The questions are repetitive. And irritating. What’s wrong with United States golfers, or tennis players? Why are the best in the world from England or Serbia or Northern Ireland?
Maybe a better question is, does it matter? When did the U.S. Open or Wimbledon become like the Giants-Dodgers rivalry or Stanford vs. Cal? Would a U.S. golf fan rather see Rory McIlroy than Boo Weekley? Or Weekley because he’s from America, even if he’s not a major champion?
Do we care about talent or nationality? Are we respectful or merely provincial?
The 140th Open Championship begins Thursday at Royal St. George’s along the English Channel, a linksland course as British as the Union Jack, a place packed with rolling dunes, 5-foot-deep bunkers and more than a century of history.
The issue in the days leading up to the tournament was less who would win — McIlroy, the 22-year-old U.S. Open champ is the favorite, although now at 10-to-1 — than why Americans are always losing.
They (we) haven’t taken any of the past five majors. Tennis? The last American male Grand Slam titlist was Andy Roddick, eight years ago. Journalists over here are having a wonderful time emphasizing the facts.
The golfers themselves are less concerned. They judge each other as individuals. Luke Donald, No. 1 in the world, is English, but he’s also a Northwestern grad who lives in Chicago. These people cross borders and oceans as frequently as they stick a tee into the ground.
“I can only speak for myself,” said Nick Watney, “but I would like to win major championships. It’s not that we’re not trying.”
Watney is the Fresno State grad who went to high school in Davis, the big Giants fan. He understands taking sides in team competition, but not so much in individual sports.
“Golf globally, and specifically in Europe, is extremely strong,” said Watney, playing in the Open a fourth straight year. “It’s definitely not an accident they’re ranked [in] the top four in the world. But at the same time I would love to put my name in the mix for the majors and hopefully end the drought.
“I think things are cyclical. If I were to win a major, it wouldn’t be to get America back on top. It’s because that’s what I want. I want to win a major.”
McIlroy, the young Irishman, won his first major a month ago in the U.S. He’s in agreement with Watney on finding room at the top.
“These things go in cycles,” said McIlroy. “In the ’90s and 2000s, it seemed like Tiger [Woods] was winning and it seemed like every major was won by an American player. There’s a lot of good players. American golf isn’t as bad as everyone is making it out to be.”
Or as good as the American players want it to be.
Phil Mickelson, the last U.S. player to win a major, the 2010 Masters, talking about global expansion of the game, was asked, “American golf will never dominate to the extent it once did?”
He chose his answer as carefully as he might a club from caddy Jim MacKay.
“I’ve learned over the years to never say never,” said Mickelson. “You just don’t know what’s going to happen.”
Art Spander has been covering Bay Area sports since 1965 and also writes on www.artspander.com and www.realclearsports.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.