Jose Maria Olazabal finalized the European Ryder Cup team Monday by announcing Ian Poulter and Nicolas Colsaerts as his two Captain’s picks. In the end, there was no drama regarding these picks, and no real choice to be made, as both Poulter and Colsearts were obvious. It couldn’t have been easier for Olazabal.
In contrast, US Captain Davis Love might be feeling a bit confused this week. Thanks to the rule changes made by the PGA at the request of Paul Azinger when he captained the squad in 2008, Love has until September 4, the day after the Deutsche Bank Championship concludes, to select not just two but four Captain’s picks to add to his team of eight already qualified via points. The idea was to give additional picks, and additional time, so the US Captain could load up on hot players going into the Cup. That was a great idea, but it has to be making Love lose just a bit of sleep--at least it should.
Not too long ago, it appeared three of those four spots would be filled by three of the top four players who failed to qualify on points. Hunter Mahan was first on that list, followed by Steve Stricker, Jim Furyk and Rickie Fowler. All four had very good years, Cup experience and were close to having made the team on points. Brandt Snedeker, Dustin Johnson, Bo Van Pelt.and Billl Haas were all mentioned as candidates for that 4th spot.
Conventional wisdom, or at least conventional thinking, following the end of qualifying was that the first three Captain’s picks were virtual locks for Stricker, Furyk and Mahan. While I don’t know if Davis Love was thinking along those lines--curiously, he hasn’t consulted me--surely he isn’t at this point. That's because those who appeared to be locks have been playing their way to an early vacation. The good news for Love is that each player in contention for a Captain's pick will be teeing it up this week at the Deutsche Bank for one last chance to impress. The bad news is that, golf being golf, the situation may be just as confounding come next Monday when Love will make his picks.
A great deal has changed since the PGA. Hunter Mahan, a Cup veteran, is playing like a guy who wants to stay home, something that might be discounted (by me anyway) were it not for the fact that he’s been trending the wrong direction for awhile now. He’s missed the cut in his last 2 events and has been off the leader board since the British Open. It’s hard to understand how he didn’t make the team outright on points in the first place, given his 2 wins, including a WGC event, in a Ryder Cup year, but he didn’t. In one sense, the decision on Mahan is easy. If he plays really well this week (top 20) at the Deutsche Bank Championship, he makes the squad. If not, he stays home where he can contemplate what’s wrong with his game.
Jim Furyk also missed the cut last week on a very long Bethpage Black course that seemed, well, a bit much for him. Medinah #3, host of this year’s Ryder Cup is also long, so I don’t think it should be an automatic for Furyk to make the team. True, he’s played well this year and could’ve won the US Open and WGC Bridgestone. But he didn’t win those events. In fact, it seems to me he lost both of those tournaments with bogey at the Open and double bogey at the Bridgesone on the 72 holes.
“Yeah, but Furyk’s a gritty competitor,” you say, “and he’s got a great Ryder Cup record.” Well, that’s what I thought, but the truth is, Furyk has a stellar President’s Cup record but his losing Ryder Cup record of 8-15-4 is less than. He hasn’t won since the 2010 Tour Championship, and while he’s been on every Ryder Cup team since 1997, those teams have, with 2 exceptions, lost. Frankly, I think it’s time for some new blood. When Davis calls me later this week, I’ll tell him to leave Furyk behind.
Rickie Fowler played in 3 matches for team USA in 2010 and lost 2 but halved a critical singles match by winning the last three holes. He’s a good putter, something much needed by the US in recent years as we’ve watched the Euros out putt our squad time and again. Fowler’s biggest claim to fame of late, since winning early in the year, has been his YouTube video wherein he appears doing back flips from a pillar into the pool of his rented home the day before the PGA. Boys will be boys, I guess, and it wouldn’t matter that he seemed less than serious going in to the PGA…had he performed. But he didn’t and in fact his play, since the win, has been sporadic at best, showing flashes of brilliance sandwiched between some truly awful scores. He’s had just one top 25 since June. Still, he’s in the mix, I think. Remember, his victory this year was in a playoff with none other than Rory McIlroy whom he defeated by jamming a gap wedge into a sucker pin on the first playoff hole. Solid match play stuff, that. Plus, he’s good for the youth movement—out with the old and in with the new.
Steve Stricker is probably the most assured of getting a Captain’s pick. He went 3-1 last time out and proved there and at recent President’s cups to be the one guy who partners well with Tiger. If for no other reason, we need him to make putts for Tiger in the alternate shot and better ball formats. Stricker has shown himself to be a consistent performer this time of year, as well. He remains a lock. Complain if you wish.
That being said, what really ought to happen here is that Davis Love should disregard any sense that he needs to reward the guys closest to having actually made the team on points and go with the guys who are playing the best. Clearly, two such guys are Brandt Snedeker and Dustin Johnson. Sneds has been nails of late, finishing solo second last week during a critical time in D III’s selections process. He seemed to be on every leader board all year long, including those at the majors. He leads the Tour in putting and his aggressive style is perfect for the Ryder Cup. He was dissed for the President’s Cup last year and Love shouldn’t make the same mistake. It’s “Sneds time,” I say. He should be on the team. Don’t bother telling me I’m wrong on this. I make no secret of my love for Sneds--and the “Sned Head”™ T shirts are already being printed.
Dustin Johnson has shown he wants to be on this team. That much is clear by his recent play, including a T3 last week at the Barclays-- and he’s long (so we’ve heard); something that will be of use at Medinah. The knock on Johnson is his sporadic putting and sometimes crazy-bad wedge play—and that’s a big concern. But he has more wins than any US player under thirty, so he should get a look before Furyk. Again, I say let’s try to win with some youth. Let’s put some excitement into the game—and hope DJ has a caddy who keeps him from violating a rule that costs us the Cup.
Finally, as if the waters weren’t muddied enough by the lousy play of some of the key candidates in the Captain’s pick contest, we have Nick Watney jumping in at the last minute to kick up a whole bunch of silt. With his win at the Barclays last week, Watney makes the case that he needs to be reckoned with, despite a lackluster season, compared to last year. It seems Watney recently had some putting instruction and then spanked Sergio Garcia by 5 on Sunday. Sergio will be at Medinah and so should Watney…if he plays well this week.
Davis Love has yet to call me for my input, but when he does, I will tell him to pick Stricker and Snedeker, regardless of what happens at the Deutsche Bank this week. After that, it’s Johnson, Watney, or Fowler, not necessarily in that order. I’d make it easy on myself among those three by simply picking the two that finish highest come Monday. Science it’s not, but such is life that someone will come up short—and in 2014 maybe they’ll just have to make the team on points. As for Jim Furyk, he gets on the team if he beats two of those three and is in the top ten. Sorry Jim, but I think your time on the team has come and gone. I’d like to see the US win this year.
It will be interesting to see what develops this week at the Deutsche Bank. Love’s decision(s) may become much clearer…or much harder.