Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Where Have All the Texans Gone?

That's the title of Jason Sobel's latest "Weekly 18" posted on espn.com. Sobel begins with this:

Chad Campbell owns three career PGA Tour victories. He's currently ranked sixth on the money list. And if there's a ranking of best players without a major championship title, he's creeping closer to the top every day. In short, the guy's a pretty solid professional golfer. At 17th in the World Ranking, Campbell is the top Texas native around.

Same goes for tour veterans Scott Verplank, Bart Bryant and Justin Leonard. Good players, but hardly Hall of Fame talents.

This quartet of Texans -- the only four Lone Star State natives ranked in the world's top 50 -- are the best Texas has to offer these days. As a whole, however, they don't exactly conjure up memories of Hogan, Nelson, Demaret, Trevino, Kite and Crenshaw, to name a handful of major championship winners from the state.

In April of last year, I ranked the then-best Texans on tour, and made a similar observation in passing: that the current crop of Texans fails to live up to the state's storied golf history.

Well, duh! Hogan, Nelson, Trevino? Unless you're Phil Mickelson or Tiger Woods these days, you're going to have a hard time living up to that!

In other words, I've come to believe that this angle on Texas golfers is way overplayed right now.

Imagine this: there's a national fourball tournament in which one twosome from each state enters. Texas' twosome would be Chad Campbell and Justin Leonard. What other states could produce a twosome that is clearly better than that?

By my count, one: California (Woods and Mickelson). There are other states that might be slight favorites over Texas' twosome, but any differences would be small. Campbell, as Sobel pointed out, is currently sixth on the money list. But he's one of only seven Americans currently in the Top 20 (Scott Verplank just misses the cut at No. 21 as of this writing).

Campbell is clearly one of the Top 10 American golfers on Tour right now, arguably one of the Top 5. And Scott Verplank is arguably in the Top 10, but is certainly in the Top 20. Leonard isn't having a great year, but I put him in my twosome to demonstrate a point.

That point is this: Leonard, considered for the strength of his career, isn't out of place in a discussion of the next-best American golfers, behind Woods and Mickelson, over the past 10-15 years.

Sure, Jim Furyk and David Toms are much stronger candidates. OK, they're just stronger, not much stronger:

Justin Leonard - 10 wins, 1 major
Jim Furyk - 11 wins, 1 major
David Toms - 12 wins, 1 major

The difference is that Furyk and Toms are in contention more often and therefore pile up more money (and TV time). But Leonard is a highly accomplished player. His career totals, right now (when he presumably has some good years left in him), place him a notch above the Scott Hochs and Kenny Perrys of the PGA Tour - and that ain't nothing to sneeze at.

So the reason people can ask "where have all the Texans gone?" isn't because the current crop of Texans isn't very good or isn't very deep, it's because the best Texas golfers were among the best-ever. And that's a high bar for anyone to live up to.

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