Because of the Ryder Cup at the Country Club, some are saying
golf is in crisis. And, they say, we Americans are to blame. Our
crowds were out of control, mainly because of the fist-pumping
exhortations of our boorish pros, whose disdain for proper
etiquette was apparent when they disgracefully celebrated a
teammate's putt before his opponent was given the opportunity to
Yes, there has been much hand-wringing since Brookline, which is
precisely why the PGA of America should name Curtis Strange
captain of the next U.S. team. It's not that I think Strange is
the perfect choice to lead the U.S. defense at the Belfry in
2001. As far as I'm concerned, any player, past or present,
could probably do an adequate job. No, I like Strange for
another reason: To choose anyone else would be to validate the
specious claims of some extremely poor losers.
Strange, who had been a contender for this year's captaincy, is
the favorite for '01, but the net effect of the past few weeks
of pious finger-pointing has been the addition of a new
criterion for the job. Now some say the captain has to be a
diplomat too, and in these allegedly troubled times, Strange's
intensity and quick temper don't fit the bill. Sorry, but I'm
not buying the premise.
We shouldn't feel guilty for winning, and there's no reason to
kowtow to the Europeans. Sure, they were devastated after
suffering the greatest collapse in Ryder Cup history and perhaps
thought a referendum on proper behavior might numb the pain. But
I think they let their bitterness get the best of them, and,
frankly, it's hard to feel compassion when all you get back is
spite. My advice to the Europeans is to get over it.
No one disagrees that the U.S. team was wrong to go nuts after
Justin Leonard made his improbable putt at the 17th hole on
Sunday--although no one stepped on Jose Maria Olazabal's line,
as was charged. The Americans duly, and I believe sincerely,
apologized. But all the other European complaints, including
Mark James's assertion that the Americans' fist-pumping unfairly
incited the crowd, are contrary to the spirit of the Ryder Cup.
Players have a responsibility to their team to raise energy and
create momentum. Sergio Garcia knew that instinctively. David
Duval had to learn it. It seems that only James doesn't
understand that the raw emotion shown by the players is what
makes the Ryder Cup distinct and on occasion, as on the final
day at the Country Club, what makes it great.
Sure, the Boston gallery was sometimes rowdy, and I heard the
catcalls, but that's part of the Ryder Cup wherever it's played.
There definitely is a line of propriety that should not be
crossed, but I don't think the fans got any closer to it than
the exuberant U.S. players did to Olazabal's putt. The fans at
the Country Club were no better or worse than those at
Valderrama in '97. The only difference was that there were more
Colin Montgomerie, as usual, got the worst of it, but he sent
daggers into the hearts of the U.S. partisans by making every
putt that mattered while defeating Payne Stewart in the final
singles match. By ignoring the random gibes with the grim
determination of a young Nicklaus tuning out Arnie's Army,
Montgomerie earned a grudging respect. As for the other players,
the competitive atmosphere they encountered at Brookline was far
less acrimonious than it was during 1991's War by the Shore on
Kiawah Island, S.C., which remains, for my money, the most
exciting Ryder Cup ever.
I'm not suggesting that the success of a Ryder Cup should be
based on its level of acrimony. If that was important, '01 could
be a doozy, but not just because of the sparks Strange might set
off. Sam Torrance, James's assistant at the Country Club and the
odds-on favorite to succeed him, deeply offended many members of
the U.S. team with his silly personal attacks after the European
At 44 Strange has learned better than Torrance how to hold his
tongue--that's the rap against Strange as a TV analyst. He was
also the model of class and restraint when he faced the music
after his heartbreaking loss at the '95 Ryder Cup. No doubt,
though, he will be the lightning rod at the Belfry if he's the
U.S. captain. He has a history of losing his cool. Once, early
in his career, he even had to be chewed out by Arnold Palmer
after one of his tantrums.
Strange is the right choice for 2001. Certainly on merit.
Absolutely on principle.
Golf Plus will next appear in the Nov. 8 issue of SPORTS
claims of some extremely poor losers.