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The Right Man

Allen Doyle is the finest golfer you've never heard of -- but what's Tom Lehman's excuse?

By 9.1.06

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In one of the unfailing the rituals of pro golf every other late summer, Ryder Cup Captain Tom Lehman announced his two "Captain's picks" for his team (the other ten members earn their way on the squad by getting points for good play in tournaments). As always, Lehman's picks (Scott Verplank and Stuart Cink) seem calculated to give Captain Lehman cover in case said picks turn out to play like stinkers. "Nobody ever got fired for hiring IBM," as the saying goes.

All too often, Captain's picks do play like stinkers. They are especially prone to blowing key matches when it matters most, down the stretch. Anybody remember how well Jay Haas and Curtis Strange did?

There are exceptions. Ray Floyd, picked twice, played superbly and stabilized the team through his qualities as a leader and mentor. Tom Lehman himself stolidly won matches, hitting fairways and greens like a machine and quite notably forbearing to bop Seve Ballesteros in the beazer when Seve argued over a silly rules violation.

Then again, Ryder Cuppers of all ranks and types and exaltednesses sometimes play like stinkers. You just can't tell. So why not make picks calculated to win, instead of to avoid criticism in case of loss?

YEAR AFTER YEAR, SOME in the golf press suggest John Daly, who usually ranks about 100 in the world and similarly remote on the money list. The old eggs respond that he's "not a team player" (how would they know?) and "too erratic." Myself, I think Daly would be terrific. He played World Cup and won the thing, and appeared to be a fabulous team player. He's personable. He has a great short game. And match play rewards aggressive play, which, in Daly's case, would simply mean a lost hole from time to time, not taking, say, 11 strokes on a single hole in medal play in the odd blood moon.

I'm not quite sure how he would drive to the K Club. (Daly hates to fly, and, like John Madden, goes everywhere in a motor home.)

I LEAVE ONE PICK TO LEHMAN, my fellow Minnesotan. But here's mine, in the mold of Ray Floyd, who was near Senior Tour age when he played Ryder Cup. Allen Doyle.

Allen Doyle of Woonsocket, Rhode Island, ran driving ranges and scuffed around the edges of golf most of his life. At the age of 47, in 1995, with daughters to put through college, he entered the world of professional tournament golf. On the Nationwide Tour, he won three times and earned a PGA Tournament Player's card. Within about a year, he had won on the so-called "big tour." That earned him a two-year exemption, which carried him through his fiftieth birthday, when he could move to the Senior Tour, now called The Champion's Tour.

As a senior, he has won two consecutive U.S. Senior Opens, that tour's toughest event. In 2005, he shot a final round 63 to overtake the field. On the last green, he faced a long putt, which he left 10 feet short.

"I could imagine people watching TV and saying, 'Hit it!'" he said in a TV interview. "Well, the only way I could have gotten that ball to the hole is to hit the putt I hit, and then drop another ball and hit it again."

A long putt left short with everything on the line: the toughest putt in golf. Doyle sank the 10-footer to win the event.

The following year, he stared down Tom Watson and played brilliant golf over the last nine holes to win again. An admiring Johnny Miller, broadcasting the tournament, said he thought Doyle was the best player in the world from 100 yards in.

WE WILL NEVER SEE ALLEN DOYLE in a Ryder Cup, unfortunately. This would have been his year. Two years from now, who knows where his career will be? Seniors age rapidly post-50 in terms of their golf performance. Yes, he would have been a Ryder Cup rookie, but he played on three Walker Cup teams, the amateur equivalent of the Ryder Cup. (International experience; match play experience, Tom.)

Doyle has entered 233 professional tournaments and finished in the money in 232 of them. He has won at every professional level. (He knows how to win.)

Since joining the old boys' club of the Champion's Tour, he has become a popular member of practice foursomes, the ringleader of a regular series of gambling games. (Leadership qualities!)

He's no show pony. He gimps around the course on a bad knee. His swing is a comic half-slap, with the club head getting no higher than his right shoulder (or even his belt) on the backswing. He developed this swing practicing in his low-ceilinged New England basement in the wintertime.

Most important, he is tough. How many athletes can you think of who jumped into their sport's highest competitive professional arenas at age 47 -- in order to make money, and then did it?

And he may well be, as Johnny Miller said, the best player in the world from 100 yards in, where match play golf is won and lost. Imagine the young Europeans' chagrin as they got beat, over and over, by an old geezer.

There is only one Allen Doyle. He should have been a Captain's pick for this year's Ryder Cup team.

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About the Author

Lawrence Henry writes every week from North Andover, Massachusetts.