For all the accomplishments Jack Nicklaus achieved in golf, he might have done even more for golf in 1977 when he urged the British PGA to open up the Ryder Cup, so that the United States wouldn’t only be playing against the British Isles, but golfers from all over Europe. It had, you see, become downright embarrassing how us Yanks were always puttin’ a whoopin’ on those woebegone Limeys. The Brits agreed, and a lopsided biennial rout was transferred into a close, exciting competition.
But who could have ever guessed that the time would come when the U.S. would need a victory in the Ryder Cup to restore its fading eminence in a sport it used to dominate? Foreigners won three of the four 2010 major championships, and foreigners have taken ten of the last fifteen. Almost half of the weekly PGA tour events were won by foreigners this year — and, remember, the foreigners have their own tours in Europe, Asia and Australia. These aliens are beating us on our own turf with just some of their players. U.S. men’s golf is starting to look like women’s golf, where an American hasn’t led the LPGA money rankings since 1993.
No, the situation for Uncle Sam isn’t quite as dire as in that other country club sport where Americans have practically disappeared, but, to steal a gag from the late Rodney Dangerfield, it’s getting so that I went to a golf tournament and a tennis match broke out.
Gee, is it even possible that the decline of golf is the first tea leaf to read in those fashionable predictions about how the American male is being rendered extraneous? Certainly it’s a different world from that Ozzie-and-Harriet vision, where Mom was in her apron, while Dad, the breadwinner, put on his suit five days a week, then changed into plaid pants and spent the weekend playing five-dollar Nassaus with his buddies before getting bombed at the nineteenth hole. But how can sensitive, modern Dads disappear for hours on the links when they have to change diapers, carpool to ballet class and spend their down time learning how to get in touch with their feminine side?
Since 2005, the number of golfers in the U.S. has declined as much as ten percent, and the number of golf courses in the country has decreased much the same, by about a hundred each year.
The Ryder Cup has pretty much mirrored the general downturn in American golf fortunes. We’ve only won two of the last seven, and haven’t won one abroad since 1993. The event, which starts Friday, is in Wales this year, so the old red-white-and-blue may be in over their heads, over there, playing to salvage a little of that glory that we used to wallow in.
And guess what? I got through this whole piece on golf without once mentioning Tiger Woods. Well, almost. Sorry, couldn’t help myself.