Format Changed 25 Years Ago

By Associated PressSeptember 11, 2004, 4:00 pm
04 Ryder CupTwenty-five years ago this weekend, at a placid resort so hidden in the West Virginia hills that daylight is said to take 24 hours to reach it, the Ryder Cup was transformed from a biennial coronation of American golfing superiority to a fight-to-the-last-putt duel between continents.
 
Even if the few spectators or the participants had no idea what would soon become of an event that, at the time, was minimally contested and mostly ignored by the public and media.
 
This was no War on the Shore or Battle of Brookline -- the only fighting words at the 1979 Ryder Cup at The Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va., came from a Brit and a Scot upset at being shuttled off to a locale so distant for a team event that interested them so little.
 
Us vs. Them? Back then, the Ryder Cup was mostly Them vs. Them.
 
Jack Nicklaus changed all that, all without ever lifting a club.
 
A couple of years before -- coincidentally, at the same time he was redesigning the Greenbrier course for the 1979 Ryder Cup -- Nicklaus lobbied longtime British PGA president Lord John Darby to allow Europeans onto the Great Britain-Ireland team. The United States had won 10 straight Ryder Cups, and Nicklaus felt a change was urgently needed to preserve a traditional contest played since 1927 but endangered by its lack of competitiveness.
 
'We sat down in the lounge at the hotel in Lytham,' Nicklaus said. 'I said, 'John, the Ryder Cup is a very prestigious team to make. But, frankly, the American players really could care less about the matches because they walk away with them every year. It takes a week of their time and they are just going to win anyway.'
 
Rather than arguing for tradition or becoming upset at Nicklaus' suggestion, Darby welcomed it.
 
'He said, 'You leave it to me' ... and he got that done,' Nicklaus said.
 
Did he ever. Now, the Ryder Cup is effectively the Olympics of golf, a must-watch event that stokes international passions. Since the change was made in 1979, the Americans have six wins, the Europeans five, with a tie in 1989 that let the Europeans keep the cup. But the United States has won only once since 1993, at Brookline in 1999, and only three of nine times since 1983.
 
'It grew and grew and grew,' said Bernhard Langer, a former Ryder Cup player and now the European captain.
 
Even if that growth wasn't immediate and the format change, at least initially, was a whopping failure.
 
The only continental players added in 1979 were Spaniards Seve Ballesteros and Antonio Garrido, who were largely responsible for Europe's 17-11 loss. They got off to an ominous start by losing Friday's opening four-ball match, 2 and 1, to Lanny Wadkins and Larry Nelson, a foretelling of what was to come during a weekend of play staged deep in the Allegheny Mountains.
 
They lost twice Saturday to Wadkins-Nelson, 3 and 2 in foursomes and 5 and 4 in fourball, then lost in singles the final day, Ballesteros 3 and 2 to Nelson and Garrido to Mark Hayes on the 19th hole. Nelson went 5-0 that weekend, still the only player to do so in Ryder Cup play.
 
Regardless, the Ryder Cup was much closer than usual, and not just because American star Tom Watson pulled out at the last minute to be with his pregnant wife, and Nicklaus, stuck in the worst year of his career, didn't qualify.
 
The United States led only 8 -7 after two days, mostly because Europe won five of six Saturday matches not involving Ballesteros and Garrido. Europe also could have gained another half-point and perhaps some momentum on Sunday if team captain John Jacobs hadn't made a generous gesture of sportsmanship that likely wouldn't be extended today.
 
Jacobs and U.S. captain Billy Casper placed into an envelope the name of a player to be pulled if the opposing team had an injury. Casper, either by accident or by confusion, chose his best player, Lee Trevino, rather than his worst.
 
When Europe's Mark James was scratched with an aching shoulder, Trevino should have rested, but Jacobs refused to benefit from Casper's grievous error and allowed him to sit Gil Morgan instead.
 
Trevino went on to beat Sandy Lyle, 2 and 1.
 
Think Langer would give Hal Sutton a second choice at Oakland Hills next weekend should, say, Tiger Woods accidentally be scratched?
 
Of course, Jacobs was spending the weekend dealing with a simmering issue of his own. Unhappy possibly because of the inclusion of European players, James, who would be Europe's captain 20 years later, and Ken Brown each missed a team meeting and posed uncomfortably for the team picture. Brown barely spoke to teammate Des Smyth during an embarrassingly bad 7-and-6 loss to Hale Irwin and Tom Kite in foursomes.
 
