Team Europe > News

Interview No. 1: U.S. Ryder Cup Captain Hal Sutton

Bob Hope Chrysler Classic
PGA West-Palmer Private, Indian Wells, LaQuinta, Bermuda Dunes
La Quinta, California
January 21, 2004

August 21, 2004

HAL SUTTON: It's always fun to start the year out. You know, we limp across the finish line at the end of the year.

My body is in good shape. My game is in good shape. Not that it matters what my game is, but I feel good about my golf game, which hopefully will be -- I've said all along, I thought that would be important. I'd love to be playing some final round with some of the guys that are going to be leading us to victory in the Ryder Cup.

Q.: Have you had an opportunity to focus on that over the last four months, have you talked to players about the importance of this Ryder Cup?

HAL SUTTON: Well, I haven't been, no, I haven't talked to a lot of the players over the last four months. I haven't seen a lot of the players. The only tournament that I played in was the UBS, and it was all old guys that are not going to be on that team. I talked to a few of them about things, but, you know that kind of really starts them out. Yesterday I walked down to the driving range for the first time and saw a few guys, and that process really starts from this point forward.

We are 3-5-1 the last few times and everybody talks about us being favored on paper and all of that sort of stuff. You know, we've got to prove that on green grass.

Q.: Could you just run through a real nutshell of the captains you've played for and how you may be alike or dissimilar from their approaches?

HAL SUTTON: Well, the first captain I played for was Lee Trevino and that was in 1985, which was, what, 19 years ago now. The second one -- I'm not going to be a whole like lot Lee. I'm not quite as funny as Lee.

Second captain I played for was in 1987. That was Jack Nicklaus. To be honest with you, that was the turning point in Ryder Cup history, those two events, right there in my mind. I was a part of both teams. Both teams lost. It was a looser feel then than it is now. Maybe it was for granted at that point, taken for granted. Things have tightened up quite a bit since that point.

The last two captains that I played for were Ben. Ben was, I would call him seriously calculated in some ways. Kind of -- he was different than I thought he was going to be. You know, I've known -- we all call him Gentle Ben, but it was important to Ben. He was quiet but he was pretty calculated.

I'll never forget and I'll tell you all this story. I was playing really good in '99 at that Ryder Cup and he paired Jeff Maggert and I together and we performed well. He told us continually that for Saturday afternoon we would get off, and that Saturday morning we beat Colin Montgomerie and Paul Lawrie. It took us to the 18th hole but we beat them, and we went in for lunch.

Ben come up and sat down beside us and he said, "I know you told y'all that I was going to give y'all the afternoon off but we've got to have you. You've got to play."

I was like, "Put me in the game Coach, I'm ready."

Jeff said, "No, I'm tired. I think I need to sit." So Jeff gets up and walks off.

And Ben looks at me and he said, "Well, who do you want to play with, because I'm going to have to put you out there."

And Payne was still out on the golf course, and I said, "I think you ought to put me with Payne."

And he said, "He's hitting it everywhere right now." He said, "I've got a bad feeling about that."

I said, "Well, they are playing foursomes now, so if he hits it everywhere this afternoon, I don't have to go out there and chase it out of the woods for him. He's used to chasing his own ball."

He said, "I've got a hunch about Justin. I'm sending Justin out with you."

So my point in telling you that is I thought I might have a little influence on Ben. I don't know why he asked me in the first place. He had no intentions of doing what I said. So I kind of liked that about Ben, as a matter of fact.

Curtis was, I think the focus this last Ryder Cup was putting -- changing the course of actions that occurred in 1999. I think Curtis and Sam had worked very hard over that three-year period of time to change that course and I think they did a great job. Curtis was, I would say -- Curtis was also a little different than I expected him to be. I guess I viewed captains as similar to their playing strategies, which neither Ben nor Curtis followed what I remember them being as players. Curtis was not as intense of a captain as he was a player. That's not a knock against Curtis. He did a great job. I thought Curtis did a great job from a player's perspective but he was a little different than he was as a player. That's what I'm trying to say.

Q.: Following up what are you going to throw a surprise at the players?

HAL SUTTON: How could I determine that at this point? I mean, I don't even know who is on the team. I don't know what is needed. I don't know what I'll try to do because I don't know who is going to be on the team. You know, how much can a captain do? Everybody is very talented at what they do. Everybody that makes a Ryder Cup team whether they have won a lot that year or not, they won at some point in their life a lot. And they know how to do that. It's hard to walk in and tell somebody how to do something at that point. Just kind of throwing a rope around it and corralling it and pushing it in the same direction might be most that a captain can do, you know.

