News & ToursMarch 15, 2009

Europeans 'bunkered by U.S. greed'

My colleague and friend John Huggan has an interesting column in Scotland on Sunday, headlined "Bunkered by US Greed," in which he makes the compelling argument (after lamenting U.S. whining about lack of American representation in WGC events) that had European golfers had better access to the three major championships played in the U.S., they'd have a better record.

"Where America's 'pretty goods' were allowed annual entry into at least three of the game's four most important championships, the same was far from true for their counterparts in Europe," Huggan writes. "Take the quartet of Sam Torrance, Ken Brown, Howard Clark and Mark James, by any measure players who would have, had they been born American, routinely teed up in the Masters, US Open and US PGA.

"They did not, of course. And again, the numbers are startling and disgraceful. Between them, Torrance, Brown, James and Clark amassed 26 Ryder Cup appearances, yet they could manage only six more starts in the three US majors. More to the point, at a time when the likes of Jeff Sluman, Bob Tway and Larry Mize - to name but three - popped up to win Grand Slam titles, clearly superior foreign talents were struggling to gain even occasional entry to those same events."

All of this is true. But who knows whether that second tier or Europeans -- those a rung beneath Seve Ballesteros, Nick Faldo, Bernhard Langer and Jose Maria Olazabal -- might have won a major given greater access? What we do know is that in more recent times, when access has not been a issue, Europeans other than Padraig Harrington have not distinguished themselves in major championships. For instance, Sergio Garcia has played in every major championship since the U.S. Open in 1999 and has yet to win. Colin Montgomerie, meanwhile, has never won in a tournament in the U.S., much less a major.

Then there's this: Harrington was the first European to win the PGA Championship since Tommy Armour in 1930. And this: No European has won the U.S. Open since Tony Jacklin did so in 1970. And this: Olazabal was the last European to win the Masters, in 1999. And this: Between 1993 and 2006, Paul Lawrie was the only European to win the British Open.

None of which matters, of course, since Rory McIlroy seems to possess the ability to single-handedly exact European revenge for past slights.

HUGGAN RESPONDS: "My pal Strege speaks the truth of course; we'll never really know how Europe's 'biggish-four' of the 1980s and 90s would have fared with a more concerted run in the game's very biggest events. But, given that majors have always been occasionally won by less likely players, I still think that a reasonable case can be made that at least one, maybe two, of 'my' guys would have done so. Certainly, all four were surely more talented than the likes of Sluman, Tway, Mize and Andy North.

"As for Montgomerie, the picture is, as usual, more complicated. To an extent, the Scot only has himself to blame for a CV that does not include either a PGA Tour win or a major championship title. While he has not always enjoyed the best of fortune over the closing holes of Grand Slam events, he has temperamentally contributed to his own downfall more than once. He was, for example, clearly the best player at Congressional in 1997 when Ernie Els won the US Open, but a long way from the calmest.

"Certainly, the Scot could and should have gone full-time to America. But for reasons that, one suspects, had much to do with appearance money, he never did so. Had he moved to the US at his peak, it says here he would not only have won multiple tournaments he would have, pre-Tiger, topped the money list, such was the grinding consistency of his best play. Sadly, history will not accord him the place he should have earned had he chased majors rather than cash.

"And then there is the current generation of leading Europeans, those blessed with automatic entry into every big event, major or not. Their collective lack of success is, I feel, down to two factors. Firstly, there is Tiger Woods. Lots of players - not only Europeans - are walking around with one or two less major titles thanks to the almost all-powerful world number one.

"Secondly, the notion that they, as a group, have been more than a little overrated has some merit. All I know is, I'd still take Brown, Clark, Torrance and James over the likes of Rose, Poulter, Casey and Donald."

-- John Strege

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