2011 British Open Preview: Why America Is Falling Behind in the Golf Arms Race

Mike WassersonContributor IIJuly 13, 2011

The term "globalization" is frequently used in the political and economic realms of our vocabulary. It refers to scaling on an international basis, almost like a virus spreading through a system. Growing into untapped regions is essential for the comprehensive well-being of any philosophy that looks to generate impact.

In no example does globalization take place more than in the sport of golf. With Tiger Woods the athlete, the human-being, and the Captain America of golf essentially in shambles, the flood gates are now open to international talent to cut away and disintegrate the red, white, and blue’s presence in the sport.

The past five winners of major tournaments have all been residents of nations overseas, something that is unprecedented in golf’s glorious history.

The question is whether this is part of a cyclical pattern that is occurring in the game or if it is a revolution. Unfortunately for American golf, I think it is the latter.

This is only my personal opinion, but I don't think Tiger Woods will ever be the same golfer again. I’m talking about the guy who would make opponents quiver when they stepped into the parking lot the final Sunday during a major. He’s lost that aura that made him so great, and it really doesn’t have anything to do with his off-the-course regressions last year. Tiger is now beatable ON the course and his competitors can smell that blood.

In essence, golfers don’t fear the guy anymore because he hasn’t done anything of late that warrants his bullet-proof identity. A young 22-year-old hot-shot with an inflated sense of ego couldn’t care less what Tiger Woods was doing 10-12 years ago.

Not to mention that Woods’ current injuries, which have forced him to miss the past two majors including this week’s British Open, do not help either.

The sport's takeover by international golfers has to do with culture and structure more so than talent alone. There are plenty of talented American golfers on the tour, including Dustin Johnson, Rickie Fowler, Phil Mickelson, Steve Stricker, and Bubba Watson. However, younger foreign talent that has been breaking onto the scene is hard to ignore. Prodigies such as U.S. Open winner Rory McIlroy, Masters champion Charl Schwartzel, 2010 U.S. Open winner Graham McDowell, 2010 PGA winner Martin Kaymer, current world No. 1 Luke Donald, Ryo Ishikawa, Justin Rose, and Matteo Mannessero are all prime examples and they all come from similar backgrounds despite their ethnic differences.

It’s standard protocol in European nations to bring talented youngsters into the sport at a very young age. College isn't even an option. Americans like Rickie Fowler and Dustin Johnson went to college, and in turn, missed out on multiple years of competitive play. Sure, they saw competition at their respective colleges, but college tournaments are hardly the same as roughing it out on the PGA or European tours. While youngsters like Ishikawa and Manassero are learning the ropes playing on worldwide tours and tournaments, most Americans are going through the college process.

In effect, they are effectively stunting their own growth and delaying the conditioning that they have to go through as a professional. College, for any other profession, is fundamental towards growing as a human being and as a future employee for some corporation. In golf, this just isn’t the case.

Rory McIlroy, at the young age of 22, is considered a veteran due to his professional experience and competitively play all over the world in the past five years. That experience has turned him into the hottest golfer in the game and the odds-on favorite to take this week’s British Open.

Similar to the Boys and Girls Clubs we have in the States for underprivileged youngsters, Europe has organizations specifically for golfers. They even make their residents pay taxes to ensure that these programs are properly funded.  Sure, the U.S. has youth programs such as the USGA, but it’s a completely different animal and is less efficient than those found in Europe. Golf is basically a lifestyle for the youth in those nations. Even if at the expense of their education, they work harder and for longer than the youth do here in the United States.

Tiger Woods was viewed as a machine programmed to be a professional golfer at a very young age. Much of his sensation came from the fact that he was raised to be a professional golfer dating all the way back to his appearance on the Mike Douglas Show when he was two years old.

As the tide begins to change, we may never see something like that again in this country for a very long time, even though it’s becoming commonplace for younger international golfers. McIlroy even appeared on a similar show when he was prepubescent as well.  

It’s kind of sad to realize that America’s best chance to win this weekend might come in the form of Steve Stricker, who won last week at the John Deere Classic. Don’t get me wrong, Stricker has a lot of talent, but he’s not the prototypical star that is going to bring America back to prominence in the golf world. There’s too much public disconnect due to his older age at 44 and his quiet demeanor.

Accordingly, most people would not recognize Stricker if he walked into a restaurant in his golf attire and his caddy holding his bag. That’s just an unfortunate fact.

Until that next American superstar comes into view, we’re all just going to have to sit back idly and watch international globalization commence on our television screens.

I wouldn’t expect that to change this weekend at Royal St. George’s.