x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Golf has a new majority

The towering statistic goes that, unprecedentedly, 15 different players have won the last 15 major titles following Webb Simpson's fast breakthrough on Sunday at the US Open in San Francisco.

Webb Simpson, who won the US Open late on Sunday, had missed the cuts in his previous two big tournaments. Andrew Gombert / EPA
Webb Simpson, who won the US Open late on Sunday, had missed the cuts in his previous two big tournaments. Andrew Gombert / EPA

People love stars and duels, and aren't people strange?

Certainly a duel between stars frames itself nicely in mind, almost as if fitting snugly into neurology. It is harder to grasp large, semi-anonymous cavalry charges.

In that sense, men's professional golf continues to risk being a victim of its own current, widespread, landmark excellence. A luminous jumble might appeal only to non-populous junkies.

The towering statistic goes that, unprecedentedly, 15 different players have won the last 15 major titles following Webb Simpson's fast breakthrough on Sunday at the US Open in San Francisco. The even more telling statistic goes that the last nine had not won a major before. You have to go all the way back to Phil Mickelson at the 2010 Masters to find somebody who had.

Upon breaking through, Rory McIlroy was 22, Martin Kaymer 25, Charl Schwartzel 26, Keegan Bradley 26, Simpson 26, Louis Oosthuizen 27. Seasoning-wise, Darren Clarke at 42 last British Open was more predictable even though he had missed four of the previous six majors and as well as all major top 20s for six years.

With quality proliferating through society, you get a major champion playing his first major (Bradley). You get a winner in his fifth major and only his second US Open (Simpson), a winner in his seventh major (Kaymer) and a winner in his ninth major after seven previous missed major cuts (Oosthuizen). You get a six-major binge in which Americans win none, and now a three-major run in which they win all.

Clearly plenty of them can, in part because plenty of everybody can.

You get a fresh US Open champion who says, as Simpson did: "I couldn't feel my legs most of the back nine." A guy who missed the cuts in his previous two big sub-major tournaments, the Players and the Memorial? Sure, why not: in this era, that somebody still might possess a huge game, victimised in part by all the other huge games.

"I think the game's changing," Simpson told his victory press conference at the Olympic Club. "My caddie and I were talking this week, the 14-year-old kid was here [Andy Zhang]. Beau Hossler [17 years old] was playing so well [leading during the second round]. I couldn't imagine playing in even a qualifier for this tournament when I was in high school. But I think the Tiger effect of inspiring people to play at a younger age, and I think the access to golf has got so much bigger that the game is changing.

"Even in college, I would have been scared to death to play in a US Open. And these guys are playing like they're trying to win the tournament. So I think the game will continue to evolve like that. I'm lucky because I feel like we're playing at a time when golf is at its best."

The phenomenon does have its meanness. It has taken No 1 residents past and present, Lee Westwood and Luke Donald, and swept them down the river major-less with their golfing autumns almost visible up ahead. Donald has played 36 majors as of age 34; Westwood, 57 majors with 14 top-10 finishes and five US Open top-10 finishes.

He contended again early on Sunday, but soon was seen dragging out binoculars. This was not some between shot bird watching although that would have been preferable. This was skyward trouble at No 5, a ball gone into a tree and burrowed, establishing residence, maybe until the wind off the Pacific resumes surliness.

Time starts to glare at Westwood at 39, with the added strain of the presence of so many people capable of foiling the hope. One proved to be Simpson, not a stunner given his New Year's Day ranking of No 10 with the No 10 ranking better than ever.

Simpson became the second major winner this year to report inaccurate dreams. At the Masters Bubba Watson said he never dreamed that big; at the US. Open Simpson said he never dreamed this soon.

But then, Simpson had seen the 99 per cent anonymous Bradley win that PGA Championship last August, and ... "If I see Keegan Bradley win a major, I respect his game a ton, but I feel like, Keegan Bradley won one, I want to go win one."

On tour these days, some of your friends figure to have one, anyway. What will this do to television ratings so beholden to Tiger Woods contending? People should watch this great era, but you can't make them, so maybe the era will find a hilt with some 13 year old contending on a Sunday, whereupon the ratings would soar. People love stars and duels and kids.

cculpepper@thenational.ae

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