Along, sometimes contentious week of golf finally has come to rest as the sport stops to marvel at two of its youngest and perhaps most dynamic players. Okay, the official news of the day was U.S. Ryder Cup captain Ben Crenshaw making Tom Lehman and Steve Pate his discretionary picks. But it was impossible, in the wake of Sunday's rousing PGA Championship, to discuss professional golf without giving greater context to the budding rivalry between Tiger Woods and Spain's Sergio Garcia, which, if we're lucky, will resume next month at the Ryder Cup.
Crenshaw, given the stress of trying to negotiate an end to the play-for-pay drama surrounding the U.S. team, was probably more in need of a distraction than anybody else on the grounds of Medinah Country Club. Woods and Garcia provided such compelling theater over the weekend that it was difficult not to be swept away with them even as the relative seriousness of Ryder Cup issues had to be addressed again Monday.
When the week began, Crenshaw wasn't happy with golf's younger generation, with Woods leading the way in seeking compensation for participating in Ryder Cup competition. But Crenshaw, 47, whose sensibilities are more in line with old-school notions about sport, nonetheless was in awe of what he saw and what it figures to mean.
"What we saw [Sunday] was so telling for the future of golf," Crenshaw said. "Sergio is electrifying and captivating, magic, charismatic, graceful. He captured America with that shot on 16 [hitting a ball sitting at the base of a tree 189 yards onto the green]. It's one of the greatest things I've ever seen on a golf course. I don't think anybody's ever seen a shot like that. . . . He had the root of a tree looking at him. . . . What a kid, what a fabulous kid."
And he expressed admiration for Woods's ability to recover and make several critical shots on Nos. 17 and 18 to win his second major at the age of 23. Woods, he said, encountered a golfer's "worst fear, going into a `patch' and saying, `Oh no, not now,' " only to right himself when he had to. Crenshaw seemed equally impressed with the way Woods negotiated the pressure of the moment Sunday, and the pressure that Woods seemingly lives with every day. "He's got the weight of the world on his shoulders, globally," Crenshaw said.
Crenshaw, a man with 19 PGA Tour victories, including two at The Masters, then dropped his guard even more and said what he thinks is on the minds of a whole lot of players after Sunday's championship. "These other players are saying, `What in the world do I have to do to compete with this?' Routine drives of 300 yards, 6-irons going 200 yards. I can't believe in my lifetime that I'm seeing it. It's talent, it's youth, it's power, it's imagination, it's something that's changed a lot since I've been playing."
A sport that hasn't embraced much change (besides in equipment) over the past 400 years seems to be having one whiplash after another. The days of golf being a clubby little sport for a chosen few are done, at least for now. Everything is about money, from TV rights to corporate sponsorship to player compensation.
It's funny to see so many of my holier-than-thou peers who would charge by the word if they could, get so overworked about Woods/David Duval/Mark O'Meara/Phil Mickelson and a few others wanting to be compensated for Ryder Cup play. Is it greed? Maybe, but no more so than all the other entities who get paychecks from Ryder Cup competition. Sports is about winners, losers and paychecks. Everybody tries to get rich off the Olympic Games -- competitors, agents, sponsors, the media. Everybody. I'm tired of folks wrapping themselves in the flag, as if Ryder Cup is war. Stop it. These guys aren't going overseas to entertain the troops. They're hired hands. They play for pay. It's the definition of a professional.
The Ryder Cup is different, you say. Fine. Sit down with the players and designate that this money must go to charity, and create guidelines. Woods already is on record as saying all his money from Ryder Cup competition would go to charity. So who's hurt by that? What greed is there in any golfer giving a payday to kids in need? What, the PGA needs to keep $23 million in additional money? For what? That's not greed?
If the PGA gives 10 players $300,000 each, it's $3 million out of pocket, and $20 million left over for whatever the PGA needs to do. So write the checks and get over it already. There's good competition to be waged at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass., next month.
"It was a tough week, there's no doubt," Crenshaw said. "The captain has to weigh and balance what you think, what your philosophy is, with what's best for the team. It's been a tremendously searching week for all the players. The issue can be studied, magnified. . . . My only job as captain is to bring these guys together to bring the cup back . . . regardless of what happened this week and how it happened, because we know they are a team."
Crenshaw is eloquent enough and charismatic enough to pull this team through this mini-drama. Teams, leagues and individuals in American sports negotiate serious money issues all the time, then go right to the field of play. This is no different -- it's just new to golf.
Meanwhile, the European team, like the American team, is loaded with great players. "Stacked, top to bottom," is how Lehman put it. And because of last week's controversy, and Sunday's championship round, more people than ever will watch the Ryder Cup, more passionately, than the PGA could have otherwise fantasized. Tiger will be there, Sergio will be there. It can't begin soon enough.