Sidelined Love has Ryder Cup decisions to make

By Rex HoggardJuly 20, 2016, 5:44 pm

Davis Love III was just a few hours removed from hip surgery that will sideline him for the rest of the 2015-16 season and yet his mind was already racing, focused on another player’s rehab and recovery from injury.

“We’ve got to keep an eye on Brooks [Koepka] and see where he’s at in the next few weeks,” said Love on July 6, following surgery in Birmingham, Ala.

Koepka didn’t play last week’s Open because of an ankle injury and his spot on the U.S. Ryder Cup points list (he’s seventh) is just one of dozens of details that Love can now focus on.

Captain America has a team dinner to plan the week of the Deutsche Bank Championship, scouting trips to make to Hazeltine, site of this year’s matches, and a fluid team that is still weeks from taking shape.

Not that long ago Love’s deadline to make his picks and start strategizing potential pairings would loom large, with next week’s PGA Championship the traditional cut off for earning a spot on the team and making the wildcard selections.

But thanks to last year’s Ryder Cup task force, Love has nearly two months before the ink settles on this year’s team. The eight automatic qualifiers will be set on Aug. 29, after The Barclays; and the captain will make three of his four picks on Sept. 12, followed by his final selection on Sept. 25 after the final round of the Tour Championship.

So instead of preparing for the FedEx Cup playoffs or his title defense at the Wyndham Championship, Love will spend the next few weeks dealing with details, like what to do with Koepka if he slips outside the top eight automatic qualifiers.



“It’s kind of a blessing I don’t have anything to do for two or three weeks. I can get caught up. I won’t have any real distractions until the team gets finalized,” Love said. “I’m going to miss being able to play with the guys, but I’m already working on things to make sure I’m in contact with the entire team.”

One decision he won’t have to make is whether to make Phil Mickelson a captain’s pick thanks to Lefty’s runner-up showing last week at The Open.

Although Mickelson, who hasn’t missed a Ryder Cup since his first start in 1995, would appear to be a no-brainer pick following his solid play in recent weeks, he’d fallen to 31st in the world ranking to begin this season and some questioned why Love didn’t name the left-hander a vice captain earlier this year, along with Tiger Woods, Jim Furyk and Steve Stricker.

“[Mickelson] totally believed that he's going to make the team, and he is now with this, I would imagine,” Stricker said of Mickelson on Sunday at Royal Troon. “He showed last year how important he is to these teams. When he was a captain's pick last year for the Presidents Cup, he came over and did some great things in the team room and played great.”

Mickelson’s play, which has vaulted him to third on the points list and assured him a spot at Hazeltine, will allow Love to be a little more creative with his picks when the time comes.

Along with Zach Johnson, No. 4 on the list, and even Jordan Spieth, who will be playing in just his second Ryder Cup but is largely viewed as an emerging leader on the U.S. team, Mickelson will provide veteran leadership at Hazeltine. Dustin Johnson, who leads the U.S. in Ryder Cup points, and J.B. Holmes (No. 5) are also assured spots on the American team.

That essentially leaves a major, which is worth double the points, and The Barclays for the remaining three automatic qualifying spots – which are currently held by Bubba Watson (No. 6), Koepka and Brandt Snedeker (No. 8). There are also three regular Tour events, in between.

Matt Kuchar, Rickie Fowler, Patrick Reed and Scott Piercy currently round out Nos. 9 through 12, respectively; who, with the exception of Piercy, all have Ryder Cup experience.

Love has said repeatedly that the most difficult part of being a team captain is making the wildcard picks, and while Mickelson’s play last week in Scotland may have helped that process there are still plenty of tough choices to be made.

There’s never a good time to have surgery, particularly for Love who will miss arguably the two most important events of his year at the PGA and Wyndham, but fortunately the U.S. captain has plenty of work to keep him busy.

“There’s still so much to do, so many little things I can focus on,” Love said following surgery.

Luckily for Love, he has plenty of free time.

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Stock Watch: Spieth searching for putting form

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 16, 2018, 1:50 pm

Each week on GolfChannel.com, we’ll examine which players’ stocks and trends are rising and falling in the world of golf.

RISING

Patton Kizzire (+8%): By today’s accelerated standards, he’s a late bloomer, having reached the Tour at age 29. Well, he seems right at home now, with two wins in his last four starts.

Rory (+7%): Coming off the longest break of his career, McIlroy should have no excuses this year. He’s healthy. Focused. Motivated. It’s go time.

Chris Paisley (+5%): The best part about his breakthrough European Tour title that netted him $192,000? With his wife, Keri, on the bag, he doesn’t have to cut 10 percent to his caddie – she gets the whole thing.

Brooke Henderson (+3%): A seventh-place finish at the Diamond Resorts Invitational doesn’t sound like much for a five-time winner, but this came against the men – on a cold, wet, windy, 6,700-yard track. She might be the most fun player to watch on the LPGA. 

New European Ryder Cuppers (+2%): In something of a Ryder Cup dress rehearsal, newcomers Tommy Fleetwood and Tyrrell Hatton each went undefeated in leading Europe to a come-from-behind victory at the EurAsia Cup. The competition come September will be, um, a bit stiffer.



FALLING

Jordan’s putting (-1%): You can sense his frustration in interviews, and why not? In two starts he leads the Tour in greens in regulation … and ranks 201st (!) in putting. Here’s guessing he doesn’t finish the year there.

