BETHESDA, Md. — What began as an anomaly has turned into a troubling trend for American golf.
Graeme McDowell became the first European in 40 years to win the U.S. Open last summer at Pebble Beach. Perhaps more telling was that this was the first time in more than 100 years that no Americans finished among the top three.
And that was just the start.
There were no Americans in the top three in the British Open a month later at St. Andrews. And for the first time in Masters history, international players occupied the first three places at Augusta National.
Steve Stricker, a 44-year-old who didn't even have a full PGA Tour card five years ago, won the Memorial two weeks ago and climbed to No. 4 in the world. He still lags well behind a pair of Englishmen, Luke Donald and Lee Westwood, and Martin Kaymer of Germany.
But the world ranking tells only part of the story.
Americans have never gone more than four majors without winning one of them, and the U.S. Open at Congressional might be their best chance to avoid a record drought since this configuration of Grand Slam events began in 1934.
"I think this tournament will tell a lot," Stricker said. "If an American can win here, maybe we can gain back some of that momentum."
Based on recent times, history might not be on the side of the Stars & Stripes outside the nation's capital.
Over the last 10 years, the U.S. Open is the one major where Americans have had the least amount of success, winning only four times since 2001.
It was only four years ago when it seemed that Europeans couldn't win a big one. Padraig Harrington preached patience, saying golf runs in cycles and Europe would get its due.
The trick is figuring who the future is for American golf.
Right behind Stricker in the world ranking is Phil Mickelson, the last American to win a major when he won the Masters last year.
Mickelson has been spending a lot of time lately trying to groom younger players, mostly for Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup matches, but also to get them sharp for majors.
"I'm actually very encouraged with where our American golfers are," Mickelson said. "We have a plethora of great players coming up. And I think at the forefront is a guy like Dustin Johnson."
Johnson very easily could have won two majors last year, and this wouldn't even be a discussion. He took a three-shot lead into the final round at Pebble Beach until a final round 82. Then came the PGA Championship, where he was not aware he was in a bunker and grounded his club, a two-shot penalty that knocked him out of a playoff.
Kaymer wound up beating Bubba Watson in the playoff.
Johnson is aware of the American drought, but only because he keeps getting asked about it.
"It's not like we're not trying or not playing well," he said. "I think the American guys are playing really good. A lot of things have to go right to win a major."
Mahan was surprised to hear that only two Americans, Watson and Zach Johnson, have been in the top three at the last four majors.
"It's the fashionable thing now to be European," Mahan said. "I don't know about that. I think guys like Stricker, Matt Kuchar ... I don't see who's playing better than those guys."