Host and namesake of Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard understands motivation for U.S. players to qualify for biennial competition
No one has to remind Arnold Palmer how special it is to play for one’s country. Golf’s legendary “King” was a stalwart for America during a career that produced 62 PGA TOUR titles, including seven major championships, having represented the United States in various events as a player or captain 23 times.
His most frequent participation was in the Ryder Cup, which this year is slated for Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Kentucky. Palmer played on six U.S. teams, going 22-8-2 and scoring 23 points, the second-most of any American player. He also captained two U.S. teams to victory, in 1963 and 1975, the latter at Laurel Valley Golf Club in Ligonier, Pennsylvania, near Palmer’s hometown of Latrobe.
“The Ryder Cup always has been a very important part in my career and in my life in golf,” said Palmer, 78, who even had an impact on the 2006 matches, which were held at The K Club in Straffan, County Kildare, Ireland, a course he designed. “I enjoyed my time competing for my country, and I always have a keen interest in what goes on, particularly with the American team.”
The U.S. leads the series 24-10-2, but Europe has won five of the last six and defeated the Americans by nine-point margins in each of the last two editions. The 37th Ryder Cup matches at Valhalla are scheduled for September 19-21.
Given recent outcomes, it’s no wonder that American players are eager to qualify for the U.S. team. When goals for 2008 are discussed, American players invariably mention the Ryder Cup as their top priority. Davis Love III calls this year’s Ryder Cup “my major for the year.” He no doubt is not alone, and many of his fellow Americans, as well as top European stars, all will try to improve their chances of making their respective teams at the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard.
One of the premier stops on the PGA TOUR, Arnold Palmer Invitational, slated for March 10-16, is celebrating its 30th year. The $5.8 million tournament Palmer started in 1979 traditionally draws one of the strongest fields among golf tournaments from around the world.
Hall of Fame golfer Vijay Singh is the defending champion, joining an esteemed list of past winners including Tiger Woods, who won a record four straight at Bay Hill and recently tied Palmer on the all-time PGA TOUR victory list with his 62nd title. Other past champions who could return to Palmer’s tournament include Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els, Fred Couples, Kenny Perry, Chad Campbell, Tim Herron, Rod Pampling and Paul Goydos.
Love, who three times has been runner-up of the Arnold Palmer Invitational, has, like Palmer, played on six U.S. Ryder Cup teams. However, he did not qualify in 2006. “I hope we’re not discussing whether (captain) Paul Azinger picks me or not,” Love, who had ankle surgery in October and didn’t make his 2008 debut until the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. “I hope I’m the third or fourth guy on his team and I hope I’m back being part of a great Ryder Cup team.”
Another former U.S. Ryder Cupper, David Duval, is equally adamant about returning to the American contingent. “My only hope,” he said late last year, “is that if I’ve played pretty well (in 2008) and get somewhere up there close, I’m not afraid to say I’ll lobby to be picked. I think experience is a big thing, especially somebody who really, really wants to play. And I really, really want to play.”
So do a lot of other guys.
“Hopefully,” Kentucky native J.B. Holmes said after winning the FBR Open, “this (victory) gets me points for the Ryder Cup team; that’s what I want to do. I want to play in my home state for my country. I got to play in college on the Walker Cup team and some U.S.-Japan teams and that’s always been the best experience for me in golf. I love the international competition. My main goal this year is to make the Ryder Cup team.”
Orlando resident Charles Howell III harbors similar sentiments. “My number one goal is to make the Ryder Cup team,” Howell said. “I’ve played two Presidents Cups, no Ryder Cups, and that’s a big deal. You know, being in America, it would be really special to play that event.”
Added 2007 Rookie of the Year Brandt Snedeker: “The Ryder Cup is first and foremost in my mind. To represent your country is such an honor. If I get the Ryder Cup taken care of, it would be a pretty unbelievable year and something I’m looking forward to.”
To make the team, players best keep an eye on the race for the Arnold Palmer Award, which goes to the leading money winner on the PGA TOUR. In a change from recent years, when top-10 finishes determined automatic berths on the U.S. Ryder Cup team, the top eight money winners among American-born players after the PGA Championship qualify for this year’s squad. Azinger then has four wild-card picks at his disposal. The new selection process was designed to enlist a collection of players who are at the top of their games.
“I think the most important aspect of the Ryder Cup is the psychological factor,” Palmer says. “I think the U.S. players, after the last Ryder Cup or two, are very aware of the excellence of the competition and how difficult they are going to be to defeat, and I think it will take a different attitude to change things in the matches this fall.
“Our players, the Americans, are very good. Obviously, the European team is very tough. They are talented. We have to find a way to match their intensity or enthusiasm or whatever it is they’re doing that is producing such good results for them. Maybe the new selection process will help in making our team even a little bit stronger, we’ll see.”
For tickets to the 2008 Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard or for more information, log on to the tournament web site, www.arnoldpalmerinvitational.com or call the Bay Hill Club ticket office at 407-876-7774 or toll free at 1-866-764-4843. Tournament proceeds benefit the Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children and the Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women and Babies.