The European problem: Explaining the drought

It is now 27 majors since a European golfer won a major and for the continent's golfers a seven-year itch is threatening to become a running sore. With the next major - the 2006 Open - just two days away, James Corrigan sought explanations
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The Independent Online

TOM LEHMAN (American Ryder Cup captain. Majors: 1)

Heck we're shocked in America, very surprised. I actually looked the stat up and I think it's something like in the last 10 years there has been 28 American major wins and just three European wins. There's something incredibly lopsided about that which has no reflection at all whatsoever quality of players. It just happens to be that Tiger's won eight or so of them, Mickelson's won three, but then that leaves the other 20 guys who have won. But I do have a theory. I believe if you played three of the four majors in Europe, like we do in the States, it would be a different story. The Euros have to travel overseas to play, there's jet lag to deal with and they're out of their own comfort zone. And I know that Americans have won five out of the last six Opens in Britain but think about it: we've always had a huge depth of strong players. Monty has never even won in the States. But he's come awfully close, second in three majors or whatever. Look at the last one, it happened to just be Geoff Ogilvy's week. I was certain Monty had won. When he was on the 18th fairway I told my wife, "This tournament's over, it's his".

LUKE DONALD (English professional. Majors: 0)

I've said before that it may have something to do with the way the courses are set up on the European Tour. I feel like, when I do play in Europe, the courses generally are a little more generous off the tee, the rough isn't quite as thick, and the pin positions, they don't tuck them quite as much as they do on the US Tour. You can short side yourself in Europe and still get up and down and make par and it's not too big of a deal. At the US Open, you're not going to get away with that. I think that is part of the reason why we haven't been very successful in majors, especially the US Open. Saying that, I honestly think that all it's going to take is someone to break out and win one and then those floodgates will burst open. I'm hoping to be that someone."

NICK FALDO (English professional. Majors: 6)

It is something that worries me. We have some great talent coming through, but majors is all about holding your nerve under the most intense pressure [pictured after 1996 US Masters win]. I know we can point to players for whom it just hasn't happened but I don't believe that's down to luck. I don't care how much we keep on talking about the amount of pressure players are under in a Ryder Cup, the fact is that if it isn't a major then it's not "the real thing". The Ryder Cup is matchplay; you can make seven on a hole and still win. You have 11 other guys holding your hand. In a major, you are on your own. A lot of our boys performed brilliantly under the gun at Oakland Hills two years ago [in the Ryder Cup] but put them in contention on the back nine of a major on Sunday and they'd find it a totally different experience. But let's not get too negative. The boys just need to take their game to the next level. Of all the British talent out there right now, I feel Luke Donald is mentally the most complete. He has the self-belief and the confidence, he is technically very good and, while he might not be hugely long, he has a great wedge game that reminds me of Tom Kite.

DAVID HOWELL (English professional. Majors: 0)

I think one the reasons why we haven't won the Open since 1999 is that we don't play a lot of links golf on Tour any more and that sort of gives up the European advantage. On the whole, though, I think it goes in cycles. Obviously we had a wonderful period with Europeans winning so many majors in the Eighties and early Nineties and we're all heading in the right direction to replicate that. But it might take a few years. Majors are tough, and the best players are the best players for that reason. I know there have been some upsets but I'll be surprised if one of the top players didn't walk with the claret jug this time.

JUSTIN ROSE (English professional. Majors: 0)

It's ridiculous that we haven't won a major for so long. I think majors are extreme, with rock-hard, quick greens and I just wonder whether the Europeans are used to playing on really firm surfaces.

PETER McEVOY (Former Walker Cup captain, former Amateur champion)

They can't all go on living off their potential, they've got to do it now. Tony Jacklin went to America in the late Sixties and immediately won the 1968 Jacksonville Open. A year later he was winning majors and he only slowed down after his short game started to let him down. By then, though he had reached the very top of the men's game. Maybe too many of the modern players slow before they have won a major because they are already millionaires. At the 2005 World Athletic Championships, Linford Christie said that the Lottery money made British athletes too comfortable and had removed the drive and desire that could have made them great. Tiger Woods is not like that. He likes money and will travel far and wide for a big cheque, but when he's on the golf course he still has the amateur ethic - he's only interested in winning trophies. The Walker Cup is the same, because there are no material rewards and no flash cars for coming second, there is only the winning. In 2001 [at Sea Island where Great Britain & Ireland beat America in the Walker Cup] winning was all that Luke Donald, Nick Dougherty and Graeme McDowell were thinking about. TONY JACKLIN (Former Ryder Cup captain. Majors: 2)

