England swings. Not like a pendulum do, as the long-ago popular song suggests in its grammatically challenged way. Like elite golfers do.
Scotland is supposed to be the home of golf, but right now England is churning out world-class golfers while Scotland is still a golfer's dream travel destination. Colin Montgomerie was Scotland's last elite player, and he's done as a world-class competitor, which is why he agreed to be Ryder Cup captain for Europe this year.
The world's top 64 players convened in Tucson last week for the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship, minus Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson. Nine of the attendees were English, or as England's Lee Westwood pointed out, "Fifteen percent of the field is English." It's an interesting phenomenon that has managed to sneak up on the world, as Lawrence Donegan writes in the Guardian:
In the locker rooms of professional golf,
or at least those corners where the Englishmen gather, the national fascination with Andy Murray and his quest to win a grand slam tennis tournament is an occasional conversation topic. There is support for
the Scot, and also admiration for his athletic abilities. But as much
as anything there is bemusement that the efforts of one great tennis
player garner so much attention from media and public while the efforts
of an entire generation of English golfers appear to pass the country
"Sometimes people don't appreciate how good English golf is at the minute and it probably doesn't get the credit it deserves," Lee Westwood said. "They
highlight players in other sports where we have one in the top 100. In
golf they get overlooked and I don't think we should."
The Match Play turned into the All-England final as Ian Poulter defeated Paul Casey. Poulter rose to fifth in the world ranking.
From John Hopkins in the Times:
Two years ago they laughed when Ian Poulter, ranked No 22 in the world at the time, said that when he played to his full potential it would be just him and Tiger, the world No 1. The fanciful mutterings of a peacock, they thought, looking at Poulter’s exotic wardrobe. Ha, ha, ha. Well, nobody’s laughing now... Not now that he has moved to No 5 in the world, one place behind Lee Westwood and one ahead of Paul Casey, his fellow Englishmen. Not now that the absent Woods is losing world-ranking points, allowing his rivals to close on him.
Besides the obvious stars, there are players such as Oliver Wilson, who did well in the last Ryder Cup; Ross Fisher, who has contended in several majors; Luke Donald, on the rebound after battling wrist problems; and Ross McGowan, who upset top-seeded Steve Stricker in the Match Play's opening round. Westwood, Poulter and Casey are Nos. 4-5-6 in the world rankings. Fisher is 21, Donald is 23 and Wilson is 38. It wasn't so long ago that Westwood was the only Englishman ranked in the top 100. So what's going on in England?
If British tennis were similarly endowed, the Davis Cup might be a permanent fixture in the LTA's trophy room and Andy Murray
might not be so encumbered with the entire weight of a nation's
"I am not really sure," Poulter said. "I just think that there's been a lot
of great talent in England for such a long time. And it's so nice to
see guys actually deliver on the golf course. We've been waiting for a
Poulter himself is the perfect illustration of why it
is so difficult to pin down a definitive explanation for the rise of
English golf. He came up through the ranks of assistant club
professionals, turning pro with a handicap of three and spending his
formative years giving lessons to kids and selling Mars Bars in the
Of course, Scotland will be excused for not cheering the rise of English golfers as the countries are natural rivals. Martin Dempster in the Scotsman:
If watching English success on a golf course sticks in your throat, then
this could be the time for you to join you-know-who by taking an indefinite break from the game. Ian Poulter's splendid success in the WGC Accenture World Match Play Championship, after all, could just be the start of a golden year for our neighbours south of the Border.
It's 14 years since an Englishman last won a major--Nick Faldo's sixth such
success coming in the 1996 Masters, four years after he landed the last
of his three Open Championship wins at Muirfield--but don't expect great odds from any bookmaker about Poulter at the Masters.
English golf is riding on the crest of a wave at the moment, Westwood's win in the Race to Dubai last year having now been followed by Poulter's feat...
To many, Poulter has been a bit of a laughing stock since he arrived on the scene--he's hardly done himself any favours with his outrageous clothing, has he?--and certainly had everyone rolling about when, in an interview with one of Britain's top-selling golf magazines two years ago, was quoted as saying, "I know I haven't played to my full potential and when that happens, it will be just me and Tiger."
According to Poulter, that comment had been taken out of context, yet, judging by the way he has undoubtedly progressed over the last few years, the Florida-based player may well be destined to have the last laugh.
What he lacks in natural talent, however, is made up in terms of desire and determination.
The only explanation for England's rise, other than the inspiration provided in the 1980s and '90s by Faldo, was offered by Peter McEvoy, a former Walker Cup captain, quoted by Donegan:
"About 10 to 15 years ago English golf really did get its act together.
Believe it or not a lot of blazered people, who are often ridiculed, singled out good young players. I really think finding them early and putting them into competitive situations early helped a lot of these guys. For instance, 10 years ago Luke Donald was the best amateur golfer in the world and he was beating all-comers. Paul Casey was another great young amateur who did very well. In my experience, if you are beating guys from other countries when you are 20, then the chances are that you will still be beating them when you are 35."