Ryder Cup Runneth Over Now, So Let's All Pay Fair

We are reminded every day that the most important factor in sports is money (as in who's getting it).

That's what makes this week's flap about the Ryder Cup so much fun to talk about; it has about all the ingredients we look for in today's sports stories.

You have millionaire athletes coming off as whiny, selfish, greedy mercenaries.

You have a multimillion-dollar nonprofit organization that figures to make a profit of about $17 million.

You have what has become a monstrous worldwide golf event that bears almost no resemblance to its past life when it was more like a little garden party.

All in all, the whole thing is a public relations disaster, especially for the players, which is too bad because they actually have a pretty good point.

Of course, any hint of a boycott of the Ryder Cup is ridiculous and nonproductive, but if the players wanted to get everybody's attention, they've certainly achieved that.

The Ryder Cup is now such a revenue-generator--an estimated $63 million for the September event--that it obviously should be viewed much differently than it used to be.

Clearly, the players are the show. And all their club-rattling about a possible player revolt aside, it's certainly reasonable that they should have some say in where all that profit they help create is going.

Even a traditionalist such as Jack Nicklaus, the U.S. Ryder Cup captain in 1983 and 1987, believes players should receive an increase in their $5,000 stipend, maybe to as much as $50,000, which the players could then give to charity or whatever their hearts desire.

Sure, it's an honor to represent the U.S. at the Ryder Cup, says Nicklaus, but players should not be exploited, either.

Jim Awtrey, chief executive officer of the PGA of America, has decided not to take any questions from reporters, but he did issue a two-paragraph statement in which he said the PGA appreciates the players' contributions to the success of the Ryder Cup.

Awtrey also said he's concerned with "the recent statements of some individuals," that he will continue to talk to PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem and that a satisfactory solution will be reached.

In the meantime, U.S. captain Ben Crenshaw has to be wondering why he's the one having to deal with this mess. He thought his biggest problem would be pairings.

And you can bet that the European players are enjoying the whole messy scene, at least for now, until it's time for them to start figuring out their own way to get a bigger cut of the money pie.

After all, it's only sporting.

A RYDER CUPDATE

From the boycott issue, from Mark O'Meara and David Duval and others complaining that the players should get paid and from Duval saying the Ryder Cup isn't that big a deal anymore, Justin Leonard stands out.

Leonard is playing three consecutive weeks to try to make sure he's on the Ryder Cup team.

Right now, Leonard is No. 9 on the points list and would have skipped this week's event--the Canon Greater Hartford Open--if he had won the British Open.

Meanwhile, some of the other U.S. players on or around the top-10 bubble have made their intentions clear, such as No. 10 Jeff Maggert and No. 14 Tom Lehman, who are playing at Hartford. But No. 8 Phil Mickelson, No. 11 Steve Stricker and No. 12 John Huston are not.

There are four events left on the European PGA Tour for the players to make their way into the top 10 on the Order of Merit.

Spanish sensation Sergio Garcia is No. 12 and if he doesn't make it on the points list, European team captain Mark James will be roasted if he doesn't choose Garcia with a captain's pick. Crenshaw said Garcia is a cinch to be on the team.

Crenshaw has scheduled a U.S. team practice session at the Country Club in Brookline, Mass., for Aug. 30, the day after the NEC Invitational in Akron, Ohio, and has made a chartered jet available for the players' convenience.

Said Crenshaw: "I expect full participation."

AND NEVER DO THAT AGAIN

For what it's worth, putter-maker Never Compromise reported an increase of 30,000 hits per day to 50,000 hits per day on its Web site since the third round of the British Open because Jean Van de Velde was using the putter.

Imagine that. Next, when we find out who made the snorkel and flippers Van de Velde used when he hopped into the water to find his ball at the last hole, just think about how many hits that's going to get . . . and if his shrink has a Web page, the whole Internet might just melt down.

WALLENDAS, WATCH OUT

In case you're interested, you can catch Van de Velde's high-wire act at the PGA Championship at Medinah outside Chicago in a couple of weeks.

LAST WORD . . . PROMISE!

