Bret Strachan's depiction of "what's wrong with professional sports" [Free for All, Aug. 21] probably hits the mark as it applies to other sports, but he is misinformed in applying the same rationale to professional golf. First, the players he referred to were not asking for compensation for playing the Ryder Cup. Both the Ryder and President's Cup matches are sponsored by the PGA of America, not the PGA Tour. This PGA puts $50,000 into whatever charity a player designates for all the President's Cup participants. The meeting of the players and the PGA was to make the Ryder Cup have a similar arrangement. Jim Nance of CBS Sports interviewed the president of the PGA, and the latter stated flatly there was no disagreement and that something would be worked out so that these two tournaments provide similar monetary arrangements.
Second, as opposed to other sports, in which salaries are paid to professional athletes with up to seven-year contracts, golf players have no guarantee, no salary. Every tournament is a new career. To put golfers in the same category with football or basketball players is wrong. Tennis players and golfers live on winnings from each tournament, and golfers have to be better than half the 154 players entered in each tournament to even get a paycheck.
Third, I agree with Strachan when he criticizes Michael Wilbon for saying that sports is all about money. And Strachan is right that professional sports do not take patriotism personally. But this criticism should be leveled at tennis more than anywhere else. Fourteen of the finest NBA stars were proud to represent the United States in the Olympics, and, yes, the women who played soccer in the World Cup were also professionals. In golf, many players try hard to make both the Ryder and President's Cup teams. It is the Davis Cup in tennis that year after year has trouble getting the top players to play. For example, I believe you would have found Pete Sampras on the golf course during the last Davis Cup matches.
Finally, several sportswriters have made the mistake of categorizing a stipend that goes to charity as a "tax write-off." You can only itemize a deduction of actual income. If someone donates money in your name, there is no deduction.
I have been a marshall at golf tournaments for 18 years, including both President's Cup matches played at Robert Trent Jones at Lake Manassas. If you want to know how these golfers really feel, you should have been standing where I was when Fred Couples sank the putt on the 17th hole to win the President's Cup three years ago. I was right beside Ian Baker-Finch, co-captain of the international team, and as I turned to look at him when the putt went in, he broke down crying. I do not think he was crying because he lost a paycheck.
-- Tom Rush