Yeah, it does amaze me, especially that none of our guys have won the US Open since I did 36 years ago [pictured with trophy]. Before me there was 50 years going all the way back to Ted Ray's victory [the Jerseyman who won in Ohio in 1920]. So in some 80-odd years you have little old lonely me in the middle. Why? Well, what helped me more than anything in getting to the point where for that month in 1970 I had Open trophies on my mantelpiece [he won the Open at Lytham in 1969], was that when I was a steelworker's kid beating ball after ball in Scunthorpe, my ambition was not just to be a great golfer but the best golfer in the world. If I hadn't had that mindset - like I'm not sure most of our boys have today - I couldn't have sustained the kind of pressure involved. It's funny, because Nicklaus once told me that the majors are the easiest tournaments to win. Why? Because Jack believed that 90 per cent of players that enter don't really believe they can win. Most players out there really just want to be a pro, keep their playing privileges on Tour and so be guaranteed millions of dollars. They just aren't prepared to stand the kind of heat that majors provide. It makes me laugh when our players say nowadays: "But we're playing in the Tiger era - it's hard to win a major." Well, I was playing the Nicklaus era and that was just as bloody hard.

PADRAIG HARRINGTON (Irish professional. Majors: 0)

You know, I keep saying this, these are individual events. It's not Europe against the US. The Ryder Cup's only one week every two years. At a tournament like this, it's much more of an individual thing. I know you guys care whether it's a European winner or not, and it would be nice for us afterwards, but in the week of the tournament, I want to see a European winner, but only one of them. It would be nice to see some friends win as well, but then again, I have some US friends. It's only a matter of time. What would make it easier on us is if there is more than one European in contention. In the past, all the focus has been on only one guy, and that's a lot of pressure to deal with. If there are lots of you, it deflects the attention a bit. If you look at the last couple of years, especially at the Open, there have been some quite surprising winners. That's because it's definitely much easier to win one when you can go under the radar. If you are in the top five all week, the press keep asking you if you are going to win. If you can play the first two rounds without being asked that question, then it is easier to finish it off.

JOSE MARIA OLAZABAL (Spanish professional. Majors: 2)

I don't know why and I don't know when: I cannot read the future. I have always said that there is no reason why a European player cannot win a major. We have a lot of great players. Our boys have the game, they hit it far enough, they putt well enough, it's just a matter of having the right week at the right time. We've had so many great players battling it out down the stretch during this time that it's very odd it hasn't happened, how d'you say? - "spooky". At the same time, it's very difficult to win one. There are only four a year.

PAUL LAWRIE (Scottish professional. Majors: 1)

People seem to think that I enjoy being the last European to win a major. I don't enjoy it at all. I want to be the next European, but I don't enjoy the tag of being the last European to do it when it is that long a period. You want European players winning majors all the time. There was a quote from somebody who said something like, "We need to stop Paul Lawrie dining out on that fact". Dining out? They obviously don't know me very well to say that. I want to see Europeans winning majors and I want to be one of them. There is not a reason for it. It is just one of those periods where it seems like no one is stepping up. But it will happen.

IAN POULTER (English professional. Majors: 0)

It's that question again; must be major time again. D'you know we are asked that 10 times a week, four times a year? It's so boring. Look, one of the guys is going to win. Just see who's in form and where they're from. David Howell, Luke Donald, Paul Casey and on and on - the European guys. So we don't need that question any more. We've had it long enough. Just shut up and let the boys go out and do it. JAMIL QURESHI (Sports psychologist)

There are two factors usually given for Europe's barren spell - an inferiority complex and Tigeritus. Both are wide of the mark. For a start there is no inferiority complex among the European players as they have beaten Americans so regularly in the Ryder Cup. It doesn't matter if this is a team event or not - once you've beaten somebody you've beaten somebody. And then there's the whole Tiger intimidation theory. I have no doubt this was once the case but since David Howell has got the better of him head to head and Nick Dougherty - one of my clients - has experience of outscoring him in single rounds (Nick did it three times out of four in Shanghai last year), I feel the Europeans now appreciate that he is beatable. What I do believe is a problem is the level of expectation surrounding all the Europeans. A number of the players I work with tell me that two questions they are constantly asked is a) [about the] Ryder Cup, and b) what would it mean winning a major, not just for themselves but to Europe as a whole to end the damn jinx? Bearing the hopes of a whole continent on your shoulders is some burden to carry. Mentally, that's probably the biggest barrier.

