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Mike Sorensen: Americans may never dominate in sports again

Published: Sunday, May 1 2011 6:39 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — We Americans are used to being the best in everything, especially when it comes to sports.

No, we're not the best in soccer or cricket or rugby or curling. Never have been and never will be.

But we've always dominated the sports we invented, such as baseball, football and basketball, and for a long time Americans were tops in international sports such as golf and tennis.

However the rest of the world is catching up.

Baseball has become more international with numerous players from the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Venezuela as well as Far Eastern countries such as Japan and Taiwan. A little more than a quarter of major league baseball players are from outside the U.S.

Pro basketball has seen players from all over the world join the NBA in recent years, from places such as Australia, France, Germany, Brazil and Turkey and foreigners comprise nearly 15 percent of the league.

Football is a different story, where less than 1 percent of players come from other countries. I doubt we'll ever have an influx of football players from Japan, Turkey or the Dominican Republic on the gridiron.

The notion of golf being a truly international sport hit me last month as I watched the Masters and saw the most diverse leaderboard I've ever seen in my life.

All through the final round, golfers from six different continents had a chance to win the tournament and each finished among the top nine finishers.

Three were from Australia, Adam Scott, Jason Day and Geoff Ogilvy, two were from North America, Americans Tiger Woods and Bo Van Pelt, one was from South America, Angel Cabrera (Argentina), one was from Asia, K.J. Choi (South Korea), one was from Europe, Luke Donald (England) and one was from Africa, winner Charl Schwartzel of South Africa. The 99 competitors in the Masters represented 23 different countries.

It's not like foreigners haven't won the Masters before. They've been doing it on a regular basis since Spain's Seve Ballesteros won a pair of Masters in the early 1980s.

But even back then, Americans dominated the sport with 48 of the top 50 PGA money winners hailing from the U.S. in 1980. These days only 18 Americans rank among the Top 50 in the world rankings with just Phil Mickelson and Woods in the Top 8.

The LPGA has gone from almost an all American tour in 1980 to one dominated by foreigners today. Only nine women from the U.S. are ranked in the top 50 compared to 21 from South Korea.

The changes in tennis are even more pronounced.

Remember 30 years when John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors were the best players in the world? Right now, there is not a single American male in the ATP top 10 and only four in the top 50. Except for Andy Roddick, the others, Mardy Fish, Sam Querrey and John Isner, are not exactly household names.

On the women's side, only three Americans are ranked in the top 50 — Serena Williams (10), Venus Williams (15) and Bethanie Mattek-Sands (40) and the Williams sisters may have seen their best days.

So can anything be done to improve Americans' chances in sports like tennis and golf?

Some have proposed starting government-run academies as other countries have done to cultivate young American talent that can compete with the rest of the world. Considering that state of our economy, this is an idea that won't fly. Perhaps some people with deep pockets could subsidize golf and tennis academies so we could train youth from a young age to become world-class athletes.

But I don't think that is even necessary.

Many of the best athletes in the world continue to come out of the U.S. and will continue to do so. Look at the humble beginnings of Tiger Woods and the Williams sisters.

A lot of it has to do with interest level. The U.S. may not produce top-flight tennis players again, at least as long as the interest remains where it has for several years. Golf might be a different story, with young talent such as Dustin Johnson, Rickie Fowler and Anthony Kim on the men's side, and Stacy Lewis, who won the first women's "major" of the year last month, and 16-year-old phenom, Lexi Thompson, who led the Avnet Classic in Alabama over the weekend, on the women's side.

But I don't really have a problem with non-Americans excelling at sports Americans used to dominate. I say, bring 'em on.

Besides, at least we'll always have football.

Email: sor@desnews.com

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