Who and What in American Golf


The following is a set of observations based on numbers. If the pattern these numbers suggest doesn't change in the next 12 months, we will all be insisting this a trend:

ITEM: Tim Petrovic wins the Zurich Classic of New Orleans Sunday.

ITEM: Tim Petrovic is the first American to become a first-time winner on the PGA Tour in 2005.

ITEM: Tim Petrovic is 38 years old.

ITEM: There is only one American under the age of 30 currently ranked among the world's top 35 players.

ITEM: That player is Tiger Woods.

ITEM: Woods will be 30 in December.

ITEM: There are only two other Americans--Charles Howell and Zach Johnson--under the age of 30 and ranked in the top 50. Johnson will be 30 on his next birthday.

Before anybody pushes a panic button here it should be noted that there is a general paucity of players in their 20s from all countries in the world's top 50. Maybe that, too, is hinting at a trend. There is Luke Donald and Paul Casey and Ian Poulter and Tim Clark and Graeme McDowell and, of course, Adam Scott and Sergio Garcia.

Players these days keep winning into their 40s--Vijay Singh being the most notable example--and there is less room for the young guns to unholster their talents. But it is impossible in this country not to wonder why the Tiger Woods phenomenon hasn't unleashed a whole generation of American prodigies behind him. Lord knows, the talent pool in our country is big enough and deep enough.

Lucas Glover has two top 10s in the last two weeks. Hunter Mahan and D.J. Trahan have rhyming last names and a world of potential. Bill Haas has stalled, at least momentarily. And Ryan Moore, perhaps the best young American golfer, is still an amateur. Jonathan Byrd, 28, has won twice on Tour but hasn't done much yet this year. Ben Crane, yet another 29-year-old American, has won once. Same for Ryan Palmer and Vaughn Taylor. Ben Curtis had one magical week. Arron Oberholser and J.J. Henry are already 30. Joe Ogilvie is 31. John Rollins, another one-time American winner, is 30 next month.

So what are we to conclude here? Did Tiger scare all the other American boys into other sports? Did Tiger inspire more American girls (Michelle Wie, Morgan Pressel, Paula Creamer, just to name three) than he did American boys?

If you are a fan of the American Ryder Cup team, you want answers to these questions. Wie aspires to play on the PGA Tour one day and I admire the fact that she doesn't limit her goals. But with due respect to the Wie family, we shouldn't be counting on her to change the fact that the Americans have won just one of the last five of these things.

This stuff goes in cycles, the golf sages tell us. Look at the young Englishmen at the moment. Besides Donald, Casey and Poulter there is Justin Rose and David Howell and Nick Daugherty. South Africa has Trevor Immelman and Clark. The Aussies have Scott, Aaron Baddeley and a young man named Steven Bowditch, from whom you will be hearing plenty.

It is not yet time to become fully impatient in the United States with regard to all of this. But that faint sound you hear right now is the drumming of fingertips on the tabletops of doubt by a lot of American critics.
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