Michael Wilbon, in his article "In a Week of Rivalries and Ryder, Golf Finds It's a Whole New World" [Sports, Aug. 17], wrote, "Sports is about winners, losers and paychecks. . . . I'm tired of folks wrapping themselves in the flag. . . . They're hired hands. They play for pay. It's the definition of professional."

This attitude is exactly what's wrong with professional sports today. The great competition at the PGA Championship does not legitimize the players' position on compensation in the Ryder Cup.

Before huge paychecks were part of the equation, professional athletes were passionate about their sport, and the competition was as good or better than what we are witnessing today. Evidently Tiger Woods, David Duval and company see their sport only as a way to improve their bottom line, and Wilbon thinks that's okay.

The popular argument for supporters of "play for pay" at the Ryder Cup is: Why should the PGA reap all the profits? The answer is simple. Tradition has dictated that the Ryder Cup is about national pride, not money. Granted it has not always generated a lot of money, but now that it does, should tradition be discarded?

The single-most common thread among all people in a nation is pride in their country. Do you think the women's World Cup victory drew such intense interest because millions of people woke up one day and realized they were soccer fans? Probably half the people pulling for the U.S. team couldn't care less about soccer but wanted the United States to win because they have pride in their country.

Professional athletes should be grateful that the leagues are flourishing, because without them they would likely be grinding it out 365 days a year for a five-figure salary and two weeks' vacation. Professional sports only generates huge revenues because of fan interest. If we continue to legitimize the "It's all about money" attitude, fans will become less interested.

A final word with regard to this Ryder Cup debacle. Let's drop this charity tripe. If these multimillionaires want a tax write-off, then they should pry open their checkbooks and donate to charity. Don't ask the PGA to do it for them. (Wilbon did not mention that the PGA makes considerable charitable donations out of its operating profits.)

If these golfers are so blinded by money that they cannot remember why they started playing the sport in the first place, then they should withdraw from the Ryder Cup. I would rather watch someone compete out of love for the sport and his country than out of love for money.

-- Bret Strachan