Europes Next Leader


Its been a while, about a month since my last column, and in that period Ive had the chance to jet about a bit.
I first went to my home in London for 10 days of golf, eating, drinking and more golf, with a little Ryder Cup viewing thrown in for good measure. Then it was off to the Boulders resort in Carefree, Ariz., to host the ING Shotmakers Shootout, an hour-long skills challenge youll see later in the year on Golf Channel. Finally, I had my first foray into the world of live LPGA golf doing interviews at the Navistar in Prattville, Ala., where the weather was glorious and the tournament produced a marvelous finish. That all seems a while ago, though, as last week I was back in the host chair for Golf Central and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship.
This gets me to this: the search for a 2010 European Ryder Cup captain. At St. Andrews last week, the European Tour Tournament Committee was planning to discuss the matter. Instead, their attention was turned to debating a rise in the number of tournaments needed to retain European Tour membership. A decision was made to move this from 11 to 12, beginning with the new Race to Dubai in 2009.
This will make it slightly more difficult for players to play both the PGA and European tours, but it is hardly a significant difference and one that I personally cant see stopping players from featuring on both scenes. Anyway, the point is: the Ryder Cup decision will be discussed in a meeting in Abu Dhabi in January. Committee member and tour veteran Barry Lane said last week: Im sure it will be top of the agenda at the next meeting. But Thomas Bjorn has hinted it may take longer to decide such an important position.
So who are the contenders and who is going to get the nod?
Jose Maria Olazabal:
A lot of hype surrounds Olazabal, vice-captain to Nick Faldo at Valhalla and a veteran of seven Ryder Cup Matches. Ollie has now played through several generations of European Tour stars; the problem is he still nurtures ambitions of playing. He said after the defeat at Valhalla that he wouldnt give a commitment to any captaincy offer before years end. He still hopes to play a couple of tournaments in the final few months of 2008 with a view to returning to 100 percent fitness and potentially qualifying as a player in 10. Ollie will be 43 in February, so time is on his side; he could realistically play in another three Matches. But injury worries stack against him. Jose Maria has played just six times in the past 14 months, struggling with back and shoulder problems. Olazabal will not be picked yet; his turn should come in the U.S., where hes twice been a Masters champion. Put him on the list for 2012 or 2016.
Sandy Lyle:
The 1988 Masters champion and 1985 Open champion was an assistant to Ian Woosnam in 2006 at the K-Club and is in the prime-time of captaincy years. Just making his way onto the Senior circuit, Lyles chances of ever playing a Ryder Cup are finished, but he is still mad keen on the game and keeps an eye of whats going on. In March he told me that he considers himself at the top of the list for 2010 captaincy. I think not. My view would be wait for 2012. Like Olazabal, Lyle achieved a great deal of success in the U.S., winning the Players Championship and the Masters. He lives part of the year in Florida and plays the Champions Tour. Give Sandy his time in 12.
Ian Woosnam:
The winning captain in 2006, Woosnam proved to be a great choice and has been credited as master strategist and team leader for the Euros efforts in the record-equaling victory at the K-Club. Ian has now staked his claim on captaining in his native Wales at Celtic Manor in 2010. I give an endorsement to Woosie; hed be perfect for the captaincy once again, and it would be fitting to have him as leader when the Cup is played for in Wales for the first time. He is a little terrier, a battler someone Europe will need against what is sure to be a U.S. team buoyed by their win in Kentucky and possible Presidents Cup victory in San Francisco (in 2009). Woosnam would be my choice.
The Others category would contain: 1) Nick Faldo. Never the most popular of figures, Faldo has had his time and sadly couldnt get the win. I doubt whether he will ever feature again as either a captain or vice-captain. 2) Colin Montgomerie. He is too young and still holds desires of playing, Monty should captain at Gleneagles in 2014, when the Matches return to Scotland for the first time since Muirfield in 1973.
Any others wishing to apply should send a resume to the tournament committee before January. Thomas Bjorn is right; it might take a few meetings to come to a decision on Europes next captain.
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