US Open 2011: Two Americans define fighting spirit, belie nation’s strength in the game

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Steve Stricker (left) and David Toms (right) will help carry the US flag and hopes at Congressional.The Masters was first played in 1934 and joined the U.S. Open, British Open and the PGA Championship as what would become the four major championships in men’s golf. These events truly define the best golfers in the world.

It took 60 years (until 1994) for the time to come when not one American held one of these titles.   Seventeen years later, no American is a defending champion of the four major championships.  A win by a foreign born golfer at the 2011 U.S. Open at Congressional will mark the first time ever the Americans will have lost five major championships in a row. That would make for quite a piece of history.

How does it look for the Americans to stand ground ironically at our nation’s capital?  We can start with the World Golf Rankings. America is not represented in the top 3, another first.  Also, the American team is becoming the perennial underdog at The Ryder Cup Matches.  The flame no longer burns for our nation’s once significant torch bearer, Tiger Woods.  We could be looking at the beginning of a shift in power to Europe that could last for decades.

The contribution America has made in the world of golf is undeniable.  We have usually defined the best in golf.  However, I see the parallel between how other countries view us as a nation and the golfing world now views us. They think we are becoming weaker.

Now for some good red-white-and-blue news. When I saw the pairing for Thursday’s round that included Steve Stricker and David Toms, I not only saw what is great about American golf but what is great about our country.  The duo defines the fighting spirit that made us a leader in the world.

The 44-year old Steve Stricker has orchestrated one of the most amazing comebacks in golf history receiving unprecedented back-to-back PGA Tour Comeback Player of the Year Awards in 2006 and 2007.  Just five years ago, he lost his PGA Tour Card and spent the winter finding his swing. Hitting shot after shot into the snow from a three-sided trailer at his home golf course in Madison, Wisconsin help Stricker turn the tide. 

Today, Steve is the 4th ranked golfer in the world and one of the most modest, nicest and respected names in golf.  I saw it firsthand when his fellow PGA Tour friend Jerry Kelly, also from Madison, won the Zurich Classic in 2009.  During the awards ceremony on the 18th green, Stricker was over to the side in street clothes to be there for his friend.  I am certain no one knew who it was; that is the way Steve wanted it, a true touch of class.

You then have another 44-year old in David Toms who after fighting injury upon injury and going over five years without a win. After missing a four footer to lose The Players Championship in a playoff, you could see the hurt with his family there for him. It hurt many of us watching it on tv. 

But Toms is not the type to give up; that is not his nature. I have admired Toms’ career and fighting spirit since he was a junior golfer from Shreveport and an All-America at LSU.  The following week, David won the prestigious Colonial Invitational in Fort Worth.  The win defines another one of golf’s great comebacks.

This week, when I am watch Steve Stricker and David Toms at the U.S. Open, I will have a good feeling that America will find its place once again as the world leader in golf.  It is not so much if either one win, it is what they stand for as the positive influence they are passing down to our young golfers coming up the ranks.  

I see the beginning of another great comeback in American golf, based on hard work and character, a trait upon which America was founded. Our nation, and our golfers, will find the way back to the top again.

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