Upon returning home, both were heavily fined, and Brown, despite winning his singles match, was banned from the 1981 Ryder Cup.
 
The United States won again at Walton Heath in Surrey, England, in 1981, 18 -9 , but the momentum turned after that. The Americans won only 14 -13 at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens in 1983, and Europe's breakthrough victory came easily -- 16 -11 -- at the Belfry in Sutton Coldfield, England, in 1985.
 
By then, a niche event -- in 1979, ABC showed only a couple of hours' coverage the entire weekend -- morphed into the premier international event in golf.
 
'Remember when whoever won the America's Cup, the yacht race, it was, `Whoa, whoa, whoa, it's the America's Cup?'' Haas said. 'Who watched boat racing on TV until the Australians won? I think that's what happened to the Ryder Cup. Until that (Europe won) happened, it was not as intense for the fans. That was the boost it got in the public's eyes.'
 
Related Links:
  • European Ryder Cup Team

  • U.S. Ryder Cup Team

  • Full Coverage - 35th Ryder Cup

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    Monday Scramble: Which way did he go?

    By Ryan LavnerFebruary 19, 2018, 4:15 pm

    Bubba Watson reemerges, Tiger Woods misses the cut, the PGA Tour might have a fan problem, Billy Hurley III loses an election and more in this week’s edition of Monday Scramble:

    Bubba Golf is back, and not a moment too soon for the PGA Tour.

    Love him or loathe him – and there are plenty of folks on both side of the aisle – the game is more interesting when Watson is in the mix.

    Bubba went AWOL for two years, and entering the back half of his 30s, he thought his golf career might be finished. He got passed over for a Ryder Cup spot in 2016, despite being ranked inside the top 10 in the world. He endured a mysterious illness that caused him to lose 40 pounds on his already slight frame. He surprisingly changed his golf ball (more on that later). And he questioned his desire and motivation to play, until wife Angie gave him a swift kick in his white pants.

    Watson was at his best at Riviera, again, shaping shots around the tree-lined fairways and holing just enough putts for a two-shot win.

    Where Bubba goes from here – the Masters is less than 50 days away – is anyone’s guess, but the game just got a lot more entertaining.

    1. Watson has not disclosed what illness he suffered from last year, and in true Bubba fashion, he grew tired of being asked about it, even though he was the one who brought it up. “I’m not talking about the illness no more, it’s no big deal. I’m here. I’m healthy. There are people that are a lot sicker than me in this world, so the illness is nothing.”

    He said that he seriously wondered whether he’d ever win tournaments again. Though he has a number of small businesses to fall back on – a candy shop, a minor-league baseball team, a car dealership – it’s not as satisfying as playing good golf.  

    "I was close [to retirement]," he said. "My wife was not close. My wife basically told me to quit whining and play golf. She’s a lot tougher than I am."

    2. Though his game was already trending downward, Watson decided to switch his ball at the beginning of 2017. Players change equipment all the time, of course, but none rely on feel and shot shape as much as Watson.

    It was a bizarre decision that he hasn’t yet fully explained, and likely never will, but he said in October that he didn’t have a ball deal to begin this new season. He played the Titleist Pro V1x at Riviera.

    “Equipment is not the problem,” he said Sunday. “I got down to low-160s in weight. My ball speed, my swing, everything changed.”  

    3. As memorable as Bubba’s holed bunker shot on 14 was, this will be the defining moment of his week in LA:


    4. Here’s what Watson said in late 2014: “My goal is 10 wins and to make every team event. Those are the biggest goals. And until we reach those goals, I’m going to keep trying. If I get to 10, then I can switch it from there. Or retire.”

    Watson on Sunday bristled when asked whether he was possibly going to retire, like he had said – “I don’t know if I was going to retire, let’s don’t start putting words out there” – but the point remains that he now has to change his goals.

    And he doesn’t know where to start.

    “Nobody thought that Bubba Watson from Bagdad, Fla., would ever get to 10 wins, let’s be honest,” he said. “Without lessons, head case, hooking the ball, slicing the ball, can’t putt. Somehow we’re here, making fun of it. So yes, I’ve got to set a new goal.”

    After this latest win, and the two-year exemption, he said that he won’t retire for at least two more years, and that he’ll play the Masters “until they kick me out.”



