You had to love what Ben Crenshaw did last week. The U.S. Ryder Cup captain got emotional during a press conference and took swipes at the crabby Tour players who have challenged the way the PGA of America is handling the roughly $60 million it will collect for staging the biennial competition next month in Brook-line, Mass. Crenshaw said, "It burns die hell out of me to listen to some of their viewpoints." He said, "Every fine player who's worth his salt has given his heart and soul to die Ryder Cup on both sides of the Atlantic." And he said, "I'm personally disappointed in a couple of people."
You had to love Crenshaw even more the next day, when he doubled the estimated number of miscreants and confirmed their names. The four who had spit in his soup were Tiger Woods, David Duval, Phil Mickelson and Mark O'Meara. They were the members of the team who had openly expressed the view that Ryder Cuppers should get more than the $5,000 honorarium they are traditionally paid. They were the ones who asked why the Country Club in Brookline should make a projected $6 million profit for hosting the Sept. 24-26 Cup, while they, the players, get shirts, slacks and a hearty handshake.
After his Thursday round at the PGA Championship, Crenshaw, 47, said, "I'm from a different generation"—giving the impression that he was a peer of Bob Dole's and not a Baby Boomer. "[The Ryder Cup] means a lot to all of us who've been there. I got upset because I want people to be as excited as I am."
When Crenshaw was through, you felt good. You felt clean. You felt like grabbing an American flag and charging up the 18th hole of San Juan Country Club.
Then you wondered if there was still time to find another captain. Ben, bless him, had given his disunited players exactly what they didn't need: a scolding in front of hundreds of journalists. By doing so, he widened the fissure between the flag wavers and the accountants on his team, exposed the Gang of Four to withering public criticism and poured kerosene on a fire the PGA of America and the PGA Tour were frantically trying to put out.
"That's leadership," a Chicago journalist wrote without a trace of irony. Well, yeah—if your definition of a good leader is General Custer at the Little Big Horn.
It's not that Crenshaw hurt his team's chances of beating the Europeans in Brook-line. In '97 Seve Ballesteros splintered an already-fractious European squad with his authoritarian style, but he still captained his team to victory at Valderrama. Golf is capricious: It doesn't respond to leadership. No, what Crenshaw hurt was professional golf. The public generally teeters between two perceptions of pro golfers: They are 1) the last independent, noble, truth-telling, rules-abiding figures in sports, or 2) just like all the other spoiled, bratty jocks who pollute the air with their whining. With his undisciplined remarks at Medinah, Crenshaw tipped almost everyone into the second camp.
The backlash was immediate. Mickelson, who has earned a reputation as a good guy by signing countless autographs and chatting with fans, got blasted in Saturday's Chicago Tribune for his "self-important act." ("He puts on any more weight," an anonymous caddie was quoted as saying, "and he won't be able to get his fat head through that Learjet of his and he'd have to fly commercial. And wouldn't that be a shame?") E-mail to CNN/SI's Web page also tilted heavily against the outspoken players. "I just want to puke," wrote one person. "Can't Tiger and those other guys just shut their goddam mouths for once?" Before Crenshaw opened his mouth, there had been rumors that a few top players might boycott a Ryder Cup. After Crenshaw's remarks, some ticket holders threatened to boycott this Ryder Cup. Another E-mailer asked, "Who wants to watch an exhibition with no 'whiner's' check?"
Again, no one should fault the captain for resenting the players' mutinous remarks, or for scolding them, either. But he, as much as they, should have realized that a feud by press conference could only tarnish pro golf and distract from next month's competition. By pleasing the masses—yeah, we gave that little arm pump when Crenshaw fired his salvo—the American captain just poured more poison into the Cup.