Q.: Where would you rank winning the Ryder Cup as a captain to other PGA accomplishments you've had so far?

HAL SUTTON: You know what, I thought us winning the Ryder Cup in '99 was the most exciting thing that I was ever a part of. And I can only imagine based on what I know right now about the efforts that go into a two-year process once you've been selected as a Ryder Cup Captain and getting all the way to the event, and all of the things that lead up to that, the excitement of that all coming together and you being victorious, I can only imagine what that would be like.

As a player, you are so caught up and so busy in your own life of trying to attain all of the things that will qualify you for the Ryder Cup team, and I'm not sure you know all of the processes that go on for two years. So I think it would be the most special thing that's ever happened to me in other years, when you think of all the things going on for two years leading up to the Ryder Cup and to have it all come together and on Sunday night, you're toasting each other for a job well done, I think that will be pretty awesome.

Q.: How do you balance the need for the intensity of wanting to win, when we talk the about -- what you talked about in terms of backing off some of the things that had happened in '99 and before and some of the contentiousness, is there a line there and how do you keep them on the right side of that line?

HAL SUTTON: That's a fine line. You know, I don't want anybody to feel restrained to the point that they feel they are in a straightjacket and they can't be themselves. You know, we can't be apologizing for wanting to win. That's just everybody that plays this game that reaches this level, their whole demeanor should be that they want to win. You know, they each have a way of showing the excitement of the win from Tiger pumping his fist, to the tip of his hat like Ben Hogan used to do. But each have their own personality and I don't want anybody to feel restrained.

We are each responsible for our own actions. We should be gentleman. We should want the other player to be the best they can be. We want actually every time I've been in one of these things, I wanted the guy to perform great. I wanted my opponent to perform at the highest level he could. I just wanted to beat him. I mean, I didn't want him to play poorly so I could win. I mean, to me, that's what this game is all about. And I'm hoping that that's what our team can do at the Ryder Cup.

Q.: You've a had a considerable amount of time to start to get ready for what's going to happen in September. One thing that you had not done or announced before is where you were in regard to an assistant captain. Have you got any closer to that decision?

HAL SUTTON: I've picked both assistant captains, Jackie Burke and Steve Jones.

I think both are qualified for different reasons. Both are good friends and I think they are going to make great assistant captains.

Steve has an elbow problem and he plans on being back out here playing by April. So that's the story. Both were excited. Both look forward to doing it. So I'm excited about them.

Q.: Are there different reasons for picking them, can you elaborate on that?

HAL SUTTON: Well, I'll talk about Steve first. Steve and I are contemporaries. We went through the same Tour School together. We have been friends for a long, long time. He's got a great personality. He's a neat guy. He won the U.S. Open at Oakland Hills.

And Jackie Burke, I think there's nobody in the game more knowledgeable than Jackie Burke. He was a tremendous competitor. He's very current. I think Jackie is going to really add a dimension to the game of fire. I think he's really -- he's a fierce competitor even at his age.

Q.: The last Ryder Cup, the term "outfoxed" was used. The recent Solheim Cup, Patty Sheehan, the word "outcoached" was used. Patty Sheehan took the approach of all the players are equal, she doesn't want to favor anybody, and play consistent and so forth. What will your approach be on the matches?

HAL SUTTON: Well, it would be really hard to set nine months out a strategy for what it's going to be, who I think the players are. I think we could safely say -- I was talking to Julius about this last night -- there's one guy on this list right now that we can safely say is on that team. So until we figure out what the nucleus of this team is going to be like, I don't think I can plot a course or a strategy.

And if I could, I wouldn't, because I don't want anybody else to know what I want to do. You know, "outfoxed," is that the term you used there?

Q.: That was the term the press used.

HAL SUTTON: You know, I'm going to say this. I've said this a bunch of times, and I'm going to be there. Next September on Saturday night, I'm going to be forced into coming up with 12 guys in 12 positions that hopefully makes me look like the brains, so that it doesn't look like I'm outfoxed. But it might be like if we just took this paper and wrote 12 names on it and cut it into 12 different pieces wadded them up and threw them up in the air and whichever one they landed closest to, that might be the best strategy in the world, I have no idea at this particular point.

