The motivation came, as it so often does for professional
golfers, from the loose lips of Johnny Miller. During last
Friday's telecast the NBC announcer was riffing on the fact that
only one European has won the U.S. Open since 1927, that being
Tony Jacklin, 30 years ago. Miller intimated that the mere
presence of "United States" in the tournament title takes
Europeans out of their comfort zone, and he used the word
intimidated. Hearing all this, Chubby Chandler went apoplectic.
One of the most powerful agents in Europe, Chandler represents
Darren Clarke and Lee Westwood, among many others, and he is a
tireless booster of golf on the other side of the Atlantic.
"Pathetic, absolutely pathetic," Chandler said of Miller's
comments. "The man was very close to sounding like an idiot."
On Friday evening Chandler dined in the Tap Room at the Pebble
Beach Lodge, with Clarke and Westwood and their good buddy Thomas
Bjorn, the brooding prince of Danish golf. Miller and his
opinions were the main topics of discussion. By the next morning
Miller's words had spread throughout the field at Pebble Beach,
his name taken in vain in everything from an Irish brogue to an
English lilt to Castilian Spanglish.
Over the past two decades the Europeans have dominated the Ryder
Cup and Augusta. Through three rounds at Pebble Beach, half the
10 players immediately behind Tiger Woods were European. By
tournament's end four Europeans were among the top 10 finishers.
All this despite the fact that only 13 Europeans were in the
156-man field at the start of the week.
In truth, the Europeans' storming of the Beach had to do with
more than Miller popping off. After years of futility, the boys
from across the pond are ready to become a consistent force at
the U.S. Open. What was especially noteworthy about the success
of the Europeans at this Open was that many of the headliners
were fresh faces just beginning to get acquainted with the rigors
of our national championship. Yes, a revitalized Nick Faldo
checked in with a surprising seventh-place finish, and stalwart
Jose Maria Olazabal placed 12th, but a quartet of relative
newcomers made most of the noise: Padraig Harrington (tied for
fifth), the 28-year-old Irishman who displayed the same
rock-solid game that made him one of the stars at last year's
Ryder Cup; Miguel Angel Jimenez (tied for second), 36, the late
bloomer from Spain, who churned out one ugly par after another;
England's Westwood, 27, who continued to justify his billing as
"the next Nick Faldo" with a tie for fifth, his second top 10 at
the Open in three years; and Bjorn, 29, who played in the final
pairing with Woods on Saturday but faded to 46th. These players
carried the flag for European golf without any help from a trio
of pretournament favorites: Colin Montgomerie (46th place),
Clarke (53rd) and Jesper Parnevik (who injured a hip three days
before the tournament and limped en route to missing the cut).
June 25, 2000
"All the young guys have been here a couple times, and they are
getting used to playing this championship," says Bjorn. "Now we
know what we're getting into--it takes a while to understand what
it's all about. I think that's why you see more Europeans on the
leader board and why I think you'll see even more in the future."
Bjorn is indicative of Europe's new breed. The strength of his
game is tee to green, and it was superior ball striking,
especially with his long irons, that propelled him to opening
rounds of 70-70, which put him in second place (along with
Jimenez), six strokes behind Woods. Bjorn got blown away in the
high winds of Saturday afternoon, shooting an 82, but he counts
his fourth U.S. Open as a moral victory. "The first two rounds
showed I have the game to do well over here," he said. "If you
can put two rounds together, there's no reason you can't put four
As well as Bjorn hits it, his overall long game is still a notch
below Europe's best, and he knows it. "Throw out Tiger, and Monty
and Darren are the two most impressive ball strikers in the
world," said Bjorn. That both struggled last week does nothing to
diminish their future chances of victory. As for Westwood, his
strong finish was especially impressive given that one of his
strengths--a towering trajectory to his irons that makes any pin
accessible--worked against him at blustery Pebble Beach. At future
Opens his kind of iron play will come in handy. Jimenez, too, has
a game that is well suited to other Open sites. In addition to
being a masterly putter, "he is one of the great drivers of the
ball in golf," says Woods. Jimenez, nicknamed the Mechanic for
his blue-collar work ethic, is also a world-class plodder, rarely
altering his purse-lipped expression, no matter how dire the shot
at hand. Clearly the stereotype of the scrambling European making
pars from the car park needs updating.