    5. The Tiger Woods comeback tour hit a snag last week at Riviera.

    The driving issues that hampered Woods at Torrey Pines didn't magically disappear. He was still inconsistent with his iron play. (His 16 greens hit in two rounds were the fewest of his Tour career.) And he wasn’t as sharp around the greens. It added up to 72-76 and an early exit in his first L.A. appearance in more than a decade.

    In two starts this year, Woods has hit 36 percent of the fairways and 54 percent of the greens.

    That's a problem, because PGA National might be even more difficult, with water on seemingly every hole and 15-mph winds expected. Uh-oh.

    6. Woods’ driver remains his biggest problem.

    While he’d largely eliminated the left side of the course at Torrey Pines, that wasn’t the case at Riviera.

    Putting a new, more “stout” model of shaft in his TaylorMade driver, Woods missed right almost exclusively in the opening round, then had several double crosses left with the big stick on Day 2.

    His short game and putting might be vastly improved compared to the horrors of the past few years, but it’ll be hard to compete and then contend if he’s hitting it off the planet. (And many of those off-line drives would find the water at PGA National.)

    For the week, he ranked 128th in strokes gained-off the tee, 100th approaching the green, 95th around the green and 65th putting.

    7. The news wasn’t all bad, though.

    That Woods committed to the Honda Classic, his hometown event, was an encouraging sign. That signals A) he has a desire to play tournaments, and B) he’s physically able to do it.

    For the first time in years, we’re finally able to judge Woods on the quality of his play, not his health. 



    8. The PGA Tour might be reaching a breaking point in regards to fan behavior.

    Players know what they’re signing up for at TPC Scottsdale, but even regular Tour stops are getting more raucous than players and officials would like.

    Woods created such a scene over the first two rounds at Riviera that his playing partner, Rory McIlroy, said that he had a splitting headache and that the circus probably costs Woods a half shot each round. Justin Thomas said Saturday that spectators are trying to scream and time their moronic comments perfectly. “It’s completely unacceptable,” he said.

    The same thing happened at Torrey Pines, where a fan screamed during Woods’ putting stroke. It happened (a lot) at Phoenix, where a fan twice yelled in Jordan Spieth’s downswing. And it’ll absolutely happen again this week at the Honda Classic, especially at the long, par-3 17th, where tournament organizers have put their most overserved fans almost directly on top of the tee.

    It’s only a matter of time before one of these idiots costs a player the tournament.  

    9. Bill Haas was involved in a horrifying car crash last week in Los Angeles. The driver of the Ferrari he was traveling in, 71-year-old Mark Gibello, was killed, while Haas and the driver of the other vehicle were taken to the hospital.

    It was a scary incident, and a sad one for the Haas family. Fortunately, Haas escaped without any major injuries, but the mental toll could be immense.

    Wish him the best.  



    10. So it looks like it’ll be another drama-filled year for Lydia Ko.

    After going winless in 2017 and changing every major aspect of her game, she returned this year with even more changes – a new swing coach, Ted Oh, and caddie, Jonny Scott. She tied for 19th in her season debut.

    It’s time to be concerned. She was on pace to be one of the all-time greats, but now – whether because of insecurity or too much parental involvement, who knows – she has changed her entire team. Again.

    Ko said she deleted Twitter from her phone not because of the deluge of criticism she has received over the past year. No, more curiously, she said it was because she didn’t use the app that much and it was “taking up [too much] storage on my phone.”

    Uhh ... Ko has more than $8.5 million in career earnings, so obviously she could splurge for the 256 GB plan, and the app takes up less storage on a phone than Uber, anyway.

    Maybe she’ll get it turned around this year, but we’re not overly optimistic. There’s too much noise upstairs. 

    11. Just in time for the run-up to the Masters, Spieth’s putter is starting to heat up.

    On tricky greens for the second consecutive week, Spieth had another week with a positive strokes gained-putting statistic – and that’s a marked improvement from the start of the year. He tied for ninth at Riviera.

    “I just made some tremendous progress,” he said. “I feel great about the state of my game going forward, feel like I’m in a great place at this time of the year as we’re starting to head into major season.”

    12. Amateur swing coaches popped up everywhere as Patrick Cantlay appeared painfully slow during Sunday’s final round.

    On full shots, he shuffles his feet while looking at the target and waggling the clubhead. But over putts, he remains still with his upper body while doing the same dance routine.

