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The Decline Of The Great American Golfer

On a sunny spring Sunday afternoon in Augusta, when The Masters cauldron was bubbling over the edge early on the back nine, a new world order came spilling out of the pot.

That’s not news, but this is: Four players were tied for the lead and they came to Augusta from four different continents – Charl Schwartzel (Africa), Adam Scott (Australia), Angel Cabrera (South America) and K.J. Choi (Asia).

Tiger Woods, who represented the U.S. on the leaderboard, would briefly join the leaders but fell well short when he inexplicably couldn’t manage his way around Amen Corner. And Europe’s best hope, Rory McIlroy, watched a four-shot lead blow up in his face at the beginning of the back nine, a place where his dreams agonizingly went to die.

And how must young McIlroy have felt to have been on a private jet with Schwartzel and even have his photo taken – and Tweeted – with The Masters winner wearing his green jacket. Certainly, he said to himself, “That should have been my size.”

That said, half the current major championship holders are European. But the other half are South African, neither of whom is named Els or Goosen. And to the real point: none are American.

For the first time that almost anyone can remember, no U.S. player holds a major championship. And if a new world order dominates golf, the new American order appears to be in peril, flotsam and jetsam in an unruly sea of change between the aging of the old stars and the greening of the new ones.

There are only 10 Americans in the top 36 of the Official World Golf Ranking and only three – Woods, Phil Mickelson and Jim Furyk– have won a major. Of the last 13 majors, only four have been won by Americans and two of them were won by Lucas Glover and Stewart Cink, one-and-dones by any stretch of the imagination.

Whether Woods is on the way farther up or farther down is a matter of conjecture, depending on whom you talk to. Mickelson is 40 and no one else knows how difficult it is for him to play with psoriatic arthritis and the treatment regimen that is supposed to hold it at bay.

Steve Stricker, No. 8 in the ranking, is 44 and has never won a major, especially because major venues are so long and Stricker certainly isn’t getting any longer. Medium hitters can reach the par 5s in two at the John Deere Classic but not at the U.S. Open. Hitting wedges for third shots into par 5s can only go so far in the modern game.

Jim Furyk, No. 13, won three times on the PGA Tour in 2010, but hasn’t threatened in a major championship since he had a real chance to win the U.S. Open at Oakmont in 2007, finishing tied for second with Woods behind Angel Cabrera.

Then, there are the younger players, none of whom are real stars, even though Americans are so hungry for the next wave of players to be great, none of them actually are. Greatness in today’s game means major championships and no Americans seem capable at the moment.

Dustin Johnson is No. 12 but his two chances to win a major thus far were lost in the rough at Pebble Beach during last year’s U.S. Open and disintegrated in the dust of a two-stroke penalty on the 72nd hole at the PGA Championship. While great things are predicted for Johnson, he has gone strangely silent of late. The Masters should have been the perfect venue for such a bomber but he finished well down the list.

Nick Watney should have a world of potential, but potential simply means that you haven’t done anything yet. He’s 15th on the OWGR, thanks mostly to a victory at the WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral. But he’s only won three times on the PGA Tour and he’s about to turn 30. He slept on the 54-hole lead at the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits and shot 81 in the final round, which can either help or hurt in the future, depending on the strength of character.

Bubba Watson got himself into the PGA Championship with Kaymer, but dumped his second shot on the playoff hole into the water, handing the title to the current world No. 1. Anthony Kim was a Ryder Cup star in 2008 but has not completely healed from thumb surgery.

Rickie Fowler is the most inexplicable. The 22-year-old has yet to win on the PGA Tour and his biggest accomplishment to date is a halve with Eduardo Molinari in his singles match at last year’s Ryder Cup. Yet, everyone touts him as a star.

The state of the American game hasn’t looked this bleak in 30 years, when Nick Faldo, Seve Ballesteros, Ian Woosnam, Bernard Langer and Sandy Lyle carried off the major championship trophies.

For the longest time, if you wanted to beat the best in world golf, you had to run through the United States. Instead, now that the rest of the world has flexed its collective muscle, the best of American golf is now getting unceremoniously run over.


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