Alternate Shot: Player-Captain for Lehman?

Originally Published: January 24, 2005
ESPN.com/Golf World

The year was 1963 and a young Arnold Palmer was on top of the golf world. Not only the best U.S. golfer at the time, Palmer was also appointed captain of the Ryder Cup team.

Tom Lehman
Lehman

Forty-three years later, we could be facing a similar situation. 2006 captain Tom Lehman is playing some of the best golf in his career, with six top-10 finishes in his last seven starts, including a T-2 at the Buick Invitational.

Which brings up the question: If Lehman qualifies for the team as a player, should he compete against the Europeans at The K Club or relinquish his spot in order to concentrate on the captain's duties?

ESPN.com's Bob Harig and Golf World's Ron Sirak debate the issue.

If he qualifies, should Tom Lehman play in the 2006 Ryder Cup?
YES

As U.S. Ryder Cup team captain, Tom Lehman will need players who finish better than he did on Sunday at the Buick Invitational. Lehman posted his fifth straight top 10, but again was unable to close the deal. That sounds suspiciously close to the way the Americans have played in the biennial matches against Europe in which Lehman will be the captain next year. But if Lehman earns his way onto the team, he should play. And he shouldn't have to justify it.

The U.S. team has not had a playing captain since Palmer in 1963, when the Ryder Cup was a far different deal than it is today. Still, let's be honest, the job does not require the heavy lifting often associated with it.

Ten of the 12 team members are determined for him, leaving only two choices to be made a month before the matches. He's got some team uniforms to pick. And, yes, he has to put together the pairings each day, which as Hal Sutton might attest, is not the easiest task in the world. The cheerleading and behind-the-scenes duties can be handled by assistant captains Corey Pavin and Loren Roberts. If not, why have them around?

The Ryder Cup is about playing well and holing putts at crucial times, factors that have been missing for the Americans during their recent spate of trouble and have little to do with filling out lineup cards and giving fiery pep talks. The point standings will be more heavily weighted toward 2006 season, meaning Lehman will have difficulty making the team based on his recent form. He'll have to play well next year, too, maybe even throw in his first victory since the 2000 season.

But if he does and is among the top-10 in the standings, he would be doing his team a disservice by not playing.

-- Bob Harig
ESPN.com

NO

There are two very compelling reasons why Tom Lehman should banish from his mind any thoughts of being a player-captain in the next Ryder Cup. One is simply that the job has become much too big for anyone to wear two hats. The last couple of captains for the American team have had enough trouble handling one job let alone two. The second reason Lehman should forget any notion of playing for the U.S. side in 2006 lay in the 5-foot putt he missed on the 72nd green that cost him second-place money at the Buick Invitational. Those are exactly the kind of putts that have cost the Americans seven of the last 10 Ryder Cups.

What we are seeing with Lehman is not a new phenomena: A veteran player is selected to be captain of the Ryder Cup team and all of a suden starts playing well and the talk of player-captain comes up. It happened with Tom Kite before the 1997 Ryder Cup and again last year when Bernhard Langer was playing well before his European team waxed the Americans. Both Kite and Langer would have been within their rights -- and well within reason -- to select themself as a captain's pick for the team. Both were smart enough not to.

The demands of being captain are so extensive, and the pressures of playing are so great that one of the two would have to suffer if you tried to do both. And most likely both would suffer. It is too much to ask of anyone. And as for Lehman in particular, he remains one of the better ballstrikers on tour. But no matter how long his putter gets, he still remains shaky with the flat stick. And that's the club that has cost the U.S. team the most dearly in recent Ryder Cups. If Lehman qualifies for the Ryder Cup team he should step aside.

And when it comes time for him to make his captain's pick, he should look for someone who can putt.

-- Ron Sirak
Golf World

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