Ryder Cup talk is sickening

By John Marvel
ESPN Golf Online

MEDINAH, Ill. -- It was said so casually that observers wondered if they had heard the words correctly from the mouth of Tiger Woods.

"It is an exhibition," Woods said.

The world's most talented golfer was referring to the Ryder Cup, the biannual competition between the United States and Europe that will be contested next month at The Country Club in suburban Boston. The same Ryder Cup that is, quite simply, the biggest golf event other than the four major championships.

The same Ryder Cup that is overshadowing this week's PGA Championship because there are some Americans who believe playing for their country isn't enough. They want to be paid.

Oh, guys such as Woods, David Duval, Mark O'Meara and Phil Mickelson will tell you it's not about the cash and they don't want to pocket the money. They want donations -- and the tax write-offs that come with them -- made in their names to the charities of their choice. It's only fair since the PGA of America, which runs the Ryder Cup in the U.S., is making a ridiculous amount of money on the competition via merchandising, television rights and ticket sales.

Sickening, isn't it?

Well, how about this rebuttal: Either play for the flag or don't show up. Don't even bother. The U.S. might get shelled if it doesn't field its best team, but captain Ben Crenshaw would be better off taking guys who want to be on the team for the right reasons.

Give me liberty and Jeff Maggert over the Showdown at Sherwood couple, if it means continuing the traditions that have made the Ryder Cup one of the great events in sport.

This is not a new issue. O'Meara has been holding out the tin cup looking for change during the past few years. Woods has been equally consistent. Duval's comments are just now coming out, but only because his game wasn't good enough in the past to be eligible for the team.

While it's commendable to speak one's mind, these guys don't get it. The Ryder Cup has been special because the teams weren't receiving a ton of cash. They weren't being paid to show it. It's an honor to play for one's country. It's an honor to play for pride. It was separated from being just another contrived event.

If you pay these guys for making the Ryder Cup team, it loses its meaning. It becomes the John Deere Classic. It becomes ... an exhibition.

What's disgusting is this is becoming more of the same thing we've grown accustomed from other venues of sport. We're so used to hearing "Show Me The Money" from players in baseball, basketball and football that we've grown numb to the effect. The pleas are no longer the exception, but the rule.

"When you can't show up and can't play for your country and this is not reward enough, that's when my heart bleeds for the game of golf," Crenshaw exasperated after his news conference Wednesday. "It's sick. Every time you pick up the newspaper, you read about money in sports. People are tired of hearing this stuff."

It's getting out of hand. It would take guts, but the PGA of America should say fine. Don't show up. The U.S. might be without the top two players in the world, but bring the guys who want to play simply for the honor of representing what's good about the event.

But don't take the opinions from a casual observer. Listen to The King.

"This is a sensitive thing with me," Arnold Palmer told Thomas Bonk of the Los Angeles Times last week. "The Ryder Cup is about representing your country. That's very important. ... I would hate to walk away from a Ryder Cup team because I didn't get paid. I feel sorry for these guys that have made this the centerpiece of their complaints. It reflects very poorly on them, to say the least.

"Look, they're playing for more money and making more money than ever before in the history of golf and these guys can't give up one weekend a year to play golf for their country? I think that's selfish, misguided and pretty sad."

Woods tried to explain his "exhibition" comments. He was patient and didn't lose his cool, proving that is he maturing as he grows older. But for someone who has always insisted he loves the traditions and values of golf, the words were hollow.

An exhibition is something that doesn't matter. It's a show. A practice session. Ask anyone who has ever played in the Ryder Cup if it's an exhibition and they will look at you as if you've just nailed them in the head with a 4-iron.

"I want to play for my country," Tom Watson said. "I've always wanted to. I've always had the feeling that this is the Olympics of golf. The Ryder Cup was where you played for the United States. ... You have a team atmosphere that you're playing for the flag, playing for your country.

"And that excites me more than playing for myself. To be compensated for it, I think, would debase the reason that we're playing the Ryder Cup."

The PGA of America has indicated it will likely cave in to the issue and settle on some sort of large donation on behalf of the players. Great for charity. Bad for tradition and the game of golf. Not to mention the beginning of the end of the Ryder Cup as we know it.

John Marvel is the executive editor of He can be reached at

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