That the guy can really hit a golf ball. Putt, too.
Accustomed to nail-biting finishes in the majors, some commentators suggested in their postmortems of the Open Championship that Louis Oosthuizen’s seven-shot victory margin made the proceedings a bit anti-climatic. A bigger problem for this reporter was the apprehension that the tied-for-seventh finish of the low American competitors, Sean O’Hair and Nick Watney, would inevitably prompt the usual twaddle about the decline in the dominance of American golfers, particularly in the face of the one-two finish by Graeme McDowell and Gregory Havret in last month’s U.S. Open.
Like clockwork, the first piece I read on the subject — which happened to be from Alistair Tait at Golfweek’s Golf 360, though it could have been from a dozen sources – started: “Only the coming years will tell if American golf is on the wane.”
The talk is tiresome (even from the knowledgeable and likeable Tait) for a couple of reasons. First, as Tait’s summary points out, the tournament’s results – especially, but not confined to, Oosthuizen’s unforeseeable win – seemed to turn virtually every pre-tournament prediction on its head. You’d think at a certain point that we’d come to understand that many of the metrics applied to the process – the world rankings, for example – simply represent accurate but incomplete data, arbitrarily superimposed on a series of contests around the world, the only common element of which is that they involve a game whose allure is its very inscrutability.
Second, greater parity among far-flung golfers has much to do with initiatives to develop talent that have usually depended heavily (though not exclusively) on American backing. A huge segment of the touring-pro population, for example, honed their competitive skills at golf-rich schools in the United States. The system works.
Finally, the focus on the ascendant skills of world-class players from around the globe tends to obscure what ought to be golf’s main concern: While marveling at the cultural and ethnic diversity of players in the winner’s circle, we’ve done little to ensure sustainability by cultivating a populist base, particularly, but not exclusively, in emerging markets.
Regrettably, our beloved St. Andrews is, in most respects, among the culprits. A comparatively affordable destination not that long ago, the home of golf continues to cling to its egalitarian origins in its pricing policies to local residents. Realistically, though, it is now a boutique (OK, a big boutique), bucket-list place for the game’s wealthier enthusiasts.
A year of working in Southeast Asia persuades me the same is largely true there: While we’ll undoubtedly continue to see increasing numbers of world-class Asian golfers, the cost of the game puts it far beyond the reach of the vast majority of the populace. The nationality of the Open Championship winner seems trivial by comparison.
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