ANGUS LOUGHRAN (Betting expert)

Just how much of a turn-up 27 majors without a European winner has been is probably best summed up by Ladbrokes' price on one of our boys winning this week - 3-1. That works out that out of every four majors the Europeans are expected to win one. With so many Europeans in the top 20, that price is probably shorter than it has ever been in the last seven years, but if you take it as an average that it would be 1-4 on a European not winning the Masters or the Open (two events they are more suited to) and 1-10 on a European not winning the US Open or the USPGA then the accumulated odds would be well over 50-1 a European not winning in seven years. Also consider that the Europeans are favourites for the Ryder Cup this September. It all doesn't make much sense, betting wise.

COLIN MONTGOMERIE (English professional. Majors: 0)

It's pure coincidence, I'm afraid.

A curse on Europe The near misses

* COLIN MONTGOMERIE

2006 US Open (Winged Foot)

After a 50-foot birdie on the 17th and Phil Mickelson faltering, the Scot only needed to par the 18th on the last round for his first major. But after a perfect drive to the right of the fairway, Montgomerie mishit a seven-iron into the rough and when he could not get down in three, Australia's Geoff Ogilvy won.

* THOMAS BJORN

2003 Open (Sandwich)

Two clear with three to play, the Dane, who had come back from a two-shot penalty for grounding his club in a bunker on the Thursday, took three swipes to get out of a trap on the 16th and suffered a calamitous double-bogey. A bogey on the 17th allowed the rank outsider Ben Curtis to sneak in.

* THOMAS LEVET

2002 Open (Muirfield)

A par at the 18th in a four-man, four-hole play-off would have made Levet the first French Open winner in more than 80 years. But instead of a percentage two-iron, Levet had a bogey using his driver. Then, in sudden death with Els, Levet again took out his driver and failed. Els holed a four-footer to win.

Majorless run

Twenty-seven tournaments without a European winner

* 1999 USPGA

Winner: T Woods 277

Best European: 2nd S Garcia (Sp) 278

* 2000

Masters

V Singh (Fiji) 278

Tied 19 C Montgomerie (Sco) 291

T19 P Harrington (Irl) 291

T19 J Van De Velde (Fr) 291

US Open

T Woods (US) 272

T2 M A Jimenez (Sp) 287

Open T Woods (US) 269

T2 T Bjorn (Den) 277

USPGA

T Woods (US) 270

T3 T Bjorn (Den) 275

* 2001

Masters

T Woods (US) 276

T6 B Langer (Ger) 279

US Open

R Goosen (SA) 276

T12 S Garcia (Sp) 283

Open D Duval (US) 274

2 N Fasth (Swe) 277

USPGA

D Toms (US) 265

T13 J Parnevik (Swe) 276

* 2002

Masters

T Woods (US) 276

4 J M Olazabal (Sp) 281

US Open

T Woods (US) 277

T4 S Garcia (Sp) 283

Open E Els (SA) 278

T2 T Levet (Fr) 278

USPGA

R Beem (US) 278

T10 S Garcia (Sp) 289

* 2003

Masters

M Weir (Can) 281

T8 J M Olazabal (Sp) 288

US Open

J Furyk (US) 272

T5 J Rose (Eng) 280

Open B Curtis (US) 283

T2 T Bjorn (Den) 284

USPGA

S Micheel (US) 276

4 A Cejka (Ger) 280

* 2004

Masters

P Mickelson (US) 279

T4 S Garcia (Sp) 285

T4 B Langer (Ger) 285

US Open

R Goosen (US) 276

T21 S Garcia (Sp) 291

Open T Hamilton (US) 274

4 L Westwood (Eng) 278

USPGA

V Singh (Fiji) 280

T6 P McGinley (Irl) 282

* 2005

Masters

T Woods (US) 276

T3 L Donald (Eng) 283

US Open

M Campbell (NZ) 280

T3 S Garcia (Sp) 285

Open T Woods (US) 274

2 C Montgomerie (Sco) 279

USPGA

P Mickelson (US) 276

T2 T Bjorn (Den) 277

* 2006

Masters

P Mickelson (US) 281

T3 J M Olazabal (Sp) 284

US Open

G Ogilvy (Aus) 285

T2 C Montgomerie (Sco) 286

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