PGA/USTA: The Decline of American Men...We Already Lost Tennis, is Golf Next?

Rob KelleyCorrespondent IFebruary 27, 2011

This was a great image for me growing up.
This was a great image for me growing up.Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

When I was growing up watching golf and tennis, I can recall many great memories.

I used to love watching the conclusion of a PGA Tournament with my grandparents, provided there was no big football, baseball or basketball game on television. They all came first.

Then, I would go out to play a round with my grandfather and father the next day, and I quickly understood that I should focus my attention on my pitching in baseball games, because I sure as heck was never going to join the PGA Tour.

I also used to love watching the finals of a Grand Slam USTA event with my dad. We would critique their shots and wonder why they went for a backhand winner instead of a drop shot at the net. Then, when we tried to do it on the court the next day, we found out is was much easier said than done.

I took me very little to realize that while I could always watch golf and tennis, I would never be playing it professionally. My temper was not conducive to either sport. I needed somewhere to take out my aggression, and all golf and tennis did for me was teach me new ways to cheat playing a game.

But the good memories I had of watching these sports came from two qualities. 

First, it was great to watch and play these sports with my family. It was a male bonding activity. I could always play baseball and football and basketball with my family, but never truly got to compete against them. The age differences were just too much for these sports, but age is not as big of a factor in golf and tennis.

But it was also so enjoyable because we had so many players to root for in both sports. Clearly, like most people born in the United States, re primarily rooted for Americans. I am not saying that I have never cheered for players of other nationalities, because that would be inaccurate. I will root for players who are good for the game and competitive, yet still show sportsmanship, regardless of their flag.

Yet ultimately, it is always easier to follow athletes from your own country, because there is more coverage surrounding them in the media.

In tennis, I always rooted for Pete Sampras. Sure, he was number one for so long that it was easy to follow him. He was always in the news when it came to men's tennis.

My dad always cheered for Andre Agassi. Now, I was a fan of Agassi's as well, but I pulled for Sampras when these two met. If it was Agassi against anyone else, I rooted for Agassi. Just like my dad.

But you didn't just have to cheer for one or the other. So many American men were prominent in tennis when I was growing up watching. Todd Martin had some very memorable runs in the major tournaments. Michael Chang was fun to watch. There were many choices when I was younger.

The same could be said about golf. I didn't have as many personal preferences, yet rather chose to follow who my family followed. It was fun to see them get so excited when their favorite players would make a crucial putt on the 18th hole.

My grandmother was perhaps the biggest fan. She adores Tom Watson. "Tommy Boy," as she would always refer to him. 

Now although he was well before my time, my grandfather was a big Ben Hogan fan. My dad always rooted for Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer. I rooted for all of these players, as well as Tom Lehman and Davis Love III.

It was a great time to follow golf and tennis, as Americans were dominating the games.

But that has since changed, and it has been a drastic decline over the past decade. The sports have not changed, but the names of the top players and where they hail from certainly has transformed. The Americans continue to fall out of the top part of the rankings.

It has been this way in tennis for quite some time now. Only one American male is ranked in the top 10 today, and it is someone who may go down as one of the more overrated players in our history.

Although he definitely married one of the most beautiful women on the planet in Brooklyn Decker.

I am referring to Andy Roddick, of course, who is the eighth ranked player in the world..

After Roddick, you have to drop down to No. 16, where you will find Mardy Fish—a good player, but now someone you would gamble on to win a Grand Slam. Sam Querrey is No. 27 and John Isner is No. 32. That is all we have as Americans in the top 50.

That is a far cry from when I was growing up watching as a kid. 

It may have taken a bit longer, but the same thing is happening in men's golf. 

Tiger Woods has fallen to No. 3, as he has fallen on hard times. The only problem there is that I do not root for Woods. My memory has gotten worse, but there are some things that I won't forget.

We do still have three other Americans ranked in the top 10, which is somewhat encouraging, but they are falling in the rankings as opposed to rising.

Phil Mickelson is the No. 5 player in the world today. He is one of my family's favorites, and one of mine was well. He is a solid family man, and that is important to me.

Steve Stricker (No. 8) and Jim Furyk (No. 10) round out the top 10 in the world.

And while they are all getting up there in age, we do have some younger Americans who can hopefully continue to climb the rankings.

Matt Kuchar and Dustin Johnson are ranked No. 13 and No. 14, respectively. Hunter Mahan and Bubba Watson are currently at No. 18 and No. 19, and Watson impresses me from a talent standpoint. I do not know enough about him as a person yet to determine if he could become a family favorite one day.

After that, there is quite a steady decline. But after the way things were when I was younger, how could it be anything else?

Sports go in cycles. The names of the players change. Rankings go up and down. But the thing that scares me is the one thing that is trending toward being consistent.

The number of highly ranked American men in golf and tennis continues to decline.


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