For decades, there were no greater proving grounds for world champions than America’s tennis courts and golf courses.For as long as we can remember, American economic supremacy seemed to manifest itself in the form of athletic dominance. And there was nothing the world could do to stop it.
But those days are over now.
Whether you see at it as the world has catching up or America sliding back, the numbers don’t lie.
Americans have won just three of the last 12 golf majors.
This has never happened in the history of golf. The only other time that comes close is the 12-major period from the 1992 British Open to the 1995 Masters, where Americans won four tournaments.
Even more strikingly, since the 2008 Masters, world players have won 10 majors while US players have won four. In the previous 32 majors before that, dating back to the 2000 Masters, world players also won 10 majors.
So world players have won as many majors since 2008 as they did from 2000-2007.
Obviously, this analysis has some statistical holes. The sample size is too small and Tiger Woods’ dominance in the early 2000s probably skewed the numbers in favour of the US. But still, the dearth of American victories in the last four years is unprecedented.
There’s a promising crop of young American golfers who will come of age during the next few years. But there’s also a crop of young international players who are just as good. Even US Ryder Cup captain Davis Love III acknowledged this point, telling the Washington Post, “The world is a smaller place, so I think we’re going to have to get used to it.”
Another country club sport previously dominated by Americans, tennis, has been “used to it” for nearly a decade.
An American has not won a Grand Slam men’s singles trophy since Andy Roddick won the US Open in 2003.
This is the longest US major drought in the history of tennis — 30-straight Grand Slams. And it doesn’t look like that streak is going to end anytime soon.
A huge part of this streak is the dominance of Federer and Nadal. Perhaps if two of the 10 best players to ever play the game weren’t around during the last eight years, Roddick and the other Americans would have won a few more titles.
But Federer should be around for another year or two. Nadal should be around for another four. And Djokovic should be around for the foreseeable future. So with no American phenom on the verge of a breakthrough, the international dominance might continue for another 30 slams.
The reason for the international takeovers of both golf and tennis is likely a combination of multiple factors.
There’s probably an economic element:
- The international community has closed the economic gap between itself and the US considerably in the last few decades, allowing more people greater access to athletic resources.
There’s probably some cultural elements:
- International tennis stars are identified as children and effectively removed from society to become tennis machines.
- Tennis and golf are high on the sports pecking order in other countries, whereas at least football, baseball, basketball, and hockey are above them in the US.
And there’s probably a cyclical element:
- One country cannot disproportionately dominate a sport without experience a prolonged rut.
Ultimately, this sort of globalization is good for the two country club sports. It produces a higher volume of better players, and technology is such that fans can still follow their favourite players no matter where or when they are playing.
But all sports are tribal. While regional distinctions matter less in a geopolitical context than they did in 1991, they are still hugely important for tennis and golf.
Americans want to cheer for Americans. We want our athletes to embody our culture and foreign athletes to embody theirs.
It’s the reason we watch absurd sports like figure skating, curling, and archery during the Olympics. We’ll watch anything if Americans win at it.
This is also the case with tennis and golf. If American phenoms emerge in the next few years, we’ll still care. What remains to be seen is if Americans will still care if international players keep winning and winning and winning.
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