Im so disgusted with where everythings gone I dont even want to play the game, he told me Thursday by phone.
The call to Sutton was intended to yield an opinion on Paul Azinger, the new Ryder Cup captain. Hes the right choice, Sutton responded without hesitation. He represents what the Ryder Cup is all about. Hes got passion. But there have been captains before that have had passion.
In fact, the U.S. is 0 for its last four blood-and-guts, spit-in-your-face captains: Lanny Wadkins, Curtis Strange, Hal, and most recently, Tom Lehman. Ben Crenshaw, the only victorious captain of the last decade, surely had passion, but it was served differently, with the gentle touch of an old mystic. Tom Kite, on the losing end in 1997, didnt outwardly breathe fire.
Theres no captain thats going to make the difference, Sutton said with a tinge of resignation. Of course now, the phone call was no longer about Azinger.
Were in a vacuum in golf in America, Sutton began, and I knew I was about to experience a strong Texas wind.
Were consumed by the almighty dollar, he said. Weve forgotten that we all play the game because we love it. Greatness doesnt worry about money. Greatness worries about bein great.
Were a product of our environment, he explained. Were playing a game that requires us to hit it high and long. In the old days we had to do more with different golf shots.
Sutton emphasized that its not necessarily the fault of the players. We got too many people in leadership capacities that dont understand the game at its core, he said. Were conforming to what they say the market wants and what manufacturers are giving us and its weakening our players.
The market wants Tiger Woods. And therein, Sutton believes, lay a problem.
Everyones trying to be like Tiger, said the man who took heat for pairing No. 1 with Phil Mickelson in an experiment gone terribly wrong at Oakland Hills. Theres no individualism. Theyre all trying to swing like Tiger.
Look, Rich, he implored, growing more animated, its 400 yards to the other end of the range from where Im sittin and if Jack and Arnie and Raymond and Lee and Gary and Tiger were hittin balls we wouldnt need to walk down there to tell which is which. You could tell em from 400 yards away.
Is that the players fault? No. Its just that weve got it built in our minds that you have to be a certain way to be good.
I have respect for Jim Furyk because he doesnt conform to anybody, Sutton added. Hes been doin it his way for a long time and hes been doin it pretty damn good hasnt he?
Sutton puts some blame at the doorstep of Americas junior golf system.
We dont have world class players in their 20s, he said. Thats a failure on our part.
The greatest in the world learned the game on the golf course, Sutton said. People think you can learn it on the range. Mechanics make you tight. It will not free you up to play the game. There were many days when the great players werent hittin it their best and they still figured a way to win. You dont need reinforcement after every shot.
With the promise of PGA TOUR millions, youngsters and parents chase the dream, often spending lifes savings to attend intensive academies while traveling a junior tournament circuit that would wear down even a hardened veteran.
We need to go back to investing in kids' futures with no agendas and no management fees, try to realign whats important in the game. Everyones taking out of the game and not putting back in. I had people teach me the game and never charged me for a lesson.
We all have an investment in this game.
It took us a generation to get into this and it will take us a generation to get out of it.
And then, Hal had to go, the competitor who once feared no golfer, not even Tiger, now in something of a self-imposed exile. The work of fixing the game too big for one man, hes content to put the finishing touches on a golf course amidst the rolling hills of Texas, far from the profession he no longer knows.
Email your thoughts to Rich Lerner