Love has hands full with Ryder Cup pairings

By Rex HoggardSeptember 24, 2012, 7:00 pm

ATLANTA – Early last week at Medinah, as Davis Love III feverishly scrawled notes into his now-ubiquitous legal pad and mulled a seemingly unlimited list of potential pairings for next week’s Ryder Cup, his trance was broken by a bit of unsolicited advice from Keegan Bradley.

“You know you can overthink this,” the Ryder Cup rookie told his captain.

From the mouths of babes.

Since time began at Samuel Ryder’s member-member, captains have mixed and matched team pairings with varying levels of intensity and success. From Paul Azinger’s detailed “pods” system in 2008 to Jack Nicklaus’ seemingly laissez faire approach in his two stints at the helm, the only absolutes seem to be that there are no absolutes.


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For some captains personal compatibility is the deciding factor, while others have tried to match individual games to particular formats – pairing players with similar styles (long, short, straight, wayward) in foursomes play while fourball (alternate shot) favors the pairing of aggressive players with more conservative types.

Others – like Tiger Woods, who has played on just one winning Ryder Cup team in his Hall of Fame career – figure it all comes down to form.

“I’ve played with all different types of different personalities and different types of games, and it's about just going out there and playing well,” said Woods, who in six Ryder Cup matches has had 13 different partners in foursome and fourball play. “It's not rocket science. You've just got to go out there and hit a lot of good golf shots and make a lot of putts.”

The only factor that doesn’t seem to matter anymore is golf ball compatibility, a concern for captains and competitors until the rule was changed for U.S.-played matches in 1991 and was slowly phased out in Europe.

“That was a big deal for a number of years to be able to figure out an alternate-shot partner, who is playing what ball, then on top of that, what compression (golf ball) within that company,” Woods said. “That does change quite a bit. Now we can drive with our teammate’s ball and have them fire it into the green with their ball.”

Although he is still a few days removed from announcing his Day 1 teams, Love seems to be favoring comfort over complex calculations – the not-so-subtle byproduct of Ryder Cup memories good and bad.

During a recent interview Love’s mind immediately raced back two decades to his first Ryder Cup (1993) and a nervous plane ride to England. The rookie wanted to play with Tom Kite, felt their games and personalities matched well but as a first-timer he didn’t feel it was his place to lobby captain Tom Watson for the pairing.

“I remember telling Tom Kite, ‘Please go tell Tom (Watson) that we’re going to play together,’” Love said. “We’re going to lobby Watson that we get to play together . . .”

This year’s rookies will not have similar anxieties. On Saturday in Atlanta Love hosted a team dinner and outlined the week’s plan, complete with potential pairings and practice-round groups.

In fact, even as he mulled all the potential pairings late last week, dissecting each option as he took a break to prowl for redfish near his St. Simons Island, Ga., home, Love knew most of the heavy lifting was already complete.

Give Fred Couples, one of Love’s four assistant captains, an assist for that. During the 2009 Presidents Cup Couples marched Woods out with Steve Stricker and the duo was unstoppable at Harding Park. Although the two play vastly different games, and live vastly different lives, the pairing worked and it doesn’t seem likely Love would try to re-invent that wheel.

“Obviously Tiger and Stricker, they have had some success, they are going to want to try and play together,” Love said. “There are some obvious pairings that we’re looking at, Bubba (Watson) and Webb (Simpson). Friends like that are probably going to play together.”

All 12 of Love’s players were asked who they would want to be paired with at Medinah. For this captain there is an “I” in T-E-A-M.

“Guys think they are doing me a favor saying, ‘I’ll play with anybody,’” Love said. “That doesn’t help me. I picked you because I knew you could play with anybody. Who do you want to play with?”

What seems certain is that there will be no surprises from Love. Hal Sutton, the 2004 captain, probably thought it was a good idea to send Woods and Phil Mickelson – top players with vastly divergent personalities – out together on Day 1 at Oakland Hills, a failed experiment that produced an 0-2 record. Just don’t expect the same type of coloring outside the lines from Love.