Brian Harman’s 2018 Sundays (-2%): The diminutive left-hander now has five consecutive top-10s, and he’s rocketing up the Ryder Cup standings, but you can’t help but wonder how much better the start to his year might have been. In the final pairing each of the past two weeks, he’s a combined 1 under in those rounds and wasn’t much of a factor.

Tom Hoge (-3%): Leading by one and on the brink of a life-changing victory – he hadn’t been able to keep his card each of the past three years – Hoge made an absolute mess of the 16th, taking double bogey despite having just 156 yards for his approach. At least now he’s on track to make the playoffs for the first time.

Predicting James Hahn’s form (-4%): OK, we give up: He’d gone 17 events without a top-15 before his win at Riviera; 12 before his win at Quail Hollow; and seven before he lost on the sixth playoff hole at Waialae. The margins between mediocre play and winning apparently are THAT small.

Barnrat (-5%): Coming in hot with four consecutive top-10s, and one of only two team members ranked inside the top 50 in the world, Kiradech Aphibarnrat didn’t show up at the EurAsia Cup, going 0-3 for the week. In hindsight, the Asian team had no chance without his contributions. 

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Langer not playing to pass Irwin, but he just might

By Tim RosaforteJanuary 16, 2018, 1:40 pm

Bernhard Langer goes back out on tour this week to chase down more than Hale Irwin’s PGA Tour Champions record of 45 career victories. His chase is against himself.

“I’m not playing to beat Hale Irwin’s record,” Langer told me before heading to Hawaii to defend his title at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai. “I play golf to play the best I can, to be a good role model, and to enjoy a few more years that are left.”

Langer turned 60 on Aug. 27 and was presented a massage chair by his family as a birthday gift. Instead of reclining (which he does to watch golf and football), he won three more times to close out a seven-win campaign that included three major championships. A year prior, coming off a four-victory season, Langer told me after winning his fourth Charles Schwab Cup that surpassing Irwin’s record was possible but not probable. With 36 career victories and 11 in his last two years, he has changed his tone to making up the nine-tournament difference as “probable.”

“If I could continue a few more years on that ratio, I could get close or pass him,” Langer told me from his home in Boca Raton, Fla. “It will get harder. I’m 60 now. It’s a big challenge but I don’t shy away from challenges.”


Bernhard Langer, Hale Irwin at the 1991 Ryder Cup (Getty Images)


Langer spent his off-season playing the PNC Father/Son, taking his family on a ski vacation at Big Sky in Yellowstone, Montana, and to New York for New Year’s. He ranks himself as a scratch skier, having skied since he was four years old in Germany. The risk of injury is worth it, considering how much he loves “the scenery, the gravity and the speed.”

Since returning from New York, Langer has immersed himself into preparing for the 2018 season. Swing coach Willy Hoffman, who he has worked with since his boyhood days as an as assistant pro in Germany, flew to Florida for their 43rd year of training.

“He’s a straight shooter,” Hoffman told me. “He says, 'Willy, every hour is an hour off my life and we have 24 hours every day.'"

As for Irwin, they have maintained a respectful relationship that goes back to their deciding singles match in the 1991 Ryder Cup. Last year they were brought back to Kiawah Island for a corporate appearance where they reminisced and shared the thought that nobody should ever have to bear what Langer went through, missing a 6-footer on the 18th green. That was 27 years ago. Both are in the Hall of Fame.

"I enjoy hanging out with Hale," Langer says.

Langer’s chase of Irwin’s record is not going to change their legacies. As Hoffman pointed out, “Yes, (Bernhard) is a rich man compared to his younger days. He had no money, no nothing. But today you don’t feel a difference when you talk to him. He’s always on the ground.”

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McIlroy: Ryder Cup won't be as easy as USA thinks

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 16, 2018, 1:18 pm

The Americans have won their past two international team competitions by a combined score of 38-22, but Rory McIlroy isn’t expecting another pushover at the Ryder Cup in September.

McIlroy admitted that the U.S. team will be strong, and that its core of young players (including Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler) will be a force for the next decade. But he told reporters Tuesday at the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship that course setup will play a significant role.

“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, referring to the Americans’ 17-11 victory in 2016. “I think Paris will be a completely different kettle of fish, so different.”

At every Ryder Cup, the home team has the final say on course setup. Justin Rose was the most outspoken about the setup at Hazeltine, saying afterward that it was “incredibly weak” and had a “pro-am feel.” 

And so this year’s French Open figures to be a popular stop for European Tour players – it’s being held once again at Le Golf National, site of the matches in September. Tommy Fleetwood won last year’s event at 12 under.

“I’m confident,” McIlroy said. “Everything being all well and good, I’ll be on that team and I feel like we’ll have a really good chance.

“The Americans have obviously been buoyant about their chances, but it’s never as easy as that. 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.” 

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Floodlights may be used at Dubai Desert Classic

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 16, 2018, 12:44 pm

No round at next week’s Dubai Desert Classic will be suspended because of darkness.

Tournament officials have installed state-of-the-art floodlighting around the ninth and 18th greens to ensure that all 132 players can finish their round.

With the event being moved up a week in the schedule, the European Tour was initially concerned about the amount of daylight and trimmed the field to 126 players. Playing under the lights fixed that dilemma.

“This is a wonderful idea and fits perfectly with our desire to bring innovation to our sport,” European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley said. “No professional golfer ever wants to come back the following morning to complete a round due to lack of daylight, and this intervention, should it be required, will rule out that necessity.”

Next week’s headliners include Rory McIlroy, Sergio Garcia and Henrik Stenson.