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US players support "Senior Ryder Cup"

Dale Reid and her valiant European Solheim Cup team surprised almost all the experts when they defeated the Americans in a titanic match at Loch Lomond. Inadvertently, they also did much to aid the cause of all those individuals who would like to see the introduction of a similar transatlantic team contest for senior pros.

Such was the drama generated at this magnificent Solheim encounter that there is sure to be a clamor for more international team contests, and, who knows, the seniors may be the main beneficiaries from all the excitement.

For some time now, the European Seniors Tour has made no secret of the fact that it would love its members to take part in a biennial match against a team of leading American senior professionals. Despite the support of such individuals as Bruce Fleisher, Dave Stockton and Hubert Green, to name but three, to date the American authorities have yet to express much interest in the idea.

Undoubtedly, there are problems which would have to be addressed if such a match were to come to fruition, not the least of which would be to find it a suitable slot in the schedule to accommodate TV coverage. Surely that would not be an insurmountable obstacle if only the American authorities were to elicit as much enthusiasm for the idea as their European counterparts.

So what is it that makes the Americans reticent about the idea? And, more importantly, are their fears justified?

Normally, when the idea of a Ryder Cup match for seniors is mentioned, its opponents are quick to suggest that the Americans are so strong, and the Europeans so weak that it would not be a decent contest. But is that really the case? After all, Dale Reid's European Solheim Cup team was said to have next to no chance of winning this year's match at Loch Lomond, but still they managed to prevail in the end, registering Europe's second victory since the matches were first held at Lake Nona, Fla., in 1990.

There is no doubt that the Americans could raise an immensely impressive side, containing the likes of Larry Nelson, Bruce Fleisher, Hale Irwin, Gil Morgan and Dana Quigley, not to mention stellar names such as Jack Nicklaus, Tom Kite, Ray Floyd and Lanny Wadkins. It is an impressive list, but would this team of multi-millionaire golfers be too strong for the collection of rather more impecunious players on the other side of the Atlantic? I think not.

True, the Americans would have to be installed as favorites, particularly when the match was to be held in their home country, but the gap in class between the two teams would certainly not be as wide as disparity between the prize money on offer on the two tours.

Were the matches to be played under strict Ryder Cup rules, the team facing the American would be limited to European nationals such as Brian Barnes, Neil Coles, Jose Maria Canizares, Christy O'Connor Jr., Tommy Horton, Jim Rhodes, Peter Dawson, etc., etc., but there is no reason why eligibility could not be widened to include all non-Americans if that were deemed to be more attractive to American audiences.

Personally, I would rather see the contest being run on similar lines to the Ryder Cup, but imagine the competition the Americans would face if the authorities decreed that the match should be played, not as America against Europe but, instead as America versus the Rest of the World. All of a sudden, the leading Europeans would be supplemented by the likes of John Bland, Vicente Fernandez, Noel Ratcliffe, Bob Shearer, Graham Marsh, Hugh Baiocchi and Gary Player, giving the Americans the strongest of competition, even when the match was to be held in the United States.

One other advantage of widening the match to make it America versus the Rest of the World would be to raise the profile of senior golf wherever the match was played.

At the moment, senior golf in America continues to be vibrant. This year alone there are more than 40 events on the Senior Tour schedule, each worth well in excess of $1 million. To date, no fewer than 11 tour members have won in excess of $1 million in official earnings, and two, namely Larry Nelson and Bruce Fleisher, have won more than $2 million.

The European Seniors Tour, like the European Tour itself, still languishes well behind its American equivalent, but, all the same, there are encouraging signs of growth. This year, the schedule comprises 20 events, worth around $4.5 million, and, with a bit of luck, that number will continue to rise as new tournament venues are found, both on the continent of Europe and farther field.

Senior golf is in good health in both America and Europe, but elsewhere it is an altogether different story. In Japan, where once there was a vibrant senior tour lasting several months, now there are only a handful of events, the rest becoming victims of the economic depression that has struck that area of the world.

Likewise in Australia, South Africa and a number of other major golfing areas, senior golf barely registers, so imagine the good it would do if, occasionally, an America versus the Rest of the World match was played in their own backyard, enhancing the profile of senior golf in that area and proving to locals, and to potential sponsors, that senior golf can be an attractive proposition.

Clearly, such a match would not transform the senior game overnight, but, played every year or two, it could do nothing but good for an area of golf that is clearly worth developing.

So will it happen? Will some sort of match materialize or won't it? You'll have to ask the American Authorities, because the future of such a match rests firmly in their hands.

 

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