A Conversation with Captain Hal


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