After Stewart Cink completed the fourth round of the PGA Championship,
he scribbled his cell phone number on a piece of paper, just in case.
Perhaps Hal Sutton, the United States Ryder Cup captain, had misplaced
it. "If he's hanging around the locker room," said Cink. "I want him to
have it." Sutton was nowhere to be seen, but he found Cink at home in
Atlanta that evening, after an anxious Sunday ride. Cink and Jay Haas,
both of whom actually lost ground in the team standings during their
week at Whistling Straits, would be Sutton's wild-card selections for
next month's matches against Europe. Meanwhile, on the outside looking
in was Scott Verplank. "I'm shocked he's not a pick," said Cink. "I
thought he was a lock."
As did a lot of people, including probably Verplank. But so it goes when
there are only so many places for so many golfers. A captain looks over
the smorgasbord, and he can only hope he doesn't wind up with a cold
How can this team lose? Five of the last eight American major
champions aren't even on Sutton's squad of 12. David Duval won the 2001
British Open and Ben Curtis in 2003, but neither was ever on the
captain's radar. Todd Hamilton, who currently holds the claret jug, made
a case at Whistling Straits, but not strong enough. Rich Beem and Shaun
Micheel, the two previous victors of the PGA Championship, also will be
elsewhere than Detroit. That speaks well of the deep U.S. talent pool,
but this also is a recorded announcement. We've all heard that before
other Ryder Cups, only to wonder what happened after the Europeans,
liberally sprinkled with names to be placed later, pulled another upset.
Ask Haas, who still winces about losing the clincher to Philip Walton at
Oak Hill in 1995.
In Herb Kohler's mecca for bathroom fixtures, not far from Green Bay,
our nation's toilet-paper capital, Verplank may rue a trip to the
porta-potty near the fifth hole Friday. After doing what one does,
Verplank began jogging to keep up with his group. He was 6 under for
the tournament when he turned his right ankle, not far from an existing
injury on the same foot. He was never the same and wound up 5 over
for 72 holes. "I think it was one of those sheep trails," Verplank said,
"and I'm not a sheep." Verplank never complains about his diabetes or
makes excuses for scar tissue, but he was genuinely perplexed about how
his stock was dropped from Sutton's portfolio. "Hal called and said he
was sorry," Verplank said Monday from Oklahoma. "Me, too."
When the PGA Championship began, Haas was clinging to the 10th and last
spot on the points list. "Four years ago, if you'd have told me I'd be
there at age 50, I'd have said, 'Yeah, right,' " Haas admitted. "But
you're never too old to have goals, and the Ryder Cup became one of
mine." Haas was bumped by hard-charging Chris DiMarco and Chris Riley,
but Sutton likes experience and dedication. Haas could have done the
Champions Tour thing this year, but scheduled only two, the Senior PGA
and U.S. Senior Open, over PGA Tour stops.
Cink's nomination rewards his recent surge -- three top-10s and two
top-20s in his last five starts. "I didn't even think Ryder Cup until I
won at Hilton Head," said Cink, and that April victory was bittersweet.
Rarely has a winner looked so uncomfortable upon accepting a trophy, but
Cink survived a controversial episode on the fifth playoff hole against
Ted Purdy. Cink cleared loose impediments from behind his ball in a
waste bunker, was implicated by the TV police, then cleared by rules
official Slugger White. Purdy initially claimed he was at peace with the
outcome, then had a second opinion. "It bothered me for a while,"
admitted Cink, who could handle the gallows humor -- his nickname became
"Goldfinger" -- but not the allegation that he'd sinned. Purdy also
theorized he would not have received a similar break from authorities as
did the more famous Cink. (Purdy was spared a penalty earlier in the
tournament when another rules official, Jon Brendle, spotted an
incorrect drop before it was too late.)
"I was disappointed when Ted told me right after it ended that he had no
problems, then changed his story the next day," Cink said. "We didn't
see each other until more than a month later at Memphis, and he
apologized. It was over by then. I did nothing wrong, but, no, I didn't
enjoy Hilton Head as much as I could have." Cink, unbeaten in the 2000
Presidents Cup, was primed for the 2001 Ryder Cup when the world changed
"A year later, after the delay, my game had regressed," Cink
said. "I didn't do very well at The Belfry, but I'm a lot better player
than I was then. I have to thank that man right there." His swing guru,
Butch Harmon, stopped by to shake hands. "Nice putt," said Harmon, after
Cink had walked off the 18th green, a football field, with a birdie
Sunday. On the PGA Tour putting stats, Cink ranks No. 1. Sutton was well
aware of that number, too.