Tom Watson’s Ryder Cup legacy did not solely relate to the continuation of a poor United States run. Nor, indeed, the staggering scene that was Phil Mickelson’s barely concealed volley at the captain in the immediate aftermath of a comprehensive defeat at Gleneagles. There was also Watson’s identification of what he regarded as a flaw in the US wildcard process. Until now, the winner of the $10m FedEx Cup would be confirmed too late for Ryder Cup selection. Davis Love III, Watson’s immediate successor, will name his final captain’s pick after the Tour Championship concludes in Atlanta just days before the contest gets under way. An already elongated process will now drag on even longer.
On Sunday Love will announce his first three additions to an eight-man side that includes just one debutant, Brooks Koepka. Whereas the decision as called for by Darren Clarke, Love’s counterpart with Europe, was subject to widespread debate, there is apparently a more straightforward scenario for the home skipper. It would count as a major shock if Rickie Fowler and Bubba Watson were not confirmed as US team members by the man who presided over such a painful defeat at Medinah in 2012.
Fowler finds himself in the midst of a curious year, which has been dogged by under-performance since his victory in Abu Dhabi in January. Fowler’s 2016 major displays – he has finished no better than a share of 33rd and failed to survive for the weekend in two of them – has proven especially strange.
And yet, partly because of the popularity and energy he brings to a team environment, added to the capability of providing special moments, it seems inconceivable that Fowler would not don US colours at Hazeltine. The same applies to Watson, ranked No7 in the world. Watson, like Fowler, won in the early part of the year and, also like Fowler, subsequently discovered the harsh realities of majors. Rickie is starting to make some putts and he is feeling confident with his game, said Love. You listen to what he’s saying, he’s excited about it. Rickie is trending up, that’s the great thing. He’s playing very, very well.
Given Hazeltine can stretch to more than 7,600 yards, the perception is that Watson’s distance will become an essential American tool. JB Holmes arguably has a strong enough case for Ryder Cup inclusion even before length off the tee is taken into account but, when it is, that the man from Kentucky currently ranks second on the PGA Tour’s driving distance chart has to be a key factor.
Love, however, has pointed to a wider picture. Everybody just automatically assumes well, it’s big and long and it’s a bomber’s course. But we’ve broken it down a little bit. The assistant captains have cautioned me: ‘Don’t just think about it this way; think about it from every angle.’
That’s where making pairings is going to be important. Picking a guy for alternate-shot that matches up with a guy, you put two strengths out there. It’s not just length. You have to have a great wedge game and you have to be a good putter. They are pretty big greens and a lot of them have this just kind of big, general up-and-over slope. So you have to be a good lag putter; you have to be a great iron player. It’s going to be hard to get close to the hole if it’s windy.
So a lot of factors go into it. But the course is going to be a big part of how we make our pairings. Everybody generally on both teams is long. You’re either long or you’re really long. I think that’s what it boils down to. We have some guys that are really, really long.
Should Love veer towards experience, Matt Kuchar – who performed well in this weekend’s BMW Championship – is a likely choice. Jim Furyk’s Ryder Cup aspirations may have been fatally damaged by failure to remain in the FedEx play-off series beyond the second event. Ryan Moore, Gary Woodland, Billy Horschel and Justin Thomas have to be regarded as outside bets for now.
We will be fired up, promised Love. We’re fired up now. Historically, that has not been the issue; the failure to produce the correct American blend in this format has been. The pressure falls on Love to produce something different.
News Source TheGuardianNews