U.S. Ryder Cup captain Ben Crenshaw will come to the PGA Championship media center at Medinah Country Club on Monday morning to announce his two choices to complete the 12-player team that will face a European team for three days of match play at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass., Sept. 24 to 26.
The ensuing news conference is almost certain to rekindle the controversy that raged here earlier this week over the issue of paying American players to compete in an event that began as a friendly exhibition to promote the game in 1927. That year, a U.S. team that included Walter Hagen and Gene Sarazen defeated Great Britain, 9 1/2 to 2 1/2.
Since those inaugural matches, the event has grown into what many consider golf's fifth major championship, with all the pressure, if not more, as well as a financial bonanza for the governing bodies that run it--the PGA of America and the PGA European Tour.
The U.S. team had a 21-3-1 record in the first 25 matches, but the rules were changed before the 1979 competition to make players from all over Europe eligible for the team that played against the Americans. The European side has won five of the past seven Ryder Cups, including the last two.
The fierce competition spawned a great reawakening of public and corporate sponsorship interest in the event--especially after the Europeans stunned the Americans in 1985, beating a team that included Raymond Floyd, Tom Kite, Lanny Wadkins and Curtis Strange, all of whom were in the prime of their careers.
Gross revenue for the 1999 Ryder Cup is expected to exceed $60 million, including $15 million NBC will pay for television rights, and profits are expected to be $23 million to $25 million. Some U.S. players have been grumbling that some of that money should be funneled in their direction, and they're not just talking about the $5,000 stipend they are paid for expenses.
Some golf fans and observers would argue that the players already are being paid handsomely for their work. According to several agents interviewed this week, many players have financial incentive clauses in their equipment and clothing endorsement contracts for making the U.S. or European Ryder Cup teams.
In two weeks, players from the Presidents Cup and Ryder Cup teams will play in Akron, Ohio, in the NEC Invitational, one of three events in the new World Golf Championship series. There will be a $3 million purse, with $1 million to the winner. There's no cut, and last place will pay $25,000.
Within the past month, Golf Digest and its sister publication, the weekly Golf World, have suggested players may boycott the Ryder Cup over the compensation issue. The issue bubbled over here this week when David Duval and Tiger Woods, the world's top two players, said the players should be given a lump sum to distribute to their favorite charities.
Woods went a step further on Tuesday, saying there should be no strings attached, that if a U.S. player wanted to keep the money--he suggested anywhere from $200,000 to $500,000--that should be their prerogative. Woods said he personally would donate any money he received to charity, but he further rankled traditionalists--particularly Crenshaw--by describing the event as an "exhibition."
PGA of America CEO Jim Awtrey said today on CBS's tournament telecast that the organization will form a plan by the end of the year to distribute money to the players' charities, the first time he has said compensation will be given.
Still, Crenshaw was highly critical of four players expected to be on his team--Woods, Duval, Mark O'Meara and Phil Mickelson--for bringing up the compensation issue in the first place.
"Every time someone picks up the newspaper, people are sick of this," he said on Wednesday. "They're tired hearing this stuff. When you can't show up and play for your country, if playing for your country is not enough, my heart bleeds for the game of golf. . . . Whether some players like it or not, there are some people who came before them that mean a hell of a lot to the game, and it burns the hell out of me to listen to some of their viewpoints."
Crenshaw apologized for his outburst the next day, saying it was nothing personal and that his emotional ties as a four-time participant in the 1980s caused him to speak out. He also said he wanted "12 committed people to go to Boston."
While the U.S. players all insist they will be united by the time the matches begin next month, there are lingering bad feelings between the compensation proponents and players such as Davis Love III, Payne Stewart and Tom Lehman, a likely captain's choice if he doesn't make the team on points.
According to Brad Faxon, who played on the losing U.S. sides in 1995 and '97, Love was particularly strong in comments on the money issue when he stood up at a meeting of players and PGA of America officials here Tuesday.
Faxon said Love told the group: "Let's be honest, this isn't about charity; it's about putting money in your pocket."
"This talk about the money going for charity is a crock," Faxon said. "I know a lot of guys at 11, 12 and 13 [in the U.S. Ryder Cup points standings] who would pay to play on that team. I think we would be better having them than the guys who are complaining about how much they're not getting."
The pay-for-play advocates have been getting hammered in the media all week for being prototypical whiny, selfish and greedy professional athletes.
The PGA of America, particularly Awtrey, also has taken a beating. The Ryder Cup controversy diverted attention from the organization's marquee event here, and it could have been defused last week by an announcement saying players would be given a still-to-be determined amount for their favorite charities.
Now, five weeks before the competition, U.S. players are unhappy with each other. U.S. players are unhappy with their captain for publicly criticizing them. And the captain still is wondering about the true commitment of some of the players to an event he cherishes dearly.
There will be no boycott by any American players in Brookline, but any talk about touchy-feely camaraderie among teammates that week may be just that--talk.