On this, Bradley’s sage words seem to echo throughout the process. Having played on six Ryder Cups, Love realizes that the perfect pairing is quite often the easiest and that all the hyper-analysis in the world isn’t going to change that.

Of the 20 team matches Love played in the Ryder Cup he was paired with Couples, his closest friend on Tour and a natural partner, just three times. By comparison, the dynamic, albeit eclectic, duo were paired on eight occasions out of 22 team starts at the Presidents Cup.

“There were times when Freddie and I would look at each and ask, ‘How come we are on this team and we’re not playing together?’” Love said. “Why isn’t it more automatic? We’ve talked about this several times making pairings, ‘Look at those two, they are automatic. Let them go.’ Luckily we’ve got guys that match up.”

That’s not to say Love will dogmatically adhere to his legal-pad game plan like Sutton did in 2004. “We could go 4-0 or we could go 0-4 (on Day 1) and things might change. But we’re going to have a plan pretty much for the week who is going to play with who,” he said.

For Love, a Type A sort who craves structure above all else, Ryder Cup pairings are not so much a science as much as they are a study in group psychology. For Capt. Personality this week’s lineup is all about comfort and avoiding, as newcomer Bradley pointed out, overthinking the obvious.


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Cut Line: Color Rory unafraid of the Ryder Cup

By Rex HoggardJanuary 19, 2018, 7:09 pm

In this week’s edition, Rory McIlroy gets things rolling with some early Ryder Cup banter, Dustin Johnson changes his tune on a possible golf ball roll-back, and the PGA Tour rolls ahead with integrity training.


Made Cut

Paris or bust. Rory McIlroy, who made his 2018 debut this week on the European Tour, can be one of the game’s most affable athletes. He can also be pointed, particularly when discussing the Ryder Cup.

Asked this week in Abu Dhabi about the U.S. team, which won the last Ryder Cup and appears to be rejuvenated by a collection of new players, McIlroy didn’t disappoint.

“If you look at Hazeltine and how they set the course up – big, wide fairways, no rough, pins in the middle of greens – it wasn’t set up for the way the Europeans like to play,” McIlroy said. “I think Paris will be a completely different kettle of fish, so different.”

McIlroy has come by his confidence honestly, having won three of the four Ryder Cups he’s played, so it’s understandable if he doesn't feel like an underdog heaidng to Paris.

“The Americans have obviously been buoyant about their chances, but it’s never as easy as that,” he said. “The Ryder Cup is always close. It always comes down to a few key moments, and it will be no different in Paris. I think we’ll have a great team and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

September can’t get here quick enough.

Mr. Spieth goes to Ponte Vedra Beach. The Tour announced this year’s player advisory council, the 16-member group that works with the circuit’s policy board to govern.

There were no real surprises to the PAC, but news that Jordan Spieth had been selected to run for council chair is interesting. Spieth, who is running against Billy Hurley III and would ascend to the policy board next year if he wins the election, served on the PAC last year and would make a fine addition to the policy board, but it is somewhat out of character for a marquee player.

In recent years, top players like Spieth have largely avoided the distractions that come with the PAC and policy board. Of course, we’ve also learned in recent years that Spieth is not your typical superstar.


Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

On second thought. In December at the Hero World Challenge, Dustin Johnson was asked about a possible golf ball roll-back, which has become an increasingly popular notion in recent years.

“I don't mind seeing every other professional sport. They play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball,” he said in the Bahamas. “I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage.”

The world No. 1 appeared to dial back that take this week in Abu Dhabi, telling BBC Sport, “It's not like we are dominating golf courses. When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy?”

Maybe it didn’t feel that way, but DJ’s eight-stroke romp two weeks ago at the Sentry Tournament of Champions certainly looked pretty easy.

Long odds. I had a chance to watch the Tour’s 15-minute integrity training video that players have been required view and came away with a mixture of confusion and concern.

The majority of the video, which includes a Q&A element, focuses on how to avoid match fixing. Although the circuit has made it clear there is no indication of current match fixing, it’s obviously something to keep an eye on.

