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Where has all the talent gone?
American golf journalism, with the sycophants of Sky in tow, went overboard with hype in the run-up to the Tournament players Championship at Sawgrass. Apparently, we have a new 'Fab Four'. It is an expression that is all but meaningless to anyone under the age of 50, but for those yet wet behind the ears, or not given to trends in popular music, it initially referred to the Beatles. For John, Paul, George and Ringo read Tiger, Vijay, Phil and Ernie. For some, banality comes with surprising ease.

It is significant that reference should be made to pop icons of 50 years ago. Not only does it reflect the age distribution of the US golfing public but it also reflects the age distribution of the leading US players on the world stage.

For those given to the study of golfing demographics, the age distribution of US players in the top-100 in the world ranking has been of interest for some time. The emergence of Zach Johnson on the leaderboard at the TPC this week has served only to highlight the situation in America for few have heard of him. He is, in fact, one of only three US players in the top-100 under the age of 30 - the other two are Tiger Woods and Charles Howell. Tiger and Zach will be 30 within months and Charles, in his 27th year, is not exactly a baby anymore.

In contrast to the situation in the US, the rest of the world is producing a number of young men crowding the old guys in the rankings, and their numbers are increasing. There are currently six under the age of 30 from the UK, with three from South Africa, an Australian, a Swede and a Korean comfortably in the top-100 in the world ranking. The absence of a significant number of Americans is glaring.

The irony of the current situation is that America has been responsible for bringing the best of the world's young players to golfing maturity through its collegiate golf system. Paul Casey, Luke Donald and Graeme McDowell owe their success in large part to the US colleges that not only gave them their education but also the coaching and opportunity to test themselves against the best of their peers. But they, in the first instance were selected for college places as the best of their generation and they serve only to highlight the question why, out of the population of America, there is a generation gap of talent?

We can equally well ask the question why, suddenly, have so many young Brits emerged? The answer must surely be related to the role models initially influential in bringing the young to the game in the first place.

In Britain, and in England in particular, Nick Faldo (pictured) was the figure most inspirational to the current crop of 20-somethings. It was Nick's winning ways that Donald, Casey and Co found inspiring and they are quick to acknowledge his stylish, elegant and statuesque stride of the fairways of the '80's TV screens as a spur to their ambitions. Faldo was 'cool' in an age before 'cool' was invented. He was fit and he propounded dedication, self-discipline and a work ethic that all who have emulated him have benefited from. America had no such local hero 10-15 years ago. Couples, Love and the other 40+ year-olds had Palmer, Nicklaus and Watson, but, with the coming of Ballesteros, Lyle, Langer, Norman and Faldo to dominate the world stage, there was no comparable figure to capture the imagination and stimulate the ambition of America's youth.

There may be other reasons, but if this theory is right the emergence of Tiger Woods will result in a burgeoning of American talent in 10 years' time. Tiger has surely been inspirational and there are incentives enough when even coming 50th in the US order of merit guarantees a $1 million income.

It is certainly the case that the success of the US Tour has made it more difficult for young US talent to get a foothold in the game, for the best in the world is attracted, like moths around a flame, to the pots on offer in America. Playing on the US Tour is the singular ambition of every young talented player in the world. In consequence, the Australian Tour is in the doldrums and the Asian Tour has started the haemorrhaging of talent from which the European Tour has long since suffered.

The presence of the world's best may have been perceived as formidable and deterring to the young of America but the bottom line is simply that there appears to be little young US talent around.

Matt Kucher and Ricky Barnes were lauded as the next big things in America and Ryan Moore is the current great white hope. Moore is yet still an amateur who has never won a point in the Walker Cup, Kucher is ranked a lowly 321st in the world rankings and Barnes has fared even less well. The age distributions of recent US Ryder Cup teams and Walker Cup results have served only to highlight the dearth of talent coming through in the US.

Where, oh where have all the young guns gone?

©    28 - MARCH 2005

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