By Jeff Shain, Tribune Newspapers
June 16, 2011
BETHESDA, Md. — The U.S. Open long has billed itself as the most democratic among golf's major championships. The big names get reserved spots, sure — though they share the practice range with up-and-comers, amateurs, club pros and maybe a hotshot teen.
More than half the field, in fact, remains allocated to qualifiers. Egalitarianism rules, limited only by one's ability to survive 36-hole qualifying.
It remains a noble approach, even if the bluebloods typically assert their superiority once the opening round commences.
Even among bluebloods, though, there's an unusual equality spread through the major championships. From Padraig Harrington to Phil Mickelson to Charl Schwartzel, 10 different men have won the last 10 majors. And none was named Tiger Woods.
"It's exciting, isn't it?" said Germany's Martin Kaymer, who added his name to the list at last summer's PGA Championship.
Those 10 winners have hailed from five continents, representing seven flags. Toss in The Players Championship — the so-called "fifth major" — and the count goes to 13 different winners in 13 events.
"It's nice to have different champions," Kaymer said. "It's interesting for golf and the world. It's nice for K.J. Choi, that he won (The Players) recently. … You can see the world rankings, it's changing every week. So I find it very exciting."
Maybe it's fitting, then, that the 111th Open takes place at Congressional Country Club, just down the highway from the halls of democracy. One man, one vote? The credo these days seems to be one man, one major. One term.
"Golf is in such a good position at the moment," said Lee Westwood, No. 2 in the rankings. "It's so volatile, you can get a different winner every week."
Call it a regime change, a revolution of sorts. Someone typically rules the roost — from Woods to Jack Nicklaus to Arnold Palmer to Ben Hogan to Byron Nelson to Bobby Jones.
It was just three years ago, in fact, that Woods collected his 14th major title by winning the epic 2008 Open with a shredded knee and broken leg. Nicklaus' record of 18 majors was within sight.
Woods remains stuck on 14. Harrington stepped up briefly while Woods was on the mend, winning the 2008 British Open and PGA Championship.
Since then? One per customer. And of those 10, just three — Harrington, Angel Cabrera and Mickelson — had won any previous major.
For the first time since the early 1990s, not one major trophy is in the hands of an American. Sixteen of the top 25 places in the rankings belong to international players.
"It's obvious that world golf as a whole has become so much stronger," Mickelson said. "International golf has become world class, (producing) some of the best players in the rankings right now."
Said defending Open champion Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland: "The standard is so much better across the board."
Asked how many players have a realistic chance at winning this week, Kaymer suggested as many as 40.
"Probably 10 or 15 years ago, there were only 10 or 12 players, but now it's so spread out," Kaymer said. "It can be a young guy — it can be (Japan's Ryo) Ishikawa, it can be Rory McIlroy. Or it can be David Toms. It's very open."
Democratic, you might say.
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