Monday, February 26, 2007

Golf's new world order

It’s not as if Americans invented golf or the country club. We just contributed motorized golf carts, six-hour rounds and John Daly.
So it shouldn’t be a surprise to see that the PGA Tour, once as red, white and blue as the golf shoes I owned in the mid-1970s, has gone global.

The latest evidence came Sunday when Sweden’s Henrik Stenson beat Australian Geoff Ogilvy in the finals of the Accenture World Match Play Championship while the last American standing – Chad Campbell – was losing the unnecessary third-place match to South African Trevor Immelman.

Americans still occupy the top three spots in the world golf rankings – Tiger’s No. 1 followed by Jim Furyk and Phil Mickelson – but the rest of the list is filled with players from around the world.

Last week in Tucson, the 64-player field – taken from the latest rankings –included just 23 American-born players.

In 2000, the PGA Tour had just 19 foreign-born players. This year, there are 24 Australians on the tour, 76 international players.
Does this mean the American-made golfer is withering away?
Not necessarily.

What it means is golf is truly global and, given the money, the facilities and the opportunity to accumulate vast amounts of world ranking points, the best international players have decided to play the PGA Tour.

Stenson is just the latest to pose with a trophy. Now No. 5 in the world, moving Ernie Els down to No. 6, Stenson will play at least 15 events here this year (including a likely visit to the Wachovia Championship).

It wasn’t many years ago that we had to wait until the major championships to see the best players from outside the United States. We’d scratch our heads at the unfamiliar names on the British Open leader board, not because they weren’t quality players but because we weren’t familiar with them.

All that has changed now.

Many of the best young players in the game – Luke Donald, Adam Scott, Sergio Garcia, Trevor Immelman – are not American-born.
It’s not a trend. It’s golf’s new world order.

- Ron Green Jr.