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SPORTS WEEKEND | GOLF / THOMAS BONK

Ryder Cup Runneth Over Now, So Let's All Pay Fair

July 30, 1999|THOMAS BONK

We are reminded every day that the most important factor in sports is money (as in who's getting it).

That's what makes this week's flap about the Ryder Cup so much fun to talk about; it has about all the ingredients we look for in today's sports stories.

You have millionaire athletes coming off as whiny, selfish, greedy mercenaries.

You have a multimillion-dollar nonprofit organization that figures to make a profit of about $17 million.

You have what has become a monstrous worldwide golf event that bears almost no resemblance to its past life when it was more like a little garden party.

All in all, the whole thing is a public relations disaster, especially for the players, which is too bad because they actually have a pretty good point.

Of course, any hint of a boycott of the Ryder Cup is ridiculous and nonproductive, but if the players wanted to get everybody's attention, they've certainly achieved that.

The Ryder Cup is now such a revenue-generator--an estimated $63 million for the September event--that it obviously should be viewed much differently than it used to be.

Clearly, the players are the show. And all their club-rattling about a possible player revolt aside, it's certainly reasonable that they should have some say in where all that profit they help create is going.

Even a traditionalist such as Jack Nicklaus, the U.S. Ryder Cup captain in 1983 and 1987, believes players should receive an increase in their $5,000 stipend, maybe to as much as $50,000, which the players could then give to charity or whatever their hearts desire.

Sure, it's an honor to represent the U.S. at the Ryder Cup, says Nicklaus, but players should not be exploited, either.

Jim Awtrey, chief executive officer of the PGA of America, has decided not to take any questions from reporters, but he did issue a two-paragraph statement in which he said the PGA appreciates the players' contributions to the success of the Ryder Cup.

Awtrey also said he's concerned with "the recent statements of some individuals," that he will continue to talk to PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem and that a satisfactory solution will be reached.

In the meantime, U.S. captain Ben Crenshaw has to be wondering why he's the one having to deal with this mess. He thought his biggest problem would be pairings.

And you can bet that the European players are enjoying the whole messy scene, at least for now, until it's time for them to start figuring out their own way to get a bigger cut of the money pie.

After all, it's only sporting.

A RYDER CUPDATE

From the boycott issue, from Mark O'Meara and David Duval and others complaining that the players should get paid and from Duval saying the Ryder Cup isn't that big a deal anymore, Justin Leonard stands out.

Leonard is playing three consecutive weeks to try to make sure he's on the Ryder Cup team.

Right now, Leonard is No. 9 on the points list and would have skipped this week's event--the Canon Greater Hartford Open--if he had won the British Open.

Meanwhile, some of the other U.S. players on or around the top-10 bubble have made their intentions clear, such as No. 10 Jeff Maggert and No. 14 Tom Lehman, who are playing at Hartford. But No. 8 Phil Mickelson, No. 11 Steve Stricker and No. 12 John Huston are not.

There are four events left on the European PGA Tour for the players to make their way into the top 10 on the Order of Merit.

Spanish sensation Sergio Garcia is No. 12 and if he doesn't make it on the points list, European team captain Mark James will be roasted if he doesn't choose Garcia with a captain's pick. Crenshaw said Garcia is a cinch to be on the team.

Crenshaw has scheduled a U.S. team practice session at the Country Club in Brookline, Mass., for Aug. 30, the day after the NEC Invitational in Akron, Ohio, and has made a chartered jet available for the players' convenience.

Said Crenshaw: "I expect full participation."

AND NEVER DO THAT AGAIN

For what it's worth, putter-maker Never Compromise reported an increase of 30,000 hits per day to 50,000 hits per day on its Web site since the third round of the British Open because Jean Van de Velde was using the putter.

Imagine that. Next, when we find out who made the snorkel and flippers Van de Velde used when he hopped into the water to find his ball at the last hole, just think about how many hits that's going to get . . . and if his shrink has a Web page, the whole Internet might just melt down.

WALLENDAS, WATCH OUT

In case you're interested, you can catch Van de Velde's high-wire act at the PGA Championship at Medinah outside Chicago in a couple of weeks.

LAST WORD . . . PROMISE!

Unofficially, here are the top two Van de Velde references:

From Glenn Sheeley of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution--"the Claret Jughead."

From Rick Reilly of Sports Illustrated--"Jean Van de Melt."

NAME GAME

The 22-year-old amateur from Oklahoma who won the Porter Cup last week at Niagara Falls Country Club in Lewiston, N.Y., has a name that's hard to fit on a pairings sheet: Hunter Jefferson Huck Finn Haas.

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