U.S. Ryder Cup team taking shape as deadline nears

By Rex HoggardAugust 3, 2016, 6:30 pm

SPRINGFIELD, N.J. – Brooks Koepka struggled up the hill behind Baltusrol’s 18th green. There was no limp, but it wasn’t easy.

In his first start since straining ligaments in his right ankle the week before the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, the 26-year-old was on his way to a T-4 finish at the PGA Championship.

Not bad for a guy who seemed to begin the week closer to the DL than the top of leaderboard.

Koepka admitted that if it had not been a major, and he wasn’t fighting for a spot on this year’s U.S. Ryder Cup team, he probably wouldn’t be playing the PGA. All week, he endured daily treatments, icings and tapings of his ailing ankle.

“It’s not fun to watch yourself go from third to ninth [on the Ryder Cup points list] especially since we were playing so well. It’s not fun, but we have to figure it out,” said Koepka, who was outside automatic qualifying on the U.S. points list before the PGA.

Koepka’s finish at Baltusrol, however, has moved him to fifth on the points list. He's not a lock yet, but Koepka's very close, and it's given both the player and the U.S. captain some breathing room.

“We talked before The Open about not pushing it and being ready for the PGA and playoffs, and Ryder Cup,” U.S. captain Davis Love III told GolfChannel.com on Sunday. “At the PGA we talked about taking it easy in the heat on practice days, and that he would be the most rested guy in the field. My dad always said I could take a month off and not forget how to play.”

Love had said all along the PGA, which was worth double the Ryder Cup points, would be when his team started to truly take shape. The eight automatic qualifiers will be set on Aug. 28 following The Barclays. There are still four events for players to make a move, but for Love some key pieces fell into place at Baltusrol.

With his victory at the PGA, Jimmy Walker vaulted from 29th on the list to fourth, virtually assuring him a spot at Hazeltine.

“I thought about that all year,” said Walker, who went 1-1-3 in 2014 at his first Ryder Cup. “I saw Davis this week and I told him, ‘Man, I'd love to be on your team.’”

Patrick Reed, who was one of the bright spots for the U.S. team two years ago at Gleneagles, also picked up some ground with his tie for 13th place at the PGA, moving up one spot from 11th to 10th on the points list.

But while Walker and Koepka’s play may have made things easier for Love, there remains a list of building decisions for Captain America.

Rickie Fowler struggled on the weekend at the PGA and tied for 33rd, dropping from 10th to 12th. It seems likely he’ll drop even further in the coming weeks since he’s not playing this week at the Travelers Championship or the following event so he can compete in the Olympics for the United States.

Love has four captain’s picks, announcing three on Sept. 12 following the BMW Championship and his final pick on Sept. 25, with a host of top players currently outside the automatic qualifiers, including Fowler, Reed, Bubba Watson and Matt Kuchar.

There is also the possibility Love could get creative with his picks, balancing what is currently a relatively young team with some veteran leadership.

Before his runner-up finish at the FedEx St. Jude Classic and his fourth-place showing at The Open, Steve Stricker was entirely content with his upcoming role as vice captain at this year’s matches. But his play has vaulted him from 71st on the points list in early June to 26th with three starts to improve his prospects.

“It really wasn’t on my radar too much until after Troon. I’ve had a couple of good tournaments recently, but I’m really starting to play nicely. After doing what I did at Troon it’s got my attention,” said Stricker, who added he would likely step down as vice captain if he makes the team. “I have to show Davis and everyone else that I’m legit and I can still play. It’s going to have to be something special, but I know I can do it.”

Jim Furyk, who is also one of Love’s vice captains, could also make a bid for a pick, moving to 21st on the points list this week; and a late victory – say, Watson at this week’s Travelers Championship where he’s already won twice – by any of the potential captain’s choices could create movement in the ranks.

“This week is double points. Guys could make some big changes this week,” Love said at the PGA. “So we're starting to think about the list a little bit more, but obviously after this week, we can solidify it a little bit better, start thinking about who might be picks.”

As Love predicted, the PGA Championship provided some Ryder Cup answers, but there are still plenty of questions.

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What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

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Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

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Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

The Ryder Cup topped his list.

Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

More bulletin board material, too.

Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

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Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.