The other element that’s worth pointing out is that although the Tour may be taking the new program seriously, some players are not.

“My agent watched [the training video] for me,” said one Tour pro last week at the Sony Open.


Missed Cut

Groundhog Day. To be fair, no one expected Patton Kizzire and James Hahn to need six playoff holes to decide last week’s Sony Open, but the episode does show why variety is the spice of life.

After finishing 72 holes tied at 17 under, Kizzire and Hahn played the 18th hole again and again and again and again. In total, the duo played the par-5 closing hole at Waialae Country Club five times (including in regulation play) on Sunday.

It’s worth noting that the playoff finally ended with Kizzire’s par at the sixth extra hole, which was the par-3 17th. Waialae’s 18th is a fine golf hole, but in this case familiarity really did breed contempt.

Tweet of the week:

It was a common theme last Saturday on Oahu after an island-wide text alert was issued warning of an inbound ballistic missile and advising citizens to “seek immediate shelter.”

The alert turned out to be a mistake, someone pushed the wrong button during a shift change, but for many, like Peterson, it was a serious lesson in perspective.

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Watch: McIlroy gives Fleetwood a birthday cake

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 19, 2018, 2:58 pm

Tommy Fleetwood turned 27 on Friday. He celebrated with some good golf – a 4-under 68 in Abu Dhabi, leaving him only two shots back in his title defense – and a birthday cake, courtesy of Rory Mcllroy.

While giving a post-round interview, Fleetwood was surprised to see McIlroy approaching with a cake in hand.

“I actually baked this before we teed off,” McIlroy joked.

Fleetwood blew out the three candles – “three wishes!” – and offered McIlroy a slice.  

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DJ shoots 64 to surge up leaderboard in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 1:48 pm

Dustin Johnson stood out among a star-studded three-ball that combined to shoot 18 under par with just one bogey Friday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Shaking off a sloppy first round at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, Johnson matched the low round of the day with a 64 that put him within four shots of Thomas Pieters’ lead.

“I did everything really well,” Johnson said. “It was a pretty easy 64.”

Johnson made four bogeys during an even-par 72 on Thursday and needed a solid round Friday to make the cut. Before long, he was closer to the lead than the cut line, making birdie on three of the last four holes and setting the pace in a group that also included good rounds from Rory McIlroy (66) and Tommy Fleetwood (68).

“Everyone was hitting good shots,” McIlroy said. “That’s all we were seeing, and it’s nice when you play in a group like that. You feed off one another.” 


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


Coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, Johnson is searching for his first regular European Tour title. He tied for second at this event a year ago.

Johnson’s second-round 64 equaled the low round of the day (Jorge Campillo and Branden Grace). 

“It was just really solid all day long,” Johnson said. “Hit a lot of great shots, had a lot of looks at birdies, which is what I need to do over the next two days if I want to have a chance to win on Sunday.” 

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Closing eagle moves Rory within 3 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:57 pm

What rust? Rory McIlroy appears to be in midseason form.

Playing competitively for the first time since Oct. 8, McIlroy completed 36 holes without a bogey Friday, closing with an eagle to shoot 6-under 66 to sit just three shots back at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

“I’m right in the mix after two days and I’m really happy in that position,” he told reporters afterward.

McIlroy took a 3 ½-month break to heal his body, clear his mind and work on his game after his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro.

He's back on track at a familiar playground, Abu Dhabi Golf Club, where he’s racked up eight top-11s (including six top-3s) in his past nine starts there.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


McIlroy opened with a 69 Thursday, then gave himself even more chances on Day 2, cruising along at 4 under for the day when he reached the par-5 closing hole. After launching a 249-yard long iron to 25 feet, he poured in the eagle putt to pull within three shots of Thomas Pieters (65). 

Despite the layoff, McIlroy edged world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, by a shot over the first two rounds. 

“DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now, and one of, if not the best, driver of the golf ball," McIlroy said. "To be up there with him over these first two days, it proves to me that I’m doing the right things and gives me a lot of confidence going forward.”