2001: Our Opinion - Change criteria for selecting Euro Ryder team

Shortly after the completion of play at the BMW International Open in Germany Sept. 2, European Ryder Cup captain Sam Torrance will finalize his 12-man team with the announcement of his two captain’s picks for the 34th Ryder Cup.

Unlike the Aug. 21 news conference in Atlanta in which U.S. captain Curtis Strange added Paul Azinger and Scott Verplank to his U.S. side, there is not expected to be much suspense in Torrance’s moves.

Torrance’s hands have been tied for some time. Barring unforeseen developments, he will choose Sergio Garcia and Jesper Parnevik, two of Europe’s top young stars who, because of a lack of starts in Europe, will finish outside the top 10 in the points table.

Bernhard Langer, expected to compete in his 10th Ryder Cup after missing the matches at Brookline in 1999, said there was a time not so long ago when Europe might have fielded only six truly world-class players among its 12-man team. That was back when the matches were pretty much a biennial walk-over for the United States.

Those days are gone. Europe has more than its share of world-class players. When it comes to the Ryder Cup, though, and composing a 12-man side, it’s not a matter of how someone is playing, but where.

By using two wild-card picks on players who rank among the top 21 in the world – Garcia is 7th and Parnevik 21st in the Official World Golf Ranking (the two rank 11th and 17th, respectively, in the Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index) – Europe is hurt by the current system, where its players accumulate points only by competing in events sanctioned by the European Tour.

One of the players left out of the mix will be Spain’s José Maria Olazábal, a steely competitor and veteran of six Ryder Cups who has an impressive overall record of 15-8-5. One would have to believe if Torrance had an option, he’d love to have a seasoned player such as Olazábal, who plays most of his golf in the United States, when he arrives with his team at The Belfry. Instead, the European team is likely to include Paul McGinley, Phillip Price or Ian Poulter, three players who have performed well this year but are untested in Ryder Cup play.

A solution would be to use a world-ranking system in the team selection process, or grant two extra wild-card picks to Europe to offset the fact that several of its top stars don’t play full time in Europe.

“We could take the World Ranking points all over the world, which I think is the fairest,” Langer said. “Wherever you tee the ball up it should count for something, whether you play in Japan or Australia or here (the United States) or wherever.”

This highly scrutinized system should be revamped before the teams meet at Oakland Hills for the 35th Ryder Cup in 2003. If the Ryder Cup is to live up to its billing as one of the greatest competitions in sports, then let’s make sure both sides bring the best teams available to the matches.

Remember this: Ken Schofield, leader of the PGA European Tour, has been wrongly criticized for adhering to the current system for selfish reasons, trying to ensure Ryder Cup hopefuls will play more in Europe if they wish to make the team. It was Schofield who wrote a letter to the Ryder Cup committee in 1997, suggesting new selection criteria, including partial implementation of the World Ranking.

And here we are, four years later, with captain Torrance’s hands tied. Such a situation ought to be avoided in 2003.

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