Quit being a Payne, Mr. Stewart Nicklaus would do just fine


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Tomorrow's the day. The pulse quickens and the country awaits Dave Stockton's selections for the U.S. team that will take on the Europeans in the Ryder Cup matches in Florida next month. Normally, the announcement of the squad, 10 men determined by point standings and the two wild-card picks by the captain (Stockton), would be met with yawns. No more.

These days, the process resembles a scaled-down baseball all-star game election for the simple reason the boys from across the pond have held the cup for the last six years and, better yet, there's controversy concerning the last two spots on the team.

A couple of months ago at the Kemper Open, Stockton said, "I'll be watching closely this summer. I want to see the guys who are playing best for my two picks."

So, Jack Nicklaus has had a fine summer and he says he wants to play. But Jack is 51, which, in the minds of some of today's players, mentionably Payne Stewart, puts him in the same age category as King Tut. The aptly-named Payne sees double rounds of alternate-shot and better-ball play the first two days being a problem for Nicklaus.

Forgotten, perhaps, is the captain selects only eight players, four two-man teams for the morning foursomes and afternoon four-ball events. All 12 players compete in singles matches the last day.

Another thing Stockton said earlier is "I'm going to have a more veteran team than [1989 captain] Ray Floyd did." Main reason for this is, many of the Americans, rookies to cup play, took gas over the last few holes of the head-to-head competition, allowing the Europeans to tie (14-14) and retain the cup.

Similar to the annual brouhahas caused by Joe Blow not being selected to the All-Star baseball game either by the fans or the manager, the Nicklaus-Stewart flap went so far as to cause a national newspaper to run pro/con letters on the situation. About 75 percent suggested Payne should be gagged.

Mr. Stewart, it should be noted, lost his singles match and won just one of three team matches in 1989. While Payne's match win percentage in two cup appearances is .375 (3-5), Nicklaus checks in at .607 (17-8) over six tournaments.

* The top of the field is just about set for the Virginia Slims of Washington tourney in Rock Creek Park beginning next Monday, and it is loaded. Behind defending champ and No. 1-ranked Steffi Graf come Arantxa Sanchez Vicario (4), Jana Novotna (9) and a half-dozen players ranked between 12 and 20 on the Slims computer. Pam Shriver, up to No. 30, is also in the 28-woman field.

Sessions go at noon and 7 p.m. daily with the final set for 1 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 24. The $350,000 test wraps up a day earlier than normal due to the fact the U.S. Open gets under way in New York Aug. 26. Ticket information is available at 1-800-PROSERV.

* The most amazing thing about the PGA tourney controversy surrounding third-round leader John Daly Saturday was the actions of his caddy, Jeff Medlen. It's been nearly 40 years since I toted the bag, but over all that time I remember the rule set down by players, pros and greenskeepers that said never, but never rest the bottom of the flagstick on the green.

In at least a couple hundred tournaments both big and small witnessed since, I've never seen anyone do it. Until this guy Medlen, who is described as being a tour vet and Nick Price's regular caddy. Dear Jeff, if you have to put the bottom of the flagstick somewhere, you rest it on your foot, remember?

* One of the joys of reading and listening to all the information coming out of the Pan Am Games is the righteous bleatings of journalists who insist American athletes have a sworn duty to compete in the activities in Cuba.

First, most of these sunshine patriots have made careers going out of their way to avoid all so-called Olympic sports save for the Games every four years. And, then, they're more interested in the restaurants and the events that interest them back in the States than anything else.

Next, traditionally, the competition in the Pan Ams has been generally weak and, really, just another stop on the schedule. In this, the year of track and field's World Championships in Tokyo next month, an athlete would be crazy not to be over on the rugged European circuit these days testing himself against the best. Same goes for the swimmers and the Pan Pacific meet currently going on.

It is often suggested that by not being represented by our best we are snubbing or insulting the host country. This is bull. We owe it to all our athletes to provide them with some international experience. And, besides, why send a team to Havana (basketball) if, after a game, it is going to be put aboard a shuttle back to Miami to live high off the hog until its next game?

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