America Forced to Rethink Ryder

NEW YORK -- There is an expression in southern Europe, along the Mediterranean where the Ryder Cup was just played, that is appropriate: The fish rots from the head.

If the Ryder Cup is to be won back by the United States in 1999, there must be a rethinking of the loss to Europe that focuses from the head of the U.S. team down.

The Professional Golf Association of America, captain Tom Kite and the best of the American players must share responsibility for the loss -- the fifth time in the last seven Ryder Cups the U.S. side has failed to win.

The European Ryder Cup committee was cruelly honest in dealing with the Miguel Angel Martin dispute. It knew that even if his wrist recovered, he wouldn't be in top form for the competition and wasted no time dumping him.

Maybe the matter wasn't handled delicately, but Nick Faldo, Jesper Parnevik and Jose Maria Olazabal -- one of whom wouldn't have been on the team if Martin was -- each won at least two points.

Would an out-of-condition Martin have won two points? The PGA of America needs to realize the Ryder Cup is no longer a walkover for the Americans.

European captain Seve Ballesteros was brutally honest in his pairings and was an active captain, paying more attention to winning the Ryder Cup than to having a good time.

Ballesteros played four guys only twice: Ian Woosnam, who had played in seven Ryder Cups but was not playing well; rookies Thomas Bjorn and Darren Clarke; and Per-Ulrik Johansson, who had played in only one Cup.

Ballesteros also sent Faldo, Olazabal, Colin Montgomerie, Bernhard Langer and Lee Westwood out the maximum five times. Their matches accumulated nine of Europe's 14 1/2 points.

Kite seemed handcuffed by an American sense of democracy or by his desire to make everyone happy. He played each man at least three times and Tiger Woods was the only American to play five matches.

Kite could also be criticized for sticking with the Woods-O'Meara pairing too long -- three times, resulting in two losses -- and for spending too much time chauffeuring Michael Jordan around the course and chatting with former U.S. president George Bush.

The U.S. team needs a nasty leader next time, someone like Curtis Strange or Hale Irwin who won't be afraid to do what is right and not what is nice.

The nationalistic fervor the Ryder Cup provokes makes it the most compelling event in golf. For America to win changes need to start at the top.