Different strokes for Ryder captains Kite counts on tactics, Ballesteros intensity

September 26, 1997|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

SOTOGRANDE, Spain -- As players, they have been opposites in personality and style.

Tom Kite is the ultimate grinder, a practice-range workaholic who has won more money than anyone else who has ever played on the PGA Tour except for Greg Norman, and more tournaments -- 19, including the 1992 U.S. Open -- than most thought possible.

Seve Ballesteros is the natural, the phenom who won the first of three British Opens at 21 with a shot from a parking lot and captured the first of two Masters less than a year later.

Those differences now extend to their roles as nonplaying captains of the opposing teams in the 32nd Ryder Cup, which begins today at the Valderrama Golf Club.

Kite has been cautious and diplomatic, not wanting to overstate the advantage his American team seems to possess or undersell the European opposition. Ballesteros has demonstrated the same kind of bravado he showed on the course, challenging the Americans in general and Tiger Woods in particular.

Asked about being so diplomatic, Kite smiled.

"You noticed that, huh?" he said the other day. "We call that politically correct in the United States. I really don't see any reason to try to offend anybody, in any situation. It's never been my intent."

Ballesteros must have known that about Kite when he approached the PGA European Tour last year and asked to have the traditional Ryder Cup format of playing foursomes (alternate shot) in the opening morning matches and four-ball (best ball) in the afternoon reversed.

The PGA of America accepted the change, though the previous format had been used almost exclusively since the biennial event began in 1927.

Ballesteros said that he wanted to try something different, but this wasn't strictly done on a whim.

In studying the results from the past seven Ryder Cups, Ballesteros discovered that the United States had won three and halved four of the first-day, foursome matches. In the past 10 times that foursome matches were held in the morning -- the only year they weren't was 1979, and the U.S. team opened a 3-1 lead -- the Americans had won 23 of 36 matches.

"When Tom knew about that, he said, 'Well, is anything behind that?' " Ballesteros recalled Wednesday. "And I said, 'No, it's just make something different.' "

Some viewed the move as merely a continuation of the gamesmanship Ballesteros often used during his career as a Ryder Cup player from 1979 to 1995. A 20-12-5 record included a halved singles match against Kite in 1985 at The Belfry, site of the first U.S. defeat in 28 years.

The passion Ballesteros took to the course he will try to bring to his team, which includes five Ryder Cup rookies. It is a trait that has helped him win 68 tournaments around the world and made him one of the most popular players ever, often compared to Arnold Palmer for his appeal.

But his kind of emotion often doesn't work in the pressure this kind of event provides.

"I just hope they play with passion, but in a very calm way," Ballesteros, who turned 40 this month, said earlier this week.

At least one former European captain said it will work with Spain's most famous player.

"Don't underestimate the Seve factor," said Bernard Gallacher, who captained the previous three European teams and retired after the victory at Oak Hill two years ago. "He was a great player when I was captain, and he'll be as good as a captain himself. Seve has charisma, but don't be misled into thinking that's all. He's a very deep thinker about the game, and is a master tactician himself."

Kite's more cerebral playing style has also proven successful in this event, as evidenced by a 15-9-4 record that includes a remarkable 5-0-2 in singles. (Conversely, Ballesteros has a 2-4-2 singles record.) It was what helped make Kite, 47, an attractive candidate to replace Lanny Wadkins and what could help perhaps the most talented collection of American players ever ,, assembled for the Ryder Cup.

"He's very thorough. He's not going to leave anything to second guess," said Jeff Maggert.

The pressure Kite and Ballesteros will face as captains will be different from what they experienced as players.

Asked yesterday if the pressure here is greater than in a major championship, Ballesteros didn't flinch. "There's no question -- being a captain is more pressure," he said. "When I'm playing in the majors, I don't remember waking up at 4 in the morning."

Pub Date: 9/26/97

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