It’s the US Open: So Where Are the American Players?
Pinehurst, NC—Hats off to Martin Kaymer in winning the U.S. Open at Pinehurst with a 271 total—the 2nd lowest four-round aggregate in the event’s history. For the 29-year-old it was his second major win and comes on the heels of a stellar earlier win at The Players Championship—the first person to win both in the same year.
Kaymer joins an elite grouping of seven previous U.S. Open champions going wire-to-wire with no ties throughout the event. His back-to-back 65’s in the first two rounds were a major first and set a new 36-hole start for the event. In simple terms Kaymer took all the air out of the balloon after the first two rounds as no other player could put anything close to solid sustained play.
But, frankly, the win was yet another sign that American golf is far from whole with the continued absence of Tiger Woods and the ongoing sloppy play demonstrated by Phil Mickelson thus far in 2014.
Going back to 2004 only three American players have won the USA’s most prestigious golf title—Woods in ’08, Lucas Glover in ’09 and Webb Simpson in ’12. Prior to this week at Pinehurst, three of the last four winners came from either the United Kingdom or Ireland—Graeme McDowell winning at Pebble Beach in ’10, Rory McIlory’s record-setting win at Congressional the next year, and last year’s triumph from Englishman Justin Rose at Merion. That’s a cumulative total of nine wins by non-Americans in that condensed period.
Kaymer becomes the first German winner and the first from the continent. To put matters in perspective since icon Bobby Jones won the Grand Slam in 1930 only six (6) non-Americans had won the National Open through 2000.
Keep in mind, the Americans fell apart on the final day at the last Ryder Cup in 2012 at Medinah and in last year’s U.S. Amateur no American made the semi-finals—a first ever in that event.
The seismic shocks experienced since the fall of American men’s tennis is starting to register—this time on the golf side of the ledger for the men.
Woods and Mickelson have monopolized the scene for roughly a period of nearly 20 years. There’s been some movement at times—Bubba Watson winning his 2nd Masters earlier this past April was his 2nd major, but Bubba has shown a propensity for giving away final round leads rather than securing them for wins.
Dustin Johnson possesses a wealth of talent and has earned 8 PGA Tour wins—but no majors. Johnson started the final day at Pinehurst in red figures, but retreated back with a lack luster final round 73 and a tie for 4th. Johnson for quite some time has had the tagline “can’t miss” but routinely does at big time events.
Rickie Fowler played valiantly at Pinehurst but when needing a round equal to what he had shot on Saturday with a three-under-par 67, could only produce haphazard shot-making, although he did tie for second with feel-good story Erik Compton—a two-time heart transplant recipient.
American golf has long been the enviable standard for domination in the sport. That day is now fading into the sunset. Woods remains a key question mark but it’s likely Tiger will remain on the shelf for the balance of the season. Mickelson has simply left his “A” game in Scotland since snaring the Claret Jug last summer at Muirfield.
Beyond the reach of what the Europeans have done is the developing wave of talent from the Asian side of the competitive aisle. Hidecki Matsuyama—at 22—won this year’s Memorial event and appears likely to be a force with bigger wins on the horizon. Others throughout Asia—most notably on the Korean side—are working diligently to push through the previous ceilings.
For the first rounds of this year’s US Open the USGA smartly paired the likes of Fowler, Matsuyama and Jordan Spieth. Fowler is the “old man” in the group at 25 and his tenacity to never back off will likely work well for him in future events. Spieth has been the lone consistent standout among the American side – the 20-year-old pushing Watson for the bulk of this year’s Masters before succumbing at the very end.
Golf in America has stagnated. The total number of players is down and the future for the game looks ominous. Instead of courses opening, more are likely to be disappearing because of the game’s overall cost—the time to play 18-hole rounds and the sheer demands it places on players seeking to improve themselves.
With two majors left to be played this year and the Ryder Cup Matches coming up in a few months in Scotland there is still hope but the light in the room is fading—fast.
Martin Kaymer has won “only” three events on American soil—the 2010 PGA Championship, this year’s Players event and now the U.S. Open. The wins in each have only become more impressive. The world’s competitive golf train is leaving the station and right now the American side is hanging out at the platform—in denial that all is well.
Can the tide be turned around? The Open Championship is roughly one month away at Royal Liverpool. We shall soon see if the trend is a temporary detour or one that becomes like an ink-blotch on a white shirt—permanent.
M. James Ward, a member of Golf Writer’s Association of America (GWAA) and past member of Met Golf Writer’s Association (MGWA), has reported on golf’s grandest events since 1980 in a variety of forums.