As of this week, four Europeans — Martin Kaymer, Lee Westwood, Luke Donald and Graeme McDowell — occupy the top-four spots in the world rankings and it doesn’t appear that’s going to change any time soon. Of course, golf is rather cyclical and the Europeans happen to be going through a dominant stretch, but I couldn’t help but wonder if there’s a particular reason for the rise of the Europeans and the implications it has on American golf. I mean, what are they feeding those guys across the pond?
“We’re just in a hot patch,” said McDowell after Wednesday’s pro-am at PGA National. “It says a lot about how healthy golf is right now.”
Added England’s Ross Fisher: “It’s obviously great for European golf. It just shows that if you want to get to the top of the game, you don’t have to commit to playing the PGA Tour. You can play both tours or you can play the European Tour. You look what Westy’s (Lee Westwood) done, what Martin’s done, what G-Mac’s done. It’s great and it bodes very well for golf in general and especially for the European Tour.”
Perhaps it’s also a result of the differences between the PGA Tour and the European Tour. On the European Tour, the guys travel around the world, playing in distinct conditions, courses and countries — one week they might be battling strong winds and rain on a links course in Ireland, and the next, they might fly halfway across the globe to play in India. Ultimately, their ability to acclimate to all the variables help them learn more about their games.
In January Steve Stricker traveled to play in Abu Dhabi and said he felt like it was his first day at school. He found it difficult to adjust to his surroundings, making it harder to focus and play well.
“I take my hat off to the guys who do it on a regular basis,” said Stricker last month at the Northern Trust Open. “I see it’s difficult going over there to play.”
With the exception of the new world No. 1, the other three, along with world’s no. 8 Rory McIlroy, are playing in the first leg of the four-week Florida swing, the Honda Classic, held at one of the toughest tracks on PGA Tour schedule, PGA National.
“You don’t have a Florida swing (on the European Tour) like you have over here,” said Fisher. “You have four or five weeks in one spot and then you move to another spot and you play four or five tournaments.”
The conditions and greens are relatively similar and each event is within a four-hour drive of the next, which eliminates fighting jetlag and the hassle of traveling and makes it easier for players to get in a flow. In other words, there are less uncertainties and more stability.
“Over here you play in generally perfect conditions all the time — the sun shines, the courses are in great condition. Whereas sometimes in Europe you have to battle the elements, you might play in strong winds, heavy rain. Much of the golf courses aren’t in as good of shape as they are on the US tour.”
Which in turn, breeds a greater resiliency in European golfers. (I joked with Ross, “So, basically, you’re calling the Americans wimps.” He replied with a smile, “Those are your words — not mine!”)
“We’re not playing perfect conditions every week (in Europe),” said McDowell. “We’re playing all over the world, culturally in different places, the golf courses change dramatically from week to week. Some of them may not be in fantastic conditions, but you just have to get on with it and deal with it.
“I think the guys on the PGA Tour are very spoiled. The conditions are perfect every week. I think because we’re having to adapt to different environments, it hardens us up as players a little bit. It makes us more accepting of conditions.”
McDowell, the current US Open champion, certainly has proven his ability to thrive in demanding setups and blustery weather, which will be key to tackling PGA National.
“Hopefully I’m tough enough this week,” said G-Mac, smiling.
(AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)