In case you missed it, that eerie and hollow silence emanating from the Congressional Country Club locker room two Sunday evenings ago was the vacuum left after all the life had been sucked out of American professional golf.
While they were dancing in the streets of Belfast and Holywood, others were marching to a funeral dirge through the palms of Ponte Vedra Beach. The king is dead, long live the king.
Rory’s McIlroy’s breathtaking victory at the U.S. Open confirmed what we’ve been dancing around the edges of for some time now: The heartbeat of American golf is fading fast and it might even be on life support.
Consider this an evidentiary hearing.
Exhibit A: For the second straight major championship, no American made a serious run up the leaderboard on Sunday. Tiger Woods made a brief appearance at The Masters and finished tied for fourth. Bo Van Pelt tied for eighth. The rest of the top 10 were international players. At the Open, the low Americans were Robert Garrigus and Kevin Chappell, tied for third but 10 shots back. No other Americans were among the top 10.
Exhibit B: Andrew “Chubby” Chandler is the most influential man in golf at the moment. He’s an agent, a “player manager” as they call it in the U.K. In his stable at International Sports Management are McIlroy, Lee Westwood, Charl Schwartzel and Louis Oosthuizen, winners of three of the past four majors along with Westwood, who is knocking on the door and will burst through at any moment. Chandler probably had to turn off his cell phone because it was no doubt blowing up with requests from potential endorsement opportunities.
On the American side, IMG is in disarray. The executive of its golf division, Mark Steinberg, was pushed out the door because he was making more money than he was bringing in. Which brings us to his client, Woods, whose value to IMG was dwindling by the day. Woods followed Steinberg and it’s not clear whether they will join another agency or simply strike out on their own. Either way, no one is beating their doors down.
Exhibit C: The absence of American players from the world stage is as baffling as it is alarming. Phil Mickelson can’t keep it in a 10-acre field off the tee, and while he is a wizard around the greens, that won’t win him another major unless he can find a way to get the ball in his own fairway.
Steve Stricker is the highest-ranked American player at No. 5 and no way he’s going to win a major, much less be a superstar at age 44. He’s doing about as well as anyone can expect.
Dustin Johnson has pulled a David Copperfield and made himself disappear, and now he’s talking about playing more in Europe. Matt Kuchar played his way into the world top 10 but he has neither the game nor the temperament to become a star. Bubba Watson has won twice this year but he wants nothing to do with the spotlight’s glare.
Who else? Rickie Fowler? Anthony Kim? Hunter Mahan? We’re waiting and not very patiently. In fact, the most exciting young American player might be Patrick Cantlay, who was the low amateur at the U.S. Open and is the current No. 1 on the World Amateur Golf Ranking. In fact, eight of the top 10 on the WAGR are American, which could bode well for the future.
That is, unless these young men will – as so many before them have – become content to have careers as itinerant millionaires, perfectly happy to cash fat checks and not have to deal with the demands of stardom.
Those responsibilities appear to be perfectly reasonable to the likes of McIlroy and his stablemates in Chubbydom. As a matter of fact, McIlroy seems to accept those demands smilingly, a trait you won’t find in your garden variety American star – Woods, for example. McIlroy made a trip to ravaged Haiti on behalf of UNICEF prior to his start at the U.S. Open. And he says he was so moved, he will make more such trips. Get Tiger to do that, if you will.
The lone question mark to Rory roaring into our consciousness is how well Americans will accept him as the chosen one to lead golf out of the post-Woods wilderness. If you put him up against Tiger or Phil, who would Americans pick? Will McIlroy be able to sell razor blades or video games in the U.S.? Or will he be so embraced in Europe that it won’t matter whether he is marketable in America?
Either way, PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem must be working frantically trying to figure out how to get McIlroy, Westwood, et al to play more U.S. events with the least amount of regulatory pain. To do that, he must go through Chandler, which can’t be very palatable to Ponte Vedra Beach.
However, some discomfort must be endured if we are to fill the void on this Tour that has been created either by lack of skill or disturbing indifference – or a combination of the two. And if it takes drastic measures, well, that’s what’s called for in desperate times.