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Ryder Cup Has Changed and Its All for the Better

I can't begin to tell you how differently the Ryder Cup is now from the year when I first played. I first played in 1977, and I remember what our optimism was like back then - it was zero. No one thought we had a chance. As it developed, I guess they were right.
The big change came in 1983. At last we were getting enough talent that we felt we could play with the Americans. Seve Ballesteros and Sandy Lyle had come aboard in 1979. In 1981, Bernhard Langer made the team. Ian Woosnam was there in 1983. And in 1983, we lost the Cup by just one point.
Going into the matches in '83, probably half believed it could be done and the other half didn't. But after we came so close that year, all 12 guys believed it was possible. It WAS possible in 1985 - we won - and from then until now it's been equal footing.
The Ryder Cup has so many joyful and memorable moments for me, as well as some that aren't so joyful. Certainly there have been great partnerships - Peter Oosterhuis, Woosie, Sam Torrance, Bernhard, Colin Montgomerie. Obviously the match most people talk about today is the one I played with Curtis (Strange)- this year's American captain - in 1995.
I remember it pretty well myself - I had gotten down early, we were like the 11th match on the course, there was so much tension. Our team was such big underdogs there at Oak Hill.
I finally tied it and on 18, I had about a 95-yard shot into the green. It was as nervous as I've ever been on a golf course. When I went down to the shot and my knees went boinggg! I had never done that before!
Then I had a four-foot putt that was very tricky. There was a lot of break, the ball would have to be played outside the hole. So I knew that, if I missed, it would roll far enough away that I'd still have another putt. But I didn't want to dribble it down there, I wanted to stand up and hit the darn thing. Of course, it did go in and I won the match. But that was a pretty good up-and-down, that one. I would have prayed if it would have helped at the moment, but of course I didn't have time!
We've had to go with only eight or nine players most years, though. The tone was set by Tony Jacklin back in the mid-'80s when he was European captain. He called us together back then and said, 'Guys, I've got eight men playing great and I'm going to keep playing those eight guys.'
We've never had 12 really strong players. We're always struggling. Of course, there have been a year or two that we've been better than that. But I think this year, we'll be all right. I doubt there are more than two or three guys that the captain is intending to go all five matches. The only one I can think of is Garcia.
The rest of the guys have injuries and what have you, so it actually might help this time that he (Torrance) won't be able to go with many guys every time. I think he is going to have to play just about everybody. There might be a few guys who go out three or four times, but those days of having to play five times are about over.
This year will be different, of course, in that this is really 2001's team one year after. You can't expect the players to be all on top of their game. There are about four guys on each team who are struggling, either because of injuries or loss of form. We knew that would happen when they postponed it for a year. It was inevitable that at least two players would be playing worse. But the press hasn't really dwelled on who or who isn't playing poorly. It's like, 'Hey that's the team, now get on with it.'
Both sides will be hurt somewhat. But it IS match play, so that really doesn't matter. If he shoots 75 and you shoot 74 - you've won. The important thing is to win your match, it doesn't matter how or by what bloomin' score, it's just you've got to win a point. That's what you've always got to remember.
Match play has always been intriguing. The big difference is, you play more aggressively than in stroke play. Every shot you go for, because if you miss the green, you can still chip it in. You're not thinking, 'This is awfully difficult to get up and down.' You always are thinking about just one thing - get the ball in the hole.
That's the great thing about match play - you never think about the next shot; whereas, in stroke play, you're always thinking about the next shot. And if you lose one hole, you forget about it immediately and think about the next hole. You can really survive on your adrenalin and determination. You go for everything - within reason, of course.
There are so many butterflies on the first tee, but you've got to realize that you only control what you can control. You can't control anything outside the ropes - you can't control the gallery or the TV or the Ryder Cup officials or anything else. The only thing you've got control over is yourself. And you should have one overriding thought - 'There's the fairway and I've got to hit it.'
I've put my name forward for Ryder Cup captain. I feel like I'm ready for it. To be honest, I don't know what the procedure is, so we'll just have to see what happens. But whatever it is or however you go about, I feel as though I am ready.
But, I love the concept behind the Ryder Cup. May the best team win, and let's begin the matches.
Full Coverage of the 34th Ryder Cup Matches