Because of the Ryder Cup at the Country Club, some are saying golf is in crisis. And, they say, we Americans are to blame. Our crowds were out of control, mainly because of the fist-pumping exhortations of our boorish pros, whose disdain for proper etiquette was apparent when they disgracefully celebrated a teammate's putt before his opponent was given the opportunity to hole out.
Yes, there has been much hand-wringing since Brook-line, which is precisely why the PGA of America should name Curtis Strange captain of the next U.S. team. It's not that I think Strange is the perfect choice to lead the U.S. defense at the Belfry in 2001. As far as I'm concerned, any player, past or present, could probably do an adequate job. No, I like Strange for another reason: To choose anyone else would be to validate the specious claims of some extremely poor losers.
Strange, who had been a contender for this year's captaincy, is the favorite for '01, but the net effect of the past few weeks of pious finger-pointing has been the addition of a new criterion for the job. Now some say the captain has to be a diplomat too, and in these allegedly troubled times, Strange's intensity and quick temper don't fit the bill. Sorry, but I'm not buying the premise.
We shouldn't feel guilty for winning, and there's no reason to kowtow to the Europeans. Sure, they were devastated after suffering the greatest collapse in Ryder Cup history and perhaps thought a referendum on proper behavior might numb the pain. But I think they let their bitterness get the best of them, and, frankly, it's hard to feel compassion when all you get back is spite. My advice to the Europeans is to get over it.
No one disagrees that the U.S. team was wrong to go nuts after Justin Leonard made his improbable putt at the 17th hole on Sunday—although no one stepped on Jos� Mar�a Olaz�bal's line, as was charged. The Americans duly, and I believe sincerely, apologized. But all the other European complaints, including Mark James's assertion that the Americans' fist-pumping unfairly incited the crowd, are contrary to the spirit of the Ryder Cup. Players have a responsibility to their team to raise energy and create momentum. Sergio Garcia knew that instinctively. David Duval had to learn it. It seems that only James doesn't understand that the raw emotion shown by the players is what makes the Ryder Cup distinct and on occasion, as on the final day at the Country Club, what makes it great.
Sure, the Boston gallery was sometimes rowdy, and I heard the catcalls, but that's part of the Ryder Cup wherever it's played. There definitely is a line of propriety that should not be crossed, but I don't think the fans got any closer to it than the exuberant U.S. players did to Olaz�bal's putt. The fans at the Country Club were no better or worse than those at Valderrama in '97. The only difference was that there were more of them.
Colin Montgomerie, as usual, got the worst of it, but he sent daggers into the hearts of the U.S. partisans by making every putt that mattered while defeating Payne Stewart in the final singles match. By ignoring the random gibes with the grim determination of a young Nicklaus tuning out Arnie's Army, Montgomerie earned a grudging respect. As for the other players, the competitive atmosphere they encountered at Brookline was far less acrimonious than it was during 1991's War by the Shore on Kiawah Island, S.C., which remains, for my money, the most exciting Ryder Cup ever.
I'm not suggesting that the success of a Ryder Cup should be based on its level of acrimony. If that was important, '01 could be a doozy, but not just because of the sparks Strange might set off. Sam Torrance, James's assistant at the Country Club and the odds-on favorite to succeed him, deeply offended many members of the U.S. team with his silly personal attacks after the European defeat.
At 44 Strange has learned better than Torrance how to hold his tongue—that's the rap against Strange as a TV analyst. He was also the model of class and restraint when he faced the music after his heartbreaking loss at the '95 Ryder Cup. No doubt, though, he will be the lightning rod at the Belfry if he's the U.S. captain. He has a history of losing his cool. Once, early in his career, he even had to be chewed out by Arnold Palmer after one of his tantrums.
Strange is the right choice for 2001. Certainly on merit. Absolutely on principle.