Will US major drought stretch to Atlanta?

Mickelson's 2010 Masters triumph was the last time the US won a major and the nation's fortunes look unlikely to change.

    Bubba Watson was close to major success before losing play-off to Martin Kaymer at 2010 PGA Championship [GETTY] 

    When the 93rd PGA Championship tees off on Thursday the Stars and Stripes will no doubt be flying high above the venue at the Atlanta Athletic Club here in Georgia.

    However, as the final major of the year approaches the odds seem pretty good that, come Sunday evening, Old Glory may well be flying at half-staff, mourning the failure of yet another American major challenge.

    American success in the major championships has been noticeable by its absence in recent times. Since Phil Mickelson won the 2010 Masters there's not been one winner from the United States in the last six majors. 

    In fact, the closest a US golfer has come to claiming one of the big prizes was Bubba Watson's play-off loss to Germany's Martin Kaymer at last year's PGA Championship, although Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson did finish tied for second at this year's British Open, albeit three shots off the pace.

    What's more, the decline even pre-dates Mickelson's triumph at Augusta, and it's not too hard to pinpoint when it began.

    Since Tiger Woods won the last of his 14 majors at the 2008 US Open there've been 13 major tournaments of which an American has won only three. That compares to eight American victories in the previous 13 majors, six of which went to Tiger himself.

    Playing for second

    Clearly then, Americans have found Tiger's shoes too big to fill; but why? Well, as the legendary American football coach, Vince Lombardi, once said "Winning is a habit. Unfortunately, so is losing."

    During Tiger's heyday a whole generation of golfers appeared to have the mindset that they were playing for second place in any tournament in which Tiger was competing. Obviously, that went for players of all nationalities, but it was particularly significant for those on the predominantly American PGA tour as they played against him more often.

    From winning his first major, the 1997 Masters, to claiming his last, the 2008 U.S Open, Tiger won a shade under 30% of the 207 PGA tournaments he entered, dwarfing the winning percentage of every other PGA Tour legend.

    That alone was demoralising enough for his rivals, but of course it didn't end there, as not only were the other players undermined by the sheer talent of the man but also by the media.

    Having worked for CNN throughout his heyday, I can tell you that the "Tiger Watch" was mandatory at every tournament he played in, which meant that even if he wasn't topping the leaderboard we, and every other media organisation, were consistently talking about him, monitoring his every move and putting doubts in the minds of the front-runners with questions about the lurking Tiger.

    In a way then, US golfers learned to be un-American by accepting the inevitability of defeat. And, though Tiger's time appears to have passed, his American contemporaries have yet to re-discover the winning habit, while younger players, like Dustin Johnson and Bubba Watson, who only caught the tail end of Tiger's reign, are finding it hard to shake the legacy of losing established by their predecessors.

                     The decline of Woods coincides with the decline of American golf [GALLO/GETTY] 

    Of course, there've been exceptions – Lucas Glover and Stewart Cink at the 2009 US Open and British Open respectively, and Mickelson at last year's Masters.

    However, the overall impression remains that the
    PGA Tour is currently not a breeding ground for champions – a theory endorsed by the fact that the last six major winners spend all or part of their time on the European Tour where Tiger's influence was never as strong and has long since dissipated.

    So, will the American drought finally be broken at the Atlanta Athletic Club?

    Obviously, there's hope for the locals because golf is such a mercurial game. What's more, even in the majors, US golfers haven't been a complete flop this year, as three Americans made the top-10 at the Masters, two at the US Open, and there were six top-10 finishers at the British Open.

    That said, even the most fervent American golf fan would have to concede that high-flying foreigners such as Luke Donald, Lee Westwood, Martin Kaymer, Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy have a more legitimate claim to being favourites for the PGA Championship than any one of their own, be it up and comers like Dustin Johnson and Ricky Fowler, or old campaigners like Phil Mickelson, the in-form Steve Stricker, or, dare I say it, Tiger Woods.

    And, as much flag waving as there'll be here in Atlanta, that's the reality right now, as we stand amidst the longest American major drought in modern Grand Slam history.

    Terry Baddoo is a world-renowned Atlanta-based writer and former CNN sports anchor/reporter. His weekly column can currently be seen online at http://worldfootballinsider.com/.

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    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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