A Conversation with Captain Hal

By Rich LernerAugust 19, 2004, 4:00 pm
04 Ryder CupIm going to be decisive, U.S. Ryder Cup captain Hal Sutton told me Monday morning after he had announced that Stewart Cink and Jay Haas were on board. He said it as if he was about to lead the Crimson Tide of Alabama into a Saturday battle against Tennessee. Suttons an SEC football coach in soft spikes. He wont hesitate to tell his boys when theyve gone soft.
 
Im gonna ask everybody to be men, he emphasized. In the past weve been politically correct hoping to make people feel good.
 
Im gonna play the guys I think we need to play to win.
 
In other words, no whining if your names not called. Guys who are struggling may only play twice.
 
Sutton also stated that he wont pair guys simply because they like each other. Hal isnt looking to make players comfortable.
 
Hal even had the guts to suggest that right now Tiger Woods looks uncomfortable.
 
With his swing or with all the pressure heaped on his shoulders week to week? I asked.
 
The latter, the captain replied.
 
But Suttons not worried. Tiger will be ready, he said. Every time hes challenged he rises.
 
I wondered how Tiger was in the team room when Sutton played at The Belfry. He was good, Hal said. He can be pretty funny sometimes.
 
What remains to be seen is if Tiger, sometimes thought to be a lone wolf who doesnt thrive in the team environment, can embrace a leadership role. Sutton understands that will be one of his tasks in the month ahead.
 
Another will be to foster camaraderie. In the words of London Times golf writer John Hopkins, the Europeans come into every Ryder Cup as the featherweight but hit like the heavyweight. The romantic notion is that the Euros are the team that gathers round the bar and laughs and carries on deep into the night and then plays spirited golf by day. The Americans, the thinking goes, are in bed by 10:30 with milk and cookies, well rested but without much feeling for each other.
 
Sutton agrees that by nature the Europeans tend to eat together more often on the road than the Americans. He added with a smile, If its in my power we will come together as if were drinking beer at night and playing golf by day. In general though he believes putting may be more important than back slapping.
 

He has eight very good putters on his team, including his captains picks. Woods, Mickelson, Furyk, Toms, DiMarco and Riley can all, to use DiMarcos phrase, brush it.
 
Oakland Hills puts a premium on putting.
 
Youd rather have a 15-footer uphill than an 8-footer downhill, Sutton said.
 
Jay Haas, who played in 1983 and 1995, said, So often the team that wins is the team that consistently makes the 6- to 8-footers.
 
With just a couple par-5s at Oakland Hills, Sutton believes hell be able to strategically put his best putters in position to do what they do best on the par-3s.
 
Itll be set up a lot like a U.S. Open, which doesnt bode well for the Europeans.
 
Still, the Ryder Cup is funky. The Euros seem to enter another dimension every other year. And this time around, they dont look all that inferior to the U.S. on paper.
 
But paper at the Ryder Cup burns quickly. And while theres no chance the Americans will come in as the featherweight, maybe they can tip the public perception scales the other way and shed a few burdensome pounds. Marvin Hagler packed a pretty good punch as a middleweight, didnt he?
 
In any event, the U.S. has the right man in the corner. Suttons directive from the brass at The PGA of America was straight forward in a language the plain spoken man from Louisiana has always understood.
 
Win the Ryder Cup.
 
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Related links:
  • U.S. and European Ryder Cup Points List

  • Full Coverage - 35th Ryder Cup
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    Langer not playing to pass Irwin, but he just might

    By Tim RosaforteJanuary 16, 2018, 1:40 pm

    Bernhard Langer goes back out on tour this week to chase down more than Hale Irwin’s PGA Tour Champions record of 45 career victories. His chase is against himself.

    “I’m not playing to beat Hale Irwin’s record,” Langer told me before heading to Hawaii to defend his title at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai. “I play golf to play the best I can, to be a good role model, and to enjoy a few more years that are left.”

    Langer turned 60 on Aug. 27 and was presented a massage chair by his family as a birthday gift. Instead of reclining (which he does to watch golf and football), he won three more times to close out a seven-win campaign that included three major championships. A year prior, coming off a four-victory season, Langer told me after winning his fourth Charles Schwab Cup that surpassing Irwin’s record was possible but not probable. With 36 career victories and 11 in his last two years, he has changed his tone to making up the nine-tournament difference as “probable.”

    “If I could continue a few more years on that ratio, I could get close or pass him,” Langer told me from his home in Boca Raton, Fla. “It will get harder. I’m 60 now. It’s a big challenge but I don’t shy away from challenges.”