    While putting on the 16th and 17th holes, he took six and seven looks at the cup, respectively. Perhaps not surprisingly, those putts did not drop. Playing in the final group, he shot 71 and finished three back.

    Is there something going on here?

    Cantlay’s first-round scoring average (67.67, second on Tour) is almost four shots lower than in his final rounds (71.13, 100th). He has broken 70 only once on Sunday – and that was in Vegas, where he won with a closing 67.  

    Cantlay has incredible potential, but this is just one example of smart golf people believing he’d be better suited with a quicker routine:

    Billy Hurley III put together one of the most epic campaign ads of all time, but did he release it too late?!


    That’s the only reasonable explanation for why Hurley wasn’t elected as the next Player Advisory Council chairman on the PGA Tour.

    Hurley’s ad went viral, logging more than 750,000 views on Twitter, but he released it the day before the election. Maybe most Tour players already cast their votes.

    Shame.

    Maybe next time, #GoldenMan.

    This week's award winners ... 


    Peaking For Augusta?: Phil Mickelson. Well, well, well, Phil recorded a third consecutive top-6 finish, the first time he’s done that in 11 years. One massive hurdle remains – putting together four good rounds for his first win in nearly five wins – but he’s absolutely getting closer.

    Count Yo’ Money: Kevin Na. With a runner-up at Riviera, the 34-year-old has now crossed $25 million in earnings despite notching just one win in his Tour career.

    Changes Coming?: Augusta National’s fifth hole. Site plans were filed last month that show the 445-yard par 4 could be pushed back another 25 to 30 yards, the Augusta Chronicle reported. It’s a short- to mid-iron approach right now, but we’d rather see them address the severe undulations on the green.   



    Nice Goin’, Rook: Jin Young Ko. She went wire to wire to win in her first start as an LPGA member, at the Australian Open. She’s just the second to accomplish the feat, joining Beverly Hanson (1951). Of course, the 22-year-old Ko also won last fall, but at the time she wasn’t an official member. The check still cleared, though. 

    Stay Hot: Joost Luiten. He made 21 birdies in his last 54 holes to hold off Chris Wood and win the European Tour event in Oman.

    Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Paul Casey. Seemed an easy pick, after a playoff loss at Riviera in 2015 and after recording a tie for eighth at Pebble that was his 12th top-20 in his last 13 starts. Instead, he needed to birdie his final hole to make the cut on the number, then continued to tread water on the weekend, eventually finishing 49th. Sigh. 

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    Rosaforte Report: Parkland tragedy weighs heavily on golf teams

    By Tim RosaforteFebruary 19, 2018, 4:00 pm

    Amanda Okulanis was on the Sawgrass side of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School campus on Thursday, away from the 1200 building that largely housed ninth-graders and where most of her 17 classmates were killed in a mass shooting in Parkland, Fla.

    For Okulanis, who could hear the shots while evacuating, the survivor’s remorse has already kicked in.

    “It could have been anyone of us,” said Okulanis, the captain and No. 1 player on the Stoneman Douglas girls’ golf team. “It was just timing and where you were.”

    Okulanis, 18, works part time in outside operations at Heron Bay GC and is a pro shop attendant at TPC Eagle Trace, not far away from Parkland in Coral Springs. She just returned from her second funeral on Sunday afternoon when we spoke. Among those who were in the wrong place at the wrong time was Cara Loughran, the 14-year-old daughter of Eagle Trace superintendent Damien Loughran. Cara’s brother, Liam, survived.

    “Both of the funerals I sat through today, both of their families spoke over and over again about their smiles and how they were the most amazing kids with unlimited potential,” Okulanis said. “And how they brought such happiness to this world.”


    Amanda Okulanis (center) and the Marjory Stoneman Douglas girls' golf team. (courtesy: Amanda Okulanis)


    As a Bright Futures Scholarship recipient, Okulanis will be attending the University of Central Florida in the fall and play club golf. She wants to become a CPA and work as a CFO for a large corporation or professional sports team.

    “She was a natural born leader,” said Devin Schaller, the girls’ golf coach at Stoneman Douglas. “We had a young team and as the season went on she grew as a person and it really showed. She was the glue we needed.”

    Schaller, who teaches U.S. and world history, was evacuating students in the midst of the shooting, but was able to send out a group text. All his girls checked in, but some had been in Building 12, where most of the killings took place.

