ORLANDO - Larry Nelson is getting a lot of ink - and receiving plenty of sympathy - after getting passed over again for the job of Ryder Cup captain. But Nelson isn't the only three-time major winner to have never led a U.S. Ryder Cup team.
True, Hale Irwin did lead the first U.S. Presidents Cup team as a player-captain in 1994, which perhaps explains why he doesn't garner the same support as Nelson is getting after the PGA of America on Thursday selected Tom Watson as the 2014 U.S. captain. Nevertheless, Irwin, a three-time U.S. Open champion and five-time Ryder Cup player, admits he's disappointed to have never gotten the call.
"I would love to have been a Ryder Cup captain. It's one of those things every player who values the traditions we have in our game would want to do," Irwin, 67, said at the PNC Father-Son Challenge, where he is competing with his son, Steve. "Certainly if you're a member of the PGA Tour and have been around the game as long as some of us have and who have played in the Ryder Cup, absolutely I would have loved to have done it. It's not my choice. I never politicked for it. Would I have accepted it? With glee I would have done it.
"Anybody can make an argument for any name player to be a candidate and would think that player would be a capable captain," he added. "I have played with some of the best players in the history of the game. I have played for some of the best captains. I feel honored to have been on those teams. But I think for any of us to go wading into the quicksand of should someone be a captain and do they have the qualifications, I think produces negative results and conversation that takes away from our task of getting 12 players prepared to win back the Ryder Cup for the United States."
Irwin, who won 20 PGA Tour titles and a record 45 times on the Champions Tour (including four Senior PGA Championships), compiled a 13-5-2 record in his five Ryder Cup appearances.
He was involved in one of the most consequential and pressure-packed singles matches in Ryder Cup history when he earned a half-point against Bernhard Langer in the 1991 matches at Kiawah Island, S.C. Langer missed a six-foot putt that allowed America to escape with a 14 ¿-13 ¿ victory.
"To think that a Ryder Cup could come down to one six-foot putt on the last hole of the last match ... the last possible stroke, it doesn't get any better than that," Irwin said.
Irwin qualified for that '91 team on the strength of his third U.S. Open victory the previous summer at Medinah CC, where he beat Mike Donald in a playoff.
"In the span of 15 months, I had probably two of the biggest adrenaline rushes I could ever have," Irwin said of his playoff against Donald and his singles match against Langer. "Those were two far different events, and yet the pressure was something that, let's just say it was something I still think about. On the anxiety meter, they both were off the charts. But it was fun. Regardless of the outcome, I could say I was there. I was in the very heat of it. I could feel it.
"Even today when I look back, I get chills thinking about it. Even today, there is an element of shock that all of us felt, on both sides of just how emotionally draining it all was. And you wouldn't trade that for anything to have been there."
(Getty Images photo)