— My, how the golf landscape has changed.
For starters, you can't help but notice the lack of sex scandals showing up in golf roundups. All is quiet on the Windermere front. OK, some petty burglary perhaps, but no driveway drama.
Thanks to the likes of Rex Ryan, Brett Favre, Ben Roethlisberger, Lawrence Taylor, Ines Sainz and the entire New York Jets organization, the NFL has taken over as the sex scandal sport. How long do you have to wait between tawdry headlines? Not For Long.
But it's more than that. There has been a seismic shift in golf's Teutonic plates. As the new year revs up, the old world is in the driver's seat. These days, it don't mean a thing on the PGA Tour if it ain't got that European swing.
And with most of the top-name Euros' electing to pass on PGA membership, their participation will be rationed. Essentially, they will be playing a Tiger Schedule state-side. The European Tour is where it's at. Oh, it's a scene, man.
This week is a prime example of the circumstances. The Bob Hope Classic takes place in Palm Springs, Calif., a celebrity-laden pro-am event that has been a staple on the PGA Tour scene since Arnold Palmer won the first in 1960. Thanks for the memories, to coin a phrase.
But the more serious focus will be on the United Arab Emirates, where 2.7 million clams are on the line in the European Tour's Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship. The field will include all four of last year's major championship winners: Phil Mickelson, Louis Oosthuizen, Graeme McDowell and Martin Kaymer.
Two of the Big Four — McDowell and Kaymer — are European. The field also includes a European as the No. 1 player in the World Golf Rankings. The event also includes five of the Top 10 players in those world rankings, four of which are European. By the way, a total of six of the elite 10 in the rankings are — everybody sing along — Europeans. To coin a Captain Jack Sparrow expression, "Savyy?"
Who are these guys and how did this happen? Well, since they will be coming to a neighborhood near you only once in a while — let's make some introductions:
Lee Westwood will be at Abu Dhabi. Westwood is an Englishman who more recently has become family oriented and more serious about his profession. Last October, Westwood assumed the title of "The Best No. 1 Player in the World to Never Win a Major" when he replaced the free-falling Tiger Woods in the penthouse.
Westwood has 19 wins on the European Tour and has won tournaments on every major continent — a feat few have achieved. He won the inaugural Race to Dubai in 2009. He has the second best scoring average among Europeans in Ryder Cup history. He finished second in both the Masters and the U.S. Open last year and was third in three of the four majors in 2009. He is 37, loves cars, snooker, Nottingham Forest football and long walks on slow treadmills.
McDowell was an amateur star both in Ireland and in the U.S. In 2002, while playing at the University of Alabama-Birmingham, G-Mac won six of 12 collegiate events he played in and captured the Haskins Award as the country's outstanding collegiate golfer.
He has six European Tour wins, but went off in 2010 by outlasting the crowd at the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. In doing so, he became the first Irishman to win America's national championship and the first European to do so in 40 years. Mickey D went on to beat Hunter Mahan in the Ryder Cup-clinching match at Celtic Manor, beat Woods in a playoff at the Chevron World Challenge and, just last week, shot 62 on a par-73 course in Hawaii.
He is 31, pals with fellow Irishmen Padraig Harrington and Rory McIlroy, made a cameo appearance on Entourage and digs buying in bulk.
Kaymer, the third-ranked player in the world, is from Dusseldorf, Germany. He once fired a 59 in the European Development Tour. At the 2007 Portugal Masters, he shot an 11-under-par 61 to register the lowest score of the European Tour season. He became the European Tour's Rookie of the Year that season, the first German to win the award.
Kaymer burst onto the big stage in 2010. He won at Abu Dhabi, beating Ian Poulter by a stroke. He tied for eighth at the U.S. Open, tied for seventh at the British Open and beat Bubba Watson in a playoff to win the PGA Championship. He is only the second German — move over Bernhard Langer — to win a major. He went on to win the prestigious and profitable Race to Dubai last season and participate in the victorious Ryder Cup party.
Kaymer is 26. He dates Allison Micheletti, who played golf at Arizona and is the daughter of New York Rangers broadcaster Joe Micheletti, considers Ernie Els a role model and he once had an awkward moment just to see what it feels like.
Paul Casey also will be at Abu Dhabi. Casey is ranked No. 7 in the world and was born in Cheltenham, England before becoming a collegiate star at Arizona State. He became the first to win three consecutive Pac-10 championships ('98, '99, 2000), and smashed the championship scoring record held by Woods. He was a member of Great Britain-Ireland's winning Walker Cup team in 1999.
Casey has 10 European Tour wins and one PGA Tour victory. He is the only player in Ryder Cup history to win a foursome match with a hole in one (2006). He won the European Tour Order of Merit — forerunner to the Race to Dubai — in 2006. He is 30 and sometimes referred to as "Popeye" because of his Steve Garvey forearms. His favorite movie is Usual Suspects, his two dogs are named Popcorn and Cool Whip. He enjoys surfing, bike riding and dangling participles.
Then two other top-10 Euros are Luke Donald and Poulter.
Donald, 33, was born in England but considers himself as "half Scottish" because his father is from Scotland. As a junior at Northwestern, he won the NCAA title and beat the individual scoring record set by Woods. He turned professional in 2001 and earned more than $1 million in his rookie season.
Donald has three European Tour wins, two PGA Tour wins, seven professional trophies overall and checks in at No. 9 on the world ranking hit parade. He tied for third at the British Open in 2009 and has two other top-10s in majors. Wears Ralph Lauren clothing, collects art and thinks dinner is for suckers.
Poulter, 35, is another Englishman and ranked 10th on the world list. He has 10 European Tour victories and one PGA Tour win. He came close to a major in 2008, finishing second at the British Open and has been a standout in Ryder Cup play. He likes to dress like Soupy Sales and eat cereal from the Ryder Cup. He believes social networking is the key to young looking skin.
There are others, of course, names like McIlroy, Robert Karlsson, Francesco and Edoardo Molinari. Ten, or half of the top-20 players in the world are ... you know the routine.
Perhaps Woods will re-assert himself in this scandal-free environment, perhaps Mickelson we reappear, perhaps more change is coming.
But for the time being, the power of golf has a distinctly European look.