Monday, October 10, 2011

The Boys Are Back

By Angus Saul

When young sensation Keegan Bradley sank that final putt and the championships were his, he became the third ever player to win a major on his or her first outing, beaten to that honor by two more Americans — Francis Ouimet at the U.S. Open in 1913, and Ben Curtis in the British Open 2003.

The 25-year-old caused a stir, exploding onto the scene to land the prestigious PGA Championships, and the world cried out, "Who is he? I've never heard of him!"

Well, those of us who've had a dig around have since uncovered he is a real golfing thoroughbred. His father is a PGA professional, and those who recognized Bradley's surname and thought, "Where have I heard that before?" Plenty of places, most likely. It's quite a common surname. But in relation to golf, another bearer of the name was Pat Bradley, possibly one of the best female golfers of all-time.

He's got some big boots to fill. Tiger Woods left American golf in limbo and some of the young players have found it tough to step up to the mark. These are big boots that need filling, and so far, Hunter Mahan, Rickie Fowler, Dustin Johnson, and Bubba Watson have performed well, but not quite well enough at the highest level of the sport. But there's still no doubt about it — a youthful American takeover is certainly on the cards.

There might be a little huffing and puffing amongst some of the older players, having played on tour for years and never managed to clinch one of those four prized trophies. But don't worry about them, the huffing and puffing will stop once they reach the buggy.

It is more frustrating for them, perhaps, that these young legs have come along and swept them off the course, forcing seasoned veterans to miss the cut and depart the championships early. Like they had a fighting chance anyway.

And it wasn't young folks on the up that people had already tipped for a major, in the years to come. No, that would have been acceptable. These were players they'd scarcely heard of. That can leave a bitter taste.

But where before the future of American golf was dark and unforgiving, there is new light appearing. Yes, the good old days when Tiger won everything are over. Will he win again? Probably, but with Keegan Bradley and his fellow leaders on the final day, there is hope once more.

So who were these players who have sprung onto the world stage, serving the purpose of revitalizing the game for their country. There was Jason Dufner, a workhorse who has stayed under the radar until the age of 34; Brendan Steel, a newcomer to majors; and Scott Verplank, a veteran enjoying a late show of form.

And America need not worry, this is no flash in the pan. Young hope Ricky Fowler shone playing alongside Rory McIlroy, and outclassed him for much of the British Open, and has a heap of talent still to showcase. And with a 6-over and in the middle of the pack at the end of the final day in Atlanta, he is moving from strength to strength.

So with three youngsters providing the leading light, and with strength in depth in the ranks behind, what is to stop them taking major after major from here on in, the way Tiger did not so very long ago?

Well, there is still some stiff competition ahead. Players who aren't going to lie down upon Bradley's approach. Players like McIlroy, Luke Donald, Lee Westwood, Martin Kaymer. There are a whole host of these players across the pond that have what it takes to land a major — some already have.

But this brings me nicely around to another subject I feel I must broach. The Ryder Cup.

In 2010, Graeme McDowell, U.S. Open champion at the time, snatched victory for Europe with one hole to play — a victory Europe should have had wrapped up hours earlier. At the press conference afterwards, the American side struggled to stem tears after a valiant fightback wasn't quite enough in the end.

What will the next Ryder Cup bring? It is a long way off yet, I know, but surely the speculation is already beginning. Before Keegan Bradley's emphatic victory, Ireland had taken three of the past six majors with victories for McDowell, McIlroy, and Darren Clarke, with Germany's Martin Kaymer taking the PGA Championship late in 2010.

Europe has Donald, Westwood, and McIlroy as the world No. 1, 2, and 3 to boot, so that should hold some weight amongst bookmakers worldwide. It would certainly be perceived as advantageous.

The United States has a smear on their reputation to get clean. The Solheim Cup — the women's equivalent of the Ryder Cup — was taken by Europe 15 points to 13 in a close run final day. And in the amateur equivalent of the men's event, the Walker Cup, the American's were beaten again 14 points to 12 by the boys from Great Britain and Ireland. So their reputation really relies on a good win at next year's Ryder Cup.

But really, the way I see it, and the way golfers across the United States will see it, is that Thin Lizzy really hit the nail on the head. The boys are back in town.

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