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The Geopolitics of Golf

Author: Richard N. Haass, President, Council on Foreign Relations
September 14, 2009


The final and decisive round of the PGA Championship in mid-August unfolded in a manner few had predicted. Tiger Woods, the American who firmly occupies the top spot in world rankings, lost his lead and came in a disappointing second. Padraig Harrington, the defending champion and arguably Europe's best golfer, was in contention until he scored a quintuple bogey 8 on a par-3 hole. And the unheralded Y. E. Yang of South Korea, ranked 110th in the world, came from behind to win. In other words, America faded, Europe collapsed, and Asia emerged.

These trends should sound familiar. Asia is coming out of the economic crisis relatively unscathed; the region as a whole is likely to grow this year by 5 percent, while China booms at 8 percent. The U.S. economy, meanwhile, continues to contract; growth rates won't turn positive until later this year at least, and even then any improvement will be modest. More golf courses closed than opened in the United States in 2008.

Europe is struggling even more: some countries are eking out negligible economic growth, and others are still shrinking. Strategically, the region's demise is even more pronounced. Europe was at the core of 20th-century history; it will not be so in the 21st. Harrington's recent showing is a harbinger.

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