Ever since he served as an assistant captain in 2006, Corey Pavin has been making mental notes about the Ryder Cup. (Getty Images)
Capable Pavin guides U.S. Ryder Cup defense
There was no hesitation on the other end of the line when PGA of America President Jim Remy called and said: "Corey, we want you to captain our 2010 Ryder Cup team." Hard act though Paul Azinger will be to follow, such decisiveness and clarity of vision sould ensure that the U.S. defense of the trophy rests in capable hands.
By Dave Shedloski, Special to RYDERCUP.com
The biennial Ryder Cup competition is scheduled to be contested over three days -- three frenetic and fascinating and drama-filled days that, taken together, comprise one of the world’s great sporting events -- but Corey Pavin will tell you that his preparations as Captain of the 2010 United States Team have been years in the making.
Unquestionably one of golf’s grittiest competitors, Pavin is the latest in a proud line of passionate and dedicated men to have donned the mantel as leader of the American team in these goodwill matches that seed merchant Samuel Ryder first sponsored in 1927 at Worcester, Mass. Pavin was groomed for the job as one of Tom Lehman’s assistant captains in 2006, but his unabashed eagerness for the job can be traced to 1991 at Kiawah Island, S.C., where he made the first of his three appearances as a player.
“It’s hard for me to even put into words what it means to be the Ryder Cup Captain. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, probably longer than I can remember,” says Pavin, 50, whose brief is to hang on to the trophy the Americans reclaimed under Paul Azinger two years ago at Valhalla with a resounding 16 ½ to 11 ½ decision.
“To say that it’s a tremendous honor to be Captain of the U.S. Team doesn’t quite fully express my gratitude for the opportunity,” Pavin continues. “I was keeping my fingers crossed to get the chance, and when I got the call from [PGA of America President] Jim Remy, I couldn’t stop smiling for weeks. I’ve thought about this for a long time, the things I would do if I got the opportunity. Since I was an assistant to Tom Lehman in 2006, I’ve been taking a lot of mental notes of things I want to implement. I have quite a list of things in my computer. You know, it isn’t just a one-week or one-year process for me. There’s a lot to do, and I think I’ve tried to do the best I can to be prepared.
“I think the Ryder Cup is the greatest golf event in the world and one of the biggest sporting events in the world. When it’s over I want to be able to look at myself in the mirror and say I did everything I possibly could to give Team USA the chance to win.”
That closing sentiment is consistent with Pavin’s disposition as a Ryder Cup player. Winner of 15 PGA Tour titles, including the 1995 U.S. Open, Pavin threw every morsel of sinew, sweat and skill from his 5-foot 9 frame into the 13 matches in which he participated. He won eight and lost five as part of two winning teams in ’91 and ’93, and considers his Ryder Cup experiences some of the greatest of his career. Not surprisingly, they also were the most nerve-wracking.
“For me, playing in the Ryder Cup was 100 times more stressful than any major championship,” Pavin admits. “The pressure was that much more intense. There are a lot of reasons for that. One, obviously, is that you’re representing the U.S.A., and that is big. Then you have 11 other team members that you’re playing for, and you don’t want to let them down. We also are playing for our peers, for the members of the PGA Tour and American golfers and PGA Professionals throughout the U.S. You add it all up and throw in the fact that there are eight majors for every one playing of the Ryder Cup, and it becomes bigger and greater than anything else you compete in.”
His most scary moment -- and scary is not an exaggeration here -- came in 1993 at The Belfry near Birmingham, England, when he had to hit the opening tee shot of the matches on Friday morning.
“I was nervous as hell, if I can say that,” the soft-spoken Pavin says with a small laugh. “The 18th hole at The Belfry was a really tough driving hole for me, and Lanny Wadkins was my partner, so I wanted him to hit the tee shot on 18 if the match got that far. That meant I’d be hitting the first shot of the Ryder Cup. When they announced that the U.S.A. had the honor, I was trying to figure out how I was going to control my emotions. I was very nervous, shaking. I put the peg in the ground OK, but my hand was shaking so much that I honestly thought there was no way I could get the ball on the tee. Somehow I steadied myself enough to do it, then I focused and hit a great drive down the middle, and Lanny and I went on to win our match.”
The emotionally charged and dramatic ’91 edition at Kiawah Island conjures up the fondest memories for the native of Oxnard, Calif.
“When we got to Kiawah in ’91, both teams were staying in the same building and the first thing Payne Stewart did was open up the window and turn on his boom box with Bruce Springsteen blaring ‘Born in the USA.’ That kind of thing, it was in good spirit and good fun, and you look back on that and laugh about it,” Pavin says. “Then there was throwing [captain Dave] Stockton in the water after we won and all of us diving in the ocean. That was pretty special.”
Looking ahead to this edition and the challenges of the Twenty Ten Course at Celtic Manor, Pavin, noting the intense pressure and the importance of momentum, says that there is really no such thing as a key hole. But of particular importance in his mind are the 14th and 15th, relatively short par 4s of 413 and 377 yards, respectively.
“The 14th has a demanding second shot into the green. Miss it a yard left and it goes in the water,” Pavin cautions. “No. 15 is going to be a fabulous hole to watch. It’s a reachable par-4 depending on the tee placement. Not a lot of trouble, but if you miss the green in the wrong spot you could have trouble getting up and down. And it comes at a critical point in the match.”
Handicapping the Americans is the difference in local knowledge of the course between the squads; most of the European players compete annually in the Wales Open over the par-71 Twenty Ten Course at Celtic Manor. But an even bigger factor in Europe’s favor is local support.
“The fans are the biggest difference home and away,” Pavin says. “When you play away it’s simply more difficult -- for a lot of reasons. There’s the time change, different conditions of grasses and weather … all those things are important. They add up. It doesn’t mean we can’t win, but it’s a tough road. And then you have the fan situation. Their fans are great; they don’t cheer against you, but you have very little to feed off of when you make a good shot. You have to work through that.”
Since the rest of Europe joined the Ryder Cup fray in 1979, the visiting teams have found success more elusive and the challenges intensified, and Pavin has no illusions about the crucible his charges will be entering at Celtic Manor. But he appears to be the right man in the right place as America goes for its 26th victory. In fact, there is a semblance of a coming home for Pavin when he ventures abroad with his dozen charges to defend the Cup.
“It’s very cool to be the Ryder Cup captain for Team USA in Europe because that is where I started my professional career back in 1983,” says Pavin, whose 12 international titles include the ’83 German Open, his first professional victory. “The beginning of my professional career goes back to Europe; it’s where my roots are. I was a member of the European Tour before I was a member of the PGA Tour. It’s a nice fit, but we could have played anywhere, and I’d have been happy. I’m just ecstatic to have the opportunity, and it’s been such a fun journey leading up to it. I’ve loved every minute of it.”
This story appears courtesy of the 2010 Official Ryder Cup Guide. Click here to view the online version or click here to purchase your own copy for $5.95. The 2010 Official Ryder Cup Guide is also available at all Barnes and Noble bookstores.