As I've noted before, here, the United States increasingly is being embarrassed in international sports competition. This year's Ryder Cup in golf (a second straight outrageously huge shellacking by Europe over the USA, 18 1/2 9 1/2) again bears that out, as does the U.S. loss to Russia yesterday in the semi-finals of the Davis Cup, with top American Andy Roddick having lost both of his singles matches. To see how distressing the American golf situation is, though, we must look past even the Ryder Cup (which featured 11 30-somethings plus a 42-year-old for the Americans) to what is coming up behind this year's Cup participants. Bad news: Only two Americans in their 20s have won more than a single PGA tournament. First, there is Ben Curtis, with two somewhat lesser tour titles to go with his British Open win in 2003. I think he may actually develop into a semi-star. Then there is Vaughn Taylor, with only two wins, both of them at the same third-tier event played opposite a World Golf Championship event. Beyond that: Zilch, zip, nada, nothing.
Sure, everybody thinks young Charles Howell has the potential for excellence. But we've been saying that for about five years now, and still he has just one win. And some people are high on Lucas Glover, also a one-win guy but with a solid game and improving results. After that, you can go down to 46th on this year's money list to big-hitting JB Holmes. I'm unconvinced. There is also Sean O'Hair, he of the badly estranged father: Even I am high on this kid. And finally, there are the two Bubbas from Florida: Dickerson and Watson. Maybe they'll live up to their hype. Neither yet has a win, though.
In earlier eras, most (certainly not all, but most) of the tour's major starts established themselves in their 20s. Player was 28 when he won his first Masters. Nicklaus was a prodigy. Trevino was 28 when he won his first US Open. Ray Floyd won a PGA in his 20s. Tom Watson had at least three of his majors before age 30. Ben Crenshaw didn't win a major before 30 but did win a host of regular tourneys. And so on.
Theories abound as to why things look so bad and how to fix them. I subscribe partly to the theory that too many kids these days spend too much time on the practice range but not enough playing. They thus learn textbook swings, but not how to think their way around a course, not how to score, and not how to handle pressure. Then again, the other theory that, sadly, partly convinces me is that as a society we are growing soft. I hope I'm wrong. But I fear I'm right.
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