Who will be America's next golf legend? Take your pick

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Hunter Mahan, one of the top names at the Travelers Championship, is in the conversation for the next top American.
June 22, 2011
Brian Wacker, PGATOUR.COM

CROMWELL, Conn. -- The British are coming. So are the Australians, the Irish, the Asians, the Italians and the South Africans.

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The Americans? There are plenty of good ones -- Bubba Watson and Mark Wilson have each won twice on the PGA TOUR this season -- but the last time a Yank hoisted a trophy in a major was at the 2010 Masters.

And even then it was Phil Mickelson, who just turned 41 last week -- nearly twice the age of Boy Wonder Rory McIlroy, who at 22 years old became the youngest winner of the U.S. Open in 88 years.

McIlroy is the fifth straight non-American player to win a major. In fact, 10 of the last 14 majors have gone to international players, and Englishman Luke Donald leads the FedExCup.

Of course it wasn't all that long ago that Americans were winning seemingly everything. Blame Tiger Woods for that.

For over a decade, Woods carried the flag. Phil Mickelson and Jim Furyk did too, but it was Woods who did the most damage with 71 wins on TOUR, including 14 major championships.

"Golf is getting more -- it's more normal now," Geoff Ogilvy said Wednesday at the Travelers Championship. "The last 15 years were abnormal. It was pretty strange to have a guy that much better than everyone else and to win that many golf tournaments.

"Even when (Jack) Nicklaus was winning everything, he was beating multiple major winners every week, I mean all-time legends."

Who will be the next American legend?

Many have tabbed 22-year-old Rickie Fowler, though for all his talent he's winless in 51 starts on TOUR. And he'll have to wait at least another week after missing the Travelers Championship because of a slight knee injury.

Others have cast Dustin Johnson, 26, as the next dominant U.S. player.

Watson, who himself has three wins in the last 12 months, including one here at TPC River Highlands last year, has a different prediction.

"Before, there was one guy we were naming; he could win a lot more," Watson said. "But when you start naming 50 guys who have a chance to win ... to win one major, two majors, multiple tournaments, it's harder to do because the competition is getting better and better.

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"The world's getting so small now. I see the golf world changing. Tiger was so dominant and Jack was so dominant, but now we have 20, 30, 40 guys who are going to start winning multiple times."

They already have.

Parity has ruled the TOUR this year with 24 different winners in 26 events.

Among them were players from Venezuela, Australia, South Africa, Scotland, South Korea and Northern Ireland.

In terms of majors, Woods has accumulated 14 in just over 10 years time. The next highest total during that era belongs to Mickelson with four.

Nicklaus is, of course, the gold standard with a record 18 majors to his name, but Tom Watson also won eight and Lee Trevino six during Jack's era.

"We're in a cycle," said Paul Goydos, who likened golf to tennis and the years since Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi were dominating their sport. "[Europe] has these institutes of sport. That helps, too. I think they've just caught up to us.

"I don't think golf is owned by America. We just had a good run and we had Tiger Woods."

But not all think America's dominance in golf is over.

"I think the American golf is probably a little better than what it's been given credit for," Furyk said. "Rickie Fowler, Hunter Mahan, Dustin Johnson, Nick Watney. Those are the four that just come to mind just immediately. Pick an area of the world and I'll pick those four against anyone."

Bubba Watson agrees.

"Right now everyone's dominant," he said. "A few years from now it'll be another dominant player."

The only question is whether he'll be an American.

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