The simple plea was written in black marker on Ben Crenshaw's green locker: "Ben Pick me," it read, with four dashes, a blank, and then seven more dashes beneath it.
"That's funny. I didn't write it," Couples said. "I would love to play on the team. I think anybody would."
Unlike 1997 and 1995, when Jeff Maggert and Brad Faxon played their way onto the Ryder Cup with phenomenal final rounds at the PGA Championship, the bubble players didn't do anything spectacular Sunday. Bob Estes was the only one who played as if he had something on the line, but he couldn't make it hold up.
Estes, who needed to finish in fifth place by himself to move into the top 10 in the Ryder Cup standings, got as high as fourth place. But he bogeyed Nos. 16 and 17 and finished 6-under 282, good enough only for a two-way tie for sixth.
"That's a very impressive effort, knowing what he had to do," Crenshaw said. "However it shakes out, I want to shake his hand."
As for the rest of those on the bubble, Steve Pate shot a 3-under 69 and tied for eighth. Chris Perry shot a 1-under 71 and tied for 10th. Couples shot an even-par 72 and finished tied for 26th. Lehman also shot a 71 and was in a tie for 34th. Steve Stricker and John Huston didn't even make the weekend.
"An awful lot of media for a guy who almost finished last," Lehman said as he looked at the crowd waiting for him when he got off the 18th green.
Well, yeah. Forget the pay-for-play brouhaha that overshadowed the first few days of the PGA, the important thing now is who's on the team. David Duval, PGA champion Tiger Woods, Payne Stewart, Davis Love III, Mark O'Meara, Hal Sutton and Justin Leonard are set. Jim Furyk and Phil Mickelson's spots were a little tenuous when the week began, but no one knocked them out.
Maggert, who started the week in 10th place less than 32 points ahead of Lehman, was the most vulnerable, and he didn't help himself by missing the cut. But he's safe, too.
Which leaves Crenshaw with his two captain's picks and one big headache trying to figure out who should get them. He probably won't make his decision until late Sunday night, he said, and the team will be announced Monday morning.
"There's just a lot going on," Crenshaw said, looking a little harried. "It is tough. Whomever I pick knows they have to step up and try to do their very best job."
Crenshaw can forget Stricker and Huston. Neither has played well this year, and they don't have any experience. He's already hinted he'll use one pick on Lehman if Lehman didn't make it on points. Lehman won the 1996 British Open, and he played on the 1995 and '97 Ryder Cup teams as well as the 1994 and '96 Presidents Cups.
He also plays well at courses like The Country Club in Brookline, Mass., where the Ryder Cup matches will be played Sept. 24-26. Three U.S. Opens have been held at The Country Club, and Crenshaw has suggested he may favor players with a good record in the Open.
"I hope it's true," Lehman said of being a captain's pick. "I definitely would be honored to be picked."
Then there's Couples. He's been on every U.S. team since 1989, and his five Ryder Cup berths are the most among active players. History could be on his side, too. He started the week in 17th place in the standings, the same spot from where he made it in 1997.
But unlike Lehman, who added tournaments to get more Ryder Cup points he played the Greater Milwaukee Open rather than heading to the British Open a week early the PGA was Couples' first tournament since the end of June.
"If I am chosen, I will play more," Couples said. "I will practice. These are things that make you work harder. I have a funny feeling if I'm chosen, I won't have any problem playing in the Ryder Cup."
"I would love to play on this team," he added. "I think anybody would."
Estes also made a case for himself Sunday. While he might not have the experience of Lehman or Couples, his game is getting better with every round he plays. He had five birdies Sunday, and came close on another two or three holes.
"If I don't make it, I don't make it," Estes said. "I gave it my best shot."
The European choices aren't nearly as messy, but captain Mark James also has another week and another tournament before he has to ake his decisions. Sergio Garcia, who was in 12th place, also helped him out by playing his way onto the team with the runner-up finish to Woods.
Jesper Parnevik, Bernhard Langer and even the aging Nick Faldo are possibilities, but James isn't giving any clues as to what he'll do. He won't even say whether he'll play if he makes the team on points.
"I have, yes," he said when asked if he'd made a decision. "That's yet to be announced."
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