Notebook: PGA will start after a memorial for Clarke

Tom Lehman (l), talking with Davis Love III, has plenty on his plate this week. (Photo: AP)
Tom Lehman (l), talking with Davis Love III, has plenty on his plate this week. (Photo: AP)

Tom Lehman will lead a service for Heather Clarke outside the Medinah clubhouse. Plus, the 2008 schedule is already causing consternation, Brett Wetterich is tired of defending himself, Kenneth Ferrie is back to square one, and more. news services

MEDINAH, Ill. -- An hour before the PGA Championship gets under way Thursday, there will be a memorial service outside the clubhouse for Heather Clarke, the wife of Darren Clarke, who died Sunday of cancer at age 39.

Tom Lehman, the U.S. Ryder Cup captain, will deliver the message.

"I really don't know why they asked me," Lehman said. "There's a number of people who could, but maybe they are just so emotional about it and so close that they would prefer to let somebody else say a few words. Of course, I'm honored."

Lehman is not an ordained minister, but he has experience.

He delivered a moving eulogy and prayer before the 1999 Tour Championship for Payne Stewart, the U.S. Open champion who was killed in a plane crash.

SECOND-GUESSING THE SCHEDULE: The Americans could be worn out when they get to the Ryder Cup two years from now, and PGA of America officials are blaming the new FedEx Cup competition.

The FedEx Cup starts next year and is the PGA Tour's attempt at a playoff system. It's a season-long points race for $10 million, in which top players will be expected to compete in six of the final seven tournaments, ending in mid-September at the Tour Championship.

In 2008, the Ryder Cup will start five days later.

One week, Tiger Woods & Co. will be playing for $10 million. The next week, even more will be at stake playing for their flag.

"We've made it clear to the PGA Tour we are not happy with the scheduling for 2008, that we were not able to achieve a one-week gap between their big Tour Championship and the Ryder Cup, which we don't think is good," said Joe Steranka, the PGA of America's chief executive officer.

"We would prefer to have one week between, and I think that's in place for the subsequent years," he said. "How players react to the new PGA Tour schedule remains to be seen, we're going to watch it. If it has an impact on the Ryder Cup that we think we need to address further, we'll address it."

There might not be anything the PGA of America can do.

PGA Tour spokesman Bob Combs attributed the timing to NBC Sports, which televises the final three tournaments of the FedEx Cup and the Ryder Cup. He said the tour was able to negotiate a one-week gap between the Tour Championship and the Ryder Cup or Presidents Cup in five out of the six years, the exception being 2008.

"We agree there needs to be at least a week break," Combs said. "It really was an NBC television issue that could not be resolved. I believe everything is locked up from a television perspective."

Steranka was clearly annoyed, however, choosing his words carefully when he spoke of the goodwill between both organizations.

"That's not the spirit of the relationship," he said. "We don't agree on everything. But this is one thing they felt couldn't change, and we felt it needed to change."

PGA President Roger Warren said the '08 Ryder Cup was locked into Sept. 19-21 dates.

"We're concerned about the impact it might have on the players," he said.

Still, no one is sure how the FedEx Cup will unfold. PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem has said players likely will have to play the final four weeks to have any chance of winning the $10 million prize, although it's mathematically possible that Woods, Mickelson or another hot player could skip a week and still win the cup.

As much money as the players already make, some might even skip events to have their game ready for the Ryder Cup, which is on the same scale of a major championship.

Asked what he thought about the situation, U.S. Captain Tom Lehman said "I want no part of this conversation."

"It's not optimal," he eventually said.

ON THE BUBBLE: Brett Wetterich seems to be a poster boy for what's wrong with the new Ryder Cup qualification system, perhaps because not many people are familiar with his name, much less his game. But there's a reason Wetterich is No. 10 in the standings.

He tied for fourth in New Orleans, and two weeks later captured his first PGA Tour victory by holding off Adam Scott and Trevor Immelman at the EDS Byron Nelson Championship. Then he went to the Memorial, where he tied for second.

Even so, Wetterich has gone through the last month coping with questions about whether he belongs on the team.

"I guess people think we should have the same guys every year, like Davis Love, Fred Couples and Chris DiMarco," he said. "Maybe it would be good to give some new guys a chance."

This is only his third major championship, and the first one with more than winning a trophy on his mind.

If he doesn't finish in the top 10 at Medinah and earn Ryder Cup points, he'll have to watch the scoreboard and hope that no one behind him earns enough points to knock him out of the top 10 in the Ryder Cup standings.

"I'll try not to think of it, but I'm sure it will be in the back of my mind," Wetterich said. "I want to make the team and get in by myself. I don't want to wait and see how other people are doing behind me, needing someone to make bogey or something."

PLAYING CAPTAIN: Tom Lehman came awfully close from going from Ryder Cup captain to Ryder Cup player. Maybe.

Lehman lost in a playoff at The International to Dean Wilson. Had he won, Lehman would have gone to No. 7 in the Ryder Cup standings, virtually a lock to earn a spot among the top 10 qualifiers. But he didn't say whether he would have become the first playing captain since Arnold Palmer in 1963, and he won't say what he will do if he earns enough points this week to make the team.

Lehman believes his team should be filled with guys who have great short games, and he doesn't like the way he is putting. Then again, Chris DiMarco cornered him Tuesday and told him he would be on the team if he finished in the top 10, no questions asked.

"I go, 'Well, that's really nice, but I'm the captain,"' Lehman said.

If he finishes in the top 10, Lehman could either choose to play, or take himself off the team and take the player at No. 11, which could free him up for another captain's pick.

"It's all conjecture, and something we'll actually talk about if it happens on Sunday," he said.

BACK TO SQUARE ONE: As if having his clubs lost by British Airways was not enough, England's Kenneth Ferrie has suffered a recurrence of back trouble and is not yet a certain starter on Thursday at Medinah.

Ferrie, the co-leader with Phil Mickelson at the U.S. Open with a round to go before slipping to sixth, pulled out of the British Open during his second round last month and has been having treatment ever since.

"I woke up stiff and sore yesterday and it was the same this morning," he said Wednesday. "There's still a chance I might not be playing."

The situation is not helped by the fact that he is due to tee off at 7:10 a.m. CT in the opening round. A later start time would have enabled him to loosen up more.

"After the Open, I saw a chiropractor and physiotherapist and had a massage every couple of days," he said. "I didn't hit any balls until the end of last week and have done everything I can, but it doesn't feel very good. I'm back to square one. I've been told the best treatment is rest, but as a golfer it's not really the best time of year for that."

Ferrie's trip got off to the worst possible start when the flight he was originally booked on from Newcastle, England, last Saturday was cancelled because of the terrorism threat. The following day he was told at Heathrow Airport that his clubs could not be found -- and they are still missing.

"A replacement set arrived yesterday from California, but although they are basically the same they are not mine," he said. "My driver had a shaft that's not been made for three years and my wedges were individually done."

Ferrie is 16th in the European Ryder Cup race. But what makes this week extra important to him is that he has not qualified for next week's WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, and missing it might give him too much Ryder Cup ground to make up.

Copyright 2006 Associated Press and PA Sport. All rights reserved.

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