IN 1987 Ian Woos­nam won the Jer­sey Open, the Madrid Open, the Scot­tish Open, the Trophee Lan­come, the World Match Play Cham­pi­onship, the Hong Kong Open, the Sun City Mil­lion Dol­lar Chal­lenge, the World Cup in­di­vid­ual and team (along­side David Llewellyn) tro­phies and was a star per­former in the Euro­pean Ry­der Cup side that won for the first time on US soil at Muir­field Vil­lage. By al­most any mea­sure, the then 29-year old Welsh­man was the best player in the world that sea­son.

And yet. The fol­low­ing June, when Cur­tis Strange de­feated Nick Faldo in a play-off for the US Open ti­tle, Woos­nam was watch­ing at home on tele­vi­sion. No, he hadn’t missed the cut in Amer­ica’s na­tional cham­pi­onship; he sim­ply hadn’t met any of the ex­emp­tion cri­te­ria through which he could have gained en­try to the start­ing line-up. Un­be­liev­able.

These days, such bla­tant point-miss­ing/ xeno­pho­bia/bias – call it what you will – is less com­mon. But un­til rel­a­tively re­cently the three Amer­i­can ma­jors were far less ac­ces­si­ble to play­ers born with­out an Un­cle Sam. When Seve Balles­teros be­came the first player from the Old World to win the Masters Tour­na­ment in 1980, only four Euro­peans were in the field. And one of them was an am­a­teur. That same year, Peter Ooster­huis (who missed the cut) was the only man from the east­ern end of the At­lantic Ocean to com­pete in the US PGA Cham­pi­onship at Oak Hill.

And yet (2). While it is hap­pily true that golf’s four most im­por­tant events are to­day more en­light­ened when it comes to de­cid­ing who plays and who does not, ma­jor cham­pi­onship per­for­mance con­tin­ues to play a large part in his­tor­i­cal mea­sures of qual­ity – or oth­er­wise. Which is non­sense.

Take Neil Coles, a man who never once played in ei­ther the US Open or the US PGA and with­drew from his only Masters in 1966. Yes, the now 83-year old English­man’s re­luc­tance to fly has much to do with the paucity of his ap­pear­ances state­side. But, no mat­ter, his in­abil­ity to reg­u­larly tee-up along­side Amer­ica’s best has harmed his le­gacy. Which is crazy. Does any­one who saw Coles in his prime re­ally think this beau­ti­ful golfer was in any way in­fe­rior to the likes of Dave Stock­ton, Lou Gra­ham, Gay Brewer, Ge­orge Archer, Bob Goalby and Don Jan­uary? All of those guys won ma­jor ti­tles dur­ing Coles’ peak years.

The same ar­gu­ment can eas­ily be ap­plied to Peter Al­liss. In his con­sid­er­able pomp – be­fore the putting yips set in – the man who would be­come golf’s finest com­men­ta­tor was a bril­liant ball striker. Tee-to-green, few were bet­ter than Al­liss, who was good enough to beat Arnold Palmer then halve with Tony Lema at the 1963 Ry­der Cup in At­lanta. But, like Coles, Al­liss never played in ei­ther the US Open or the US PGA. And only twice did he com­pete in the Masters. This in­equity con­tin­ued into the next gen­er­a­tion. Who doesn’t think the likes of Mark James, Ken Brown, Howard Clark and Sam Tor­rance are not at least the equals of, say, Bob Tway, Larry Mize and Jeff Sluman? Yet the Amer­i­cans will all be re­mem­bered as ma­jor cham­pi­ons, the win­ners of events the Bri­tish quar­tet hardly ever played in. A quick com­par­i­son be­tween, say, Clark and Tway, is re­veal­ing. Clark played in 27 Grand Slam events but only four in the United States. Tway was in the field for 71 ma­jors, 55 of those on his home ground. Who was the bet­ter golfer? Clark, at least in the realm of ball-strik­ing. But his­tory will no doubt take a dif­fer­ent view. Be­cause Tway is for­ever a “ma­jor cham­pion.” Per­haps the most egre­gious vic­tim of US bias is South Africa’s Bobby Locke (pic­tured). Again, the record books will sug­gest that the best play­ers in the world dur­ing the late 1940s were Sam Snead, Ben Hogan and By­ron Nel­son – all Amer­i­can and all mul­ti­ple ma­jor cham­pi­ons. But here’s the thing. Locke played in the US for two and half years at that time, win­ning 11 of the 59 events he started and fin­ish­ing in the top-three more than half the time. He would also go on to win four Open Cham­pi­onships be­tween 1949 and 1957. Such a record clearly had the Amer­i­cans wor­ried. Spu­ri­ously cit­ing his fail­ure to show up for a cou­ple of mi­nor events, the US Tour sus­pended Locke. At least that was the pub­lic ver­sion. Pri­vately, as for­mer Masters cham­pion Claude Har­mon was moved to ad­mit, “Locke was sim­ply too good. They had to ban him.” So there you have it. Next time you hear Jack Nick­laus was a bet­ter player than Tiger Woods be­cause he won more ma­jor ti­tles, take a closer look at the ev­i­dence. Of­ten enough, all is not what it might seem.

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