TULSA, Okla. -- They came. They soared. They conquered. At the end of each of this year's first three major golf championships, foreign-born players have found their way to the top of the leader board.
But it isn't a new story.
In fact, it's been going on for much of the past decade. And if an American player doesn't win the 76th PGA Championship, which begins here today at Southern Hills Country Club, it would make for some telling statistics.
Among the most significant:
* It would mark the first time since the inaugural Masters Tournament in 1934 brought about golf's Grand Slam that an American didn't win at least one of the four majors during any year.
* It would give foreign-born players as many major championships during the past 10 years -- 20 -- as Americans have had. Foreign-born players have won seven of the last nine, with six of those champions coming from different countries.
* After a stretch of 10 straight PGA champions -- and 16 of 17 -- coming from the United States, it would be the third time in the past five years that the season's final major was won by a foreign-born player. This comes in a year when South African Ernie Els broke a streak of 12 straight U.S. Opens won by American-born players.
"It's not the fact America has changed any, it's just the rest of the world has caught up and I think has gone by America," said Australian-born, Florida-based Greg Norman, whose two major titles came in the 1986 and 1993 British Opens.
It's not only reflected in the recent history of major championships, but in both the Sony world rankings and the PGA Tour money list. Of the top 10 players in the world, eight are foreign-born and Fred Couples is the highest-ranking American, at No. 5.
Norman and Nick Price, of Zimbabwe (and Orlando), are first and second in both the Sony rankings and the 1994 tour money list, while Masters champion Jose-Maria Olazabal of Spain and Els are also in the top 10 in tour earnings despite playing in only a handful of events.
"I think it's just the way the game of golf has changed so dramatically in the last 10 years," said Norman, who lost in sudden death to Paul Azinger in last year's PGA Championship at Inverness.
"America -- no question about it -- back in the '60s and '70s were a dominating and strong force in the game of golf," Norman said. "What's happened with the international players is that we've had players like Gary Player and Seve Ballesteros and then Olazabal.
"I followed somebody like [1981 U.S. Open champion] David Graham. [Nick] Faldo followed Tony Jacklin. We all had somebody to chase after because we saw what the other international players were doing. So there's been a bigger boom in the international game than there's been in America because there are more golfers in the rest of the world than in America. We've had more potential and more credibility coming out of it."
It also could be that the foreign-born players come to the PGA Tour looking to prove themselves and, in the process, get themselves an endorsement or two. For the most part, by the time they get here they have already played on all kinds of courses and under tougher conditions all over the world.
The Americans, on the other hand, tend to have what has been called "the Payne Stewart syndrome." In other words, being satisfied with high finishes and six-figure paydays while not being overly disappointed with losing. That was spotlighted two years ago, when Chip Beck was widely criticized for playing safe down the stretch while Germany's Bernhard Langer was pulling away.
"We've lost some of our aggressiveness toward winning golf tournaments," said Arnold Palmer, who recalls cringing at Beck's decision. "But that doesn't mean we don't have a lot of good players. It doesn't mean that we're not capable. We go through periods where we're happy with the way things are going and don't maintain that vigil to win."
Most of the American players don't seem to mind that the foreigners have dominated.
"It's really a strange kind of phenomenon," said Tom Kite, who ended his own drought at majors by winning the 1992 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. "I don't know why they have it, but I think it's great for golf. I really think it's a wonderful thing to create a lot of worldwide interest in the major championships and in golf."
The way things have gone this year, it could be another wonderful week at Southern Hills -- for foreign-born players.
NOTE: The 1999 Ryder Cup and the 2005 PGA Championship will be played at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass., the PGA announced.
FACTS AND FIGURES
What: 76th PGA Championship
When: Today through Sunday
Where: Southern Hills Country Club, Tulsa, Okla.
Course: 6,834 yards, par 35-3570 Cut: After two rounds, low 70 scorers and all tied for 70th
Playoff (if necessary): Sudden death Purse: To be announced ($1.7 million minimum)
Winner's share: To be announced ($300,000 minimum)
Defending champion: Paul Azinger
Former champions in field: Azinger, John Daly, Ray Floyd, Wayne Grady, David Graham, Hubert Green, John Mahaffey, Larry Nelson, Jack Nicklaus, Nick Price, Jeff Sluman, Payne Stewart, Hal Sutton, Bob Tway, Lanny Wadkins
TV: Today--TBS, noon-6 p.m. Tomorrow--TBS, noon-6 p.m.. Saturday--TBS, 11 a.m.-1 p.m.; chs. 11, 9, 1:30-6 p.m. Sunday--TBS, 11 a.m.-1 p.m.; chs. 11, 9, 1:30-6 p.m.
Foreign-born players have won seven of the past nine major golf championships:
Year ... Event ... ... ... ... Winner
... British Open .. .. .. Nick Faldo, England
1992 ... PGA Champ. ... ... .. Nick Price, Zimbabwe
1993 ... Masters ... .. ... .. Bernhard Langer, Germany
1993 ... British Open .. .. .. Greg Norman, Australia
1994 ... Masters ... ... .. .. Jose Maria Olazabal, Spain
1994 ... U.S. Open ... ... ... Ernie Els, South Africa
1994 ... British Open .. .. .. Nick Price, Zimbabwe