While the European Tour has named Nick Faldo to captain the 2008 Ryder Cup, the PGA of America has remained mum on who will head up the American squad, which is still licking its wounds after two consecutive 18 1/2 to 9 1/2 drubbings. If form holds, the PGA will announce its pick within the next two weeks.
Paul Azinger is the leader in the clubhouse in the biennial parlor game of Guess That Captain, but after serving as a lieutenant to Tom Lehman in waterlogged Dublin this year, Corey Pavin has to be on the PGA's short list. Then there's longshot Mark O'Meara. Still, with just eight Americans among the top 25 golfers in the World Ranking, the question isn't Azinger or Pavin, it's who in their right mind would want this position.
Let's see: Go to Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Kentucky, watch Sergio Garcia make two year's worth of putts in three days, cringe as the U.S. loses every match that goes to 18 and go home Cup-less. Again. Oh, and get barbecued in the press for not having the backbone to bench Phil Mickelson in the afternoon matches.
Absent the free sweater vest, where's the upside?
If I'm Azinger, I'm not worrying IF I'm on the PGA's short list but THAT I'm on the PGA's short list. And I'd be making a short list of exit strategies and Googling salmon-fishing guides in Alaska who have openings around, say, September 2008. If I'm Pavin, I'm declaring, as Montgomerie has for 2010, that I'm out of pocket for consideration as the next captain because I'll be trying to make the team as a player. It wouldn't sound so ridiculous, since Pavin won a tournament this year, and while he'd certainly be doing himself a favor, he'd also be helping the PGA.
Here's why: When the other team is tap-dancing on your quarterback's larynx, you don't send in your million-dollar, No. 1 draft pick. You trot out the 40-something career backup who's being held together with Vicodin and duct tape while he plays out the string and waits for his 401(k) to kick in. When it's mop-up time in the late innings and your team trails by 11 runs, you don't send in your ace. You summon Jose Canseco.
Such is the scenario the PGA of America finds itself in. Captains get one-term deals, and when they're done, they're done. It's over. With the U.S. Ryder effort in shambles, there is no sense in wasting our best men on what is likely to be another big loss. As Hal Sutton said recently, "It took a generation to get us here, and it's going to take a generation to get us out." And so, for the time being, the PGA ought to find its own 5th-string QB, its own Canseco, or at least a guy for whom the honor of being chosen would be victory enough.
Hey, PGA, save Azinger and Pavin for when this thing gets competitive again, whenever that is. Here's who should be on the short list for 2008:
- Mark O'Meara The PGA likes its captains to be in their awkward late-40s, when they're no longer very competitive but not yet eligible for the ATM tour. O'Meara, who never won the Wanamaker Trophy, will be 51 when the next Cup rolls around, but with all the grief that Tiger Woods has put up with over his relatively modest Ryder career, Mark O's bud might appreciate being thrown a bone right about now.
- Larry Nelson The 1987 PGA champion is probably a bit overripe for the post, but he shouldn't be DQ'd just because he's eligible for the Champions tour. He's earned his shot, and with recent casualties including respect, intimidation and luggage, it's not like America's Ryder Cup effort has much left to lose.
- John Daly He won the 1991 PGA, he's getting up there in years, he always wanted to be on a Cup team, and what better way to save money on a musical act?
- Internet vote In other words, John Daly. Or Scarlett Johansson.
- Jim Leyland He took the Detroit Tigers (!) to the World Series, which means he could make winners out of anybody. He could also out-smoke Darren Clarke.
- Vijay Singh He won the PGA twice, in 1998 and 2004, and he'll be 45 by the time the matches roll around. True, he's never played in a Ryder Cup and would have no occasion to, being from Fiji, but those are just details. Singh could cajole the Yanks into practicing, and he wouldn't hesitate to sit slumping U.S. stars, especially (payback!) Phil Mickelson.
- Phil Mickelson Probably the most diplomatic way to get the Ryder-jinxed three-time major winner to put the clubs away in 2008. Hey, Phil, left-handed walkie-talkies!