- Ron Sirak, Golf
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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
Dealing with the first issue first, learning how to win comes only from
being in position to win and figuring out how to pull off the shots when
the pressure is at its peak. Neither Sheehan nor Quigley had ever led
going into the final round of a PGA Tour event, and it showed. Sheehan
was one stroke ahead of Franco going to the back nine then played Nos.
11, 12 and 13 four over par. Quigley didn't implode as dramatically but
he didn't get it done either. He made only one birdie over his last 11
holes, not good enough to win on the PGA Tour. Still, both likely
learned from the experience and may perform better next time they have
the opportunity to win.
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
Lots of golfers can contend, but it takes a certain mentality to become a winner in any tournament.