Golf's home discomfort

Peter Corrigan says the growing US influence is a major problem for Europe
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The Independent Online
The Open's claim to be the genuine golfing championship of the world is greatly demeaned if we start getting shirty when a foreigner wins it. Any suggestion of a partisan approach to summ- ing up the 125th enactment of this great drama last weekend would, therefore, place one in the same category as the dolts who attempted to barrack Tom Lehman off his stride in the early stages of the final round.

Nevertheless, it cannot be allowed to go unnoticed that this was the second consecutive year that our greatest prize has fallen into the hands of an American. Last year, it was John Daly who triumphed at St Andrews. Prior to that, the last time the old claret jug had been in their possession was in 1989 when it was won by Mark Calcavecchia and before that in 1983 when Tom Watson retained it. Eleven years with only one American winner and suddenly we've had two.

It is worse than that. If you count Nick Faldo as a full member of the US Tour the first six places at Royal Lytham were occupied by Americans or those domiciled there. Sweden's Peter Hedblom, at joint seventh, was the top representative of the European Tour and of the first 54 only 17 ply their trade on our Tour while double that number, 34, play in America. The old continent had only three of its contenders in the US Open's first 50 - Colin Montgomerie was joint 10th, Frank Nobilo joint 13th and Sam Torrance shared 16th - and although Faldo won the US Masters and Frank Nobilo finished fourth, the top 35 contained only one other European Tour man, Ian Woosnam, who was joint 29th.

We still revel in the glow of Europe's Ryder Cup victory last September but our individual performances in the big ones this year have been less than glittering. It hasn't helped that Jose Maria Olazabal has been out of action and that Bernhard Langer and Seve Ballesteros have been beset by injury and form problems. But there's little sign of a rush to fill the gaps they leave.

It may just be a cyclical phenomenon. The Americans didn't win one major in 1994 but have won five of the seven played since. The other two went to Faldo and Australian Steve Elkington, another long-term member of the US circuit.

The worthiness of Lehman's victory displayed how difficult it is going to be to stop the trend. We might have wished for him to have been pursued home a little more hotly but he'd done for his rivals with his brilliant round of 64 on Saturday. Lytham came in for a some undeserved criticism for the low scoring it permitted but the strong wind that can almost be guaranteed if you arrange a camping holiday on that part of the Lancashire coast failed to materialise.

Despite being unprotected, the course provided a gauntlet over the closing holes through which few were able to play without pain. The last five holes proved to be the key. Over the four rounds, Lehman completed them in an admirable three under par. No one got near that record. Faldo was next best at one under. Els was level and McCumber two over. That statistic confirms Lehman's superiority.

In contrast to a number of our golfers who shoot into prominence and then fail to fulfil their promise, Lehman has risen the hard way. He is only a year or two younger than Faldo, Ballesteros, Langer and Woosnam but has spent less than five years at golf's top level after years of struggling on minor tours.

In the Sony world rankings, he didn't even approach the top 200 until 1992. At the end of that year he was 78th. In 1993 he reached 48th and the following year he was 17th. At the end of 1995 he was llth and today, after his Open win, he stands seventh, immediately behind Corey Pavin and Faldo.

It is a record of progress only Colin Montgomerie can match. Montgomerie, who trudged bleakly out of Lytham after missing the cut, will lead our sadly thin representation in the final major of the year, the USPGA in Louisville, Kentucky, in August, in the hope of redressing the balance. But our record in that tournament suggests that Wigan have more chance of winning the Super Bowl. The pendulum has swung to the other side of the Atlantic and it will take a massive effort to pull it back.