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THE INSIDE TRACK

European Ryder Cuppers Face Qualifying Quandry

March 23, 1997|RON SIRAK | ASSOCIATED PRESS

European players want to keep the Ryder Cup so badly they will apparently change the team selection process in midstream to ensure having the strongest possible squad in Spain this September.

A ballot will be conducted among the European PGA Tour players over the next seven to 10 days asking if they support doubling the number of captain's choices from two to four and reducing the number of automatic qualifiers from 10 to eight.

European tour spokesman Mitchell Platts said Tuesday the decision to hold the vote came after a players' meeting last week at the Portuguese Open at which there was strong sentiment to change the selection process.

Platts said the result of the voting will be passed along to the European Ryder Cup committee, which will make the final decision. One possibility is a compromise in which captain Seve Ballesteros would get three picks.

As things stand right now those not on the European team include Nick Faldo, Jesper Parnevik, Jose Maria Olazabal, Bernhard Langer, Sandy Lyle and Ballesteros.

"We have to get the rule changed for the sake of the team and the future of European golf," Langer said over the weekend.

If the change is made the loser will not be the U.S. players, who want to play the best Europe has to offer, or the fans, who want to see the best competition possible.

Getting the shaft will be two Europeans who remained loyal to their tour and passed on the bigger money and better courses in the United States just to make the Ryder Cup team.

Right now those two players--Nos. 9 and 10 on the qualifying list--are veterans Paul Broadhurst and Sam Torrance.

The PGA of America has yet to be contacted by the European PGA Tour about a change in the selection. But the timing of the vote means the issue will likely come up when a scheduled meeting between the U.S. and European Ryder Cup committees is held at the Masters next month.

It is also likely the response from the United States will be that the European selection process is a European matter.

"What if they change the rules in mid-stream?" U.S. captain Tom Kite said. "Well, I don't think about their team. I have enough to worry about thinking about my team.

"I think I could take the top 12 off the list right now and have a very strong team. If our guys play the way they should, we will be very, very tough no matter who they put out there."

Ballesteros pushed for increasing the number of captain's choices in 1995 and lost out. He is pushing even harder this time, in part because it means so much to him to retain the cup in his native Spain, the first time the Cup has been contested on the European continent.

"The most important thing in the Ryder Cup is to have the best team," he said. "What do you want me to do--resign?"

That is not likely a real threat but it is a strong message to the tour players of how Ballesteros wants them to vote.

The last-minute scrambling by the Europeans raises the question of whether there should be qualifying for the Ryder Cup teams at all. Maybe both sides should just pick their 12 best and go at it.

Many of Europe's top players feel that way. Clearly, one advantage for them is that they can play in the U.S. and still make the European Ryder Cup team.

But it would hurt both tours to eliminate a qualifying process.

European players could abandon their tour and play in the United States. And the competition among Americans for the top-10 spots gets guys playing a couple of more tournaments in a Ryder Cup year and makes those last few tournaments very exciting.

One of the great rounds of 1995 was the 63 Brad Faxon shot in the last round of the PGA Championship at Riviera to finish fifth and make the Ryder Cup team.

The final, sad irony of all of this is that if anyone else were captain of the European team and selected Ballesteros as a captain's choice it would be viewed as a proper reward to a deserving player in the twilight of a great career that revitalized European golf.

But there is virtually no way Ballesteros can pick himself, denying fans--and golf--the one true captain's pick who deserves to play at Valderrama.

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