Americans Dont Mind the Links Game


SANDWICH, England (AP) -- Arnie's Army led the invasion more than four decades ago.
The impact is still being felt through a new generation of American golfers, who have become quite adept at bumping and running their way around the links on this side of the Atlantic.
Six of the last eight British Open champions have come from the United States, a country that once scorned the oldest of the four majors.
'We've dominated it ever since we began to take it seriously,' said Lee Janzen, practically thumping his American chest Monday after a practice round at Royal St. George's. 'We've dominated all the majors, for that matter.'
Actually, he's embellishing the truth just a bit. The rest of the world took control of the British in 1984, the start of an 11-year period in which Mark Calcavecchia was the lone American winner.
Suddenly, it became fashionable to say that U.S. golfers, accustomed to playing lush courses and shooting straight at the flag, couldn't handle the stark, barren links of golf's roots.
'It definitely takes some getting used to,' U.S. Open champion Jim Furyk said. 'I wouldn't want to do this every week. But the best players adjust, no matter what the conditions.'
The American renaissance began in 1995, when John Daly pulled off his improbable playoff victory at St. Andrews. Tom Lehman won the following year, then came Justin Leonard in '97 and Mark O'Meara in '98.
Scotland's Paul Lawrie broke the U.S. streak in '99, but Tiger Woods and David Duval won the next two British titles. Ernie Els of South Africa is the defending champion.
'It goes in cycles,' said Sweden's Jesper Parnevik, who once played the European Tour but now is a regular on the American-based PGA Tour. 'For the last six or seven years, America has had the top players in the world.'
Ben Hogan played the British Open one time, won it -- and never came back. In those days, it cost more to make the trip to Europe than an American player could win.
But Arnold Palmer's first British appearance in 1960 -- after he already won the Masters twice and the U.S. Open once -- sparked a change in attitude.
Palmer finished second in his British debut, then won the tournament in '61 and '62. Over the next two-plus decades, Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Lee Trevino, et al, helped maintain American dominance.
'If anything, I'm surprised that Europe had their spell,' Janzen said. 'I just think there are more good American players.'
Beginning with Palmer's victory, U.S. players claimed 16 British titles in a 23-year period. Watson won it five times, Nicklaus was a three-time champion and Trevino went back-to-back in 1971-72. For good measure, Bill Rogers and Tom Weiskopf won their only majors in Britain.
Things began to change in 1984, when Spain's Seve Ballesteros captured the second of his three British crowns. Over the next decade, Calcavecchia's playoff victory in '89 would be the only American victory.
Nick Faldo of England triumphed on his home turf three times. Australia's Greg Norman won his only two majors at the British.
'For quite some time, the Europeans dominated the Masters, then Tiger comes along and dominates it. The turntable is going towards Americans,' said Sandy Lyle, who won the 1985 Open at Royal St. George's. 'That can change very quickly. We've got some young players now in Europe who are ready to break through.'
If anything, the supposed advantage that Europeans have on links courses may be overstated. Granted, many British youngsters grow up playing the bump-and-run style, but most of the Euro Tour is contested on American-inspired layouts.
Just last week, the Scottish Open was played at Loch Lomond, which would fit right in statewide. The warmup tournament provided little guidance for the rock-hard turf and perilous dips and bumps that golfers will encounter at Royal St. George's.
'A lot of the modern-design courses in Europe are very much toward the American style,' Lyle said. 'Loch Lomond, really look at it, it's like an American golf course. The type of grass we use, the way the bunkers are shaped, the style of bunkers are very much towards America.'
Steve Flesch also has noticed the difference between perception and reality.
'I don't think Europeans play this golf very much unless they grow up on a course like this,' he said. 'A lot of Europeans events I've seen on television, they're flying it at the flag and making it stop.'
While the European tour tends to be contested in more challenging weather, the difference isn't that great, according to Parnevik.
'We play in a lot of wind in the States, more than the European guys give us credit for,' Parnevik said, revealing his split loyalties. 'It's not like we're playing in Palm Springs weather every week. This year especially. It's been terrible.'
All things being equal, the stars and stripes have depth on their side. Americans have claimed 17 of the top 30 spots in the world ranking, including six in the top 10.
'If you look at it, these are really highly ranked players who are winning,' Flesch said. 'Even though conditions are different, they're able to adapt. If you're on your game, you can figure it out.'
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