The issue of paying players for participating in the Ryder Cup became a hot subject again today as the field gathered for the 81st PGA Championship, but then a one-hour meeting this afternoon seemed to cool the rhetoric.
Officials of the PGA of America, which runs the biannual match-play event, and the PGA Tour gathered with 16 potential U.S. team members in Medinah Country Club's stately clubhouse. When the session ended, executives from the two organizations insisted none of the players want to be paid, but they would like more influence over how charitable contributions will be distributed.
"Every single player, 100 percent of the players indicated they had no interest or desire to be compensated for the Ryder Cup," PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem said. "The players support the Ryder Cup. They are not asking to be paid. They would like more dialogue."
"There are details to be worked out," said Jim Awtrey, the PGA of America's chief executive officer. "We've agreed to sit down and seek input from the players. . . . This is going to be a non-issue."
It has been a major issue recently. At the British Open in mid-July, several prominent American players, including Mark O'Meara and Payne Stewart, indicated they had concerns about what is happening to the millions of dollars that are generated by an event that has become a fiercely contested, fifth major championship over the past 20 years.
O'Meara also has been quoted in the past year as saying players should be paid more than the current $5,000 stipend for the event, though he has backed off considerably from that stand during the past few months.
He and other players, including Tiger Woods and David Duval, have said recently they would like to see a system that allows players who participate in the Ryder Cup to each get a sum they can designate to a charity of their choice. Organizers of the Presidents Cup have had such a system since that event's inception in 1994. Players on the U.S. team in the 1999 Presidents Cup received $100,000 each to donate to their favorite causes.
The August issue of Golf Digest reported that the Ryder Cup competition, Sept. 24-26 at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass., will generate an estimated $63 million in gross revenue, with profits approaching $23 million to be divided between the PGA of America and the host site. When the event is held in Europe, the European PGA Tour runs the event and keeps the profits.
The Golf Digest story also implied that some players at some point might consider not playing in the event if the financial compensation issue was not resolved to their satisfaction.
Duval, who is ranked No. 1 in the world, was quoted as saying he thought a boycott could happen. "Probably not this time. Although it could. . . . More likely next time, in 2001. Some of [the players] are fed up."
Duval said during a news conference today his remarks were taken out of context. Asked to clarify his position on paying players, he said: "I never said I wanted to be paid. I said I think that we should have moneys to go back to our local communities. . . . Some words were put in my mouth that probably shouldn't have been.
"I never intended to say, nor did I ever say that I believe David Duval should get paid to play in the Ryder Cup. I said I did not see a problem with a similar setup as the Presidents Cup. I understand the PGA of America does a lot of good stuff. My dad's been a member for 30 something years. . . . I think we should have some money to take back to benefit where we live. If people see a problem with that, I'm sorry."
Asked whether he could ever see himself boycotting the event over the issue, Duval said: "I don't want to say yes or no. I don't want to answer that because I think that's pretty premature."
Woods said earlier today: "I would like to see us receive whatever the amount is, whether it's $200,000, $300,000, $400,000, $500,000 and I think we should be able to keep the money and do whatever we see fit. I personally would donate all of it to charity. With all the money that's being made, we should have a say in where it goes."
Woods and Duval declined to comment after the hour-long meeting today with PGA of America and PGA Tour officials, but several other players in attendance indicated they believe the issue will be resolved to everyone's satisfaction.
"We talked enough to know that everyone is on the same page," O'Meara said. "It was a good meeting."
Awtrey said today's meeting was a general discussion, with no specific proposals put on the table.
Neither Awtrey nor Finchem put a timetable on when any plan would be implemented.
"Tim and I have agreed to work on this," Awtrey said. "The players are satisfied that we're going to take a look at this, and then we'll see in the next few weeks what we can do, and how soon."