The death of golf’s Cinderellas

For the nearly the last decade Cinderella’s invitation to the ball has been lost in the mail at golf’s major championships. And it doesn’t look she’s getting invited back anytime soon.

Which probably suits those that control the game just fine. Unlike most sports, golf’s underdogs aren’t widely celebrated.

Instead it’s usually an indictment on how a major championship is remembered if someone outside of the sport’s upper echelon wins the whole thing. The players are viewed more Lou Bega than Valparaiso.

That always struck me as odd considering how insanely good these guys have to be to even make it to the PGA Tour. Let alone qualify and compete in the major championships.

Brooks Koepka entered the week ranked third in the world and will leave as No. 1 after a dominating performance at the PGA Championship. He continues the recent trend of only highly-ranked players winning major championships.

Jimmy Walker’s 2016 PGA Championship victory was the last anomaly. Ranked No. 48 at the time, he is one of only three players ranked outside the top 25 in the world to win a major championship since 2011. I chose ’11 as a starting point for this exercise because it was almost a clean sweep for Cinderella that year at the majors.

Rory McIlroy won his first major at the U.S. Open, entering the week ranked No. 8 in the world, but the other major winners that year were ranked 108th (Keegan Bradley, PGA), 87th (Darren Clarke, British Open) and 29th (Charles Schwartzel, Masters) in the world. I certainly wouldn’t have guessed Schwartzel was the second-highest ranked champion that year.

Since then only Ernie Els (ranked 40th when he won the 2012 British Open), Walker and Martin Kaymer (ranked 28th when he won the 2014 U.S. Open) have crashed the party. Even then, only Walker really felt like an underdog considering Els already had 3 major championships and Kaymer was a former world No. 1 with a  PGA Championship.

MastersRanking PGA ChampionshipRanking U.S. OpenRanking British OpenRanking
2019Tiger Woods12Brooks Koepka3
2018Patrick Reed24Brooks Koepka4Brooks Koepka9Francesco Molinari15
2017Sergio García11Justin Thomas14Brooks Koepka22Jordan Spieth3
2016Danny Willett12Jimmy Walker48Dustin Johnson6Henrik Stenson6
2015Jordan Spieth4Jason Day5Jordan Spieth2Zach Johnson25
2014Bubba Watson12Rory McIlroy 1Martin Kaymer28Rory McIlroy8
2013Adam Scott7Jason Duffner21Justin Rose5Phil Mickelson5
2012Bubba Watson16Rory McIlroy 3Webb Simpson14Ernie Els40
2011Charesl Schwartzel29Keegan Bradley108Rory McIlroy 8Darren Clarke87

Even winners who might not have been as familiar to American fans were ranked higher than you’d expect. Danny Willett was surprisingly 12th in the world when he won the 2016 Masters and Francesco Molinari was 15th at last year’s British Open.

While that may be more of an indictment on the world ranking system than anything else, the fact remains that the other trophies have gone to a who’s who of the sport. Including the improbable 15th major title for Tiger Woods this year at the Masters.

Koepka has won four of the last eight major titles after successfully defending his PGA Championship title this week. With the last two U.S. Open championships as well, he’s the only player to ever hold back-to-back in two separate majors at once. If he doesn’t hit it in the water on the 12th hole at Augusta National on Sunday, then we would likely be talking about a Koepka slam that would even further strengthen his hold on the throne.

Speaking of Golden Bell missteps, Jordan Spieth has three major championships in that time-frame and it looks like he may have finally found his groove a bit this week at Beth Page as well.

McIlroy has added three more majors since that first in 2011 and started this season playing as well as anyone in the world, as evidenced by his victory at The Players (the fifth major discussions is for another column on another day).

Other major champions that you can count on to be in contention at future tournaments include Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas and Patrick Reed among others.

With Koepka smashing everything in his path and the slew of other stars ready to swoop in should he falter (better luck next time DJ) it just doesn’t look like Cinderella will get a chance to dance with the prince anytime soon.

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