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Last month Tom Kite was named captain of the U.S. team for the 1997 Ryder Cup, a choice that surprised the many who were expecting that honor to go to Larry Nelson. Nelson, 48, is a two-time winner of the PGA and a veteran of three Cups who will be moving on to the Senior tour late in 1997, so timing and credentials had made him the front-runner for the job. Now his goal is to make the team as a player. SI caught up with Nelson at the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic
SI: How did you learn about Tom Kite's selection as Ryder Cup captain?
LN: It was interesting. A week before the announcement someone from CNN called and asked if I was going to West Palm Beach because they had heard the captain was going to be there for a press conference. I didn't know it was Kite, but since I hadn't heard from the PGA, I figured that someone else had been selected
SI: How did you feel?
LN: I was disappointed. I don't want to say that it was a done deal, but ever since Lanny Wadkins's selection in 1993, the people that I talked to at the PGA had indicated that in 1997 I would be captain. Lanny and I talked about it quite a bit. I had conversations with the people who made the selection in 1993, and that was just the way it was—between Lanny and me for 1995, and whoever didn't get it would go on in 1997
SI: Kite may have gotten more attention for winning his one major than you did for winning three. Do you think your low profile and low-key personality made it easier for the PGA not to choose you?
LN: I don't think that should have had any bearing on how the decision was made. If you compare Tom's personality with mine, there's not a whole lot of difference. As far as the one major versus three, he's one of the leading money winners of all time and has been a great player for a long time. I heard that one reason they picked Tom is because I'm not in touch with the players. It doesn't make a lot of sense. I played 21 tournaments last year, and I'll play 22 this year. I don't know how you're supposed to be any more in touch than to play 21 tournaments. If that was the sole reason, then they made their decision for the wrong reason
SI: Did you ever lobby for the job?
LN: No, I never talked to anyone. I don't even know who was on the selection committee. I honestly didn't think it was the kind of honor that you had to lobby for. To me it's not a political decision, so if it required me schmoozing up to the right guys, then I didn't want it. I don't know whether Tom lobbied. Maybe he did, maybe he didn't, but apparently they knew more about him than they did about me.
SI: How soon after learning that you would not be captain did you set the goal of making the team?