Hal Sutton is my kind of captain. He’s bringing a football coach’s mentality to the Ryder Cup. Just look at him. He appears he could coach either line at LSU. Just listen to him. That’s the best part, the tough drawl.
I’ve had the good fortune to know Sutton since he was a teenager, back when he was skinny, back when we both lived in Shreveport, La. Check that, back when we were both skinny. He was more of a Hal then. Now he’s more of a Hoss, a rugged Southern hombre who owns a ranch and has as many strong opinions as he has shots.
There’s no question about whose U.S. Ryder Cup team this is. Not Tiger Woods’. Not Phil Mickelson’s. This is Sutton’s team, and that is a good thing.
“This team has a leader of men,” PGA Tour veteran Kirk Triplett said, referring to the captain.
I don’t agree with everything Sutton says. He’s to the right of Reagan and I lean left. He sees black and white, I see gray. But I do admire what he stands for. He’s a proud American who will be an excellent captain Sept. 17-19 at Oakland Hills because of his passion, decisiveness and desire to win.
He’s the right man at the right time because Europe has won six of the last nine Ryder Cups against the United States. Some past U.S. captains, it seemed, acted like brothers to their players. Sutton is acting more like a parent and has since the day he got the job, when he said he would challenge Woods to chase Nicklaus’ Ryder record as well as the 18 majors.
They will do things his way, and that’s good. In the past, there have been too many buddy pairings, too much input from players. Sutton says he’s not into buddy pairings, not into soliciting player opinion. He’s into matching games, into sending his best players out there, into restoring American victory.
For a change, a captain says he’s not worried about pleasing everyone, not worried about playing everyone three matches, not worried about hurting feelings. The players know that, and they say that’s all right.
“I think Hal will put out who Hal thinks are the best four teams,” Davis Love III said. “Ken Venturi (2000 Presidents Cup) is the only other one who walked in and said, ‘You are playing with him, and you are playing with him, so go get after it.’ ”
Socialism and spreading the wealth are out. An iron fist is in. That is a good thing in team sports. John Wooden didn’t hang all those banners in Pauley Pavilion by playing 12 guys an equal amount; he played seven or eight. Vince Lombardi and Bob Knight didn’t win by trying to placate all their players.
“I’m not going to be politically correct,” Sutton said. “We’re going to do it differently this year. We’re all going to have to be big boys.”
I get the impression this U.S. team will play to win, instead of playing not to lose. They’ll be paper favorites again, which, as we’ve learned from six of the last nine meetings, means nothing. Sutton knows that more than anyone.
“Everybody always speculates as to why, to coin your phrase, the Europeans fight above their weight and why the Americans look like heavyweights and fight like featherweights,” Sutton said to a reporter at the PGA.
Sutton, of course, has plenty of ideas on pairings, though he’s not telling yet. Apparently he has told Woods with whom he’s likely to team. Woods’ pal, Mark O’Meara, says he knows but isn’t revealing.
If he’s smart, Sutton will send Woods out with Phil Mickelson in the first match in all four team sessions. That Seve-Ollie-like super team would stir the crowd into a frenzy right away. Take your best shot, Europe. Play to win, USA.
Though Woods and Mickelson aren’t close, they would pair nicely because they are America’s best players, have similar games, are both intensely competitive and are escape artists with their short games. Woods is only 1-10 in his last 11 four-ball matches in the Ryder and Presidents Cup combined. His intense aura might intimidate his own partner, or make him nervous. Mickelson, though, wouldn’t be uncomfortable playing with Woods or feel like a second fiddle. In fact, he says he’s “all for it.”
That, of course, is Sutton’s call. We’ll find out soon enough. Whatever he decides, it will be with conviction. He gets that strong personality from his father, Howard, who, upon seeing teen-ager Hal miss a putt for a course record, stalked on the green, picked up his ball and said, “Come on, we’re going to the house if you can’t concentrate better than that.” Hal never got a chance to putt to tie the record.
If you don’t believe Hal is not exactly wishy-washy himself, listen to him. I love the way he starts sentences in that thick, emphatic drawl.
“Lemme tell y’all somethun’ …”
“The truth is …”
“The truth of it is …”
“The real truth is …”
“All I can tell you is …”
“Ya’ll in the media …”
“Y’all are gonna write what y’all are gonna write, but . . .”
And the highly repetitive “I think . . .” and “Well, you know . . .” and “But you know . . .”
And all that can come from just one interview.
Bottom line, Hoss is in charge. And that doesn’t mean everything will be serious. To the contrary, Sutton said in May he plans to bring in a comedian to loosen up the team. Sutton himself is sneaky funny in an assertive, masculine way. Sometimes he’s funny ha-ha, sometimes he’s funny peculiar.
Just the other day I mentioned that he was sounding like Lombardi and asked what coach from throughout history he most admired.
“Well,” he said, smiling, “the kind that gives the media a hard time.”
He was kidding. I think.