St. Andrews, Scotland All eyes in the world of golf will be on the British Open this week, none more keenly focused than those of Corey Pavin.
Pavin is the United States Ryder Cup captain, although U.S. players with any chance of making the team for the prestigious match with Europe might begin to think of him in slightly different terms. Something along the lines of George Orwell’s 1984, only Pavin’s Big-Brother-Watching will be benevolent.
Pavin will not be on site at the historic Old Course. But he will be in the area, watching every moment on TV in Britain and likely stopping in to take yet another look at Celtic Manor in Wales, the not-too-distant course where his team will tee it up Oct. 1 against Colin Montgomerie’s team for three days of high-profile international sports intrigue.
“I watch every tournament, every moment I can,” Pavin said. “I especially watch the majors. They are more important.”
The majors yield more points toward qualifying for one of the 12 spots on the team. They also yield more information for Pavin, who makes four of the 12 picks himself and wishes he could make all 12.
“I enjoy figuring people out,” Pavin said.
Pavin kept referring to this Ryder Cup as an “away game,” and with reason. He said he watches to see how players react to such things as hostile environments, which he expects Celtic Manor to be.
He said he was more interested in the player’s character than his score.
“I like to see how much he likes a challenge,” he said. “I’m looking at things such as body language, how well he gets in a comfort zone in pressure situations. I look at how much he likes being an underdog.”
This week’s British Open, in the ever-present wind, chill and rain that define this shrine of golf, will be the second-last major chance — and likely the most significant in his selection process — for Pavin. If the U.S. Open tests a golfer’s sanity, the British Open tests his perseverance. Pavin treats it with the reverence of most golfers, especially when it is at St. Andrews.
“I wanted to try to qualify for it this year,” he said, a far-off look coming over him suddenly, “but the schedule didn’t permit it. It’s a long story.”
Pavin is 50, a newcomer to the Champions Tour, where he has done well, as expected. He won the U.S. Open in 1995 with his famous 4-wood to five feet on the last hole at Shinnecock and also came close at the British.
“I always thought, with my game, that the best chance I had to win a major was at the British,” he said. “I ended up hitting for the cycle in the majors, a first, second, third and fourth. But the worst I did, with a fourth in ’93, was the British.”
It will be about three weeks after the last major, the PGA at Whistling Straits in Sheboygan, Wis., in mid-August, when Pavin makes his final choices. He was selected to do this because of who he is, and where he has been. Besides leading the tour in money-winnings in 1991, winning the U.S. Open in ’95 and even winning a regular tour event as recently as 2006 — when he shot an opening-nine 26 on the par-34 layout and finished with 61 at Brown Deer Park in Milwaukee — he has played in three Ryder Cups and been an assistant captain once.
Pavin said he would pick the four players best suited to help the team win. He said they likely will not be the four the public thinks are the best. He also said that public perception does not matter to him.
“My job is not to placate the media,” he said. “I’ll pick the four guys I think give us the best chance, and I’ll have to be at peace with that. And I will be.”