x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Time of the super unknowns to pick up golf's majors

Big names continue to miss out on the majors, but that is not necessarily a bad thing.

Charl Schwartzel is given his green jacket by last year's Masters winner Phil Mickelson.
Charl Schwartzel is given his green jacket by last year's Masters winner Phil Mickelson.

Behold the post-Masters smorgasbord. Choose your favourite factoid from that stirring tournament they have just played in Georgia.

Opt for the bolstered sizzle of the European Tour, entrenched at the hilt of an ever-globalising game. Or mull the landmark that of the four major trophies, US golfers hold zero.

Note the eccentric little accompanying fact that England's band of sublime nibblers - Lee Westwood, Luke Donald, Paul Casey, Ian Poulter - also hold zero. Throw in that the US and England combined hold two fewer trophies than previously anonymous farm kids from South Africa.

Bemoan, if you will, that while the young brigade of South Africans owes much to the 41-year-old Ernie Els for his example and his golf programme in his homeland, both Trevor Immelman (2008) and Charl Schwartzel (2011) have won the Masters while Els somehow has not. His five-year run from 2000 of second, tied for sixth, tied for fifth, tied for sixth and second looks retrospectively aching.

Apparently this has never been the fairest world.

For my choice, though, I move down to this portion here: what a knack recent majors have shown for churning out obscure blokes who end up lifting trophies.

Does this tell us anything? It might just.

One of the worst majors, the rain-haunted 2009 US Open on Long Island in New York, gave us Lucas Glover, whose 11 prior majors brought six cuts and zero real contention with one tie for 20th, one tie for 27th and three sub-40ths.

The 2009 PGA in Minnesota presented YE Yang, whose unknown inner-fibre proved sturdy when he ignored Tiger Woods's Sunday aura. His seven prior majors: tied for 30th, tied for 47th, five cuts.

Come the 2010 British Open at St Andrews, and it was dominated by Louis Oosthuizen, a then-27-year-old South African known only to the most helpless, hopeless fanatics. So barren had been his previous major record - seven cuts and one tie for 73rd - that when picturing it you could almost spot lizards scampering across.

Now here went the 2011 Masters, and here comes Schwartzel, 26 and playing the tournament for only the second time after dotting various majors since 2003. Of the 16 he had graced, he suffered seven cuts, but did assemble a commendable 2010 that went T-30, T-16, T-14, T-18 in the majors.

While that output requires exacting demand, it does not necessarily foretell becoming the first person to win the Masters by birdieing holes Nos 69 through to 72.

Now in some circles, a four-day drama that spits out a champion recognisable only to next of kin qualifies as a downer. While many of us revere golf for its nerve-testing ruthlessness in gorgeous settings, many more go rapt for its stars - and, this century, star.

Thus the exceeding roars on Sunday as Woods ascended the board.

In some way, though, golf has undergone a tricky equation since Woods won the Masters by 12 strokes in 1997. It became the domain of a transcending star.

So a theory might go that the Woods tide lifted the boats, took the game to deeper presence in new-found corners and gave aspiring youth an upgraded sense of what would be required of them if they wanted hardware.

But for Schwartzel's four eternal birdies, this Masters easily could have yielded as champion Jason Day, the pup whose three majors in his life have gone T-60, T-10 and T-2. Playing a Sunday back nine at Augusta, Day proved so wilting that he ... dropped not a single stroke.

Woods made golf grow and wander the world, so in turn the world grew more capable, so in turn more people had rarefied skill and resolve, so in turn more people could win, so in turn some people sigh when the star cannot quite star.

A sage once said of the Kentucky Derby that it was that race he would study for weeks beforehand, pondering possibilities, ruminating on variables, gazing at charts, only to watch some horse traipsing toward the wire first and say, "Who's that?"

Golf has annexed that element more than ever through the last eight majors, so it can present a Masters deemed wide-open (with justification), but with reasonable talk circling around Phil Mickelson or Donald or Westwood or McIlroy or et al. Then it percolates for four highbrow days of elite testing and it brings us Charl Schwartzel, and you wonder just how many Woods-prone viewers can revel in the jaw-drop of four closing birdies on Sunday.

cculpepper@thenational.ae