This may be a bitter pill to swallow for European readers, especially coming from an American writer, but facts are facts.
Since 1995, Yanks have owned the Open Championship and you only have to look at the Claret Jug winners by nation to get a crystal clear picture of where the power lies over the last 21 years:
South Africa: 3
Northern Ireland 2
The last six winners at Royal Troon, the site of this year’s tournament, have all been Americans, and you have to go back to 1923 to find a European winner – Englishman Arthur Havers – at the famous links course along the Firth of Clyde.
Prior to ’95, it was a very different story. In a span of 11 years from ’84 to ’94, Euro champs like Seve Ballesteros (below), Sandy Lyle, and Nick Faldo (thrice) all lifted the Claret Jug, while just one American (Mark Calcavecchia) managed to break through. So what changed in ’95, ushering in this new era of stars and stripes?
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Personally, I like to call it The Curse of John Daly.
In ’95, as any good golf fan knows, Daly (below) survived a miracle putt by Constantino Rocca on the 18th hole to win in a play-off at St. Andrews. It was an odd pairing of a legendary course and an unrefined champion, and in some ways it was the ultimate triumph for the American way of life.
Daly, you see, is the most American human being possible—he’s fat, he drinks a lot of cheap beer, he’s best friends with Kid Rock, and he will don a pair of stars-and-stripes pants at the slightest provocation and lost millions at the casino. He released a country music song called ‘I Hit it Hard’, and I can only imagine that he fires a shotgun into his ceiling while watching Mike & Molly re-runs (for Irish & UK readers, that’s a terrible American sitcom that you should immediately erase from your brains).
Watching Daly win at St. Andrews was like watching a slack-jawed American tourist with a Hawaiian print shirt and a Statue of Liberty hat belch in front of the Mona Lisa before saying: ‘she ain’t that purty’.
My point is, Daly’s victory forever put an American imprint on a distinctly British tournament, and doomed European golfers to take a back seat to their crass friends across the ocean.
It seemed like maybe the curse would be broken last year, but after a tense playoff, Zach Johnson pulled through for his second Major victory. Zach Johnson is from Iowa, which is the most American state in America.
There is more corn in Iowa than there are people in Great Britain. It is a vast expanse of cows, ethanol, and churches. Somehow, Iowa managed to breed an Open champion.
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None of it bodes well for Europe. Maybe this is America’s revenge for the Ryder Cup – The boys in red, white, and blue represent an ongoing disaster of leadership and organiSation when it comes to the biennial team match, where European dominance is total. But as payback, the Yanks have gone all Iwo Jima on the Open Championship, which should probably just be renamed the Sheboygan Budweiser Classic.
Who can break the curse? Paddy Power is paying eight places this week, so here are some Euro and not-so-Euro picks for the weekend’s action:
In the lead-up to big tournaments, I always end up doing half a dozen radio spots in which I’m asked to predict a winner. Prior to the U.S. Open I told anyone who would listen that Dustin Johnson had no shot to take his first Major.
I was very, very wrong—he overcame a career-long lack of self-belief on Major Sundays, managed to ignore an incredible bungle by the USGA, and emerged victorious as Shane Lowry blew his huge lead.
He followed that up with a win at the WGC-Bridgestone and at this point, the sky’s the limit. When that final mental hurdle was removed, DJ went from being a very talented guy who was limited by nerves to someone who might just torch the entire golf world before all’s said and done.
The question is, does Royal Troon fit his game? Hold on, let me check…yes, it turns out that hitting the ball 360 yards and straight seems to work on just about every course in the world. Advantage DJ.
There have been very few years of late when Oosty doesn’t either win a Major or come damn close. So far in 2016 he’s remained on the periphery. The results have been fine—15th at the Masters, 23rd at the U.S. Open – but the Open Championship is his tournament. I believe he’s poised to put four great rounds together. At the prices – he’s a steal.
Rafa Cabrera Bello
This guy has played in a lot of tournaments since January on the European and PGA Tours, and he’s missed exactly one cut – the Players Championship, where a 72-71 put him just on the wrong side of the cut line.
Otherwise, he’s been in and around the top 10 all year, including last week’s Scottish Open. He’s one of the hottest players in the world, having surged from 111th in the rankings to 28th in the space of seven months. It’s only a matter of time before he pulls off something really special in a big event.
When I wrote my book about the young guns in 2014, my biggest regret is that I didn’t get any time with Manassero, who only a year before had been one of the bright rising stars in European golf. His star has dimmed a bit since then (as much as it can—he’s still only 23), but he just put a terrific third-place finish at the Scottish Open last week, and he also seems like a really nice, smart guy. If you want to indulge in a long-shot, this is one that could be both fruitful and fun.