ST. ANDREWS, Scotland – Is it the start of a trend, or just a blip?
Only the coming years will tell if American golf is on the wane. A look at the leaderboard on the final day of the 139th Open Championship gave that impression.
Golfers pledging allegiance to the red, white and blue failed to impress for the second major in a row. If a Graeme McDowell, Gregory Havret, Ernie Els one–two-three in the U.S. Open deflated American hearts, then Louis Oosthuizen’s St. Andrews masterpiece did not give succor to those hoping for the USA to get back on the major trail.
A quick glance at the third-round leaderboard did not fill U.S. supporters with confidence. Of the last 18 players to tee off in the final round, only five were American. They were lost amongst a cosmopolitan field that featured nine other nations.
Looking at the final leaderboard did not make pleasant reading for U.S. golf fans, either. Sean O’Hair and Nick Watney finished as low Americans. They tied for seventh place.
That wasn’t predicted at the start of the week. Everyone expected Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson to mount the U.S. challenge. They seem to be the only Americans able to conquer the major stages at present. And the jury is still out on Woods’ comeback.
Of the last four majors, Mickelson is the only U.S. major winner. The other three winners hail from different continents. That’s proof of the strength of world golf.
The official world golf ranking backs up golf’s globalization. International players occupy six of the world top 10, with five British players in those spots. Only six of the top 20 are American.
That’s a far cry from a decade ago when ten Americans were in the top 10.
McDowell cast a little bit of logic on why European/international players are so dominant on the world stage right now.
“The European Tour is a very global tour,” McDowell said. “We play in all different types of conditions. It makes our tour a little bit less one-dimensional. I’m not saying the PGA Tour is one-dimensional, but they do play a kind of level type of golf course week in week out.
“We’re playing in China, Australia, South Africa – all over the world. It makes us able to deal with much more environments, tougher weather, different grasses.
“We play a lot more in the U.S. these days, so we’re much more comfortable over there and we can compete on the U.S. stage. Whereas maybe 15 years ago, the guys weren’t getting the opportunity to go to the States.
“We’ve just got used to playing in all types of environments. Maybe that’s got something to do with the fact that we’re starting to produce the best players in the world.”
We could be witnessing the same sort of cycle that occurred in the 1980s and ’90s, when Seve Ballesteros, Nick Faldo, Bernhard Langer, Greg Norman, Sandy Lyle, Ian Woosnam, Nick Price and Jose Maria Olazabal challenged American dominance.
Those pushing the international cause shouldn’t get completely carried away. After all, the U.S. still retains the top two players in the world.
There’s an obvious caveat: take away Woods and Mickelson and the U.S. doesn’t seem to have the same firepower in reserve to match the internationals.
“It shows how strong golf is in depth,” Lee Westwood said about McDowell and Oosthuizen winning the past two majors. “The young players are very, very good. They’re capable of going straight into major championships when they’re in contention and winning them.”
Right now, those youngsters come from lands far distant from the United States.