With David Walker's victory at Wheeler Lake in the 2011 Elite Series finale, the easy answer to an oft-asked question was taken away from us. Who's the best angler in the Elite Series who has never won a B.A.S.S. event?
For years, the consensus choice was Gerald Swindle, but he took the first Southern Open this year on the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes. That pretty much made Walker everyone's answer. He had come close many times, but never quite sealed the deal ... until June 19. Now the water's muddy.
Of the 99 pros who fished the Elite Series in 2011, thirty-seven of them have never won a professional level B.A.S.S. event. Three of them (Pat Golden, Jason Quinn and Greg Vinson) won Weekend Series events, but we're not going to count those here. For our purposes, you have to win a pro event and beat the big boys.
So, who's the best Elite angler who's never won a B.A.S.S. event?
It's a tough question with Swindle and Walker out of the way. If you want experience, look no further than Rick Morris and Bernie Schultz. Between them, they've fished nearly 500 B.A.S.S. events without ever taking home the big trophy.
Morris has come close, finishing second twice, including a runner-up finish at the 2006 Bassmaster Classic. Schultz has been to the Classic eight times — twice as often as Morris. Each has a little less than $700K in B.A.S.S. earnings, but they're not my picks as the best who hasn't won.
On the other end of the experience scale are Ott DeFoe, Keith Combs and Bradley Roy. DeFoe (2011) and Roy (2010) are both Rookie of the Year winners; Combs was runner-up this year.
Between the three, they've fished only 51 B.A.S.S. events, but they've had some impressive finishes. DeFoe and Combs, in particular, have been very good, finishing in the top 10 more than 30 percent of the time and earning better than $9,000 per entry. But they're not my picks, either.
Another couple of young sticks — though not quite as young as DeFoe, Combs and Roy — who merit mention here are Greg Vinson and Keith Poche. Both are going to the Classic in 2012 and Vinson for the second time.
Both had great seasons in 2011 and are campaigning to make it to All-Star Week. Vinson has the edge here because he's finished second twice, but these guys are still young, have plenty of time to win, and neither is my pick here.
Matt Herren and Bill Lowen are a little older yet, and neither has won a B.A.S.S. event. They both have a couple of runner-up finishes and have been to three Classics, though Lowen is going to his fourth in 2012.
They also both have big reputations on the trail — Herren with a spinnerbait and Lowen with a swim jig. Absolutely no one will be surprised when these guys break through and win a tournament, but I don't think either is the best to never visit the winner's circle.
That really narrows the field. I think there are just three Elite anglers left with an argument to be the best who's never won.
I'll group two of them because their careers and numbers have been very similar. Brian Snowden and Dustin Wilks have fished 123 and 117 B.A.S.S. events, respectively. Snowden has 13 top 10 finishes and Wilks has 12. Snowden has four runner-up finishes while Wilks has none. They've each been to five Classics, but Wilks qualified for the 2012 championship while Snowden did not.
They've definitely had nice careers, but neither is the best of the Elites never to have won an event.
That "honor" belongs to "Hardware" — Jason Quinn.
In fact, when you look at the careers of the 37 Elite anglers who have never won, Quinn jumps out as a pretty obvious choice. He's a longtime veteran of the tournament trail with 139 events under his (probably sequined) belt. He's finished in the top 10 an impressive 22 times (that's 15.83 percent, which is outstanding) and has four second-place finishes to boot.
Quinn heads to his sixth Bassmaster Classic next February and has won more than $800,000 in B.A.S.S. prize money without ever winning a tournament (other than a Weekend Series event when he was searching for a backup route to the 2006 Classic). Only Gerald Swindle cracked the $1 million mark without ever winning a pro event.
One of these days, Quinn will break through and win a BASS tournament. Until then, he's the best who hasn't done it.