Just Win, Baby
Anyone who doubts there is a thing called learning how to win needed only to watch the back nine of the U.S. Bank Championship in Milwaukee. Patrick Sheehan and Brett Quigley played in the last group of the day and entered Sunday's final round with a combined zero PGA Tour victories. They concluded play with that number intact, passed by Carlos Franco who picked up his fourth career victory on tour. And anyone who doubts that the United States no longer dominates the game of golf need only look at weekend leaderboards. Paraguayans won as many tournaments as Americans.
Also learning to win over the weekend were Korean-born Sihwan Kim and Julieta Granada of Paraguay. Kim, 15 and now of Fullerton, Calif., defeated 14-year-old David Chung of Fayetteville, N.C., 1-up in the U.S. Junior Amateur on Saturday. Kim became the second youngest to win the title -- he's 22 days older than Tiger Woods was when he took the first of his three boy's junior titles -- and Chung would have been the youngest. Granada defeated fellow 17-year-old Jane Park on the 20th hole to win the U.S. Girls' Junior.
The girls' junior might have been most noteworthy for who wasn't there. Michelle Wie, 14, who was knocked out in the third round of the girls' junior last year, was in France playing in the Evian Masters on a sponsor's exemption. She finished T-33.
The question becomes this: Does a 14 year old learn more from finishing 33rd in a professional tournament or by winning -- or even losing in the finals -- of a major junior event? Wie has now played in 15 LPGA tournaments and finished in the top 10 twice. While that is impressive the experiences on Sunday of Sheehan and Quigley clearly show there is a big difference between finishing in the top 10 and winning. It is an entirely different kind of pressure. The only way to learn how to close out an opponent, how to close out a tournament, is to have to do it.
There is another major junior tournament this week, the Independent Insurance Agent Junior Classic, which includes among its past champions Woods and former PGA Championship winner Bob Tway. Both have relatives in the 36th IIAJC. Tiger's niece, Cheyenne Woods, is in the field as is Tway's son, Kevin. Cheyenne Woods, unlike Wie, is following the path to the pros taken by her uncle -- getting competitively tough in junior competition. In 35 junior tournaments dating back to Aug. 3, 2001, Cheyenne has 12 championships, eight second-place finishes and five thirds. Cheyenne may not be getting the headlines Wie receives, but she is learning how to win.
As for the continued evidence of America's slide from its former position as the overwhelming power in golf, the only winners over the weekend from the United States were Peter Oakley, a club pro from Delaware, in the Senior British Open and Charles Warren in the Nationwide Tour tournament. Wendy Doolan and Brett Rumford, both of Australia, won the Evian Masters and Irish Open respectively to join Franco, Kim and Granada as non-American winners this weekend. In fact, in the Evian event three of the four Americans among the top 17 were Meg Mallon, Juli Inkster and Rosie Jones -- all in their 40s.
So far, the United States Golf Association has conducted six of its national championships this year and four have been won by non-Americans. Retief Goosen won the U.S. Open, Kim and Granada won the boys' and girls' juniors, and 15-year-old Ya-Ni Tseng of Taiwan won the Women's Amateur Public Links. Mallon in the Women's Open and Ryan Moore in the Men's Public Links were the American winners.
The good news in all of this is that the future of competitive golf has never been brighter. The emergence of golf as a truly international sport can only be a good thing. The depth of young talent on the horizon likely is also an indication that the first wave of the Tiger Effect is about to hit golf. All those 14- and 15-year-olds out there winning tournaments were six and seven years old when Woods turned professional. It is likely that his compelling play, dynamic personality and multi-ethnic background inspired this current crop of talent.
And those young players who paid close attention to Woods' career are also aware that part of his education as a golfer was not just to learn how to hit the shots but to learn how to hit them when it mattered most -- learn how to win. Earl Woods once said that he did not want Tiger to turn pro until he felt his son "could play with the big boys and could believe he could beat them." Earl Woods set out to develop a mindset of domination in his son by having him conquer the junior ranks. It was not until after Woods had won three consecutive U.S. Junior Amateurs and three consecutive U.S. Amateurs that he turned professional. It was not until after he had learned how to win.
Ron Sirak is the Executive Editor of Golf World magazine
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