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Langer in the Hot Seat.
Bernhard Langer may well be suffering, but it is doubtful if his injury is as painful as the thoughts bouncing around between his ears as he contemplates autumn in Michigan.

Trevor Immelman's win in Germany served only to underline the desperation of Langer's situation, already exacerbated by the hiatus left by Colin Montgomerie's loss of form. Harrington made a contest of it in Heidelberg, providing the European Tour with its most exciting finish of the tournament year to date: Darren Clarke also showed some form to take third place, but, overall, the rest of Europe's hopefuls for Ryder Cup reckoning were little in evidence. Europe needs a player with the consistency of Monty at his best to raise the standards of everyone else.

It is surely clear now that Monty is not going to be able to regroup for this year. All of the indicators are that he is well down the road that Faldo most spectacularly trod, never to return. Sadly, the European Tour would appear to be accompanying Monty down that road.

It is particularly depressing to see Faldo miss his third successive cut, but it is even sadder to see Monty, with all of his personal woes fail again. It is, however, a tragedy that Monty will almost certainly fail to make the Ryder Cup team automatically by virtue of a European OM place for his Ryder Cup matches have been something special, particularly in recent years and particularly in partnership with Bernhard Langer.

Now, Langer has seen what Monty can do in Matchplay at first hand but is that fact likely to sway his thinking and pull in Monty as one of his wild cards? Sentiment is not something with which the 'ice-man' is familiar and it is not something that is likely to affect his thought processes. Langer will pick on merit. He is on record as saying that his selections will be made on the basis of current form. Monty can only expect to get a postcard from Michigan.

Langer may yet find himself forced to pick one Bernhard Langer as one of his wild cards -- given, that is, that he manages to qualify by playing in 11 European Tour events. Certainly, the Tour has not made his job easy for him with this singularly odd rule which, if its officials are not already ruing, it is one that they may well come to regret if the European side suffers a humiliating defeat at Oakland Hills.

With the demise of Monty and the inconsistent and, in many cases, poor form of the stalwarts, and with the OM table being largely led by non-Europeans, the prospects are not good. Garcia's return to winning ways is a blessing, but Langer will need all of the spiritual guidance that he can get to put a competitive team together.

It would be interesting to know Langer's personal thoughts on the Tour's 11-appearances ruling. He himself migrated to the US to enjoy the spoils and under such a rule would not have made it into the team where he enjoyed so much success.

It would also be interesting to know the thoughts of Sandy Jones, Secretary of the Professional Golfers Association. Few will have forgotten his statement two years ago when the European Tour took control of the Ryder Cup. "To give up control of the Ryder Cup is beyond where Samuel Ryder's trust deed would let us go"; he said only weeks before he agreed to give up control.

Relinquishing control of the Ryder Cup to the European Tour was essentially placing it in the hands of the tournament players themselves. Surely this flies in the face of what the Cup was supposed to be about and it certainly opens it to the possibility of abuse. In the 11-appearances rule the Tour's motive is clear, even laudable for one wants to see the best of Europe play in Europe, just as one would like to see the best in the world play in Europe. But the 11-appearances rule smacks of protectionism in its worst form. Every individual should have the right to play his trade where he will and should not be disadvantaged by a labour union demanding his compliance.

It is clear that a Ryder Cup appearance greatly enhances a player's value in the market place. It is equally clear that a Ryder Cup win for the European Tour would greatly enhance the credibility of the Tour. The 11-appearance rule is not only ethically wrong, it is also extremely bad marketing strategy and if the tournament players that it is purportedly protecting had any sense at all, they would collectively move to overturn it.

©    24 - MAY 2004

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