PORTRUSH, Northern Ireland — On the list of things that Shane Lowry was thinking about when he closed out his victory Sunday at the Open Championship, it’s unlikely this cracked the top 10. But his six-stroke victory over windy, soggy Royal Portrush meant that a nearly four-decade-long streak remains intact courtesy of the 32-year-old Irishman.
Tiger Woods, Brooks Koepka and Gary Woodland had won the year’s first three major titles. If another American golfer could have grabbed the claret jug, it would have been a sweep for red, white & blue golfers in 2019. That piece of trivia might feel trivial, until you realize it’s been a while since there’s been a USA calendar-year slam. Try 37 years.
Surprisingly, perhaps, you have to go back to 1982 for the last time that Americans swept the majors. Craig Stadler won the Masters, Tom Watson took the U.S. (Pebble Beach) and British (Royal Troon) Opens, and Raymond Floyd claimed the PGA Championship (Southern Hills).
Of course, this lull has been timed nicely with the rise of European golf and the likes of Seve Ballesteros, Sandy Lyle, Bernhard Langer, Jose Maria Olazabal and Ian Woosnam. Toss in a few South African and Aussie stars, and now with Lowry, a golden age of Irishmen, and well, now you know what the U.S. has been facing.
In recent years, Americans have come close to ending their "drought." In 2015, Australia’s Jason Day held off Jordan Spieth at the PGA at Whistling Straits, after Spieth had taken the Masters and U.S. Open and Zach Johnson won the British. And a year ago, Francesco Molinari’s British Open win at Carnoustie, although the third major of the year, wound up being the lone U.S. miss.
Before this, you need to go back to 1998, when Fiji’s Vijay Singh kept the Americans from completing the trick with a PGA win at Sahalee. And Steve Elkington’s PGA win at Riviera was the lone non-American major triumph in 1995.
Earlier in the week, a handful of European players were asked about their interest in preventing the Americans from going four-for-four. Most of them chuckled and said it wasn’t something there were very conscious of.
“Look, these things are very cyclical,” said Rory McIlroy. “You look at the European success in the majors sort of 2010, 2011. You know, these things happen in cycles. I don’t think there’s any rhyme or reason to it.”
McIlroy might be right. However, anyone who thinks Americans sweeping the majors was a common occurrence before the 1980s should look in their history books once more. From the end of World War II to 1982, such sweeps happened just eight times. The only real age of dominance for the U.S. was 1971 to 1977, in which Americans won all four majors five times in seven years.
It's unlikely that kind of run will ever happen again. Heck, it's hard to do it just one year these days.