The Washington Times - July 16, 2011, 03:31PM

Northern Ireland has a population of 1.7 million, about the same as Milwaukee, Kansas City and Sacramento. Yet here we have an Ulsterman, Darren Clarke, leading the British Open after three rounds – on the heels of two other Ulstermen, Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell, winning the U.S. Open the past two years.

This is practically impossible.


Put it this way: In modern golf history (read: post-World War II), only one country has produced three different major winners in such a short period: the U.S. of A (on numerous occasions). But if Clarke can hold onto his one-shot lead Sunday at Royal St. George’s, Northern Ireland will become the second to accomplish the feat. Amazing.

Australia, for instance, has turned out many fine players, but it has never had three different major champs in the space of two calendar years. Its best stretch was in the early ’90s, when Wayne Grady (‘90 PGA), Ian Baker-Finch (’91 British Open), Greg Norman (’93 British) and Steve Elkington (’95 PGA), won majors. For those of you scoring at home, that’s three in four calendar years and four in six.

South Africa also has been one of the leading golf factories. Indeed, since 2008, it has had three different major champions – Trevor Immelman (’08 Masters), Louis Oosthuizen (’10 British) and Charl Schwartzel (’11 Masters). But that, too, is three in four calendar years.

Scotland in recent years has given us Sandy Lyle (’88 Masters) and Paul Lawrie (’99 British), but we’re talking about a gap of more than a decade there. (Countryman Colin Montgomerie had his chances as well at the ’95 PGA and several U.S. Opens – ’92, ’94, ’97, ’06 – but was never able to break through.) As you can see, it’s a lot easier said than done.

But Northern Ireland – little Northern Ireland – might do it in a span of 13 months. Which raises the question: What on earth are they putting in the water over there?