Ryder Cup players actually want to be there

Updated: September 13, 2004, 1:54 PM ET
By Bob Verdi | Golf World

Are you still waiting for the other spiked shoe to drop?

Surely, at least one of America's pampered millionaires can concoct an excuse to bypass next week's Ryder Cup matches outside Detroit, no?

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Chris Riley, whose wife Michelle just gave birth to the couple's first child, could take a paternity leave to celebrate their diaper dandy. That's a gimme.

Chris DiMarco's beloved Florida Gators have a big game coinciding with Saturday's four-balls and foursomes, not to mention David Toms' LSU Tigers, who also are highly ranked and will be playing.

Then there's Tiger Woods, who is engaged. So he has to be thinking about getting married. That reason would fly, even if it was already used by a mope who declined an invitation to perspire with the U.S. Olympic men's basketball squad for NBC's recent track meet in Athens.

Fortunately for Hal Sutton, who will be captain for the home team at Oakland Hills CC outside Detroit, golfers haven't quite become so self-absorbed. They still like the appearance fee, yet they have not mastered the art of the disappearance plea. That day might come, but until then, Americans and Europeans who perform this lonely sport shall stand apart, except when they're squirming to collect Ryder Cup points. Up until the very last minutes of the PGA Championship and the final putts of the BMW International Open, these individual corporations were kicking and scratching for birdies or pars that would mean spots on either side.

And for what? There is no money to be made by the 24 players in this biennial competition. Granted, one's marketing profile is enhanced by being a Ryder Cupper, but the event has become so visceral, you not only feel like dogfood if you miss a four-footer that costs dearly, you will read about it the next day and for many days thereafter. You either win and exhale, or go home with those funky uniforms and join them in the closet until the disgrace blows over. Second place at the Ryder Cup is no place at all, and there absolutely is no LeBronze medal as a salve.

Still, everything you need to know about the Ryder Cup and those who try mightily to make it was expressed by none other than that noted philosopher, John Daly. Two weeks after being bypassed by Sutton as a wild-card pick, Daly was still hurting. Maybe the fact that it came off as a popularity contest killed his chances, Daly theorized. Maybe if he wasn't the people's choice, Daly went on, he would have been Sutton's. Somewhere in Oklahoma, Scott Verplank is still wearing a glazed look. He desperately craved it. And don't call Steve Flesch or Jerry Kelly, either. They'll call you.

Compare this attitude with that of pro basketball's slackers and what you have is no comparison whatsoever. Mind you, NBA stars don't belong in the Summer Games anyway, any more than PGA Tour members should participate if and when the dark day occurs and golf is added to the Olympic glut. Point is, to hear some of the disingenuous rationalizations for staying home spewed by hoopsters pulling down guaranteed sums of $18 million per annum is to yearn for a rerun of Riley's stream of unconscious ecstacy upon qualifying for Sutton's dozen.

Did a couple of those giants in short pants cite security concerns? As clearly as a couple others claimed fatigue. Well, we're talking out of school to theorize that Woods has been threatened more often than we will ever know by assorted weirdos and special interest groups. And when Tiger isn't trying to beat Europe, he's piling up those Presidents Cup markers. How many more autumns will he be swinging for his country? Until he's 40 or 45? But tired? Even if he is, it would be Greek to him to send phony regrets.

We're here not to extinguish the Olympic flame. On the contrary, we take solace in the certainty that, after their slovenly effort, America's basketball guys won't be investigated for performance enhancing drugs. A better story is why these golfers will kill to put aside their business deals and abandon their private jets for one week when the only compensation is pride.

Stewart Cink, the putting madman who made the team with a brilliant finishing kick, explained. "Just because we make more money than we ever have," he said, "that doesn't mean we care any less." Sutton has preached passion since he took his job, which also can be thankless, but if he saw the way his players were straining for glances at leader boards in July and August, he can't be too worried. We always hear the Europeans want the Ryder Cup more. That's possible. But the notion the American golfers are too fat and too sassy is bogus.

It's a rare oasis in the professional sports sewer, the Ryder Cup is, and if you're still waiting around for phony alibis next week -- anyone for tendinitis? -- you'll miss a terrific show.

Bob Verdi is a senior writer for Golf World magazine

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