    Bernhard Langer, Hale Irwin at the 1991 Ryder Cup (Getty Images)


    Langer spent his off-season playing the PNC Father/Son, taking his family on a ski vacation at Big Sky in Yellowstone, Montana, and to New York for New Year’s. He ranks himself as a scratch skier, having skied since he was four years old in Germany. The risk of injury is worth it, considering how much he loves “the scenery, the gravity and the speed.”

    Since returning from New York, Langer has immersed himself into preparing for the 2018 season. Swing coach Willy Hoffman, who he has worked with since his boyhood days as an as assistant pro in Germany, flew to Florida for their 43rd year of training.

    “He’s a straight shooter,” Hoffman told me. “He says, 'Willy, every hour is an hour off my life and we have 24 hours every day.'"

    As for Irwin, they have maintained a respectful relationship that goes back to their deciding singles match in the 1991 Ryder Cup. Last year they were brought back to Kiawah Island for a corporate appearance where they reminisced and shared the thought that nobody should ever have to bear what Langer went through, missing a 6-footer on the 18th green. That was 27 years ago. Both are in the Hall of Fame.

    "I enjoy hanging out with Hale," Langer says.

    Langer’s chase of Irwin’s record is not going to change their legacies. As Hoffman pointed out, “Yes, (Bernhard) is a rich man compared to his younger days. He had no money, no nothing. But today you don’t feel a difference when you talk to him. He’s always on the ground.”

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    McIlroy: Ryder Cup won't be as easy as USA thinks

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 16, 2018, 1:18 pm

    The Americans have won their past two international team competitions by a combined score of 38-22, but Rory McIlroy isn’t expecting another pushover at the Ryder Cup in September.

    McIlroy admitted that the U.S. team will be strong, and that its core of young players (including Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler) will be a force for the next decade. But he told reporters Tuesday at the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship that course setup will play a significant role.

    “If you look at Hazeltine and how they set the course up – big, wide fairways, no rough, pins in the middle of greens – it wasn’t set up for the way the Europeans like to play,” McIlroy said, referring to the Americans’ 17-11 victory in 2016. “I think Paris will be a completely different kettle of fish, so different.”

    At every Ryder Cup, the home team has the final say on course setup. Justin Rose was the most outspoken about the setup at Hazeltine, saying afterward that it was “incredibly weak” and had a “pro-am feel.” 

    And so this year’s French Open figures to be a popular stop for European Tour players – it’s being held once again at Le Golf National, site of the matches in September. Tommy Fleetwood won last year’s event at 12 under.

    “I’m confident,” McIlroy said. “Everything being all well and good, I’ll be on that team and I feel like we’ll have a really good chance.

    “The Americans have obviously been buoyant about their chances, but it’s never as easy as that. The Ryder Cup is always close. It always comes down to a few key moments, and it will be no different in Paris. I think we’ll have a great team and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.” 

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    Floodlights may be used at Dubai Desert Classic

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 16, 2018, 12:44 pm

    No round at next week’s Dubai Desert Classic will be suspended because of darkness.

    Tournament officials have installed state-of-the-art floodlighting around the ninth and 18th greens to ensure that all 132 players can finish their round.

    With the event being moved up a week in the schedule, the European Tour was initially concerned about the amount of daylight and trimmed the field to 126 players. Playing under the lights fixed that dilemma.

    “This is a wonderful idea and fits perfectly with our desire to bring innovation to our sport,” European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley said. “No professional golfer ever wants to come back the following morning to complete a round due to lack of daylight, and this intervention, should it be required, will rule out that necessity.”

    Next week’s headliners include Rory McIlroy, Sergio Garcia and Henrik Stenson. 

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    Ortiz takes Web.com Tour clubhouse lead in Bahamas

    By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:19 am

    Former Web.com Tour Player of the Year Carlos Ortiz shot a bogey-free, 4-under-par 68 Monday to take the clubhouse lead in The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic at Sandals Emerald Bay.

    Four other players - Lee McCoy, Brandon Matthews, Sung Jae Im and Mark Anderson - were still on the course and tied with Ortiz at 6-under 210 when third-round play was suspended by darkness at 5:32 p.m. local time. It is scheduled to resume at 7:15 a.m. Tuesday.

    Ortiz, a 26-year-old from Guadalajara, Mexico, is in search of his fourth Web.com Tour victory. In 2014, the former University of North Texas standout earned a three-win promotion on his way to being voted Web.com Tour Player of the Year.

    McCoy, a 23-year-old from Dunedin, Fla., is looking to become the first player to earn medalist honors at Q-School and then win the opening event of the season.