One month, the debate was Fred Couples getting elected to the World Golf Hall of Fame by the slimmest of margins. The next month, conversation shifted to whom the PGA of America would consider as the next Ryder Cup captain.
Both topics were a reminder to Mark O’Meara that despite 24 wins around the world, two major championships, five Ryder Cup teams and trophies collected from five continents, it’s easy to feel left out.
”Hey, things are good in my life,” O’Meara said Tuesday from River Oaks Country Club in Houston, where he occasionally puts the claret jug and trophies from the Masters and US Amateur on display for members. ”My health is good. My family is great. I’m blessed to have played this game for a long time, and I’m still playing. If someday they want to call me, that’s great.”
A phone call from whom? And about what?
Any chance to be Ryder Cup captain has come and gone. O’Meara qualified for five teams from 1985 to 1999 and seemed to be a logical choice, especially after Payne Stewart’s death, to be captain in 2006 when the matches went to Ireland. He met with PGA officials at Kiawah Island in 2004 to let them know how much he was interested. The PGA of America instead chose Tom Lehman, who played on three Ryder Cup teams and had five career PGA Tour titles, including a British Open.
”To be honest, I was a little disappointed I didn’t even get considered,” O’Meara said.
He suspects he was painted as a culprit in the pay-for-play argument that was such a big part of the conversation going into the 1999 Ryder Cup.
O’Meara still believes he was unfairly labeled. Besides, he wasn’t alone in taking up the cause. Tiger Woods and David Duval, at the time Nos. 1 and 2 in the world, also were outspoken about the enormous amount of money the PGA of America generates from the Ryder Cup — said to be upward of $60 million this year — by showcasing players from another organization (PGA Tour). It’s different in Europe because money from the Ryder Cup is divided three ways, with 60 percent going to the European Tour.
What resulted from that debate was the PGA of America agreeing to donate $200,000 to charity through each player and the captain, a total of $2.6 million. From the 2010 Ryder Cup, $50,000 was earmarked for a PGA of America program at the player’s college and $50,000 for something called the Junior Ryder Cup Academy.
”I do these corporate outings, and they ask me when I’m going to be the next captain,” O’Meara said. ”I don’t know how many times I’ve been asked that. I just tell them, ‘That ain’t going to happen.’ My time has passed. There are other individuals who deserve it a lot more. Larry Nelson comes to mind. If the PGA of America has any heart, take him. The guy has had a hell of a career, a great Ryder Cup and he’s a fine man.”
If not the Ryder Cup, perhaps O’Meara could be a Presidents Cup captain.
Couples was appointed US captain for 2009 at Harding Park, a five-point win for the Americans. A short time later, O’Meara said he called PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem about being the next Presidents Cup captain at Royal Melbourne.
”I said, ‘Listen, Tim, I don’t know where you stand or who the selection committee is, but I’d love to do it,’ ” O’Meara said. ”It was in Australia. I had won the Australian Masters. It was perfect timing for me. But he never called me back.”
Couples and Greg Norman were chosen to repeat as captains in 2011 (another American romp), and Couples was selected to return as captain for a third straight time next year at Muirfield Village.
Funny that Couples is always where O’Meara wants to be, the latest blow coming last month when he was elected to the World Golf Hall of Fame.
O’Meara has been around this game long enough to understand that nobody is ever owed anything, and he certainly doesn’t begrudge Couples. They grew up playing together, even stayed with each other at Q-school in 1980. And oddly enough, they were in the final pairing in the 1998 Masters, when O’Meara finished birdie-birdie to beat Couples and Duval by one shot.
He won the British Open at Royal Birkdale that summer, making him, at 41, the oldest player to win two majors in one season. That fall, he capped off an amazing year by beating Woods in the World Match Play Championship. O’Meara got the better of Woods again six years later when he won the Dubai Desert Classic.
Even so, his credentials were thought to be borderline for the Hall of Fame, a notch below the likes of Ben Crenshaw, Tom Kite, Curtis Strange and Lanny Wadkins. What figured to help O’Meara is that the standard inevitably would be lower as golf became deeper with talent, making it tougher to win. And that’s the direction it’s going.
But it was no less surprising that Couples, with 15 tour wins and one major, would get voted in ahead of two players from the same era who had stronger records.
Couples received 51 percent of the vote, the lowest ever on the PGA Tour ballot. Love tied for second (38 percent), even though he has 20 wins and a major. Ken Venturi, who also had 38 percent of the vote, recently was selected through Lifetime Achievement. O’Meara, with 16 wins and two majors, was fourth at 36 percent.
The news was tough to take.
”I flipped on the TV and I saw Fred,” O’Meara recalled. ”The last time I had seen Fred, he hit a drive off the first tee in Seattle and couldn’t play because of a bad back. He’s on a chair at what looked like Riviera. I turn it up and I hear him talk about getting a phone call from the commissioner and the Hall of Fame. It was disappointing. No disrespect at all to Fred Couples, who has had a lovely career. I understand that he won two TPCs, the Masters. But I won more PGA Tour events, more majors. I won a US Amateur.
"I mention this to Bernhard Langer and he said, `You’re going to get in.’ Is it when I stop playing? When I’m 6 feet under. When there’s no one left to put in?”
About all O’Meara can do is wait for the next election and hope his record is not overlooked again.