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Friday, February 23, 2007

How U.S. Players Can Stop Being Whipped at Match Play

At the Match Play in Arizona, there are eight players remaining from the original field of sixty-four. Only one of the eight, Chad Campbell, is American. Before he beat David Toms today, there had been only five Americans left in the round of sixteen.

What does this say about the state of American golf? Well, except for Tiger, Phil, Furyk, and Charles Howell lately (and occasionally Toms and Campbell), the Americans are not deep at all in the top ranks of golf. Only seven out of the top 25 in the World Rankings are American. Incredibly, there are five Aussies in the top 25,

Once you get past the top three Americans, ranked 1-3, there's a huge dropoff. Why has this happened?

Some pundits say it's the money. Others say it's the grind of college golf and its focus on perfect swings instead of winning tournaments. Still others say that rather than inspiring others to raise their games to his level, Tiger has made American talents less interested in doing what it takes to be the best.

I don't think any of these excuses hold up to closer inspection. The Europeans and others are winning majors, team matches, and other significant tournaments like never before, and all of them are making big money, many of them play college golf in America, and they've all been playing against Tiger for years.

The most significant reason they aren't excelling is that they haven't taken to globalization. What exactly do I mean by that?

Golf is more global than any other sport. In the Match Play, players represented eighteen countries. That's amazing when you think about it. Twenty-three are American (Henry got in when Schwartzel declined the invitation), but the other forty-one came from seventeen other countries.

So why is globalization not helping the Americans? Shouldn't it benefit them to play against everyone from everywhere? Actually, they really aren't competing against them much outside of the U.S., and this is why their version of "global golf" is false.

You see, the Yanks will only travel overseas for monster appearance fees in Asia and the Middle East. And only a few of them (Tiger is one) even bother to go abroad when money is talking. They need to play in Europe and Asia more. If they do not, the trend of foreign players with more complete games stomping all over them will continue.

It used to be that if you wanted to get good and test your mettle against the best, you had to play a full schedule in the States. Now, this is not enough. One must seek out opportunities to play abroad to challenge all takers on unfamiliar courses. This is the only way to continue to improve. PGA venues are similar, and the travel isn't very rigorous. It makes a player soft.

Playing on the European Tour exposes a player to more competition, a greater variety of courses, and hardens you through a difficult travel schedule. If I were a PGA pro who had more money than I needed (and many of them do), I would take a year off from the Tour and sign up to play in Europe. By my count, the European Tour is playing tournaments in twenty-four countries in 2007.

Traveling, seeing different courses, playing in a variety of weather conditions, learning about other cultures, and playing against all comers is true globalization. Maybe an aging player like Brad Faxon (who claims to love playing in the UK), needs to step up and give this idea a shot. I suspect it would open his eyes to what modern professional golf is all about and rejuvenate his career. Should he be successful, others would take note and give it a try. He might even start a trend.

The PGA Tour is protective of its supreme position as the #1 tour in the world, but it shouldn't be. It should grant up to ten players each year a sabbatical to play elsewhere and not have it affect their standing on the U.S. tour. Maybe they can even arrange a foreign exchange policy with the other tours to encourage true globalization. It would be a win-win for all involved.

All of this does not discount the fact that there are some promising young Americans on the scene. A few that come to mind are Anthony Kim, Bubba Watson, J.B. Holmes, Bill Haas, Kevin Stadler, Ryan Moore, Troy Matteson, Sean O'Hair, Jeff Quinney, Charley Hoffman, Nick Watney, and Will Mackenzie. But other than maybe Holmes, Watson, and Moore, which of those players really make guys like Paul Casey and Henrik Stenson blink?

We're going to see more laughers like this weekend's Match Play far into the future until Americans start playing a serious global schedule. It's going to be humbling to watch if you bleed red, white and blue.


Anonymous Teddy said...

It's getting as bad as USA Basketball. Maybe we need to re-emphasize the match play format in the lower ranks.

The one concern in joining forces with other tours around the world is that tournament golf becomes as obsolete in between the majors as it has in tennis.

You raise some good points though. I think our top guys have become soft and complacent because of the gobs of money that tournaments throw at them. I don't know what the solution is short of changing the Ryder Cup points system. Perhaps we could reward Americans who play overseas with bonus points.

9:30 AM  
Blogger John Gorman said...

Yes, golf is not the only sport where American dominance has declined. Even winning baseball tournaments is not a given anymore.

The improvement of athletes from other countries was inevitable, but in golf, we should be doing better. Maybe putting a bigger focus on match play would help, although doing that would have to take place outside of the realm of the regular professional tournaments. As all of the pros have said -- there are just too many events as it is. So, the young kids would have to be brought up playing less medal and more match events.

As far as joining forces with the other tours goes, I wouldn't advocate more co-santioned events or a shared money list. I would merely like to see players have the latitude to move around more freely between tours.

Thanks for the good ideas!

1:08 PM  

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