Corey Pavin: A Serious Wildcard

Here's an interesting idea, and by "interesting" I mean the type of idea that is almost certainly stupid but might just be brilliant: Corey Pavin, Ryder Cup wildcard.

Did you spit out your coffee? Choke on your shredded wheat? You should have. Pavin, 46, is too old. He's too short for the K Club, which at 7,370 yards is no Brown Deer Park (6,759), where Pavin opened with a PGA Tour record 8-under-par 26 on Thursday and won the U.S. Bank Championship in Milwaukee. After all, if old and short is what we're after, let's draft Loren Roberts, who won the Senior British Open in a playoff Sunday and is having a better year.

Pavin's 15th Tour victory moved him from just the other side of nowhere to 26th in Ryder Cup points, but before last weekend he hadn't been on top of his game since the Clinton administration-—the first term. Too cold, old and short, Pavin is also too busy that week, since he's on tap (with Roberts) to assist U.S. captain Tom Lehman.

And yet—here we go—Pavin could be a greater asset to this U.S. team by actually playing. Think about it: Chris DiMarco, the lifeblood of the Yanks in recent team events, is short off the tee as well, but American golf fans breathed a collective sigh of relief when DiMarco effectively made this year's team with his runner-up finish at the British Open two weeks ago.

Pavin is DiMarco with a mustache. Or was.

Before anyone had ever heard of "the claw" putting grip, Pavin was compiling an 8-5-0 Ryder Cup record. Like DiMarco, his ability to will the ball into the jar grew along with the pressure. You can still see him in your mind's eye, partnering Steve Pate and wearing those stupid Desert Storm caps in the 1991 Cup at Kiawah, the War by the Shore-a W for the U.S., by the way.

Equating a golf match with a real war is ridiculous and vain, but there was Pavin out there chipping it in, putting it in, steering it in the hole every which way. He did the same thing at Brown Deer Park, leading the field with 26.5 putts per round on the way to his 20-under total. He didn't even need to putt on the par-4 eighth hole Sunday. After hitting a 270-yard drive he selected a 6-iron and knocked his 172-yard approach shot into the hole for an eagle 2.

Getting the ball down, mostly with the putter, is the part of the game Europe has dominated recently, and harnessing that skill in the most pressure-packed moments for God and country isn't something you can coach. You either have it or you don't. Pavin isn't tall and broad-shouldered and doesn't hit stars off the tee that seem to hang in the sky forever. Good thing. The U.S. has been trying to win the Ryder Cup with a surplus of that type of player, and it's not working.

Pavin would make a good alternate-shot teammate for, say, long-hitting, boulder-shouldered, would-be rookie Brett Wetterich for other reasons, as well. Psychological reasons. Lehman was so nervous during his first Cup in 1995 that he was having trouble breathing, but pulled himself together after his veteran partner, Pavin, prescribed the simple but elegant mantra to, "Get committed and swing." Today Lehman calls it the best advice he ever got.

Be that as it may, the U.S. captain will want to see more from Pavin to make the diminutive former UCLA Bruin a defensible pick. A Top 10 in this week's Buick Open at Warwick Hills in Grand Blanc, Michigan, would be a start, and it's not out of the question since Pavin is in the field, he's hot and he nabbed a second at Warwick Hills in 1994 after a T4 in '93. Pavin could then loudly make his case at the (double points) PGA Championship at Medinah, the last chance for would-be team members and where Pavin tied for 10th in the 1999 PGA. (He qualified for this year's PGA by virtue of his victory in Milwaukee last weekend.)

Yes, he's old, but Jay Haas was older when he played in the '04 Ryder Cup. Yes, Pavin is short, but Shinnecock Hills (6,952 yards) wasn't exactly a bandbox when he won the 1995 U.S. Open. And yes, Pavin would have been an underling to Lehman at the K Club, but what does an assistant to the captain really do, anyway? Officiate the Ping-Pong matches between Tiger and Phil? Lehman and Team USA need a different kind of assistance. They need a guy, and not just DiMarco, whose ability to get the ball down is heightened in the most intense moments. They need Pavin to play. But this time, he can leave the camo cap at home.

Cameron Morfit covers the PGA Tour as a Senior Writer for GOLF MAGAZINE. You can read his column every Monday on GOLFONLINE. E-mail him your questions and comments at golfletters@golfonline.com.

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