10 American Golfers Whose Games Best Translate to PGA Tour's British Courses

Mike LynchContributor IIIJune 20, 2012

10 American Golfers Whose Games Best Translate to PGA Tour's British Courses

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    With Webb Simpson capturing the US Open, American golfers have been victorious at the last three major championships.  This followed a stretch of six majors that were won by international players.  With the British Open less than one month away, the Americans will look to continue their streak.  

    However, it will not be easy as four of the last five British Opens have been won by international players.

    The British Open is always staged on a links style golf course, which plays much differently from the type of courses that we are used to in the United States.  Trees are nowhere to be found, bunkers lie in the middle of wide fairways.  Low running approach shots that use the slope of the green to get near the pin are needed.  

    And there is the ever changing weather conditions.

    Consistent performance is difficult at the British Open due to the vastly different weather conditions that the field will see.  If you catch the bad side of the draw as they say, it is game over.

    Not many American golfers have games suited for playing links-style golf.  The current generation has become more one dimensional in approaching the game.  It is a reason why you will see two older golfers on this list.

    The 10 golfers listed are not in any particular order, nor would I say they have the best shot at Royal Lytham and St Anne's Golf Club next month.  The British Open is the unpredictable major.  With that in mind, here are 10 golfers whose games transition to links courses.

Tom Watson

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    Tom Watson is the best pure links player among American golfers, even at age 62.  Golfers are not supposed to be competitive on the senior circuit let alone major championships at that age.  

    Watson lost in a playoff at the 2009 British Open at age 59, one of the remarkable achievements in golf history.  He finished in 22nd place last year, a very respectable showing.

    Watson won the British Open five times in his career.  His experience and comfort playing the type of golf needed on the links is unmatched.  That is what allows him to be competitive despite the physical limitations of someone his age.

Tom Lehman

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    Another golfer from the senior circuit, the 53-year-old Lehman has made five consecutive cuts at the British Open.  He was the 1996 British Open champion, fending off Ernie Els.  

    Lehman in his prime was most consistent in the U.S. Open despite never winning the event.

    His experience and course management built on years of professional golf have allowed him to play well in the British Open at an advanced age.  His last two finishes are 14th place and 22nd place which is quite remarkable.  

    With Lehman in good form on the Senior Tour winning the Regions Tradition this month, it is not unfeasible that he could contend. 

Ben Curtis

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    Curtis was a 300-1 underdog when he won the 2003 British Open in his first major start.  He has never been more than a journeyman golfer with the exception of a couple seasons in the mid 2000s.  

    He has missed six of nine cuts at the British Open in his career.

    He is on this list because the cuts he did make included a win and two Top 10s.  They also came during times when he was playing in better form.  

    Curtis finally won again this season at the Valero Texas Open.  It was on a course that is somewhat links style.  For whatever reason, when Ben Curtis does play well, which isn't often, it translates to the links courses.

Bubba Watson

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    Bubba does not have a great track record at the British Open.  His best finish is 30th place in 2011, and he missed cuts the other two times he played.

    The reasoning behind this is simple, however.  Watson possesses an arsenal of shots that no one can match.  He can essentially pull off any type of ball flight pattern that he wishes.  

    That is a huge advantage at a links course, where varying shot trajectories are needed.

Steve Stricker

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    The 45-year-old Stricker has a versatile game and has won 20 pro tournaments on very different types of courses.  He has also made five consecutive cuts at the British Open, recording two Top 10s in that span.

    Stricker has two wins on courses that have heavy similarities to the links courses over the pond.  He won the 2012 Hyundai Tournament of Champions at Kapalua Plantation Course.  He also won the 2010 Northern Trust Open at Riviera Country Club.

    It is clear that Stricker possesses the type of game that is needed to win a British Open.  He can control the trajectory of his irons very well, and his strong putting is key on the huge greens where players face the risk of a three putt more often than usual.

Rickie Fowler

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    The charismatic 23-year-old Fowler has been very comfortable at the British Open.  He finished tied for 15th in 2010 and tied for fifth in 2011.  

    Those are the best two finishes Fowler has recorded in a major.  Additionally, those are his only two British Open starts, so it seems he has a natural knack for the links courses.

    Fowler does not have a swing coach, his philosophy is to just go out and hit golf shots.  In an age full of ultra mechanical swing thoughts, Fowler's approach may be the better one for a British Open.  

    With all the shot possibilities the links provides, it can be easy to get overloaded with swing thoughts.  Fowler can avoid this problem with his simpler approach to hitting a shot.

Webb Simpson

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    The 2012 U.S. Open champion has a game that shows much promise for links golf in Britain. 

    While the Olympic Club is nothing like a true links course, there were some lessons to be learned.  The final round was played in a cold breeze coming off the bay.  Numerous holes required approach shots to land well short and run along the ground.

    Those are elements that will be encountered playing links golf.  Simpson's other two wins came at Sedgefield Country Club and TPC Boston.  Those courses feature heavily sloping greens like you would see at a British Open. He had a solid British Open debut last year, finishing tied for 16th

Phil Mickelson

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    Yes I know that Phil's worst major has been the British Open.  He is on this list because his game should be able to translate to the links style golf courses.  The wide open fairways along with Phils creative short game in theory would suit him.  His charge on Sunday in the 2011 Open gave us a glimpse of that potential.

    To be completely honest, another reason he has been included is because there are so few American golfers who have games that are built for links golf.  Mickelson is just so talented in general that he should be able to play here, so it almost an inclusion by default.

Tiger Woods

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    While he is a three-time Open Champion, Woods has done very little since his last win in 2006.  His best finish is 12th, and he missed the cut in 2009.

    Still, his game does suit a links course fairly well.  He can avoid the driver and hit low trajectory irons and fairway woods off the tee.  Controlling the trajectory of his approaches has traditionally been a strength, especially from longer distances.  

    Tiger's game can avoid its weak points on links courses, provided the wind is cooperating.

Dustin Johnson

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    Dustin Johnson's best career finish at a major came at the 2011 British Open, where he tied for second.  

    His next-best finish at a major was at the links style Whistling Straits in the 2010 PGA Championship.  Perhaps the look of the links course gives Johnson confidence.  There is plenty of room to miss left or right, and most of the hazards are not far enough away to pose a threat for him.  

    Johnson can grip it and rip it with confidence that he will stay out of trouble.  This also allows him to take full advantage of his enormous length.  

    However, we have seen that Johnson can get too confident, perhaps, and make some horrific mistakes.  That was painfully displayed last year at the Open when he went for the 14th green in two and hit his shot out of bounds.