Golf: Duval cloud hangs over Medinah

US PGA: Year's final major eclipsed by growing Euro-American arguments over Ryder Cup money; Montgomerie and Westwood aim to prove a point. By Andy Farrell
Click to follow
The Independent Online
IT WAS a poignant moment last Sunday when Tony Jacklin retired, no longer capable of coping with the tension and cruel fates of competitive tournament golf. Jacklin is now seeking less stressful ways to earn a living, for earn a living he still has to do.

He had the glory as a player in winning the Open and the US Open, and as a winning European Ryder Cup captain, but what money he made from the game has gone. "I made headlines with the Ryder Cup," Jacklin said, "but never any money."

These thoughts are timely given the build-up to this week's US PGA Championship at Medinah in Chicago, which now has all the potential for descending into a slanging match between Americans wanting to be paid to play in the Ryder Cup and those Europeans who think that is "sheer greed", in the words of their captain, Mark James.

Jacklin's contribution to what is now the big money, modern European tour cannot be overestimated. Although far from being the sole factor in the rise of golf on this side of the Atlantic, he was, as the first golfing superstar from these shores, a significant one.

The rewards of his efforts are now being reaped by the likes of Colin Montgomerie, Lee Westwood and Darren Clarke. Fortunately, they are duly appreciative, one reason they so swiftly dismiss the misguided talk about Ryder remuneration coming from David Duval, Tiger Woods and others.

A particularly good illustration of the growth of the game in Europe came when a pair of sponsors in Germany, Deutsche Bank and SAP, thought it commercially viable to offer a prize fund of pounds 1.2m for their tournament in May, plus more than half that again to ensure the presence of Woods. The world No 1 went on to win the tournament, but does he not see that the chain of events that made this possible leads directly back to Europe's victory over the Americans at The Belfry in the 1985 Ryder Cup?

Woods's experience of international team competition is limited to three defeats in three away matches - in the Walker Cup at Royal Porthcawl in 1995, at Valderrama in 1997 and last winter in the President's Cup in Melbourne. Perhaps his lukewarm regard for the Ryder Cup is understandable.

But some of the Americans appear to look at the balance sheet for the week of the Ryder Cup and are appalled to see nothing on it but a small - or generous depending on your point of view - stipend for an all-expenses paid week.

Do they really not see that the figures on their balance sheets for all the other weeks of the year are boosted considerably by the fact that they are Ryder Cup players and, indeed, by the fact that there is a commercially successful Ryder Cup at all.

They complain of others making money out of the week - the PGA of America's profits for this year's match could reach $18m - but forget that they become eligible for big money thanks to their status. Being a Ryder Cup player means being exempt for the big tournaments, including the majors, and getting invited to the premier shindigs of the game's silly season.

For the first time this year, following the demise of the World Series tournament, the NEC Invitational - first-place prize money $1m, last place $25,000 - is restricted to Ryder and President's Cup players only. The event has official backing for money lists and orders of merit and yet is a glorified exhibition.

That was also the word used by Duval to describe the Ryder Cup. "The whole thing has become a little overcooked, but it's probably going to stay that way until players choose not to play," Duval said in his now infamous interview in Golf Digest.

He did not use the word "boycott" and he is entitled to his opinion, but should much heed be taken of it when Duval has never actually experienced a Ryder Cup, which is the most intense, competitive event in golf - certainly by a zillion times compared to his TV exhibition defeat to Woods last week.

This week would be a good opportunity to sit down with the officials of the PGA of America, who stage the fourth major of the year. In any case, apparently a clear-the-air meeting has already been held, at which any hint of a boycott or being paid was dismissed by the American captain, Ben Crenshaw, who would have found allies in the quietly intelligent Davis Love and the in-your-face patriot Payne Stewart.

What this week and this championship will ultimately prove is that there are players still wanting to play in the Ryder Cup. This is the last counting event for the Americans and Phil Mickelson will be among those fighting it out in the last desperate scramble for places at Brookline in September. The Europeans close their list the following week in Munich, but Sergio Garcia or Bernhard Langer will still be looking to secure their places this week.

Another daunting test awaits the players as Medinah is a traditional US Open style venue and will be set up along the familiar theme of narrow fairways and thick rough. Since the idiosyncrasies of links golf are not around to complicate the issue any further, Westwood and Montgomerie should be well to the fore.