Yanks Too Preoccupied to Bother With Open


TROON, Scotland -- It's easy to make fun of the pampered Americans.
They get their fancy courtesy cars - a Mercedes one week, a Cadillac the next, a Buick at worst - and play for $5 million purses on courses that are manicured to perfection. But ask them to fly overseas, whether it's a World Golf Championship or the oldest championship in golf, and it becomes an imposition.
Stuart Appleby of Australia summed up it best a few years ago when a dozen Americans declined to take a chartered plane to Valderrama to play in a tournament that guaranteed $25,000 for last place.
'They're like a bag of prawns on a hot Sunday,' he said. 'They don't travel well.'
The outrage at Royal Troon is not just the number of no-shows - Fred Funk, of all people, topping the list - but how the Royal & Ancient Golf Club made it easier than ever for Americans to qualify for the British Open and they still turned their nose up at the benevolence.
For the first time, the R&A expanded its 36-hole qualifying from four links courses near the Open to include four courses around the world, giving tour players a chance to qualify without having to travel to Britain.
And how did they show their gratitude?
Fifty-two PGA Tour players didn't bother to show up for the U.S. qualifier at Congressional two weeks ago. Worse yet, six players didn't even call to say they weren't coming. None seemed the least bit bothered by turning down a chance to play in the British Open.
'Well, we are close to Iraq,' Colin Montgomerie said, not missing a chance to tweak the Americans.
The real jab came from Marcus Fraser, a European tour player from Australia who lost his chance to qualify in Malaysia because of a shoulder injury that kept him from traveling. He petitioned the R&A to play in the European qualifier when he was healthy, and was turned down.
So, Marcus, did you hear about the 52 Americans who got injured at Congressional?
'Sudden injury,' Fraser mused. 'Heart muscle, wasn't it?'
No, just poor etiquette, brought on by a sudden case of brain cramps.
'They made it easy for those guys, and it's a real slap in the face,' Tom Weiskopf said.
Even some players eligible for the British Open are not here.
Kirk Triplett said it was his favorite tournament to watch on TV. Fred Funk gave no reason for withdrawing, although one can only suspect that after his whining about links golf last year, he figures it will be easier to collect Ryder Cup points at the minor-league B.C. Open this week.
'This is the greatest tournament in the world,' Mark Calcavecchia said. 'If you're exempt, you should take a row boat if you have to.'
Funk said he would row a boat to South Africa for a chance to play in the Presidents Cup, but he won't take an eight-hour flight to Scotland for the British Open? Maybe it cost too much money for a former college golf coach with over $13 million in career earnings.
But whatever the reason, it is up to Funk to decide whether he wants to play for diamonds or costume jewelry.
It's up to Paul Stankowski and John Rollins whether to withdraw from an Open qualifier in their backyard.
And that's why the joke is on the R&A.
It has gotten away from its roots - the 'Open' championship of golf - by catering to the pros. It wanted a stronger field, but that is not the identity of the British Open. Whether it's Tiger Woods or Ben Curtis, Ernie Els or Paul Lawrie, the winner is introduced as the champion golfer of the world.
Those who aspire to such glory will earn their way to the British Open through exceptional golf or they will not think twice about traveling to Britain for 36 holes of qualifying.
Brad Faxon, who has a keen sense of history, came over to St. Andrews in 2000 and tried to qualify. He failed, flew home and won the B.C. Open.
It was a sad sight Saturday morning to see the parking lot at Western Gailes lined with cars, with players taking their clubs out of the trunk and heading to the tee to begin the first round of final qualifying. One had a caddie with a mohawk, presumably a distant cousin. Some used trolleys.
What remains of the 36-hole qualifying are the amateurs or tour wannabes - long shots, both. They once played alongside Faxon, Jeff Maggert and Ian Woosnam.
Now, only 15 spots were available in the four local qualifying sites. The rest went to the professional qualifying sites in England, Washington, Australia and Malaysia. And to free up more spots, the R&A reduced the exemption for U.S. Open champions like Corey Pavin and Lee Janzen from 10 years to five, so they were suddenly no longer eligible.
It was changed to get a stronger field, yet only 71 of the top 100 in the world are at Royal Troon.
The R&A is investigating the 52 no-shows at Congressional and sanctions are possible. PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said it reflects poorly, and 'some action may be warranted.'
The easy solution is to go back to the way it was, and make everyone travel to Britain if they want to play in the British Open.
Those who don't come won't be missed.
Copyright 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.