As another year of professional golf commences, it is easy to see how the rest of the world has caught up with American players. There has been a gradual erosion over the years but don’t downplay it. American professionals are not feared as they once were. They no longer own the “edge”.
Pick a starting point — PGA Tour, LPGA Tour, International competition, Amateur rankings, your local junior putt chip and pitch events, we’re seeing more success take place from across the globe rather than in our own backyard. No, I’m not playing the Ugly American card here. Global success in golf is great for a game that needs to be restocked with participants. Rather, I’m saying that over the course of the next decade you are going to see more international players garnering headlines than American players. In fact it’s already happening. Get used to it and embrace it.
The LPGA Tour is a prime example of the changing of the guard. No one can deny the influence of Asian players over the past decade. They are the best players on this tour. Year after year new players from this part of the world show up and are competitive immediately. Why? Because they work harder, they work smarter and they simplify the game.
Need we discuss the recent Ryder Cup matches? You can delve into the Watson-Mickelson soap opera but stripped down to its simplest form, we just can’t beat the Euros. Golf is an easy game to understand. The winner shoots the lowest score. We can’t seem to do that. Since 1979, the first year players from continental Europe were allowed, it’s been 11 – 7 Euros. At this point it has become a head game for the American side. Once it starts to rattle around in the grey matter I don’t care how perceptive Paul Azinger is. Individuals swing the clubs and a doubtful mind is tougher to overcome than any course hazard.
Regarding the Mens Official World Golf Rankings (OWGR) only four of the top ten are Americans. While I don’t agree with the formulation of this ladder, it does indicate more competition is coming from overseas. Bubba Watson is currently the highest ranked American. His mercurial mentality shuts down when he doesn’t like something. Jim Furyk is next at #7. While Jim has had an outstanding career, is he the seventh best player in the world? Rounding out the top ten are youngsters Spieth and Fowler. They seem to be worthy competitors but, c’mon. Compared to McIlroy they don’t quite measure up.
While American players slide further down the food chain, hungrier international players are on the rise. In mens major championships played since 2000, Americans have taken home 31 titles out of 60 events. From 2010, the US is 7 for 20. No longer is there a dominance of American players. Our competitive edge has dissipated. It’s doubtful we’ll ever get it back.
The reason for this slide is lack of accountability. Today’s American players don’t own their games and at times are not willing to make the commitment of that ownership. The line that defines a great player from an average one runs from the left ear to right ear. Watching PGA Tour pros walk to the practice tee with their manager, fitness guru, swing coach and psychiatrist it’s no wonder they don’t own their games. Bobby Jones didn’t rely on that sort of entourage. Neither did Nelson, Hogan or Snead. Surrounding oneself with that many influences only serves as an outlet to dish out blame. Sadly, this attitude is reflective on our society as a whole. No one is willing to stand up and be accountable. Blame and lawyers are everywhere. I’m of the view today’s players don’t need swing coaches. They need life coaches.
As a professional, a player, a spectator and a fan, this state of American golf doesn’t dampen my enthusiasm. I want to see the best compete in a game I believe to be the best. The cream does rise to the top. I’ll follow young players coming up from China, Thailand, Belgium, Chile, or Portugal that are willing to play for the sake of winning rather than a comfortable lifestyle. Yes, golf is now truly a global game.
Look for a major championship to be contested away from America in the next twenty years. It won’t be the Masters, United States Open or Open Championship. Most likely the PGA will be contested around the world in cooperation with other PGA federations. It is a distinct and welcome possibility.
So as you watch golf this year embrace the changes in the competitive game. You may scratch your head from time to time wondering who the players are. Announcers may get tongue-tied with pronunciations other than Watson, Reed and Fowler. In the end it will strengthen the game and in fact have a hidden affect. It may cause golfers in America to take back their games. They may focus on raising their game a notch and getting back to competing instead of cashing checks. Then it might be possible to bring the Ryder Cup back to America.