By Dave Begel Contributing Writer Published Jul 17, 2012 at 3:09 PM

So, what's wrong with America?

The list is long and dotted throughout the daily lives of our citizens. But today we talk not about immigration reform, health care reform, the embarrassing conduct of our congress or the endless expense of political campaigns.

Today the subject is some individual sports and what's happened to the American athlete.

This is all brought to mind by conversations and articles on radio and online. It's brought about by the recent U.S. Women's Open at Blackwolf Run and by the impending start of the Olympic Games in London.

What the heck has happened to Americans? The evidence that something is wrong is clear and unassailable.

Of the top 50 players in the world in men's tennis, only five are Americans. For the top 50 women, it's just four Americans. And in the world golf rankings for women, just 10 of the top 50 are Americans.

Nobody has to make a case that all three of these sports used to be heavily dominated by Americans. Australian men had a good run in men's tennis, but the era from Connors and McEnroe to Sampras, Courier and Agassi emphasized the American domination. Women's tennis was the same thing from Billie Jean King to Chris Evert and Jennifer Capriati and Tracy Austin.

In golf it has always been American women who not only led the way, but took up all of the top spots. There were minor incursions from occasional foreign golfers, but nobody really got in the way of the Americans.

Now the golf tour is absolutely dominated by South Korean golfers. Every time one of them wins a tournament it seems like she had to beat three or four countrywomen to claim the title. I can't remember any small country dominating a sport like these women golfers do.

It's a difficult question, full of stereotyping by race, hints of artificial bodybuilding and questions of national pride and work ethic.

What's happened is a complex question.

Undoubtedly other countries which came late to the game have seen the expanded opportunities, especially in the sports for women. But other countries getting better can't explain the pronounced disappearance of Americans from the top ranks of international competitors.

Clearly increased participation, great youth programs, economic development support and inspired leadership all play a role helping the rest of the world catch up and surpass America.

But another reason, and this goes against every progressive and egalitarian bone in my body, is the disappearance of competitive fire in many American sports.

The idea that all of the children who are playing soccer and golf and tennis in a tournament get the same kind of trophy or medal has some, I believe, unintended consequences.

It's fine to encourage each and every kid to play to his or her potential. But we also have to find a way to honor exceptional athletic achievement. Let's face the fact that some kids are exceptional athletes. They have natural talent, skill development and a competitive fire that drives them toward excellence.

If we make it seem that the exceptional child is on a par with the rest of his team or competitors it may well put a damper on the drive to be successful and to win. That winning compulsion is a part of every pro athlete I have ever known. They have talent, but that desire is at least as equally important to victory on the field.

That desire is what makes an athlete spend more hours in the weight room, hit more balls on the practice range or hit an extra half-hour of drop shots.

I think a big part of the answer to what is wrong with America is that somehow we have lost a big part of our drive for excellence. We too often take it easy. In many instances we won't "pay the price" to be great.

As the world of athletics has grown more and more competitive it seems like Americans, with only sporadic exceptions, have grown less so and we've paid a price in our standing in the world of sports.

Dave Begel Contributing Writer

With a history in Milwaukee stretching back decades, Dave tries to bring a unique perspective to his writing, whether it's sports, politics, theater or any other issue.

He's seen Milwaukee grow, suffer pangs of growth, strive for success and has been involved in many efforts to both shape and re-shape the city. He's a happy man, now that he's quit playing golf, and enjoys music, his children and grandchildren and the myriad of sports in this state. He loves great food and hates bullies and people who think they are smarter than everyone else.

This whole Internet thing continues to baffle him, but he's willing to play the game as long as keeps lending him a helping hand. He is constantly amazed that just a few dedicated people can provide so much news and information to a hungry public.

Despite some opinions to the contrary, Dave likes most stuff. But he is a skeptic who constantly wonders about the world around him. So many questions, so few answers.