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BISHER: South African golfers rise while Americans fade

Photo by Brandon Brigman

Photo by Brandon Brigman

For the first time since golf began designating its crowning championships as “majors,” not one of the U.S. or British Opens, or the PGA Championship, or the Masters title is held by an American. Shut out, concluded Sunday at Augusta.

Some are calling it “the underlying shift in player power from the United States,” and I guess you could say that. None of our dudes has won a major championship since Phil Mickelson at the Masters a year ago, and there was the sound of Tiger Woods crashing his vehicle on that Thanksgiving night, fleeing the wrath of his irate wife — now ex-wife.

A lot of our sports writers had to take a lesson in how you spell Charl (not Charles) Schwartzel’s name Sunday in Augusta. Schwartzel, who comes from a town named Vereeniging in South Africa, sealed that off last week in Augusta.

Even then, the only American among the leading seven finishers was Woods himself. It’s easy to get fat and happy and rich, and shut out when global honor is at stake.

South African golf is focused on the Sunshine Tour, a quaint name with a harmless ring to it. Its self-endowed slogan is “Where the Great Golfers Graduate,” and all you have to do is check its “graduates” and confirm the evidence. Ernie Els has won two U.S. Opens and one British Open and Retief Goosen won two U.S. Opens, before the rise of Louis Oosthuizen, British Open champion of 2010, and now Schwartzel.

Long ago, though, beginning in 1949 when Bobby Locke emerged and won the first of four British Opens, Gary Player then followed, and South African challengers have come along in succession. While the Masters was in progress last week, the Sunshine Tour was busily readying its own challenge.

Gareth Tindell, commissioner of the tour — the Tim Finchem of South African golf — then announced this week the Tournament of Hope, with the largest purse in world tour history.

Tindell confirmed prize money of $10 million, and called his announcement “the most significant milestone in the history of South African golf.” Modesty becomes him and his golfing nation.

It was larger than that in other parts of the world — The Players purse is $9.5 million — and established itself as part of the World Golf Tour. And strong as that, lay down the gauntlet to the Chevron Challenge, the Tiger Woods post-seasonal event in California, by designating conflicting dates. Actually, to the rest of the world what is of more significance is the rise of South African golf.

So, Americans have been locked out on the majors. Our Open champion is Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland, our PGA champion is Martin Kaymer of Germany, and even failing to make the cut at Augusta, Kaymer retained his grip on the World’s Rankings No. 1.

So, our dudes take a seat to the rear, and South Africa has now decided it’s time to strike while the irons are hot, so to speak. Stand by, here comes the Sunshine Tour.

Furman Bisher is one of the deans of American sports writing. The longtime Atlanta sports journalist is a member of the Georgia and Atlanta Sports Halls of Fame and in addition to his newspaper writing has authored multiple books on major figures like Hank Aaron and Arnold Palmer. He writes periodic columns for the Daily Post.