For years, Tom Kite has toyed with the idea of learning Spanish.
America's just-christened 1997 Ryder Cup captain is no longer
toying. He has already signed up for lessons with Stephanie, his
14-year-old daughter and a Spanish whiz. Kite hopes that the
lessons will help him care for his players in Valderrama, Spain,
when they try to recapture the Cup.
The job won't be easy. Americans have won just one of the last
three Ryder Cups contested on European turf. And winning in
Spain, home of Seve Ballesteros, the Europeans' spiritual leader
and probable captain, is a formidable assignment. What's more,
Kite will have to juggle his captaincy with an effort to recover
from this year's horrific slump. Kite, who will turn 46 on Dec.
9, began 1995 as the PGA Tour's alltime money winner, finishing
among the top 25 in earnings in 19 of his 22 seasons.
Inexplicably, this season was a washout from the start. Kite
missed the cut at his first event, Hawaii, and had only one
top-10 finish all year. Far more painful was the loss of his
lifelong mentor and dear friend, Harvey Penick, who died in
April, just before the Masters.
Kite is confident that he can work his way out of his slump. So
confident, in fact, that he wants to be the first playing
captain since Arnold Palmer in 1963.
SI: If you earn the right to be a playing captain, would you be
able to give your all to both jobs?
TK: Whether I could do justice to being a player and the captain
together, I don't know. Certainly, I would love to make another
team. It would be my eighth. Only three players have played on
eight U.S. teams--Billy Casper, Raymond Floyd and Lanny Wadkins.
There's a lot of pressure and attention and demands on the
captain. Nevertheless I'd love to have the decision.
SI: Will being the captain hurt your comeback bid?
TK: I know that any distractions will make it much more
difficult. But if I start playing well, I don't think the Ryder
Cup will be a detriment. When I was on the Tour policy board,
the thinking was that it would be detrimental. I proved that
wrong in '81 when I was the leading money winner.
SI: How do you rate your performance on Tour this year?
TK: It was pretty pathetic. The whole year was forgettable. I
consider it a freak, an aberration. There was not a single high
point. There wasn't any indication it would happen, and that
made everything a big surprise.
SI: What went wrong?
TK: I did everything poorly. When you have a year as bad as
mine, there's no one thing. I've been 100 percent physically for
a while. [Kite suffered a back injury in March 1993 and missed
nearly two months of action.] And I didn't work any less. I
wasn't putting well because I didn't drive the ball as far or as
accurately as normal. Also, I didn't hit irons as close to pins.
SI: How much did Harvey Penick's death affect your play?
TK: I hope his absence hasn't hurt my game because if it has,
then I'm in for some long and treacherous years.
SI: What will you base your captain's selections on?
TK: Experience is the most important factor. I won't exclude
others, like people playing well at the time, but I hope that
I'll have an experienced team. That is a luxury Lanny didn't have.
SI: Do you like the points system for selecting the U.S. team?
TK: I'm very satisfied with it being based on top 10's. I don't
like the way they do it in Europe, basing it on money. I don't
think that because we lost the Ryder Cup we need a knee-jerk
reaction to the selection process.
SI: What do you think of the likelihood that Seve Ballesteros
will be the Europeans' captain?
TK: I would relish the opportunity to captain against him. And
I anticipate that Seve will be their captain, maybe even a
playing captain. If he's not captain, and if he and Jose Maria
Olazabal do not make the team on their own, I'm sure they'll be
two captain's picks.
SI: Any thoughts on outfitting the team? Perhaps the guys could
wear Tom Kite signature glasses at the opening ceremony?
TK: That would be cool. Seve might not be able to handle that.
No, I think he'll be able to handle everything we throw at him.
COLOR PHOTO: JACQUELINE DUVOISIN [Tom Kite]