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An Open Letter to Tom Lehman

Nov. 29, 2004
Nov. 29, 2004

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Nov. 29, 2004

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An Open Letter to Tom Lehman

First of all, Tom, my apologies for not writing earlier to congratulate you on your appointment as U.S. captain for the 2006 Ryder Cup in Ireland. Frankly, I was worn out from writing open letters to John Kerry, Tom Daschle, Tony La Russa, Dan Rather, the entire cast of The Apprentice, Ashlee Simpson and about a dozen other unfortunates who clearly needed my advice.

This is an article from the Nov. 29, 2004 issue

Your situation, of course, is more dire. You'll get only one chance to win back the Ryder Cup. If you fail--which is highly likely, given that the Europeans have won four of the last five--you'll be second-guessed ad nauseam and cast as a congenital chucklehead. (See my Open Letter to Hal Sutton, SI, Sept. 20.) So here's my first recommendation: Bury Paul Casey.

I can anticipate your objections. "Paul Casey, although an Englishman, is an Arizona State alum, a fine young gentleman and one of Europe's top golfers, as evidenced by his Ryder Cup debut in September and by his victory with Luke Donald in last week's World Cup. Paul lives in the U.S., pays U.S. taxes and has an American girlfriend. I know Paul Casey, and I like him."

All that may be true, Tom, but this is match play, and when your opponent lays sod over an approach shot, you don't pick up out of sympathy and concede the hole. Casey told reporters last week that Americans were "bloody annoying" and "uncultured" xenophobes. "In Scottsdale it's not so bad," he said, "because the people there have traveled and you can have civilized conversations with them, but the vast majority of Americans simply don't know what's going on." Then he branded you, Tom, as some sort of fire-breathing, red-state zealot. "It's not a sensible appointment," he said of your captaincy. "It could spark something up." Casey later said he regretted his remarks and hoped that he would not face a backlash in the States.

He sounded apologetic, but--and this is very important, Tom--you must not accept his apology. Not if you want to win the Ryder Cup. These matches have become 20% game and 80% gamesmanship, and the Europeans are masters of the latter. Even before our exhilarating come-from-behind triumph at Brookline in '99, the Euros cunningly exploited the stereotype of the American golfer as an ill-dressed, flag-waving, Bible-thumping millionaire with a Barbie-doll wife. To keep our players off-balance and on the defensive, which is the whole point of gamesmanship, they pounced on any perceived gaffe or slight. There is no better explanation for the failures of the U.S. team in recent Cups. Our players don't suck because they're selfish or apathetic. They suck because they're self-conscious to the point of ineffectiveness.

I may be preaching to the choir here, Tom. Your appointment as captain was a gift to the Europeans, who see your presence as an opportunity to continue hammering the U.S. team for the alleged misdeeds at Brookline. One Scottish scribe describes you as "a foul-mouthed phony possessing only the loosest grasp of proper golfing etiquette" and singles you out as a fomenter of Cup crassness. ("Not that he thought to apologize," huffs the writer. "Oh no, not mister high-and-mighty Lehman.") At the risk of giving you too much advice, Tom, I suggest that you widely disseminate copies of the U.S. team's Brookline press conference, during which you were the first to offer a heartfelt apology.

Anyway, it's time to take off the ski mittens. First, find an artful way to publicly highlight Casey's gaffe without actually forgiving him. ("Paul's comments were shocking and divisive in a time of war," you can say, "but suggestions that we cancel the 2006 Ryder Cup are premature.") That will leave the Englishman twisting in the wind, to be pecked to death by the likes of angry Acushnet chairman Wally Uihlein, who announced over the weekend that Titleist will not renew Casey's endorsement deal.

Once Casey is taken care of, start building the case that the Europeans are not the amiable, lager-hoisting free spirits they pretend to be. You can make an issue of Sergio García's temper tantrums, Padraig Harrington's slow play, Seve Ballesteros's assignment of an underpowered cart to rival captain Tom Kite at Valderrama, the Euros' drunken victory party in Detroit--anything, no matter how spurious or calculated, that will put the Europeans on the defensive. (See my Open Letter to Karl Rove, SI, April 1, 1997.)

You may not like this advice, Tom. It may offend your sense of fair play and sportsmanship. But we won't start winning Cups again until we match the Europeans' ploys with our own carefully considered counterploys.

Just between us, have you heard that Bernhard Langer sleeps in women's lingerie?

This is very important, Tom: You must not accept Casey's apology. Not if you want to win the next Ryder Cup.
COLOR PHOTO ILLUSTRATIONFRED VUICH; PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY JOANNA FARRIMONDMARKED MAN To gain an edge, make Casey the bad guy.