Woosie shouldn't fret over his roster
The hand-wringing has begun right on schedule in Europe, where a Ryder Cup captain, in addition to ordering at least one color-uncoordinated outfit for the autumn matches, must turn to his media soldiers with a furrowed brow and bemoan the state of his talent-deficient squad. This year's skipper, Ian Woosnam, is no stranger to the art of underdog rhetoric. At 5-foot-4˝, the wee Welshman made a superb career out of beating much larger foes, but even under inglorious circumstances, Woosnam seems to have a nose for martyrdom.
Tied for the lead early in the final round of the 2001 British Open, Woosie was penalized two strokes for accidentally carrying a 15th club. He lost to David Duval by four, but the twisted saga earned him immediate induction into Great Britain's Tragic Hero Hall of Fame, a shrine worthy of its nation's pitiable sensibilities. Win or Bust.
For anyone to fret, project doom or cast a Paul (McGinley, Broadhurst, Casey) over the composition of Team Euro, especially at this point, is ridiculous. Besides, Woosnam could round up half a dozen 10 handicaps, send them out with Sergio Garcia, Colin Montgomerie and José Maria Olazábal, and still give our boys a fight. The Yanks have won this sucker once since 1993. Two of the last four losses were blowouts, turning the suspense-soaked series into a Benny Hill weekend marathon.
If it makes you feel any better, Woosie, take a look at our ballclub. Lucas Glover. Vaughn Taylor. Tim Herron? You survive Richard S. Johnson in Fort Worth, and the next thing you know, you're on the PGA of America's charter flight to Ireland, right? Actually, no. A guy such as Chris DiMarco, currently 16th in the standings, could go T-3 at Westchester and T-5 at the U.S. Open, pick up 400 points in the next month, and basically lock up a roster spot. The margin between 10th and 16th right now is 130 points. That's nothing more than a tie for fourth in Memphis.
Europe's qualification system, meanwhile, changes as often as it rains, which you might expect from a tour that has lost many of its stars (Garcia, Padraig Harrington, Darren Clarke, et al.) to full-time status in America. To accommodate that exodus, the five Euros who earn the most World Ranking points over a one-year period that began this past September will make Woosnam's squad. Five more spots will be filled by guys who accumulate the most points on the native tour.
It's an excellent formula, but Harrington, Clarke and Lee Westwood aren't in either top five, which is why Woosie is worried. Going farther down the World Ranking list, you see a lot of quality players who aren't going to hold a European Tour card just to play in the Ryder Cup. If you're Justin Rose, a steady procession of 80-degree days, perfect greens and ice-cold beverages is a bit more appealing than a game of snooker with Bradley Dredge.
Not that Woosnam needs any one guy, or even two, other than maybe Montgomerie and Garcia. Both have been nearly invincible in the battle for Samuel Ryder's chalice -- one can see how chip-on-the-shoulder Monty would rather hole a bunch of 20-footers against the Yanks than get a one-year tryout with Liz Hurley. And Sergio, for crying out loud, turns into Billy Casper Jr. every time he goes out in a foursomes match. Imagine Shaquille O'Neal, a career 52 percent shooter from the foul line, suddenly making 90 percent for the rest of the NBA playoffs. If Garcia putted every week the way he did at Oakland Hills, he could hit 7-irons into that lady's swimming pool and still win five majors.
It wouldn't be nearly as much fun if Team Euro didn't include a Phillip (Price) or a Philip (Walton) to trigger another five-alarm upset, or if Jarmo Sandelin weren't around to play the role of Bozo the Clown, or if their 12th man -- someone like Jean Van de Velde -- didn't deserve two strokes a side. For all the theories as to why the Yanks have gotten smacked around in recent years, only one really floats: The Europeans want it more but care less. They play with passion instead of apprehension, a crucial mentality on any Goliath-slaying voyage.
Their weak bottom third has been an asset, not a liability, in outscoring the U.S. by a whopping 15 points in four-balls and foursomes since 1997. We can whine about our incompatible partnerships all we want, but when you've won 19 of the last 64 matches involving a teammate, you can't dump all the blame on bad chemistry or lousy captains. We've been beaten by heart, guts and a whole bunch of putts.
So relax, Woosie. Your ballclub is sure to include a couple of mutts, but even your strongest team can't touch ours in terms of star power. Maybe that's what U.S. captain Tom Lehman ought to do. Figure out a way to play this thing on paper.
John Hawkins is a senior writer for Golf World magazine