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Ryder Cup selection changes in New Year

The European Tour will unveil a new qualification procedure for the 2004 Ryder Cup early in the New Year after meetings of the tournament committee and the board of directors at Wentworth yesterday examined how to scrap the current outdated system.

As the game becomes more global and a growing number of top European golfers choose to ply their trade in America, the Tour has decided the previous arrangement of assembling the 12-man team, in which ten players qualified from a year-long points tally in Europe along with two captain’s wild cards, was no longer sure to deliver the leading players.

That’s why a meeting of the tournament committee, chaired by Mark James, followed by a board meeting led by chairman Neil Coles, debated how best to alter the means of qualification for the next match in order to let Europe defend the cup at Oakland Hills in Michigan against the United States with their strongest-possible team.

While some would argue that since Europe have won five and drawn one of the past nine matches, the old system has served the Continent pretty well, it’s understood that a new method of picking the team involving five players from the world rankings, five from a points list related to performance on the European Tour, and two captain’s wild cards will shortly be relayed to Tour members.

A decision will then be taken on whether qualification for the team through the rankings will take precedence over performance on Tour or vice-versa. In other words, should Sergio Garcia, Padraig Harrington and Colin Montgomerie, the three highest-ranked European players, also fill three of the five spots open to those who perform best in Tour events, will their vacant places on the other list go to those further down the world rankings, or the next in line on the Tour points list ?

This is clearly a matter of significance. If places on Tour come first, then the door will be left ajar for those ranked in the world’s top 50 who play more in America. But if the ranking takes pride of place then it could be argued that there’s more chance of regular Tour members forcing their way into the side.

No-one at the European Tour was available last night to comment officially on yesterday’s review for the simple reason that the players themselves will need to be informed of changes to the system before any news is made public after the Christmas and New Year break.

Bernard Gallacher, the former Ryder Cup captain who is now a director of the Tour, was known to be in favour of scrapping wild cards all together in favour of the top six from the world rankings and top six from the Tour.

However, this idea left little room for manoeuvre in the event of illness or injury and was unlikely to sway those who saw the 5-5-2 system as the most sensible method of selecting the side for 2004.

Ken Schofield, the executive director, has told The Scotsman that any changes to the selection system must broaden the scope for qualification in order to justify change.

"The most crucial thing for me is achieving for our players the maximum opportunity to qualify," commented the Scot. "That’s why there’s no chance of us handing out a third or a fourth wild card. There will be none of that.

"What I would say, though, is that there have been a number of significant changes in the way the world rankings are assessed. There’s a clearer understanding of the way they work; the period of assessment has gone from three years to two and there’s a greater reflection of current form.

"But let’s be clear - there’s nothing new about us looking to the rankings [as a way of qualifying for the team].

"Those who say it is have clearly forgotten about the memorandum I put together in 1997 which illustrated how the teams in the previous ten years might have changed if we’d used the world rankings. What came through is that the players would have been more or less the same, but you would have saved three or four wild cards.

"I was in full agreement with Nick Faldo before the last match when he commented that the captain, Sam Torrance, shouldn’t have had to pick Europe’s leading-ranked player in the world, Sergio Garcia, on a wild card for the Belfry.

"Obviously we want the right system in order to pick our strongest team. But I reject any suggestion that we’ll use qualification as lever to force any of our guys to play more in Europe. That has never been the case and is not the case now.

"Frankly, I think it’s that an insult to the European Tour with prize money of $100 million to suggest we have to apologise to anyone.

"The way we get a Sergio or a Luke Donald or whoever to play one or two more events in Europe is for us to continue to grow the Tour. But please be a member of our Tour and don’t insult us totally by not joining."

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