Prior to Nick Faldo, an Englishman hadnt won a major championship of any kind since Tony Jacklin in the 1970 U.S. Open. And not a single one has done so since Faldo stuck a 1-iron into the heart of Greg Norman in the 1996 Masters.
English golf is experiencing a revival of sorts at the moment, with eight of its own in the top 100 on the Official World Golf Ranking.
These eight ' Luke Donald, Lee Westwood, Paul Casey, Ian Poulter, David Howell, Brian Davis, Justin Rose and Greg Owen ' have combined to win 44 times around the world (Westwood owns 24 of those victories).
But none have ever notched a top-3 finish in a major, and combined they have nine top-10 finishes compared to 54 missed cuts.
On the surface, these numbers dont instill a lot of confidence as to England providing another major champion anytime soon. However, you have to look beyond the past and to the future ' which would appear quite promising.
Rose is the youngest of the group at 24. Owen is the oldest at 33. Everyone else is between 27 and 31. And this list doesnt even include 22-year-old Nick Dougherty, ranked 147th in the world, who beat Colin Montgomerie and Thomas Bjorn head-to-head-to-head earlier this year in Singapore for his maiden European Tour title.
Westwood aside, they are all just starting to play in major championships on a consistent basis, which means the learning curve is starting to bend in their favor.
Well, you always believe that you have to do things in this game ' youve got to do things by steps, Faldo said. You know, the more experience these guys get in those situations the better. You need to throw yourself in the deep end and learn from it. And if it doesnt come off, then you use that knowledge to make you a better golfer for tomorrow.
While Faldo has said publicly that the pressure of competing in a Ryder Cup is not comparable to that of contending on the back nine Sunday in a major championship, it is nonetheless beneficial that the top 5 English players on the world ranking all were members of the most recent European Ryder Cup team.
If English golf does reach a renaissance in the near future, Faldo deserves some, if not much of the credit.
For one, Faldo the Great has left an indelible impression on his followers. When you win six major championships and are ranked No. 1 in the world for 98 consecutive weeks, you tend to have that effect.
Were here today because of guys in the past ' guys like Faldo, who have come up in the past, said Poulter. He set the standard.
Nick dominated. He is ' and probably will be ' our most successful guy we ever had, Dougherty said. Then Lee (Westwood) filled his boots ' obviously not completely. But Lees a very, very solid player. And now theres more than one guy in town who can do it. Hopefully, all four or five or six, or however many there are, come through and win a few major tournaments.
Dougherty is a product of the Faldo Series, which was established in 1996 to identify and nurture the next generation of champions, according to its website.
The Faldo Series offers leading juniors from Europe, both male and female, the opportunity to compete in a top-level environment, and also provides seminars on topics ranging from course management to diet to fitness.
Its been very productive. Were still at the early stages, Faldo said. The guys were talking about right now are already 10 years out. Nick Dougherty came through; James Heath is the next guy coming through. There are some very good girl players as well. Give us another five years and I think were really going to have some solid, good names on tour.
I got all the strength I needed from playing (the Faldo Series), Dougherty said. I played at a high level from a young age ' I was playing events all over the world when I was like 14 years old.
I wish I had it, Casey said of the Series. It can bolster their foundation, sort of week-in and week-out playing big events against other brilliant players. I think without something like that, wed be struggling.
Everybody, though, has to follow their own path.
Most of the current crop of top English players paid their dues on the Challenge Tour (the European equivalent of the Nationwide Tour) before advancing to the European Tour and then onto the PGA Tour.
Dougherty, as mentioned, prospered in the Faldo Series prior to turning pro.
And then theres Donald and Casey, both of whom went the American collegiate route. Donald was an All-American at Northwestern University, while Casey was the same at Arizona State University. Donald has been a member of the PGA Tour since graduating from Q-school in 2001. Casey is exempt this season on tour due to his inclusion on the 2004 European Ryder Cup team.
Westwood is also using his Ryder Cup exemption to compete on tour this season.
It just seemed like the right time to do it, said Westwood, who didnt take full advantage of the two-year exemption he earned for his 1998 Freeport-McDermott victory. I had looked at the European schedule, looked at the PGA Tour schedule, felt like I could play both.
Of the eight players who currently call the top 100 home, seven are exempt this season on the PGA Tour. Howell, also an 04 Ryder Cup member, could have been as well, but decided not to accept the tours invitation.
This is where you want to be, said Rose, who has relinquished his European Tour membership, saying that he doesnt plan on playing the required 11 events to keep his card.
Right as we stand at the moment, Im outside of the top 50 in the world its very, very difficult, if not impossible, to play both tours if youre outside of the top 50 in the world.
Rose has a home at Lake Nona Golf and Country Club in Orlando. And hes not alone. Faldo also lives in the neighborhood. Poulter is in the process of building a home in the same community. And Dougherty, who has said that he never plans on giving up his European Tour membership, nevertheless purchased a lot there in December.
Davis and Owen each bought homes in Central Florida before they had even earned their PGA Tour cards. Donald and Casey still live near their former universities, in Chicago, Ill. and Scottsdale, Ariz., respectively.
I love it in Orlando and I love playing over here, Davis said. Its nice to have a place where you can play and practice year-round.
Jump in the buggy (golf cart) and in three minutes Im on the practice grounds. Thats as good as you can get, I think, Poulter said of his U.S. home. Its a perfect facility to be practicing golf all year round. The climate is superb.
The British arent coming; theyre already here. And theyre very comfortable in their surroundings.
I used to be the lone Brit, but theres a lot of people out here now, Donald said. In a way, the European Tour is very spread out. They have to do a lot more traveling than the U.S. tour, and some of the top players maybe feel its easier to play half a schedule here and half a schedule there.
Obviously, the money is great out here (on the PGA Tour). Im playing against the top players. Maybe they feel they can improve (by playing on the PGA Tour).
Now, if just one of them can claim a major championship.
Rose was the 36-hole leader at last years Masters, before wilting on the weekend to a tie for 22nd. Casey started the final round at Augusta one off the lead and finished tied for sixth. He then shared the first-round lead in the British Open and eventually tied for 20th.
I think one of us will win a major. And I think its not going to be too far away. Thats the next step for one of us ' to step up and come through, Poulter said.
So there is Faldo in his figurative stance with his figurative torch waiting to figuratively pass it on to the next English superstar ' or perhaps to the lot of them.
In one way, hes held onto it long enough; in another hed like to run with it forever.
As he spends hour after hour after hour on the practice facilities at the TPC at Sawgrass, hes not consumed with thoughts of others potential. Hes thinking about how he can play up to his once attainable and now lofty standards. He wants to represent himself well at events like The Players Championship. And he wants to win again at events like the Masters.
To whom that torch is eventually passed, not even Faldo knows. He has said that Donald has the most promise. But whether or not he ' or anyone else in this group of eight and beyond ' can carry such a heavy burden is still in doubt.
I dont know about that; thats down to the individual, isnt it? Faldo said. Theyre all very talented; its down to the individuals desire. But theyve certainly got the talent to do it.
First things first: someone needs to (step up) and win a major.
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