Teeing Off: Is American golf back on the upswing?

Devil Ball Golf

Welcome to the new season of Teeing Off, where Devil Ball editor Jay Busbee and head writer Jonathan Wall take a day's topic and smack it all over the course. Suggest a future topic by writing jay.busbee@yahoo.com, or hit us on Twitter at @jaybusbee and @jonathanrwall.

Before we begin, we want to take a moment to thank our pal Shane Bacon for years of fine service here at Yahoo! Sports and Devil Ball. Shane is now the top golf blog dog over at CBS Sports, and we not only wish him well, we'll be reading him constantly. And we'll bring him back every so often for guest appearances.

Today, we consider whether the current run of American victory heralds a resurgence of stateside golf.

Busbee: With Bill Haas' triumph at Riviera Sunday, American golfers are now seven-for-seven in PGA Tour events this year. USA! USA! But let's go beyond slogans and dig a little deeper. For the last few years, we've heard of this "decline in American golf," as if the rest of the world were starting to kick sand in our faces in the post-Tiger era. First question for you, sir: do you believe American golf was in decline?

Wall: I think so. You look at all the foreign-born guys at the top of the World Golf Rankings and it's not difficult to see that the Stars and Stripes had a rough go of it in 2011. Sure, a bunch of young American players broke out last season and made some serious headway, but for the second straight season, American golfers only won one major championship. I know everyone is excited about the seven-for-seven start on the PGA Tour, but we can't call this a comeback until these guys start contending with the best in the world on the major championship stage. Wouldn't you agree?

Busbee: See, I question the entire premise of the "USA on the downswing" argument. One break here or there in just the last 18 months or so (Dustin Johnson closes out any of the three majors he's eyed, Bubba wins the PGA playoff, Phil rallies to take the British) and we're looking at a completely different perspective on American golf. The differential between the various rankings is so narrow now that a good American three-week charge will skew them. But to your point, yes, Americans need to capitalize on their potential. Which American do you see as the best bet to break through at a major this year?

Wall: You make a good point about Dustin, Bubba and Phil being a break away from blowing up the American  golf decline talk. Hopefully this time around someone will actually close the deal, and I think that guy could be Phil Mickelson. I know he failed to close on Sunday at Riviera, but I think Lefty has a great shot the way he's playing at the moment. I honestly think he could win multiple majors this year if he keeps the putter going.

Busbee: And wouldn't that be a fine story? Everybody wants so badly to believe Woods is ready, but there's obviously something really missing from his arsenal; if he were a cornerback, we'd call it closing speed. The problem is that so many of the key Americans -- Mickelson, Woods, Dustin Johnson, Rickie Fowler, Hunter Mahan -- have such major current flaws in one aspect of their games. I think the best American bet right now to win a major is a low-key, reliable player like Bill Haas, Keegan Bradley or Steve Stricker. Question is, does American golf need a more charismatic winner ... or should we just worry about winning and let charisma take care of itself?

Wall: Bill Haas is a name you don't hear about too often, and I think that's a damn shame. But the reason he doesn't get a lot of respect or fanfare is because he lacks the charisma to captivate an audience. I know Tiger Woods was a one-in-a-lifetime golfer and his impact on the sport was unlike anything we've ever seen before, but American golf desperately needs a guy with a personality to be the face of American golf. Who knows, maybe Bill Haas will prove me wrong, but I'm just not sure his name would tip the scale if he won a major this year. While there's nothing wrong with that, I'd love to see a charismatic player like Rickie Fowler or Phil Mickelson win and get the golf world talking again. Reliable definitely works, but I think you need both. The only problem is I think I'm asking for too much.

Busbee: You were the kind of kid who made the ten-page annotated Christmas list, weren't you? Thing is, I agree with you ... golf needs stars with both talent and charisma. Virtually every iconic player in history has combined both. And while McIlroy has it, many of the best Americans don't. Maybe Bill Haas should change his name to Chainsaw. That'd be a good start.

All right, your turn. Are we in the midst of an American resurgence, or do we need more proof?

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