Ryder Cup matches postponed for one year

Monday, September 17th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

With air travel suspended because of the terrorist attacks, U.S. captain Curtis Strange drove home from Colorado with one hand on the wheel and the other holding a cell phone as he kept his Ryder Cup team updated on the future of the matches.

He placed one last round of calls Sunday with a short message: The Ryder Cup will have to wait until next year.

``This did not come down to a vote of the players, nor was it going to come down to a vote of the players,'' Strange said from his home in Virginia. ``You do what you think is best. And the PGA of America did what they thought was best.''

The PGA of America decided that the tragedy of Tuesday's attacks was so overwhelming that it would be impossible to travel to The Belfry in England for the Sept. 28-30 matches.

Rather than canceling the Ryder Cup, it was postponed until next September _ same place, same captains, same teams, same captain's picks.

``I fully support the decision,'' said Tiger Woods, who on Friday canceled his trip to Paris for the Lancome Trophy. ``There are far more important things to deal with in America right now than wondering whether we should be playing the Ryder Cup.''

It was the first time the biennial event was called off since 1939, when the British PGA did not send a team to Florida because of World War II in Europe.

The matches did not resume until 1947.

European captain Sam Torrance said the terrorist attacks ``put the Ryder Cup and everything else into perspective.''

``I am desperately heartbroken for all the people involved in this terrible tragedy,'' he said. ``All I can feel at the moment is an immense sadness.''

While no date has been set, the Ryder Cup probably will be scheduled for Sept. 27-29 next year, one week after the World Golf Championship event in Ireland.

``I support what they're doing,'' David Duval said from his home in Sun Valley, Idaho. ``I think players who have worked hard and earned their way on the team _ especially rookies who haven't experienced it _ and the hard work Curtis and Sam have put in ... should be rewarded.''

It wasn't immediately clear what would become of the Presidents Cup, matches between the United States and an International team made up of players born outside Europe. It was scheduled for Nov. 7-10, 2002, in South Africa.

Two sources familiar with the discussions, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the most likely option was to push everything back _ the Ryder Cup would now be played in even-numbered years, the Presidents Cup in odd-numbered years.

The Ryder Cup, which began in 1927, wasn't a showcase event when the matches were canceled from 1939-45 because of the war. Now, it is the Olympics of golf, a tournament that causes more pressure than players experience in the majors.

The United States won in 1999 with the greatest comeback in the tournament's history. Justin Leonard's 45-foot birdie putt on the 17th hole at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass., set off a victory celebration that offended the Europeans.

Strange and Torrance have spent the past two years laying the groundwork for matches that would be competitive but civil.

``It's disappointing, but my heart is still with the families of everybody who has suffered,'' Strange said. ``The Ryder Cup is a wonderful and huge event. At this time, you put it on the back burner.''

U.S. players were torn about whether to play, with some expressing concerns over travel and security while playing overseas.

``Would you want to go right now?'' Scott Verplank told The Daily Oklahoman. ``Anybody who says that we should go and that the players should help us return to normalcy and all that, they're not looking at the picture in the correct way as of yet.''

Verplank and five Ryder Cup teammates _ Scott Hoch, Paul Azinger, Mark Calcavecchia, Jim Furyk and Stewart Cink _ are scheduled to play the Pennsylvania Classic this week outside Pittsburgh when the PGA Tour gets back to golf.

Strange was allowed to join the field as a late entry.

Also, plans are under way for the U.S. team to gather for a ceremony Sept. 25 at the Texas Open in San Antonio.

Pierre Fulke of Sweden, one of four rookies on the European team, said most of his teammates wanted to play the Ryder Cup but understood.

``Under the circumstances, it's the only decision that could have been made,'' he said. ``Everybody's gut feeling after Tuesday was that the Ryder Cup would be in danger and you have to understand the American players who did not want to travel.''

The U.S. team has three rookies, including David Toms, who earned his way onto the team by winning the PGA Championship.

``It's just not the right time to play,'' he said.

Meanwhile, Strange already was looking ahead to next year's matches.

``Everybody will have their 2001 hats on,'' he said. ``They will still wear their 2001 clothes and their 2001 rain gear. That's important to me, that this is the 2001 team and that we don't forget why we're playing a year later.''