International players acing the course this golf season

Aug 5 2010 - 6:32pm

Images

(Peter Morrison/The Associated Press)
Ireland's Padraig Harrington reacts after saving par on the 18th hole during Round 3 of the Irish Open Golf Championship at Killarney Golf and Fishing Club, Ireland, last month.
(Peter Morrison/The Associated Press)
Ireland's Padraig Harrington reacts after saving par on the 18th hole during Round 3 of the Irish Open Golf Championship at Killarney Golf and Fishing Club, Ireland, last month.

Americans are getting their clocks cleaned of late on the PGA Tour and Padraig Harrington believes he knows the reason why.

The Irishman might have ruffled a few feathers Tuesday when he basically suggested the U.S. tour eats its young with its emphasis on going global.

Sixteen of the tour's 33 events, including both World Golf Championships, have been won by 14 international players representing six countries. Seven of those 14 were first-time winners on the PGA Tour.

The numbers become even higher after April 25, when Georgia resident Jason Bohn captured the Zurich Classic of New Orleans. Since then, 11 of the past 15 tour events have gone to international players. The last Americans standing in that span were Zach Johnson in the Crowne Plaza Invitational, Bubba Watson in the Travelers Championship, Matt Bettencourt in the Reno-Tahoe Open and Steve Stricker in the John Deere Classic.

That doesn't bode well for the 31 U.S. players in this week's 82-man field in the $8.5 million Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone Country Club.

Harrington conceded that what has happened the past three months needs to be studied during a longer period of time. But the three-time major winner believes the fact that commissioner Tim Finchem has made it easy for international players to join the PGA Tour has hurt young Americans.

"The PGA Tour is not the place for learning," Harrington said. "By strengthening the tour as they have over the last 10 years . . . there is a little bit of a lack of giving young U.S.-born players the opportunity to learn their trade."

Harrington believes those who are not phenoms would be better served playing around the world and learning how to win before being thrown into the PGA Tour fire. His international victories stood at double digits before he came to the U.S. in 2004.

"A lot of guys before they come to the states, they've won," Harrington said. "So when they get that chance, they know how to win. Young players coming through the South African Tour or Australian Tour, Asian Tour, Japan or Europe, we all get our chances to build up our competitiveness.

"A U.S.-born player, especially when he gets his card very quickly . . . he might get in contention three or four times, might win once, whereas a good season for a young player in Europe, he gets in contention 12 times and wins two, maybe three times. Those 12 times he's in contention, he's going to learn a lot from those."

U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland agreed that the international dominance might be due to those players' increased opportunities to compete here.

"Talking to the older guys, they got very few opportunities to come out here and play golf," McDowell said. "Nowadays with the WGC events and the exemption categories into the majors and the TPC, Memorial, Bay Hill, Wachovia, we come over here and we get more comfortable with the players and the courses."

PGA Tour executive vice president Ty Votaw read Harrington's comments with interest and respects his opinion. But Votaw believes that it's difficult to win on the PGA Tour regardless of where a player hones his skills.

Votaw cited the tour records of three Englishmen who had the international experience of which Harrington spoke but found things different on American soil. He said it took Paul Casey 76 tournaments to win on the PGA Tour, Ian Poulter 102 tournaments and Justin Rose 161.

He compared that to Americans like Anthony Kim, who needed 37 tournaments before winning, Dustin Johnson (27), Shaun O'Hair (17) and J.B. Holmes (five).

Votaw had time to prepare his statistics, and he had more.

"There have been 11 first-time winners this year, seven are international," he said. "Of those seven, it took them an average of 7.1 years playing on the PGA Tour to win. It took the four U.S. players 6.2 years to win. That's pretty evenly balanced.

"Paul Casey had 11 wins prior to winning in Houston last year, and it still took him seven years. Ian Poulter had nine wins around the world and it took him 10 years to win on the PGA Tour. Justin Rose had six wins and it took him eight years here."

While Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Stricker and Jim Furyk hold down four of the top five spots in this week's World Golf Rankings, only three more Americans (Kim, O'Hair and Johnson) made the top 25. To make matters worse, international players have won six of the past nine major championships. So it's fashionable to bash the homeboys right now.

"It's a Ryder Cup year; that may go along with it," Votaw said. "But the facts don't bear Padraig out in all instances. Time will tell on his prediction looking forward; this may be the case. But in our view, it hasn't been a slam dunk."

Harrington doesn't seem the type to start Ryder Cup posturing. His opinion might not hold true over a season or more.

But at the very least, those making picks in PGA Tour fantasy leagues this week might not want to go too heavy on the red, white and blue.

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