In case you haven’t noticed, an increasing number of our big-time golf championships have been slipping away across the seas.
Of course, that was the trend in the early years of professional golf in the USA. Scots and Brits came over in droves in the 20th century, when we were neophytes, and it wasn’t until 1911 that one of our native-born lads was able to capture the national championship, John McDermott. When a mere caddie, Francis Ouimet, whipped both of England’s best, the great Harry Vardon — whose grip you might use — and Ted Ray, in 1914, that set a golfing rage across our states.
Lately, though, those pertinent intruders have been stealing off with some of our most precious titles, brought brusquely to mind when Henrik Stenson, a Swede, won The Players Championship, right behind Sergio Garcia, who took the prize home to Spain a year ago.
If you’ll begin checking down the list from 1994, seven of the 15 U.S. Open championships have crossed the seas. It began with Ernie Els at Oakmont, when the South African won in a playoff over Loren Roberts and Colin Montgomerie, poor fellow, who has never been able to strike winning chord over here.
Well, with that an uncomfortable trend began developing. Els won again three years later at Congressional, and again his victim was Montgomerie.
In 2001, Retief Goosen, the implacable South African, beat Mark Brooks in a playoff at Southern Hills. And three years later, on the crusty course that nobody else could play, Goosen won again at Shinnecock Hills. By now, the surge was on. Our next international national champion was Michael Campbell of New Zealand. On another of America’s classic courses, Pinehurst No. 2, Campbell took Tiger Woods by two strokes in 2005.
Nothing good has happened to Campbell on this side of the pond since, including this past week, when he withdrew in the middle of the first round in The Players at Ponte Vedra Beach. But the overseas surge never wavered.
When Phil Mickelson imploded at Winged Foot in 2006, Geoff Ogilvy of Australia stepped in and picked up the pieces. Then a year later, at Oakmont again, Angel Cabrera of Argentina survived a tough field on a tough, tough course. The same Cabrera who would win the Masters last month in a playoff, the first wearer of the Green Jacket who had to deal with the media through an interpreter.
So, since 2003, when Jim Furyk won at Olympia Fields, until Tiger Woods played through pain and beat Rocco Mediate at Torrey Pines last year, no native son won our Open. The last native winner of the Masters was Zach Johnson in 2007. In between Johnson and Cabrera, the winner was Trevor Immelman of South Africa, who has dropped out of sight since.
That’s just part of the disappearance of the native son from the lineup of champions. Our present PGA Champion is Padraig Harrington, son of an Irish police officer. Present Fed Ex champion is Vijay Singh, native of Fiji, and present Tour Championship titlist is Camilo Villegas of Colombia. For that matter, five of the past eight Tour Championship winners have come from other countries.
That is stretching the borders, somewhat, for Mike Weir, Tour Championship winner in 2001, is Canadian by birth, but Brigham Young by education, and long a resident of Utah. But, nativity is what it is, where you were born, and our homebreds are not fighting off the invasion with impressive valor.