Bill Nichols

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Golf's Rory-ing 20s doesn't signal U.S. Great Depression

So a 22-year-old kid from Northern Ireland wins the U.S. Open by eight strokes, the last four major champions are 20-something foreigners, and the United States has been shutout of the last five Grand Slam events.

Question: What is wrong with American golf?

Answer: Nada.

Given the reports surfacing last week as Rory McIlroy went Tiger Woods on the U.S. Open, you might think that international players have suddenly sprouted dominant traits.

But before you stick a fork in American golf, you should realize that this has happened before. If you use major titles as the gauge, the United States was in even worse shape 20 years ago.

From 1990 through 1994, international players won 13 of 20 majors. After international players swept the majors in 1994 _ the only time that’s happened _ Americans had won two of the last eight majors. That’s the same as now.

But things changed dramatically. U.S. players proceeded to win six of the next eight majors. And then came Tiger Woods.

Starting with his Masters win in 1997, at age 21, Woods claimed 14 of the next 46 majors. He and Phil Mickelson combined to win 18 major titles over that span. The United States went 3-of-4 at the majors in eight of Woods’ first 10 seasons.

Sure, the world has caught up. Woods sparked the rise of a new athletic breed all over the world. McIlroy, for instance, wore out the video of Woods’ 1997 Masters win while moving up golf’s food chain at a meteoric pace. The top four players in the World Rankings are international. But a deeper talent pool does not signify the drowning of American golf.

The biggest change is parity. Since Woods’ last major title at the 2008 U.S. Open, 11 different players have won the 12 Grand Slam events. Padraig Harrington is the lone multiple major winner.

McIlroy appears to be the real deal. All signs point to him being the next Woods. But it may be a tad early to write off Woods and American golf.

Seizing Day

Fort Worth’s Jason Day, the only player with top-10 finishes in the last three majors, has moved to a career-high No. 9 in the World Rankings. In the first four majors of his career, Day tied for 60th at the 2010 British Open, tied for 10th at the 2010 PGA Championship, tied for second at the Masters and was second at the U.S. Open.

Day currently leads the International Team standings for The Presidents Cup, to be played in his homeland of Australia in November. The International Team will consist of the top 10 international players (excluding those eligible for the European Ryder Cup team) from the World Rankings, and two captain’s picks.

Lehman goes for hat trick

Tom Lehman, a three-time winner on the Champions Tour, could become the first to win Player- of-the-Year honors on all three tours. He has worked his way up the company ladder, earning Player of the Year on the Nationwide Tour in 1991 and on the PGA Tour in 1996. … Champions Tour player Bob Tway will caddie for his son Kevin at the Travelers Championship when he makes his PGA TOUR debut as a professional.

Patient Jobe rewarded

Through 18 starts, Brandt Jobe has more top-25s (7), top-10s (3) and earnings ($1,238,790) than his past four (injury plagued) seasons combined. His past three weeks included a T20 at the HP Byron Nelson Championship, T2 at the Memorial Tournament, co-medalist honors at the U.S. Open qualifier, and then T23 at the U.S. Open. Having played six of the last seven events, Jobe isn’t slowing. He’s playing this week’s Travelers Championship.

Spinal tap-in

Last week, Ben Crane, Hunter Mahan, Rickie Fowler and Bubba Watson made their musical debut as the Golf Boyz. The satirical boy-band released a video of their song, ``Oh oh oh.’’ At the U.S. Open, the four were far from fab. They finished ``oh-oh-oh-T63,’’ as Watson went solo over the weekend.

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