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LORAN SMITH COLUMN: Will an American win the year's final major?

Loran Smith

Loran Smith

The PGA Championship had its beginning in 1916, which was also the year the PGA was formed. Department store owner Rodman Wanamaker provided the impetus for the origination of the tournament.

Late this Sunday afternoon, some professional will be awarded the Wanamaker trophy, which is about the biggest trophy there is in golf. If the recent trend continues, it means some player, other than one with a U. S. address, will hoist the Wanamaker trophy in celebration.

The first winner of the PGA Championship was Jim Barnes of England in 1916. After World War I when there were no championships held, Barnes won again in 1919. From that point until 1947, when Jim Ferrier of Australia claimed the Wanamaker Trophy, the PGA title was the exclusive property of Americans. It has pretty much been that way until three years ago when Irish pro Padraig Harrington was the winner. Korea's Yang Yong-eun succeeded him, and last year it was Germany's Martin Kaymer taking first prize.

Since Barnes won in 1919, only twelve non-Americans have won the PGA title event, but the trend in majors of late has favored those with a passport from somewhere other than the United States. Traditionally, it was always Americans who dominated all the majors.

There are those who believe that these trends are cyclical, that Americans will return to dominance. A prevailing view is that it will have to be someone other than Tiger Woods, but a seasoned opinion among many so-called experts suggests that Tiger is not yet finished and that he will win again. Don't write him off just yet.

Where we are today was forecast by none other than Jack Nicklaus at the Open at St. Andrews in 2005. Tiger Woods was dominating the championship on his way to a second British Open title. Nicklaus conceded that there didn't seem to be anyone on the tour who could beat Tiger, but also pointed out that at that very moment there was a young player out there somewhere working diligently on his game and would someday compete with Tiger.

Nicklaus has always contended that someone will eventually better his record of 18 professional majors. For a while it appeared that Tiger was a cinch. Now doubt seems to be seeping in with Tiger facing multiple issues, including being beset by, among other things, a nasty public divorce. What is making a difference more than anything else is that he doesn't seem to be able to putt like he did during his title run prior in the nineties and the first 10 years of this decade.

In a conversation with Lee Trevino in Dallas back in the spring, he noted that left knee problems are something that a golfer wants to avoid -- because of the shifting of weight through to the left side. Ernie experienced left knee surgery in 2005. Since then, his resume reads like this: no majors, no PGA Tour wins, but seven European and South African Tour tournament victories.

Tiger's challenge is not only rehab from knee surgery, lifestyle adjustment and putting difficulties -- but the advent of young players who are fearless. They believe they can beat him and lately, it is obvious that those who are winning the majors are young professionals who have emerged into prominence just as Nicklaus predicted a little more than five years ago.

Nicklaus, who faced competition from several championship players in his prime, principally Tom Watson, with eight majors, and Lee Trevino, with six majors, won the PGA five times, the most in medal play history.

If Tiger doesn't regain dominance, it would appear that it will be a long time before one player will dominate again -- just too many capable, young players out there with major championship aspirations.