Captain Sutton Always in Control

By Associated PressSeptember 11, 2004, 4:00 pm
04 Ryder CupFlat on his stomach with his face buried in towels, Hal Sutton grabbed the side of a table and groaned as a therapist dug fingers into Sutton's lower back with such force that it left four dime-sized bruises.
 
Sutton had flown all the way to Australia for the 2001 Match Play Championship and he was determined to play, even if his body was telling him to sit this one out.
 
Four down with six holes to play, he could have easily packed it in. But he rallied to square the match, grunting and limping after each shot. Sutton took Nick O'Hern three extra holes before he failed to save par from a bunker, losing the opening-round match.
 
'I'm not a quitter,' Sutton snarled that day at Metropolitan Golf Club. 'That's not my style.'
 
Sutton's style has been abundantly clear since he was appointed U.S. captain for the 35th Ryder Cup matches.
 
He is a no-nonsense kind of guy who leaves no question who is running the show.
 
He doesn't care about style points.
 
And he projects a toughness developed in part by his Louisiana roots, in part by a career in which he went from being the next Jack Nicklaus to a troubled soul in a horrific slump, then resurrecting himself as a player who never flinched against the toughest competition.
 
'Hal has turned into the guy we always looked up to,' Davis Love III said. 'He's probably the most passionate and classiest guy we've played with in the last 10 years. He's become a strong leader.'
 
When the public salivated over the thought of John Daly playing in the Ryder Cup, Sutton shut down speculation by saying the selection process would not be a popularity contest. He refused to give anyone a hint about their chances of a captain's pick, and he isn't about to look back.
 
'The thing with Hal is that you'll see this is definitely his team,' said David Toms, who grew up in Sutton's shadow in Shreveport, La. 'Whether he makes right or wrong decisions, he'll stick by them. You'll know he's in control. And I think that's a
good thing. He's pretty tenacious on the golf course, and he'll carry that over into being captain.'
 
To illustrate his decisive nature, Sutton said pairings will be up to him -- and him alone.
 
'I don't think Bill Parcells sits down with the top three quarterbacks on the Dallas Cowboys and says, 'OK, let's all talk about who is going to start and I want to make everybody happy.' He's just not going to do that. I'm not going to do that, either.
 
'I'm going to be decisive in what I think it's going to take for us to win. And I'm going to follow through with it.'
 
Sutton played on the 1985 Ryder Cup team that was beaten for the first time in 14 matches. He was on the 1987 team that lost for the first time ever on home soil. He also played on the 2002 team that lost after a one-year delay in the matches because of the terrorist attacks.
 
The only time he was part of a victory came in 1999, and Sutton was the rock of the U.S. team. He won 3 points and led the field in fist pumps, energy and pep talks.
 
'He was at Centenary and I was at Western Kentucky. I got to see two years of him,' Kenny Perry said. 'When he showed up, everyone was like, 'Oh, man, there's Hal Sutton.' He was The Man in college. It just seems like when Hal is saying something, people are like, 'Hey, we need to listen.''
 
Sutton essentially had two careers on the PGA Tour.
 
He was one of the brightest stars, having won the 1980 U.S. Amateur and then winning as a PGA Tour rookie. He was 'the next Nicklaus' in 1983 when he captured The Players Championship, then outlasted Nicklaus in a riveting duel at Riviera to win the PGA Championship.
 
But it fell apart five years later. Sutton bought into the hype of being the heir to the Golden Bear, and he let others have too much influence on his life and his game. He was divorced three times, and his game was in such disarray that he was embarrassed to be seen on the practice range alongside the best players.
 
Sutton went eight years without winning, and he had to use a one-time exemption from the career money list just to keep his PGA Tour card.
 
But, amazingly, he pulled himself up by the bootstraps.
 
First came the playoff victory at the 1998 Tour Championship over Vijay Singh. The most significant victory, perhaps more important than his major, was going toe-to-toe with Tiger Woods at The Players Championship in 2000, the year that Woods was in full flight.
 
That's where everyone got to know the real Sutton.
 
He started the week with a Patton-type statement that he wasn't afraid of Woods, that the world's No. 1 player was not a god because Sutton didn't pray to him.
 
Sutton then went wire-to-wire, withstanding an intense battle with Woods in the final round. The shot that clinched the victory was a 6-iron into 12 feet on the final hole. Even more memorable was Sutton's reaction.
 
'Be the right club TODAY!,' he yelled in that gruff voice as the shot was in the air.
 
'When I made the Ryder Cup team, one of my friends sent me an e-mail saying, 'Congratulations for getting a call from Be-The-Right-Club-Today,'' Stewart Cink said. 'That was a time when Tiger was at the top, and Hal pretty much took him down. That spoke louder than anything he said.'
 
Sutton now tries to bring that trait to a U.S. team that has lost six of the last nine Ryder Cups to a European team that is never favored until it is holding the trophy.
 
He only promises that his team will be ready. And that his team will understand who's the boss.
 
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    Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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