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Suddenly, Majors Have a Foreign Feel : Golf: The PGA Championship, which begins today, is the last chance Americans have this year to win a big one.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Here’s today’s golf quiz: What is important, shows up four times a year and belongs to foreigners?

Of course, it’s a major tournament, namely the Masters, U.S. Open and British Open, which this year have been about as American as paella.

Beginning with Jose Maria Olazabal of Spain, who got the golf ball rolling with his victory in the Masters, the trophies from the majors have become foreign possessions.

After Olazabal’s success at Augusta, South Africans Ernie Els and Nick Price won the U.S. Open and British Open.

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You know what this means, don’t you?

The PGA Championship, last major of the year beginning today in heat and humidity at Southern Hills Country Club, offers the final chance for Americans to avoid making golf history.

Never have U.S. golfers failed to win at least one major event in a year since the Masters joined the other three in 1934.

This could be the first time, unless something happens by Sunday.

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John Daly said he thinks an American is going to win it this year, even though it probably isn’t going to be him and he had a hard time thinking of somebody.

“I really feel that way . . . I think if Fuzzy (Zoeller) starts making some putts, I think he’s got a really good shot at winning,” Daly said.

American golfers are well aware they’re getting shut out in the majors. If it’s bothering them, well, nobody says so.

Typical are the comments by Fred Couples.

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Couples said he doesn’t even remember who won the other majors in 1992, when he won the Masters. (Note to Fred: Tom Kite won the U.S. Open, Nick Faldo the British Open and Price the PGA.)

“It doesn’t really matter to me,” Couples said. “You know I go out there and try and play. If I don’t win and my best buddy doesn’t win, I don’t care if it’s a guy from here or there because (he is) the best player that week.

“That doesn’t mean we should have some kind of feeling that he’s not an American.

“You know, would it be nice for an American to win? Sure. Would it be nice for a foreigner to win? Yes. It’s never been done to win all four of them.”

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It’s certain somebody is going to win on the 6,834-yard, par-70 layout, a tree-lined excursion through Oklahoma real estate that begs shotmaking and course management more than long-ball drives.

Faldo said his style of play seems right for Southern Hills.

“It’s not a blasting golf course, it’s all positioning,” he said. “That suits me.”

Most of the holes are doglegs and the greens are on the smallish side. The rough is not especially tall, but is thick and difficult to play aggressively because of the trees.

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“You’ve got to fade drives,” said Couples, who is going to a three-wood every hole and may not even use a driver. “I don’t even know if there is a straight hole.”

According to Couples, the greens are “semi-slow,” the rough “semi-thick.” And if an American golfer doesn’t win, it won’t be semi-tough to believe.

There are 37 foreign golfers in the PGA, and a foreign player has won the PGA twice in the last four years--Wayne Grady in 1990 and Price in 1992.

In fact, foreign golfers have won six of the last seven Masters. Non-Americans have also won 10 of the last 11 British Opens. The U.S. Open is the last major stronghold for American golfers, who had won 12 in a row until Els’ victory in June at Oakmont.

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Lanny Wadkins might have a vested interest in this foreign-American thing because he is the Ryder Cup captain, an event in which nationality is all important.

Wadkins’ U.S. team will defend its title next year against the Europeans at Oak Hill in Rochester, N.Y.

As far as any other tournament goes, including majors, no one is checking the passport of the winner, Wadkins said, adding:.

“The only time we really wear the flag on our sleeve, so to speak, is in Ryder Cup matches. We’re out here for ourselves. I don’t have a team out here right now. It’s just me. I could use a team right now.”

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In these majors, the foreign team has a big lead.

PGA Notes

Is there a whammy on Lanny? Lanny Wadkins said here’s how you tell: “I’ve been hitting it short and crooked, which is not a good combination.” This is true. It hasn’t been such a great year for Wadkins, 44, the Ryder Cup captain who has been playing like a buck private. Wadkins has played in 19 tournaments and made the cut only five times. Besides a tie for 18th in the Masters, his best other finish is a tie for 50th in the Hawaiian Open. The 1977 PGA champion hasn’t won a tournament in two years but believes he is on the rebound after studying a series of photographs of his swing taken the year he won his only major title at Pebble Beach. “I saw me swinging real good,” Wadkins said. “I’ll play well again. There’s nothing wrong with me physically. I don’t have any nerve problems. . . .at least, I won’t until I’m sitting there watching these guys play at Ryder Cup.”

John Daly doesn’t sound too confident about his chances in the PGA, which he won three years ago at Crooked Stick. “I don’t think I’ve ever hit the ball as bad as I’m doing right now,” said Daly, who has played three practice rounds at Southern Hills. He is also having muscle trouble in his lower back, which is affecting his swing. “I’m having major problems following through,” he said. “I’m leaving a lot of my shots way right. Actually shanked a couple. Now I know how amateurs feel.”

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Jack Nicklaus said he isn’t saying anything more regarding his recent comments about the small number of blacks in pro golf, as reported recently by the Vancouver Province. Nicklaus was quoted as saying, “Blacks have different muscles that react in different ways.”


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