For years, Tom Kite has toyed with the idea of learning Spanish. America's just-christened 1997 Ryder Cup captain is no longer toying. He has already signed up for lessons with Stephanie, his 14-year-old daughter and a Spanish whiz. Kite hopes that the lessons will help him care for his players in Valderrama, Spain, when they try to recapture the Cup.
The job won't be easy. Americans have won just one of the last three Ryder Cups contested on European turf. And winning in Spain, home of Seve Ballesteros, the Europeans' spiritual leader and probable captain, is a formidable assignment. What's more, Kite will have to juggle his captaincy with an effort to recover from this year's horrific slump. Kite, who will turn 46 on Dec. 9, began 1995 as the PGA Tour's alltime money winner, finishing among the top 25 in earnings in 19 of his 22 seasons. Inexplicably, this season was a washout from the start. Kite missed the cut at his first event, Hawaii, and had only one top-10 finish all year. Far more painful was the loss of his lifelong mentor and dear friend, Harvey Penick, who died in April, just before the Masters.
Kite is confident that he can work his way out of his slump. So confident, in fact, that he wants to be the first playing captain since Arnold Palmer in 1963.
SI: If you earn the right to be a playing captain, would you be able to give your all to both jobs?
TK: Whether I could do justice to being a player and the captain together, I don't know. Certainly, I would love to make another team. It would be my eighth. Only three players have played on eight U.S. teams—Billy Casper, Raymond Floyd and Lanny Wadkins. There's a lot of pressure and attention and demands on the captain. Nevertheless I'd love to have the decision.
SI: Will being the captain hurt your comeback bid?
TK: I know that any distractions will make it much more difficult. But if I start playing well, I don't think the Ryder Cup will be a detriment. When I was on the Tour policy board, the thinking was that it would be detrimental. I proved that wrong in '81 when I was the leading money winner.
SI: How do you rate your performance on Tour this year?
TK: It was pretty pathetic. The whole year was forgettable. I consider it a freak, an aberration. There was not a single high point. There wasn't any indication it would happen, and that made everything a big surprise.
SI: What went wrong?