YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Captains Stay the Course

Sutton and Langer will keep their own styles for Ryder Cup

September 15, 2004|Thomas Bonk | Times Staff Writer

BLOOMFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. — The Ryder Cup begins Friday at Oakland Hills, but the competition actually started Monday at about 40,000 feet as the European team flew here. That's when Bernhard Langer handed out a small token of appreciation to each of his 12 players -- a Rolex watch. And just in case the players felt a little cramped in the jet, Langer had a massage therapist standing by.

Meanwhile, Hal Sutton decided to loosen things up at a team dinner Monday night when he lined up a guest speaker -- Michael Jordan. Tuesday night, Sutton hired a stand-up comic for the team dinner.

As for Langer's Rolexes, Sutton said Tuesday that he had gifts for his players too, something nice.

"Lamborghinis," he joked.

So, the race is on.

Neither captain is going to swing a club, fix a divot or play a hole during the 35th Ryder Cup matches, but Langer and Sutton will log face time on television, speaking into their walkie-talkies, following the matches in their carts, figuring out what pairings work and don't work, preparing themselves for the second-guessing.

Chances are they'll do it in two very distinct styles. Langer, 47, from Anhausen, Germany, also lives in Boca Raton, Fla. As the son of a bricklayer and a waitress, he rode his bicycle five miles to a golf club to learn the game. The 1985 and 1993 Masters champion, Langer plays slowly and speaks the same way.

Sutton, 46, grew up in Shreveport, La., benefited from the family's oil business and learned to raise horses when he wasn't playing golf. The winner of the 1983 PGA Championship at Riviera, he works part-time as a commentator for ABC, laughs easily and doesn't back down.

In his role as Ryder Cup captain, Sutton calls himself a "benevolent dictator," which he admits is a nice way of saying it's his way or the freeway. He said he would listen to his assistants, Jackie Burke and Steve Jones, and then make his own decisions.

There have been occasions, Sutton said, when he has said, "No, that's not negotiable."

And at the same time, Sutton has gone out of his way to be a players' captain, a role that seems to have come easily. Langer might have chosen a somewhat rockier path.

There were some negative comments directed his way when he did not go to the British Open at Royal Troon to talk to his players and assess their games. He also took some heat in the European press when he did not go to the BMW International, where the European Ryder Cup team was completed, until the weekend, choosing instead to accompany his daughter, Jackie, as she entered Samford University in Alabama.

When Langer chose Anders Forsbrand as an assistant, there was some grumbling among the European players, notably Darren Clarke, who hinted there was a personality issue.

Clarke, when asked to contrast Langer's approach as captain with that of Sam Torrance and Seve Ballesteros, said he hadn't spent enough time with Langer to offer an opinion.

"I'll probably give you a better idea of that on Sunday evening," Clarke said.

Meanwhile, Sutton is taking a hands-on approach. For Tuesday morning's practice, he had three foursomes at Oakland Hills -- Tiger Woods, Chris Riley, Jim Furyk and Chad Campbell; David Toms, Fred Funk, Chris DiMarco and Stewart Cink; Phil Mickelson, Davis Love III, Kenny Perry and Jay Haas.

Sutton said he hadn't assigned partners but added that he'd talked to them all about what he expected. That part is no secret, he said, turning his back to reveal an American flag stitched on his shirt.

Not only has Sutton opened the locker room to the 12 caddies for the first time, he's welcoming the players' wives and girlfriends too. It's all part of his open-arms plan.

"My theory is, if you can laugh together and cry together, we can win together. That's what we are going to do this week," he said.

Langer has the same objective, and if he succeeds, Europe will have won seven of the last 10 Ryder Cup matches. He said what happens this week should not resemble the 1999 Ryder Cup matches at Brookline Country Club, when the European team became upset when U.S. players celebrated a putt by Justin Leonard that all but clinched the Cup.

"Over the top," Langer said quietly, in his style.

Not so quietly, Sutton responded in his own style to a question from a European journalist about Brookline.

"Look, y'all have been kind of a bad marriage partner. We've apologized for five years for what happened in 1999. So y'all need to forget about that. The American players, if we had it to do over again, would not have run out on that green. But the truth of the matter is, we're going to be ourselves.

"So we are going out there and we're going to be ourselves. No more apologies or anything else."

Expect the players from both sides to be themselves, just like the two captains.


Ryder Cup

Site: Oakland Hills Country Club, South Course (7,077 yards, par 70).

Bloomfield Township, Mich.

* Schedule: Friday-Sunday.

* TV: USA (Friday, 5 a.m.-3 p.m.) and Ch. 4 (Saturday, 5 a.m.-3 p.m.; Sunday, 9 a.m.-3 p.m.)

Los Angeles Times Articles