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Don't Call Outspoken Sutton a Shallow Hal

February 19, 2004|THOMAS BONK

It's February, it's raining, it's the seventh week of the season and it's not even remotely close to September, so why should anyone be thinking about the Ryder Cup? Could be Hal Sutton and his power of suggestion.

Apparently it will be a cold day in February when Sutton misses a chance to wave the flag and try to get the attention of the players who will be on his team when it tries to take the cup back from Europe.

That includes Tiger Woods.

Sutton, 46, a captain with a message, has been around so long -- 23 years on the PGA Tour, 14 victories, one Presidents Cup and four Ryder Cups -- his Louisiana accent has wrinkles. But his words are clear.

Sutton said that Woods had already been asking him questions about the Ryder Cup, which can only be a good thing, according to the captain. And if there were any lingering perception that Woods' attitude toward the Ryder Cup needed a little tweaking, Sutton said he had already done it.

Sutton also said he would do everything in his power to help Woods win five points in the matches, Sept. 17-19, at Oakland Hills Country Club.

If they come together with the right attitude, Sutton wants Woods to become his quarterback.

That's not a bad game plan because there have been a few fumbles lately.

Although the U.S. leads the competition, 24-8-2, Europe has won the Cup in three of the last four matches and six of the last nine.

The responsibility to change the fortunes of the U.S. team has been given to Sutton, who has been one of the more popular players in the locker room for a long time. He has a reputation for expressing his opinion, which as we have found out in golf these days, is not always an appreciated talent.

At Riviera in 1983, a much leaner Hal Sutton won his first and only major title when he beat Jack Nicklaus by one shot in the PGA Championship. If Nicklaus wasn't supposed to lose to some kid whose family owned an oil company, then that grown-up Shreveport kid showed he belonged.

And now that he's captain, Sutton would prefer that everyone on his Ryder Cup team -- or the Presidents Cup team for that matter -- show the same kind of commitment he asks of himself.

How many times in your life do you have the chance to play for your country? Sutton counted his four Ryder Cup experiences and one Presidents Cup that would have been two except he had to pull out because of his father-in-law's death.

That's six weeks of his life, said Sutton. He acknowledged that Woods was going to play every Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup in his career, so figure he does that for 20 years.

Woods should be able to do that, the captain said.

"That's 20 weeks of his entire life that he had an opportunity to play for his country. Give me a break."

Sutton also said he wouldn't be reluctant to have John Daly on his team, that the Presidents Cup shouldn't have ended in a tie, that anybody who won a major deserved a closer look at being a captain's pick if that were the only way to be included, that he wasn't sure whether eating dinner together every night was what made the European team click, that the U.S. team hadn't been a bunch of underachievers and that experience wasn't all it was cracked up to be.

There will come a time when this is all over and Sutton can get back to his hobby of riding and selling cutting horses.

He can design more golf courses like Old Oaks, which he laid out in Bossier City, La.

Maybe he can even find time to work on his golf game, instead of watching how potential Ryder Cup players such as Jonathan Kaye and Jerry Kelly and Chad Campbell are doing.

Until the time when his team goes up against Europe's team, led by captain Bernhard Langer, Sutton is going to face hard questions. And he's also probably going to give his opinions.

He said this Ryder Cup could be the highlight of his career. The only way that could happen would be a final score going the U.S.' way.

We'll see in September. Before that, there's plenty to talk about.

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