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No More Easy Ryder : The U.S. Captain Sums Up His Team's Chances Against the Europeans Next Month at The Belfry

August 15, 1993|GENE WOJCIECHOWSKI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

TOLEDO, Ohio — The Ryder Cup used to be a nice excuse for America's best golfers to visit the United Kingdom, see the sights, sip a spot of tea, eat a watercress sandwich and then beat the bejabbers out of anyone with an accent.

From 1959 to 1983, the United States never lost the Ryder Cup. The U.S. victories became as easy to predict as the tides. Every two years, the Americans would wash ashore, and the British--or, since 1979, the Europeans--would wash out.

But then came a 1985 trip to The Belfry in Sutton Coldfield, England. The Europeans won that one. At one point, Europe's Sam Torrance, overwhelmed by the moment, stood in the 18th fairway with arms upraised and tears in his eyes.

The Europeans won another one after that, this time on U.S. soil, and settled for a tie (thus retaining the Cup) in 1989. Had Bernhard Langer not missed a six-foot putt on the final hole at Kiawah Island in 1991, the U.S. would be working on an 0-4 streak.

Now it is Tom Watson's turn as U.S. captain. Watson played on four Ryder Cup teams and won 10 of his 15 matches. It was only a matter of time before he was selected to lead a U.S. team overseas.

Last week at Inverness, Watson talked with reporters about next month's Ryder Cup competition, which will take place at The Belfry. The first 10 player selections are determined by a point system. The two remaining wild-card spots are Watson's choices, which will be announced Monday morning.

The highlights:

Question: Could you provide an overview of your Ryder Cup experience?

Watson: I've been asked a lot of questions about the Ryder Cup. The most general one is the most fun to answer: That is, what is it like to be the Ryder Cup captain? My answer is simple. It's been a great pleasure. It's been my treat since 1977, when the flags went up at my first Ryder Cup. It's been a labor of love.

It's coming down to this week. I make the two final selections this week and then the formulas on who plays with whom and so forth. I've had to select items for clothing. I've designed a gift for our team to be presented over there.

Basically, the most pleasurable aspect has been (getting) to know the players better. I've gotten to know players on the basis as Ryder Cup captain. 'What do you think? Who should I make as a selection?' I've gone outside people in golf. I've asked the man on the street. I've asked Larry King. I've asked people you might think it's ridiculous to ask. But it's been fun to see the reaction to people when I ask. It was easy to determine the factors and criteria in making the two selections. The most important is the heart, the guts, the stick-to-itiveness. That goes on the short list of players I'm considering in making the picks.

Q: Who are among the finalists?

A: There are five or six players on the short list.

Q: Has the list of candidates changed as the end of the season approached?

A: Yes it has. With Larry Mize and Fuzzy Zoeller playing well. Lanny Wadkins, too. A lot of people mention John Daly and Curtis Strange. There are a lot of players outside. Jeff Maggert is playing well right now. Some younger players are playing well right now. It's fun to pick people's brains. Who is good? There is a divergence of opinion on that.

Q: Is there such a thing as too much advice?

A: No, it's been pretty easy. The consensus of the answers has been pretty uniform. There has been a consensus. As difficult as the selection is, it's been easy (to determine) who on the short list should be there.

Q: Can you talk about the strength of the team.

A: I think the team will be very strong. Look at the names on it already. (Paul Azinger, Fred Couples, Tom Kite, Lee Janzen, Corey Pavin, Payne Stewart have clinched spots.) They've (almost) all had Ryder Cup experience . . . have done well in Ryder Cup.

Lee Janzen is a great player. He'll be greater.

John Cook is a great match player.

Davis Love, I played with him (last Tuesday). It's disheartening to hit a driver pretty good and have his 1-iron go past it.

Jim Gallagher is a rookie, but he has an easygoing personality. He likes to talk. He likes to have fun. It's hard to beat him.

Larry Mize is great and has a great record as far as statistics are concerned. He's a wonderful wedge player and a great putter.

Jeff Maggert is almost a consensus among players as a can't-miss prospect. All the younger players speak well of him. He's played awfully well so far.

You could go down the list, and I could talk about all the players. Home-court advantage, however, will rest with the Europeans.

Q: Assess John Daly's potential contributions to a Ryder Cup team.

A: Upside is his length and the downside is his lack of experience.

Q: How can the performances during the PGA Championship influence your thinking?

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