And I don't know how you can put anything to that. I mean, you can either look like the most aggressive person in the world by playing with what you think or I might think is the best players first, so that it looks like I'm going for the gusto. I mean, I thought that Curtis played some darned good players to start with this last year and everybody thought it was a real conservative start. I mean, I would be heart-pressed to think David Toms was, you know, I would have been going for the gusto David Toms would have been in the top three or four people that I put up there.

Scott has got a pretty good record. Scott Hoch has got a pretty good record in the Ryder Cup and he's a tough competitor. Have been right up there at the top, too. He'd have been in the top five -- he certainly would have been in the top six names that I would have put up there. I felt like -- I didn't think Curtis was altogether wrong in his strategy.

Hindsight is 20/2004ou know. But I'm not going to predict a strategy that I'm going to use. It's too early to do that.

Q.: How about your coaching style, will you be a Seve Ballesteros running around the course, leading the cheer or high-fiving the players? How do you perceive your style to be?

HAL SUTTON: I believe in showing support. I believe in being excited about things that happen that are good. You know, I just -- that's the kind of person I am. That's the one thing you probably can print that I'll do. I'll probably be a nervous wreck running around the golf course trying to show a great deal of support to our players.

Q.: Do the captain seeds have anything to do with the way you're going to schedule your appearances this year, and do you does this ABC stuff work with that?

HAL SUTTON: Yes, the captain duties will have an effect on how I play my schedule. It will determine some of my schedule. The ABC thing came along probably not 40 days ago I got the first call on it. I really was -- they had to persuade me into doing it because I couldn't hardly be any busier than I am. The window of opportunity in doing that is now. Mark Loomis has been nice enough to only put me in there nine times, and basically only four times before the Ryder Cup, of which two of them are this week and next week.

So it's not going to be that demanding on me prior to the Ryder Cup. Might give me an opportunity to see players in a different light from inside the booth. I don't watch a lot of golf if I'm not doing something like that, so, you know, although I probably would have this year being the Ryder Cup Captain. I probably -- I was watching Hawaii for instance. I was at home last week; I watched Hawaii. I have reason to be more interested this year than I would be in the past.

Q.: Outside of obviously talent, is there any other characteristic that you want to run throughout the Ryder Cup team? Is there any other characteristic you want the Ryder Cup team to have outside of talent?

HAL SUTTON: Well, I don't know how much match-play most younger guys play in today's game, but most of the match play that I've ever seen, to be successful, you've got to be aggressive. You don't want it to come to you. You go after it. So I'd like to see the guys be aggressive that week. I don't think there's anything they can do from now till then that will help that process. I think they have got to come in there with a mind set of being aggressive that week. I'd like to see them be talented and aggressive that week.

Q.: Last year you talked about course set up and that you would really just rely on Kerry (Haigh) to set it up, but yet your assistant captain is someone that won at Oakland Hills; will that be beneficial?

HAL SUTTON: I think Kerry will do a tremendous job at doing that. I don't think -- in fact, I would rather it not be won or lost because of course setup. I'd rather it be determined just because the United States played better than the Europeans.

Kerry is excellent. He does a great job with the PGA Championship every year. He is there. He's been there a bunch. He's been getting prepared. He will be prepared to do the right job. So, no, we will have nothing to do with the course setup.

Q.: '99 you came in, I'm not sure how you were playing necessarily. '98, you came in playing really well as you said, what happens if you have another season like that this year?

HAL SUTTON: You mean with me? My bank he would be a lot happier.

In terms of the Ryder Cup, nothing will happen. I can -- if I made the team, which I guess is possible, I guess I could score enough points to do that. I would not play. So I've played on four teams. I've said that from the get go. If I made the team, I would be pulling in there in the ninth or 10th spot basically, and that's some serious point earning this year on my part to do that. There's certainly more, as capable of players, to take on the job. I've spent a lot of -- I say a lot -- a great deal of time preparing for that week and I'll spend a great deal more time between now and then and I'm going to stay on course.

My job is to be the captain, and I'm going to stay on courts to do that.

Q.: How many events do you think you'll play this year going into it?

HAL SUTTON: I think I'll play 20-plus. I'm going to play a pretty normal schedule for me.

TODD BUDNICK: Thank you for your time today and good luck this week.

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