Golf: Absentees shy away from a major mission: Europeans chase Ryder Cup places

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WHOEVER wins the 75th US PGA Championship, which starts at the Inverness Club here tomorrow, will not enter the World Golf Hall of Fame. The WGHF, at olde worlde Pinehurst in North Carolina, is to close in December because it was the wrong building, an architectural mismatch, in the wrong place. Nobody visited it.

This will not, however, concern the Europeans who have travelled to the north of North America nor those who have not bothered to cross the Atlantic. The US PGA, which is more liberal than the starchy USGA in issuing invitations to overseas players, has had its generosity rewarded by the withdrawal of a third of the European contingent for the fourth and final major championship of the season.

Seve Ballesteros, Sam Torrance, David Gilford and Gordon Brand Jnr have turned down the ticket to Inverness. Ballesteros is in bed in Spain with bronchitis and the other three are pursuing Ryder Cup points in Austria. Not that the Austrian Open, which has been propped up by the European Tour, has that much to offer. It has a prize fund of pounds 250,000, the lowest on Tour, and the winner's purse of pounds 41,660 is well below half that available in the Netherlands, Scandinavia and Germany in recent weeks.

Torrance is sixth in the Ryder Cup table (a point per pound), Brand Jnr 17th, Gilford 19th and Ballesteros 38th. Colin Montgomerie, in second place and assured of playing against the US at The Belfry next month, was critical of his compatriots. 'Ken Schofield works very hard to get entries for Europeans and it doesn't help our cause when some turn down invitations,' he said. 'We've been trying to get people into American tournaments for years. I don't care if it's the Ryder Cup or anything. Those invited should be here. If they came and won the US PGA they'd get into the bloody Ryder Cup team.'

If Montgomerie expected moral support from Schofield he did not get it. Schofield, the executive director of the European Tour, said of the absentees: 'I understand their position. Their priority is to get into the Ryder Cup team. They have to call it the way they see it. We don't employ them.' The players, in effect, employ Schofield to call the shots and Montgomerie, fined pounds 1,000 by Schofield earlier this season for criticising the condition of a golf course, has a point.

Schofield's persistent, and valid, argument against the closed-shop policy of America is weakened by the apathetic response of the Europeans. During the Masters at Augusta, an event which non-American players find difficult to gain access to, Schofield went as far as to remark that the European team would be at a disadvantage in the Ryder Cup because more of the American players had the bolstering experience of playing in the majors.

Ballesteros, Torrance, Gilford and Brand Jnr have been replaced by four Americans. Jim Awtrey, the chief executive of the US PGA, took a diplomatic approach. 'I think the withdrawal of some of the Europeans is testimony to the importance of the Ryder Cup,' he said. The US team for the Ryder Cup has more or less been settled and next Monday Tom Watson, the captain, names the two players who will complete his 12, the other 10 qualifying on merit. As it stands Jim Gallagher Jnr is 10th, Larry Mize 11th and Jeff Maggert 12th. They have everything to play for here. So, too, although they will not receive points merely kudos, do JoseMaria Olazabal, Ian Woosnam, Anders Forsbrand and Sandy Lyle. None of them are assured of their places on merit but there are two more events that can influence the order before Bernard Gallacher, the European captain who has three wild cards as opposed to Watson's two, announces his team at the end of the month.