Says Chandler, a former regular on the European tour, "Understand
this: We don't grow long grass on our courses. In the past the
top Europeans played only at home, and their games reflected it.
That's why Ballesteros could never win the U.S. Open. Much has
changed since his day."
Also, thanks to the World Golf Championships the top Europeans
are spending more time in the States. Parnevik and Faldo have
even decamped for Florida, making the PGA Tour their home tour,
and Sergio Garcia may not be far behind. U.S. Open conditions,
though extreme, are no longer wholly unfamiliar. "As I recall,
there was more than a little rough when I won in New Orleans,"
Westwood says of his first PGA Tour victory, at the 1998 Freeport
McDermott Classic. (The Europeans have taken more than just
trophies from the PGA Tour. Harrington was so impressed by the
fitness regimens of his American counterparts that he has
forsaken the pub for the gym and lost 25 pounds--and, he says,
added about 25 yards off the tee.)
Probably the single biggest factor in the Europeans' resurgence
at the Open is that they believe they can contend. This seismic
shift in attitude dates back to Faldo's breakthrough at the 1988
Open, when he lost an 18-hole playoff. Over the next four years
he twice finished in the top 4, including in 1992, at Pebble
Beach. That was the Open in which Montgomerie made his debut on
the world stage, finishing third. He, too, would go on to lose a
playoff, in 1994, and three years later finish second yet again.
Westwood, like many of Europe's young guns, was coming of age as
a golfer during this run of excellence. "It proved it could be
done," he says.
This confidence has only continued to grow. After just four
cracks at the Open, Westwood now boasts that it is the major best
suited for his game. Montgomerie calls the Open his favorite
tournament. In fact, his fixation is so strong that it may
explain his annual undoing. After a birdie on the 6th hole on
Friday, Monty was even for the tournament and among the leaders,
but he stumbled home with six bogies. Afterward, he was so
disconsolate that all he could do was mutter about his unlucky
draw and whine about having had to wait for the driving range
shuttles. Faldo, a three-time winner of both the Masters and the
British Open, is similarly obsessed with the U.S. Open, saying on
the eve of this year's tournament, "It is the only thing missing
in my career."
Though he has been mired in a slump since his last major triumph,
at the '96 Masters, Faldo, 42, remains among golf's most
fanatical practicers and one of the swing's most ardent students.
His Sisyphean struggle over the past three-plus years has been
painful to watch, but Faldo is finally showing signs of regaining
his form. Late last season he put together a pair of top 10
finishes, his first on Tour since the middle of '97. In April he
made the cut at the Masters for the first time since '96, and the
first round of this U.S. Open was nothing less than a full-blown
revival: Faldo shot a sterling 69, hitting 11 fairways and taking
a mere 22 putts. He would follow with rounds of 74-76-71. Of
being back in contention, he said, "I'll learn from it, analyze
it, practice off it, and hopefully it will lead to better things
the rest of the year."
In the wake of Woods's runaway victory, everyone else in the
field was left grasping for moral victories. The Europeans had
the most to celebrate. "It is great to see all the partners up
there," Jimenez said, with the inclusionary spirit typical of the
"It's a numbers game," added Westwood. "When we have less than 10
percent of the field, it's hard to break through, but it will
happen soon, I'm quite sure of that."
Before heading home to Worksop, England, Westwood had a final
thought. "I look at the board, and I see a lot of Europeans and
not very many Americans," he said. "I'd like to hear what Johnny
Miller has to say about that."
Through three rounds at Pebble Beach, half the 10 players
immediately behind Woods were European.