Sporting Giants Development: UK vs US
Alice Hewson | 27 March 2017

It is clear that the UK has a breadth of talent, crossing over multiple sports and disciplines, all requiring a variety of different attributes. The UK has produced champions and consistently shows its success in worldwide events such as the Tour de France, the Olympics, Wimbledon, the Ryder Cup and the Commonwealth Games. Success is evident in cycling, shooting and rowing, but also cannot be ignored in tennis and Golf. Further, there are also signs of significant improvement of the level that athletes from the UK are competing at.


In 2012 Sir Bradley Wiggins became the first ever English Champion at the Tour de France, and was shortly followed by Sir Chris Froome. For decades, this level of success was unforeseeable, whereas now this level of accomplishment are more of a regularity. No British man had won the Wimbledon tennis championship since 1936, until Andy Murray was finally successful on home turf in 2013. Out of a European team of twelve in the 2014 Ryder Cup match, seven of these were from the UK and proved during the event that each and every one of them had earned their place. However, from twelve talented golfers, one factors binds the majority of them together: travelling to the US in order to pursue their golfing careers. Seven of them live in the US, with six of them in Florida and five of these from the UK.


Rory McIlroy (1), Justin Rose (5), Graeme McDowell (19), Ian Poulter (28) and Lee Westwood (29) have moved their lives to the other side of the pond to aid their development. Rory holds four major championships titles to his name, with Rose also one, the US Open Championship. As can be seen from the figures, all of these players are highly ranked in the PGA World Rankings and it is undisputed that the move to the US has only helped their games. Florida has a mini weather front, having all hurricanes either drop beneath or hit land before hitting the state for the past 200 years. Facilities available are brilliant, with championship courses no more than an hour away, no matter where in the state they live. Being professional, they have free access to all of these courses; including the greats such as TPC Sawgrass, Reunion and Champions Gate. At each of these courses, the professionals use separate facilities to the general public and so will always be surrounded by elite competitive players. That is, as long as they are not using their own private facilities in their back yard like Rory, of course.



In the UK, the professionals would again have access to all of the clubs, but the standard of the courses are so much less. Further to this, the ‘big bucks’ are on the American Tour rather than the European, and this is especially evident on the women’s tour. The weather is poor for most of the year with three hundred and sixty four out of three hundred and sixty five days of the year being rainy. In the winter the courses are frozen solid and so become unplayable as green keepers don’t want to kill the grass by walking on it. All in all, the professionals can work on their game more productively, using better facilities, in better weather, and surrounded by higher standard players.


Even if you look at the more developing golfers, the optimum pathway is to go to the US on a scholarship and play competitive golf for four years whilst gaining a high standard degree simultaneously. Matthew Fitzpatrick, once one of the leading England golfers, attended Northwestern University, Illinois. Fitzpatrick won the 2013 U.S. Amateur, earning himself invitations to the 2014 Masters Tournament, U.S. Open, and Open Championship if he remains an amateur. The win took him to the top of the World Amateur Golf Rankings, a feat that con only be achieved through consistency and high level events. Once looked into his counting events, excluding national team representation, nearly all of his events were during his time on the college circuit. Being world number one earned him the Mark H. McCormack Medal.


In the US, nearly every University that has a competitive American Football team have a stadium at least the size of Wembley, along with indoor pitches and an exclusive training gym. Golf teams each have courses on campus, or nearby with free access. Competing swimming teams have personal 50m pools on campus. On the other hand, in the UK, a golf team will be lucky to have any facilities near, let alone on campus, football teams may have a pitch with small seating areas on campus, but have to share the gym with other teams. Only the very top swimming universities will have 50m pools, compared with it being standard in order to compete.


It is understandable that University is not for everyone, and not every sports person wants to leave home, but the opportunity that the American system gives student athletes is second to none. It is undeniable that what the US has to offer is far beyond that that the UK can offer its high level athletes. Remove golf from the situation and look at both countries’ most popular sports and support that they receive at University. In the UK, it can be debated that football is the most popular sport, and in America it is undoubtedly American football. In the US, squads exceeding eighty are on partial or full scholarships, covering their sporting commitments, gym sessions, unlimited individual tutoring, first choice in lessons and professors, as well as all food and living costs. All of these benefits are given to all of the sports programmes, giving all athletes the best opportunity possible to succeed. This, compared with a scholarship offered in the UK is crazy. A footballer in the UK may receive funding for classes to help them get to the school, however, even on a full scholarship there would be no way that they would receive all of their costs of living, eating and any additional academic help they may need. By supplying all of this to the athletes, they then run academics and their supporting commitments in parallel, rather than having to sacrifice one for the other.


Overall, exceptional sports people have no choice but to move to where they will have better facilities and funding. Sports that are played outside may choose to go where the weather is good, and so move away from the UK. Other sports that require large stadiums, grounds, facilities and technology, will move away from the UK. Those that need snow, again, will move away from the UK. Whilst the UK is not short of talent, experience or desire, there is simply not enough being put into the sports to encourage elite athletes to stay!

James Routledge 2016