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Too much choice for Ryder Cup captaincy

Europe will decide Wednesday whether Colin Montgomerie or Jose Maria Olazabal will be its Ryder Cup captain in 2010, a choice the Americans didn’t have this year.

Two months ago, before appointing Corey Pavin to lead the U.S. team in Wales, PGA of America chief executive Joe Steranka was cool to the idea of Paul Azinger returning as Captain America because he said there were not enough Ryder Cups for all the candidates.

But if the PGA didn’t want Azinger again, Pavin was the only serious candidate.

Davis Love III took himself out of the running because he wants to play on the next team. David Toms and Jim Furyk are too young. Larry Nelson is too old. Given the U.S. model for selecting captains—a former major champion in his late 40s with Ryder Cup passion and experience—try to find anyone else other than Pavin even remotely qualified.

Mark Calcavecchia? Lee Janzen?

Picking a captain used to be quite simple for Europe, which had only two captains from 1983 to 1995—Tony Jacklin and Bernard Gallacher—while seizing control of the biennial exhibition.

Now, the players who helped Europe capture the Ryder Cup eight times in 11 matches are lining up to be captain. And that has created the kind of dilemma America used to have—more captains than there were cups.

No one was a greater victim than Nelson, a Vietnam veteran who won three majors, nearly 75 percent of his Ryder Cup matches and is the only player to go 5-0 in a single Ryder Cup. Also left out was Mark O’Meara, although his assertion that the Ryder Cup was all about revenue hurt his chances more than anything.

Sandy Lyle appears headed to a similar fate. The two-time major champion from Scotland officially is under consideration for 2010 captain, but Europe is leaning toward younger captains, and Lyle turns 51 next month.

Montgomerie lobbied for Lyle, a fellow Scot, until it became clear that the selection committee was more interested in him. Then, what looked like a logical choice suddenly turned cloudy last week when two-time Masters champion Jose Maria Olazabal—among the most respected figures among European players— changed his mind and said he would like to be captain.

Europe cannot go wrong either way.

Monty can’t win a major, but he plays like a major champion when the Ryder Cup rolls around. He played on eight teams and compiled a 20-9-7 record, earning the second-most points in European history behind Nick Faldo. Olazabal, who actually has won majors, played on seven teams and forged an 18-8-5 record, a slightly better winning percentage.

Europe has been known to pick two captains at once, and it could be that Montgomerie is selected for Wales in 2010 and Olazabal for Chicago in 2012, since Olazabal is better equipped to handle an American crowd.

Just because the PGA of America didn’t have two such candidates doesn’t mean Pavin was the wrong choice. His captaincy, like so many others before him, will be judged largely on who goes home with the gold chalice.

And once the PGA of America gets through 2010, it will have plenty of options that Europe now enjoys.

Love is virtually a lock for 2012 (he will be 48), and other players sure to follow as candidates are Toms, Furyk, Phil Mickelson, Justin Leonard, Stewart Cink (if he wins a major) and eventually—maybe—Tiger Woods.

But by then, it could be that the burden of choice falls as much on the players as the PGA officials who choose them.

What made the PGA’s selection so simple was that Fred Couples had already agreed to be captain of the Presidents Cup this year. What would have happened had Couples turned it down?

“The general public, I think, would have a hard time with Fred not being Ryder Cup captain,” Love said.

Couples, wildly popular with the golf public, might have rubbed the PGA of America the wrong way by making fun of the gala dinners and suggesting Michael Jordan and Robin Williams as his assistant captains (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

Noteworthy about the PGA Tour’s selection of Couples is that it was the first time since the inaugural Presidents Cup in 1994 that the U.S. captain was under 50 (Hale Irwin was 49). If the tour continues that trend, players might be forced to choose.

The Ryder Cup, which prides itself on history and tradition, is likely to view a former Presidents Cup captain as damaged goods.

Love was asked a few weeks ago what he would do if the PGA Tour asked him in November to be the next Presidents Cup captain.

“I would talk to the PGA of America first to make sure what their schedule was,” he said. “If they said, ‘Look, you might as well go ahead and be Presidents Cup captain because we are not going to pick you, it will make it easy.”

Someone like Toms or Leonard might find themselves in a position of accepting an offer to be Presidents Cup captain and ending their hopes of leading the Ryder Cup, or holding out for the Ryder Cup and being passed over entirely.

If that’s the case, it won’t be a matter of there being more candidates than cups to go around.

It’s the candidates who will have too many cups.


January 28, 2009

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