The Quest to Play in the Ryder Cup


Editor's Note: This is the first in a series of articles following the players trying to secure automatic berths and captain's selections to compete in the Ryder Cup in September.

The Ryder Cup is a unique event. It always has been. In the days when players needed a top ten finish in order to pay the motel bill and have enough gas money to get to the next tournament, earning a Ryder Cup berth was an achievement that carried distinction. Some chosen as captain of the team regard the honor as the highlight of their careers. In the day of courtesy helicopters, traveling masseurs and seven figure appearance fees, some players just don't get it. If they're lucky, though, they have an opportunity to play in one. Then they understand. Just ask David Duval. His experience at The Country Club in 1999 changed his views on the Ryder Cup 180 degrees.
On the other hand, Tom Lehman always got it. He is a family man who hates being away from his wife and kids. He has a routine of never spending more than a few weeks at a time away from home. He is also the son of a professional football player, competitive and motivated. Some of the greatest pleasures of his life in golf had been experiences on Ryder Cup teams in 1995 & 1997.
In May of 1999 he was rebounding from a shoulder injury. His game wasn't where he wanted it to be and his results on Tour were disappointing. Lehman had a decision to make. He could stick to his usual traveling regimen and hope Ben Crenshaw would throw a captain's selection his way. Or he could increase his schedule as much as he could bear, prove the injury was healed and show that he would be a quality addition to the team. Maybe he would even earn enough points to take the decision out of Crenshaw's hands.
Lehman played a grueling schedule through the PGA Championship and, while he finished thirty-two points shy of an automatic berth, he did impress Crenshaw enough to be chosen with one of the two discretionary picks. All he did that September was beat Darren Clarke to remain undefeated in singles and set the stage for the biggest comeback in Ryder Cup history.
A number of PGA Tour players find themselves in a position similar to Lehman's. Either through injury or low finishes, they now need to play as much as possible in order to have opportunities at top-tens and thus, Ryder Cup points. Only top ten finishes earn points. If you finish eleventh, you may as well have missed the cut. A win is worth seventy-five points. Places two through nine decrease by five each from forty-five to five points respectively.
Points are weighted in favor of recent play and Major Championships. The weighting factors are as follows; points awarded for finishes in 2000 Tour events are multiplied by one; 2001 Tour events by two; 2000 majors by three; and 2001 majors by four. In short, a fifth place finish at a Tour event in 2000 was worth thirty points, a fifth place at a major in 2001 is worth 120 points. Points are awarded from January 10th, 2000 through the 2001 PGA Championship. The top ten players who were American citizens prior to their eighteenth birthday automatically qualify for the team. The captain has two discretionary picks to complete his team of twelve.
At this point, the Ryder Cup picture is starting to round into shape. It's a good bet that 600-700 points will make the top-ten. Unless there's a complete collapse, the top-6 on the current points list seem assured of making the team. Woods and Mickelson are in. Just 27 points separate Duval (640), Calcavecchia, Love and Sutton (613). Joe Durant is 7th with 505 points. Three majors and 13 tour events remain and there are a lot of points still to be earned, but Tiger, Mickelson and non-American players are bound to stake a claim to a large percentage of those points. Obviously, the opportunities to earn points dwindle each week.
Golf is the most solitary of sports. You are alone, battling the course, the elements, and yourself. The opportunity to play, not for your bank account or sponsors, but for a team, representing your country is a very rare thing in golf.
True glory comes from accomplishments larger than one's self. If you get a chance to put the hopes of an entire nation of golf fans on your back, forget any personal goals, lock arms with 11 other men, fight your heart out, and shake hands when it's over, win or lose, that's glorious. Truly, the 24 men who will play at the Belfry in September are the most fortunate men in our game.
Full Coverage of the 34th Ryder Cup Matches