KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. -- Fasten your seat belt for the 1991 Ryder Cup. If only Steve Pate had followed that sage bit of advice, he would have been draped in red, white and blue this morning for the start of this biennial taffy pull against Europe's best golfers.
Instead, Pate will wear a girdle and be reduced to the role of cheerleader as his fellow Americans hit the shores of Kiawah Island's Ocean Course -- it is hoped with a softer landing than our heroes experienced en route to a gala banquet in downtown Charleston on Wednesday evening.
Pate, whose nickname "Volcano" has something to do with his temper, was seated in one of several limousines transporting U.S. squad members and wives to the feed trough. Apparently, one of the caravan's bumper cars stopped to allow police vehicles right of way, and there went dinner. Fenders crumpled, not unlike a few of America's finest a couple years ago at this event in England, and Pate got the worst of it.
"I was thrown to the floor from the back seat," Pate said. "Normally, I use a belt, but normally, I'm driving. I thought it would be worse than it is. No broken bones, just soreness around the left hip."
Pate was taken to a local hospital, then whisked off to the American compound for treatment throughout the wee hours. Physicians said Pate required a lot of ice, which does not make him alone. Obviously, however, the American compound is nicer than most other compounds. On a related matter, where does one go to attempt a gala banquet in downtown Charleston? Godfather's Pizza Parlor holds only about 50, and the U.S. contingent is quite large.
"I'll be OK," Pate said. "I'll play."
Ah, but Capt. Dave Stockton, who might also need a girdle before it's all over, has struck Pate from today's opening lineup. Stockton, a bit tightly wrapped on the eve of this shootout, admitted that if Pate's misfortune had occurred earlier in the week, the Americans would have summoned first alternate Tim Simpson. His strong long-iron game might be a nice asset on this seaside creation of 7,303 yards. Pate, however, promises to be healthy at least by Sunday, the only day when all 12 players on either side must tee it up.
"I won't have anything on by then," Pate assured. "Except clothes."
Today's format is for "Scotch foursomes," or alternate shots. One player hits it, then his partner hits it, and so on until the ball is in the cup. Regardless of who makes the last putt, teammates take turns on tee shots. After a lunch break -- no more limos, please -- it's two-on-two, everybody plays his own ball, better ball wins.
Stockton had intended to put Pate with Lanny Wadkins in the morning, but Hale Irwin will go instead. They'll be third off, against David Gilford and Colin Montgomerie. Ray Floyd and Fred Couples will be just ahead; Payne Stewart and Mark Calcavecchia will be fourth and last. Their foes will be Bernhard Langer-Mark James and Nick Faldo-Ian Woosnam, respectively. European captain Bernard Gallacher submitted his roster, as did Stockton, without any knowledge of the opposition's pecking order.
Today's lead match will feature Paul Azinger and Chip Beck against the two brilliant Spaniards, Seve Ballesteros and Jose-Maria Olazabal. Azinger and Beck were Ryder Cup rookies two years ago at The Belfry, but they were the best in class, together and individually. Azinger is a ferocious competitor, and Beck, a Chicago suburbanite, never met a day he didn't like.
"We got knocked around in the accident last night, too," Azinger allowed. "Doctor said I suffered acute discomfort in the buttocks, which sounds about the way I feel. Chip? If he was in an earthquake that wiped out half a city, he'd say, 'Well, gosh darn, gee whiz, we still have half a city left.' He's great."
The Ryder Cup, dare we bore you, is not attached commercially to truck rentals. Samuel A. Ryder, a British seed merchant, conceived the event in 1927. Now, they sell 25,000 tickets on a course designed by the ever-controversial Pete Dye, who gave us, among others, PGA West's feared Stadium den of horrors.