Unofficially, here are the top two Van de Velde references:

From Glenn Sheeley of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution--"the Claret Jughead."

From Rick Reilly of Sports Illustrated--"Jean Van de Melt."

NAME GAME

The 22-year-old amateur from Oklahoma who won the Porter Cup last week at Niagara Falls Country Club in Lewiston, N.Y., has a name that's hard to fit on a pairings sheet: Hunter Jefferson Huck Finn Haas.

Better get ready, though, because you're also going to see that name at the Masters next year by virtue of his victory at the U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship.

NO SMOKING?

Nabisco is cookies. McDonald's is cheeseburgers. The U.S. Open is, well, the U.S. Open and the du Maurier is . . . what?

These are the four majors on the LPGA Tour, which have as much in common as Van de Velde and sane golf. The du Maurier is sponsored by a tobacco company, and that's one of the problems the LPGA consistently finds itself having to deal with--sponsors.

Here's the typical LPGA sponsor situation: Get one, lose one, find a replacement, watch one blow up in smoke.

That would be the du Maurier, which is being played this week at Priddis Greens Golf and Country Club in Calgary, Canada.

If anti-tobacco legislation is successful in Canada, Imperial Tobacco's du Maurier would be out of there after 14 years as one of the most consistent sponsors on the LPGA Tour and set into motion yet another sponsorship replacement search.

"We haven't made any plans beyond 2000," LPGA Commissioner Ty Votaw said. "To do so would be disrespectful to du Maurier and what they've done for us and golf throughout Canada."

Some believe that if the tournament loses its sponsor and thus its stature, another event would take its place on the women's major table, most likely the Weetabix Women's British Open.

The British Open has gained more respect in recent years since it has been played on good courses instead of its usual sheep pastures. But yanking the label of major from one event and then just plugging in another to take its place doesn't sound like a great way to do business.

Unless there's no other option, of course.

SHE'S JUST TIRED

How do these things get started? Yes, Annika Sorenstam pulled out of the du Maurier. No, despite all the rumors, she is not pregnant, according to her agent, Mark Steinberg of IMG.

"She's definitely not pregnant, there's definitely no problem with her," Steinberg said.

But pulling out of a major?

"It's unfortunate that she needed a break during the week of a major, but that's the only time she had on her schedule," Steinberg said.

Either that or it's an anti-smoking protest.

JACK, ARNIE UPDATE

Nicklaus, with a rebuilt hip, has entered this week's Novell Utah Showdown at Park City, to complete what well may be one of the last tournament appearances of golf's golden Big Three--Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Lee Trevino.

Palmer, who turns 70 in September, is saying once again that he's considering cutting way back on his Senior PGA Tour schedule because of poor play.

Palmer was extremely upset about his performance at the U.S. Senior Open, where he shot 81-84 and missed the cut by 15 shots. Palmer hasn't decided whether he will play in the Pacific Bell Senior Classic at Wilshire, Oct. 29-31.

THE HALE, YOU SAY

For such a slow starter, this is getting sort of monotonous. Hale Irwin's victory at the Coldwell Banker Burnet Classic in Coon Rapids, Minn., last weekend was the seventh time he's won consecutive senior tour events.

Irwin, who was winless until May, has five victories this year and 25 overall, three short of Trevino's senior tour record.

THE UPSIDE

As Callaway goes, so goes . . . well, the golf industry hasn't been that great for a while, but industry leader Callaway Golf is showing signs of leading a resurgence. Second-quarter revenue was up 17% to $24.8 million, which the company contends is an indication it's on the right track.

"We've said our goal was not in focusing on every golf club we could possibly sell, but making our business operation as profitable as we think it should be," said David Rane, the company's chief financial officer.

BIRDIES, BOGEYS, PARS

The Vista Automotive Free Arts classic will be played Aug. 16 at Sherwood Country Club in Thousand Oaks. The event benefits Free Arts for abused children. Details: (310) 313-4278. . . . An amateur qualifier for the Nike Inland Empire Open will be played Sept. 20 at Moreno Valley Ranch Golf Club. The Nike Tour event will be played Sept. 30-Oct. 3. Details: (909) 784-4653.

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