2005: My humble choices

First the Walker Cup – albeit by the very narrowest margin – back in the United States. Followed very quickly and most emphatically by the American Solheim Cup women proving far too strong for Europe at Crooked Stick.

Maybe the Presidents Cup also will be back with captain Jack Nicklaus and his U.S. squad. International captain Gary Player surely will miss Ernie Els, who is out with a serious knee injury. (Els’ career record of 10-8-2 is behind only Vijay Singh’s 12-11-1 as the best International mark. Davis Love is 14-6-3 for the U.S.)

Suddenly, United States teams are winning again – but the “big one” is still a year away.

Yes, the 2006 Ryder Cup looms large and is set for Sept. 22-24 at The K Club in Dublin, Ireland. Here in Europe, Ryder Cup fever is gathering as players have just begun the qualifying process. Unlike the United States system, the Europeans’ qualification process lasts only one year.

European captain Ian Woosnam, who participated as a player in eight Ryder Cups, will assess the strongest depth of potential talent Europe can muster. And it definitely is on the minds of virtually every European player.

I also am quite interested, and I like the current European selection system that was introduced for the record-breaking team under captain Bernhard Langer at Oakland Hills last year. It was good enough to produce an 181⁄2-91⁄2 victory. Five players qualify from a cumulative world ranking table based on players’ participation in all official tour events worldwide (which greatly assists the increasing number of Europeans playing substantially on the PGA Tour). Then come five players from the European money list, which takes in all four majors and the three individual World Golf Championships. Woosnam will complete his 12-man team with two wild cards from the eligible membership. Those few players who feel one need not be a member of the PGA European Tour to play for Europe in the Ryder Cup can forget it – the Ryder Cup is a “for members event.”

So, the questions remain: What Europeans will make it to The K Club, and can they make a successful defense?

Each of Europe’s past three teams experienced 50 percent changeover from the previous match. I feel that reflects two things – more depth and the “one-year-only” system that puts a huge emphasis on current form.

Europe has five stalwarts who were members of its last three teams (Colin Montgomerie, Lee Westwood, Darren Clarke, Sergio Garcia and Padraig Harrington). The U.S. has regulars Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Jim Furyk and Love, all of whom have performed Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup duty in alternate years. That’s a heavy load for anyone, and the level of competition and expectation awaiting the team makes it

even tougher.

For several years, Mitchell Platts, the director of corporate affairs and public relations for the European Tour, and myself have put our 12 nominations in a sealed envelope before qualifying commenced and engaged in a modest wager as to who would be closest. I confess our results have been very mediocre – and the thought occurs to me our readers may well be able to do better. In the accompanying box, I offer my list of choices for 2006. Who do you like?

Ken Schofield, former executive director of the PGA European Tour, writes occasionally for Golfweek.

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