Major drought continues but U.S. in good shape behind Clarke

July 17, 2011

If American golf is in crisis then it is a crisis every other nation would like a taste of as the sport’s most dominant country made a determined assault on the 140th British Open at Royal St George’s this week.

They came up short as Darren Clarke secured a third major triumph in 14 months for Northern Ireland but the final leaderboard was otherwise littered with the Stars and Stripes as Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson shared second and Americans filled five of the top seven places and 12 of the top 24.

Clarke’s victory means that American golfers have failed to land any of the last six majors — the worst run since the Masters was launched in 1934 and the first time since 1994 that the sport has had a year without an American holding at least one of the four grand slam crowns.

Throw in last year’s defeat in the Ryder Cup and the fact that Europeans occupy the top four spots in the world rankings for the first time in 20 years, and something was surely rotten in United States golf.

Coming into the British Open virtually every member of the PGA Tour was asked at some point for their thoughts on what was causing such a drought.

Was it the legacy of the “Tiger effect” where a whole generation of players have been so scarred by always being in the shadow of Tiger Woods that now the great man is off the scene and/or off the pace they are unable to seize their opportunity?

Was the PGA Tour too cozy, enabling young players to earn millions without ever winning a tournament, let alone challenging for a major?Was the collegiate system out of date?

To a man, the Americans on duty at Sandwich opined that, actually, everything seemed fine, thanks very much, and the fact that some great “international players” had stepped up to the mark in recent years, many of them making their living on the PGA Tour, was no bad thing.

By the end of Saturday’s third round it looked as if they knew what they were talking about as of the top 20 heading into the final round, no less than 12 were Americans.

What’s more, that dozen encompassed all aspects of the PGA Tour.

Rickie Fowler (22), Anthony Kim (26) and Webb Simpson (25) were leading the charge of the young brigade while Mickelson (41) Davis Love III (47), Tom Lehman (52) and Steve Stricker (44) were flying the flag for the forty-somethings.

Also in the mix were Dustin and Zach Johnson, Lucas Glover, Ryan Palmer and Chad Campbell.

Another American never far from the headlines all week was Tom Watson, who enjoyed another superb Open.

The 61-year-old five-times champion had a hole in one on Friday then delivered a masterclass in how to play in the wind and rain when, in the very worst of Saturday’s foul weather, he carded a 72 that Britain’s Simon Khan described as “unreal”.

PHOTO: Darren Clarke of Northern Ireland (R) embraces Dustin Johnson of the U.S. after winning the British Open golf championship at Royal St George’s in Sandwich, southern England July 17, 2011. REUTERS/Toby Melville

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