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Ay-yi-yi, Captain! Ben Crenshaw's public scolding of his Ryder Cup 'Pay Me' brigade was a big blunder

You had to love what Ben Crenshaw did last week. The U.S. Ryder
Cup captain got emotional during a press conference and took
swipes at the crabby Tour players who have challenged the way
the PGA of America is handling the roughly $60 million it will
collect for staging the biennial competition next month in
Brookline, Mass. Crenshaw said, "It burns the hell out of me to
listen to some of their viewpoints." He said, "Every fine player
who's worth his salt has given his heart and soul to the Ryder
Cup on both sides of the Atlantic." And he said, "I'm personally
disappointed in a couple of people."

You had to love Crenshaw even more the next day, when he doubled
the estimated number of miscreants and confirmed their names.
The four who had spit in his soup were Tiger Woods, David Duval,
Phil Mickelson and Mark O'Meara. They were the members of the
team who had openly expressed the view that Ryder Cuppers should
get more than the $5,000 honorarium they are traditionally paid.
They were the ones who asked why the Country Club in Brookline
should make a projected $6 million profit for hosting the Sept.
24-26 Cup, while they, the players, get shirts, slacks and a
hearty handshake.

After his Thursday round at the PGA Championship, Crenshaw, 47,
said, "I'm from a different generation"--giving the impression
that he was a peer of Bob Dole's and not a Baby Boomer. "[The
Ryder Cup] means a lot to all of us who've been there. I got
upset because I want people to be as excited as I am."

When Crenshaw was through, you felt good. You felt clean. You
felt like grabbing an American flag and charging up the 18th hole
of San Juan Country Club.

Then you wondered if there was still time to find another
captain. Ben, bless him, had given his disunited players exactly
what they didn't need: a scolding in front of hundreds of
journalists. By doing so, he widened the fissure between the
flag wavers and the accountants on his team, exposed the Gang of
Four to withering public criticism and poured kerosene on a fire
the PGA of America and the PGA Tour were frantically trying to
put out.

"That's leadership," a Chicago journalist wrote without a trace
of irony. Well, yeah--if your definition of a good leader is
General Custer at the Little Big Horn.

It's not that Crenshaw hurt his team's chances of beating the
Europeans in Brookline. In '97 Seve Ballesteros splintered an
already-fractious European squad with his authoritarian style,
but he still captained his team to victory at Valderrama. Golf
is capricious: It doesn't respond to leadership. No, what
Crenshaw hurt was professional golf. The public generally
teeters between two perceptions of pro golfers: They are 1) the
last independent, noble, truth-telling, rules-abiding figures in
sports, or 2) just like all the other spoiled, bratty jocks who
pollute the air with their whining. With his undisciplined
remarks at Medinah, Crenshaw tipped almost everyone into the
second camp.

The backlash was immediate. Mickelson, who has earned a
reputation as a good guy by signing countless autographs and
chatting with fans, got blasted in Saturday's Chicago Tribune
for his "self-important act." ("He puts on any more weight," an
anonymous caddie was quoted as saying, "and he won't be able to
get his fat head through that Learjet of his and he'd have to
fly commercial. And wouldn't that be a shame?") E-mail to
CNN/SI's Web page also tilted heavily against the outspoken
players. "I just want to puke," wrote one person. "Can't Tiger
and those other guys just shut their goddam mouths for once?"
Before Crenshaw opened his mouth, there had been rumors that a
few top players might boycott a Ryder Cup. After Crenshaw's
remarks, some ticket holders threatened to boycott this Ryder
Cup. Another E-mailer asked, "Who wants to watch an exhibition
with no 'whiner's' check?"

Again, no one should fault the captain for resenting the
players' mutinous remarks, or for scolding them, either. But he,
as much as they, should have realized that a feud by press
conference could only tarnish pro golf and distract from next
month's competition. By pleasing the masses--yeah, we gave that
little arm pump when Crenshaw fired his salvo--the American
captain just poured more poison into the Cup.


When Crenshaw was through, you felt good. Then you wondered if
there was still time to find another captain.