Bill Kwon

Sports Watch

By Bill Kwon

Friday, October 8, 1999


Rolfing says Ryder
Cup will be a war

IF you thought this year's Ryder Cup was a battle, wait until you witness the next one in 2001 in Belfry, England. It'll be a war, according to Mark Rolfing.

"The Europeans will be waiting," said Rolfing, an on-the-scene correspondent for NBC-TV at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass., where the Americans pulled off a remarkable comeback victory.

"It was a tremendous comeback. The most thrilling day in golf I've ever seen. Obviously, I'm biased," Rolfing said.

Considering that Rolfing spent 27 hours following the three-day biennial event, it's worth listening to what he has to say.

Basically, Rolfing wanted to make two points:

One, all that hullabaloo on the 17th hole when the Europeans bitched about the U.S. team's excessive celebration after Justin Leonard's remarkable 45-foot putt was much ado about nothing.

Secondly, European team captain Mark James simply blew it.

OK, so the American players, their caddies and wives could have been penalized - under NCAA rules for excessive celebration - with their Brookline-dancing on the 17th green when Leonard sank his putt. But, somehow, no one stepped on the line of the putt Jose Olazabal had left for his equalizer.

Rolfing, though, blamed the Europeans for starting all the fuss in the first place.

"First of all, I really don't think it was as bad as it was made out to be," he said.

What really triggered the Americans in that excessive celebration was the slow play of the Europeans.

"I was covering the match between Mark O'Meara and Padraig Harrington in the twosome ahead," Rolfing said.

"O'Meara was in the left rough and Harrington was away on the fairway. Harrington walked all the way up to the green, walked back and fiddled around before hitting his shot. The crowd on the green, including the American players, their wives and caddies were waiting there and getting edgy.

"It was obvious that the Europeans were playing slow deliberately. So when Justin made that putt, they let out all their emotions."

Rolfing admits that he had never seen such a lack of golf decorum. But the Europeans deserved what happened.

WHAT makes Rolfing really feel bad about the whole affair is that what happened at the 17th green took some luster away from the most remarkable comeback in Ryder Cup history.

If there was any single reason the Europeans lost, it wasn't because of the American gallery, according to Rolfing.

He thought James, Europe's team captain, simply blew it.

"He made a mistake of not playing three of his rookies until the final day in the singles," Rolfing said. "The bigger mis-take was putting them three, four and five in the lineup. Europe was down five in those matches immediately."

Rolfing thought James should have put Sergio Garcia up there early to create a little excitement. Instead, the Europeans had to play catch-up with golfers who had tired legs from the previous two days.

He thinks it's important for the Americans to come up with a well-respected team captain to offset some of the negativism that's sure to arise at Belfry.

"I think the choice of a captain will be very important," Rolfing said. "Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus are two of America's most revered players, although I don't think Watson will want to do it because he's now playing on the Senior Tour."

Arnold Palmer wouldn't be too bad a choice, either. Who would dare boo him?

Bill Kwon has been writing
about sports for the Star-Bulletin since 1959.

E-mail to Sports Editor

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