SANDWICH, England – South Africa has two. So does Northern Ireland. Germany nabbed one not that long ago.
Dig back a little deeper and you can add South Korea, Argentina and a liberal dose of Ireland.
To get a sense of golf’s increasingly global profile, look no further than the roster of recent major champions. “The quality of play now coming across the international circuit is some of the best I’ve seen,” Phil Mickelson said.
Good for the game. Not so good for Mickelson and his American brethren.
Five majors have passed since the Stars & Stripes could celebrate a major title, when Mickelson won his third Masters crown two Aprils ago.
When the lefty draped a green jacket around South Africa’s Charl Schwartzel 13 1/2 weeks ago, it marked just the second time since the Masters began in 1934 that all four majors have been held by non-Americans. And that didn’t change with Rory McIlroy’s romp at the U.S. Open.
U.S. prospects don’t seem all that promising as the British Open commences – though Royal St. George’s penchant for throwing in an atypical winner actually might play into Americans’ favor.
“Obviously, it’s a different circumstance now,” said England’s Luke Donald, No. 1 in the world rankings.
Donald, by the way, has been trading the No. 1 ranking with Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer all year. McIlroy’s march through at Congressional puts him in the mix as well.
The top American? Steve Stricker at No. 5. Not since 1996 has an American not placed among the top four in the rankings.
Regard for U.S. prospects is so low this week that not even Stricker or Mickelson crack the top five in Britain’s betting shops. Joining Europe’s Big Four is … Sergio Garcia, the mercurial Spaniard suffering his own 2 1/2-year winless spell and no longer among the world’s top 50.
“Golf is a cycle,” Stricker suggested, “and you’ve just got to wait it out.”
The “cyclical” theory has been thrown around a lot this week, though U.S. golf might have been leaking air well before its current breakdown. Going back to Angel Cabrera’s win at the 2007 U.S. Open, Americans have claimed just five of the past 17 majors.
Tiger Woods authored two, before a damaged knee and personal wreckage took their toll. Health issues have diverted Mickelson’s focus, whether his wife’s breast cancer or his own bout with arthritis.
The stage belongs as much to Stricker and a crop of such up-and-comers as Nick Watney, Dustin Johnson and Bubba Watson. All have contended in majors but have yet to cross the threshold.
Just two Americans have finished in the top 15 at both the 2011 Masters and U.S. Open: Bo Van Pelt and Brandt Snedeker.
“I think they have a lot of talent spread across the age brackets now,” Northern Ireland’s Graeme McDowell said, “and I think they’re sort of on the verge of being very strong again.”
On the windswept links of Royal St. George’s, though, the odds aren’t good.