A Ryder Cup Surprise
Not known for surprises, the PGA of America pulled a good one by selecting Tom Kite as captain of the 1997 U.S. Ryder Cup team that will play in Valderrama, Spain.
With the exception of Tom Watson in 1993, the association had picked a former winner of the PGA as captain of every Cup team since 1979. Therefore, the leader in the clubhouse appeared to be Larry Nelson, a two-time winner of the PGA who also has a 9-3-1 record in three Ryder Cups that includes four wins over Seve Ballesteros, who will almost certainly captain the European team in '97.
But by breaking tradition and choosing Kite, the PGA is clearly saying that captaining the team has outgrown its ceremonial past and is now a job for someone with Ryder Cup experience who is also rooted in the here and now. Kite beats Nelson on both scores.
Kite has played in seven Ryder Cups, the most recent being at The Belfry in 1993, where as a key player in the U.S. victory, he ran his singles record to 5-0-2 by defeating Bern hard Langer. Nelson has not played in the Ryder Cup since 1987. Perhaps more important, Kite, 45, still plays the Tour full time and is more in touch with today's players than the 48-year-old Nelson.
There are two downsides to the selection of Kite. First, Kite is going to have to give up something. He is coming off a disastrous season and has stated that his primary goal in 1996 is to regain the form that made him one of the game's most consistent performers. Can Kite do that and tend to ever more time-consuming Ryder Cup duties?
The other negative is that Nelson, who plans to play the Senior tour full time when he turns 50, saw '97 as his only window of opportunity. "I've known Tom for years, and I can't see anyone doing a better job," he says. "What's disappointing is that by not being selected this year, my chances of being a Ryder Cup captain become nonexistent."
Teen to Turn Pro
Psst, don't tell anyone, but Cristie Kerr, the most sought-after high school recruit in the country, is going pro.
Kerr, the 18-year-old senior at Miami Sunset High who knocked the socks off competitors of all ages this year, fears that if she admits she is taking a pass on college, the USGA will take a pass on her when it selects the 1996 Curtis Cup team next month. Not to worry, Cristie. USGA executive director David Fay and Mary Capouch of the Women's Committee both say that the selections will be based on amateur records, not career plans.