    “We’re all trying to be cohesive and moving forward in unison with one another,” said Schaller. “It’s just such a horribly unique experience.”

    The boys’ golf coach at Stoneman Douglas had his own horrific experience. In addition to coaching golf and softball, Brian Staubley works as a security officer at SDH and was just outside the door where the shooter was reloading. He was ordered back just before another round of gunfire. He lost two friends and colleagues in the shooting.

    Among those Staubley led to safety in the school’s auditorium was Evan Kuperman, a 16-year-old sophomore on his fall team. Kuperman’s older sister was in the 1200 building and wasn’t responding to texts or calls for an hour after the shooting. She survived. You can imagine the impact that's had on his life and his family's.

    “My son, he’s been effected, like all the kids have been effected,’’ said his father, Craig.



    Kuperman (pictured above) started playing golf at 13. In short time, he has advanced past the local level in the Drive, Chip and Putt competition, has won U.S. Kids tournaments and represented the Junior Golf Association in Broward County in state events. He also competes on the South Florida PGA Challenge and Championship tours.

    Thinking it would be therapy, Evan Kuperman went to the range at Parkland to hit balls on Friday.

    He signed up for a Gold Coast junior event in Miami on Sunday, put his clubs in his high school bag, and wore the team shirt in competition. Unable to concentrate, he withdrew after nine holes.

    On his Twitter feed, @Evankup13, Kuperman has tweeted with the hashtag #DouglasStrong. Motivated by Parkland recently named the safest city in Florida, he has not been shy about retweeting gun control messages.

    “It’s something no kid should go through,” he told me Monday morning. “There’s a Mahatma Gandhi quote when you walk into the front gates of the school that says, ‘Be the change you wish to see this world.’ It’s stuck to a lot of us.”

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    Watson back in top 40 after OWGR free fall

    By Ryan LavnerFebruary 19, 2018, 1:48 pm

    Bubba Watson ended his free fall in the Official World Golf Ranking with a two-shot victory Sunday at the Genesis Open.

    Watson, a fixture in the top 10 in the world as recently as 13 months ago, had dropped all the way to 117th after a 2017 season in which he struggled with poor form, illness and desire.

    After his third career win at Riviera, he is up to 40th.

    Kevin Na rose from 95th to 65th after tying for second in Los Angeles, while Tony Finau jumped from 41st to 33rd.

    Tiger Woods actually improved in the world ranking, from No. 550 to No. 544, despite a missed cut at the Genesis Open.

    On the European Tour, Joost Luiten surged from 90th to 68th after his victory in Oman.

    The top 10 in the world remained unchanged as the PGA Tour heads into the Florida swing: Dustin Johnson, Jon Rahm, Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Justin Rose, Hideki Matsuyama, Rickie Fowler, Jason Day, Brooks Koepka and Rory McIlroy.

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    Bubba catapults, Phil creeps up in Ryder Cup standings

    By Golf Channel DigitalFebruary 19, 2018, 1:21 pm

    Bubba Watson was an assistant on the 2016 Ryder Cup team. He doesn’t want to be driving a cart in Paris.

    Watson, thanks to his victory in the Genesis Open, jumped from 60th to 10th in the latest U.S. Ryder Cup standings. The top eight after the PGA Championship qualify automatically for this year’s edition at Le Golf National in France.

    Phil Mickelson moved up one spot to 11th after tying for sixth at Riviera Country Club.

    Players will receive one point per dollar earned in regular events this year, with 1.5 points per dollar in majors and two points per dollar for winning a major. Here's a look at the current U.S. standings:

    1. Dustin Johnson

    2. Brooks Koepka

    3. Justin Thomas

    4. Jordan Spieth

    5. Matt Kuchar

    6. Brian Harman

    7. Gary Woodland

    8. Rickie Fowler

    ---

    9. Chez Reavie

    10. Bubba Watson

    11. Phil Mickelson

    12. Patrick Reed


    On the European side, the top four players from the Ryder Cup points list will be joined by the top four qualifiers from the world points list, with captain Thomas Bjorn making four additional selections. Here's a look at the current top names:

    Ryder Cup Points

    1. Justin Rose

    2. Tyrrell Hatton

    3. Ross Fisher

    4. Matthew Fitzpatrick

    World Points

    1. Jon Rahm

    2. Tommy Fleetwood

    3. Sergio Garcia

    4. Rory McIlroy