In the next few weeks, the PGA of America will reach a decision on a U.S. captain for the 36th Ryder Cup in 2006 at The K Club in Ireland. It's no mystery what the PGA is looking for: a major champion in his mid- to late-40s with prudent flag-waving sensibilities and a strong rapport with today's top players. This particular selection seemed like a no-brainer five years ago -- '06 was to be Payne Stewart's team. Old Glory could not have been placed in better hands.
The list of candidates with endearing qualities remains deep, highlighted by Tom Lehman's unpretentious pep, Fred Couples' popularity, Paul Azinger's patriotic palate and Corey Pavin's pulse under pressure. All would make excellent choices, as would Mark O'Meara, who has lobbied quietly for the job and considers himself a logical option to captain in the first Ryder Cup held in Ireland.
"After playing on five teams, winning 16 tournaments, two majors and  Player of the Year, it would be a great way to finish my career," O'Meara says. "I realize other guys are in the running, but I think my record speaks for itself." His Irish heritage and high approval rating overseas are equally crucial assets -- fiery guys such as Azinger and Pavin probably are better suited to pilot U.S. squads in Ryder Cups played in America.
Considering the possible emotional overkill that can occur at a Ryder Cup (see Brookline in 1999), O'Meara moves to the top of the PGA's list, the better to pacify the hypocritical Brits, who often respond to perceived jingoism and American bluster with an onslaught of finger-pointing.
Lehman might be the clubhouse leader heading to The K Club. And if the PGA still holds a grudge against O'Meara for his misinterpreted stand on the reallocation of Ryder Cup revenue in '99, that would qualify as another hypocrisy. The beef helped change things for the better. "We never said we weren't going to play in the Ryder Cup if we didn't get paid," O'Meara says. "We just wanted to know where the money was going. There was a lot of negative perception [generated through] the media, but it's turned into a win-win situation."
He's right, but in figuring on O'Meara in '06, Lehman or Pavin in '08 and Azinger in 2010, I probably won't be.
John Hawkins is a senior writer for Golf World magazine