player of the Year, NCAA First-Team All-American and Stanford Male Freshman of the Year honors. Picking right up where he left off, Woods would become the first golfer to win three straight U.S. Amateur titles and the NCAA individual golf championship. This all happened in 1996 when Tiger was just 20 years old.
Woods left Stanford after two years, and proceeded to take the golf world by storm. To date, his 14 Major wins are second only to Jack Niklaus. His 79 PGA Tour wins garner him the same honors, his 40 wins on the European Tour are third all-time, he was the youngest golfer to ever achieve a Grand Slam title and the youngest and fastest golfer to ever win 50 tournaments. Woods is an 11x PGA Player of the Year, an 11x PGA Tour Player of the Year, and he has won both the Vardon Trophy and Byron Nelson award nine times each. The impact Tiger Woods has had both on the sport and it's development worldwide are indisputable, and for this he is the number two athlete on this list.
1. John Elway
If you are a regular visitor to the site, you might remember reading an article from my counterpart Michael Peterson in recent days.
There is just no way to discuss Stanford sports without mentioning the name John Elway.
Peterson might have put it perfectly when he wrote:
Elway did it all as a quarterback in the NFL. He made the Hall of Fame, won two Super Bowls and a Super Bowl MVP, was named league MVP, won the Walter Payton Man of the Year award, led the league in passing yards, shattered career records and, all in all, became one of the greatest players in NFL history. NFL network named him the 29th best player in the NFL's history while pro-football-reference evaluates his career to be the 11th most value of all-time.
Like another football player on this list, Elway was a two-sport athlete on The Farm. Some might tell you he excelled as much on the baseball diamond as he did on the football field. Elway was once the second-round selection of the New York Yankees in the 1981 draft, six spots ahead of future Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn. A two-position player, Elway was both a right fielder and pitcher for the Cardinal. During his senior season, he hit for .361 with nine home runs and 50 RBI's in 49 games. He pitched to a 5-4 record with a 4.51 ERA.
But before The Boss could open his checkbook, Elway decided to make the commitment to football. It's difficult to argue with the decision. He'd go on to collect two straight Super Bowl titles, five AFC Championships, nine Pro Bowl selections, a league MVP award and Hall of Fame honors to cap it all off in 2004.
Officially listed at seven feet tall, Collins joined the Cardinal basketball team. Playing alongside his brother Jarron, he saw magnificent success in the then Pac-10 Conference. In 2001, he earned All-Pac-10 First-Team honors and a third-team All-American selection. Upon his exit from Stanford, Collins would be the leader in field goal percentage (.608), and third in blocked shots (89) in school history.
As a rookie in the L, the center would have an immediate impact on the New Jersey Nets, helping the team to their first-ever NBA Finals birth. The next season, Collins would be named the Nets starting center. Averaging 5.7 ppg and 4.5 rebounds per game, the second-year player would help guide the Nets to their second consecutive Finals appearance.
Over the next six seasons, he would bounce between Memphis, Minnesota, Atlanta, Boston and Washington before finally making a homecoming to the transformed Brooklyn Nets. In 2014, Collins signed a 10-day contract with Brooklyn. Just a year prior, he'd written a profile story for Sports Illustrated where he came out as a gay athlete. This would be the first case of any athlete in the four major North American sports associations to do so. His article and actions garnered immediate support from everywhere, going as high as the White House. Kobe Bryant would be the first of current NBA players to praise Collins, and how fitting that when he became the first openly gay player to step foot on an NBA court, it was against Bryant and his Lakers.
During her time on The Farm, Julie Foudy collected four NSCAA All-American awards. In 78 games with the Cardinal, she collected 52 goals and 32 assists. In 1989, she would be named the Soccer America Freshman of the Year, and in 1991 the Soccer America Player of the Year. But these were just the roots of what would become one of the most storied soccer careers in the history of the American game.
In a career that spanned from 1987 through 2004, Foudy would collect 271 caps for the women's national team, captaining them for 10 years. In this same span, she would play in four FIFA World Cup's, collecting two championships. In three Summer Olympic Games, she would go on to collect two gold medals and one silver medal. To put the finishing touch on everything, Foudy would be elected to the National Soccer Hall of Fame in 2007, alongside longtime teammate Mia Hamm.