U.S. Open Is National Championship In Name Only

Inevitably, the pre-tournament coverage for this year’s installment of the U.S. Open Championship at Congressional includes a dose of angst about what’s wrong with American golf. The impetus for this soul-searching is the relative dearth of major championship winners – four of the last 15 – who hail from the U.S.; and of course the issue supposedly takes on greater significance when “our national championship” is at stake.


What’s wrong with golf in America? Well, there are a few things, principally declining participation levels. But as regards play at the highest levels of the game, the answer is: absolutely nothing.


For starters, many, if not most, of the top non-American players honed their skills in the crucible of competitive golf over here – a point they readily and graciously concede. Luke Donald at Northwestern. Darren Clarke at Wake Forest. Graeme McDowell at the University of Alabama-Birmingham, an experience that, McDowell has said, “Made me what I am today.”


Apart from that, the stated goal of golf Pooh-Bahs everywhere, for as long as we can remember, has been to make golf an international game. Hey, it worked.


McDowell is quoted in today’s sports pages as saying that part of his motivation for the relocation game was, “We don’t have a winning attitude in Ireland the way they do in the U.S.”


Obviously, that’s a compliment to our approach; at the same time, a winning attitude has its downside. To me, at least, one of the attractive things about golf is that it seems exempt from the brand of chauvinism – Ryder Cup excepted – that infuses other sports (c.f., football / soccer). Golfers, mindful of how difficult the game is, seem genuinely more capable of appreciating a winning performance, regardless of nationality.


Perhaps we can “plunder the Egyptians” – or in this case, make that Northern Ireland – in order to understand how to improve our game. How is it that a nation with a population roughly one two-hundredth of ours can produce players like McDowell and Rory McIlroy, currently ranked seventh and eighth, respectively, in the world?


McIlroy’s assessment in the Times: “Golf in Northern Ireland and the U.K. is very popular and so accessible. You can get people from working-class backgrounds into the game.”


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