BLOOMFIELD HILLS, Mich. - Jackie Burke Jr. has been a winner before in the state of Michigan, capturing the 1961 Buick Open in a playoff at Warwick Hills.
Many are hoping he can do it again.
Burke, 81, was one of two men selected by captain Hal Sutton to serve as assistants for the United States Ryder Cup team. The other is Steve Jones.
A lifelong friend of Mike Souchak, the former pro at Oakland Hills, Burke has played the South Course numerous times over the years, including the 1972 PGA Championship. Jones won the 1996 U.S. Open at Oakland Hills.
"I marvel at how great this course is," Burke said yesterday. "I think it's the best course the Ryder Cup has ever been played on. I'm going to enjoy it. It's really a hard golf course. You have to do every
thing well - drive, hit irons, putt."
Sutton is counting on Burke's wit and wisdom to help the American team when the 35th Ryder Cup matches get under way today.
"One of the biggest reasons why I think he's going to be a big advantage is, the few times I may be afraid to say it like it is, he won't be," Sutton said. "Win or lose this week, I promise you, the one thing I did do right was bring Jackie along.
"He's an icon in golf."
Burke, winner of 17 professional events including the Masters and PGA Championship, both in 1956, has never been hesitant to give anyone a piece of his mind.
"I have no clue what my role is," he said. "I think it's my job to go out there and see if any of them are leaking oil. I don't even know half these players, but I do know the game."
A member of the World Golf Hall of Fame, Burke compiled a 7-1 record in five Ryder Cup appearances (1951, 1953, 1955, 1957 and 1959) - the best mark of any living player.
Twice he served as a Ryder Cup captain in the biennial competition. In 1957, the American team lost the Ryder Cup for the first time in 24 years under Burke's watch. In 1973, however, he oversaw a powerhouse American team that included Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Lee Trevino, Billy Casper and Tom Weiskopf that rolled to a 19-13 win over Great Britain.
"Jackie is an in-your-face type of guy, and has a lot of anecdotes," Ryder Cup rookie Fred Funk said. "I told Hal, 'You really need one those guys, like a stenographer, to walk around with him and get all of his quotes.'
"Every sentence that comes out of his mouth is something that's quotable. It's not always printable, but it's quotable. He's a character."
David Toms said having Burke around the U.S. team this week is special.
"A guy like that has meant so much to the game of golf, he's just fun to talk to," Toms said. "He'll get you fired up. He's always got something to make you laugh, or to make you think. He's going to be great for our team, especially when guys might get a little tight.
"The other day, I was out there playing and I hit a couple of wayward shots off the tee and he's like, 'Man, you have to be out of control to be in control.' What he was saying was, 'Let it go. Don't be tight out there.'●"
Davis Love III said Burke is a great storyteller.
"But," Love said, "getting to spend time with him, and then be able to, at the end of the week, truly call him a friend, will be, I think, the best story of all."
Burke, who co-founded the Champions Golf Club in Houston with the late Jimmy Demaret, said he is staggered by the growth of the Ryder Cup over the years.
"I remember the man, Bob Hudson, who financed the Ryder Cup in 1967," he said. "The PGA had no money. We got a jacket and two pairs of pants. We put in on at Champions and we had to spell 'Ryder' for the press. They didn't know what it was. Ben Hogan was the captain."
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