CHARLESTON, S.C. – Davis Love III isn’t feeling so lonely today in his U.S. Ryder Cup quest.
Love did more than beam over the eight Americans who secured automatic qualifying spots in the wake of Sunday’s conclusion of the PGA Championship. He announced two new assistant captains on Monday and made it clear there are at least three veteran players who have an edge as he prepares to make his four captain’s picks on Sept. 4 after the Deutsche Bank Championship.
Love announced that Jeff Sluman and Scott Verplank will be assistant captains for the Sept. 28-30 matches at Medinah Country Club. They’ll join previously named assistants Fred Couples and Mike Hulbert.
Love also made it clear that Hunter Mahan, Steve Stricker and Jim Furyk are players to beat in this three-week run-up before he announces his captain’s picks. He also appears to be looking hard at Rickie Fowler. Not coincidentally, those four just missed making the team on points, finishing 9th through 12th in the final standings.
While Love may be leaning toward those players, he made it clear a hot player can change his mind.
“Yeah, I think there are definitely some guys that have to play their way in,” Love said. “And there are some guys that have to come to me and tell me, `Hey, I'm hurt or I'm not ready or I'm not playing well, you may want to take a different look the next few weeks.’
“Nobody is out, and nobody is really in. This is a big three weeks.”
Love also mentioned Brandt Snedeker, Dustin Johnson, Bo Van Pelt, Bill Haas and David Toms as possibilities.
The Wyndham Championship is this week with the FedEx Cup’s The Barclays and the Deutsche Bank Championship following before Love makes his picks. While Love won’t be keeping the points list going the next three weeks to see how prospective picks stack up, he and his captains will keep some statistical data to help them.
“I think it's going to come down to a gut decision,” Love said.
Love said personalities, how a player fits into a team and into pairings, will be important factors. He specifically mentioned how Bubba Watson and Fowler were a good fit as the unofficial comic relief in the team quarters at Wales two years ago. Stricker, he said, is perfect for a Tiger Woods pairing and Furyk can pair up with anyone.
The final eight who made the team on points were Woods, Watson, Jason Dufner, Keegan Bradley, Webb Simpson, Zach Johnson, Matt Kuchar and Phil Mickelson.
Notably, all eight have won PGA Tour events this year with Woods winning three and with Watson, Dufner and Johnson each winning two. Two qualifiers won majors (Watson, Masters; Simpson, U.S. Open). The team is so deep that Mahan didn’t make the final eight despite having two wins this year.
Three of the eight will be Ryder Cup rookies (Dufner, Bradley, Simpson).
The downside for Love is that among the five Ryder Cup veterans who qualified, none has a winning record in the Ryder Cup. Woods is 13-14-2. Mickelson is 11-17-6. The team’s cumulative Ryder Cup record is 29-38-1.
Still, Love is undaunted.
“I'm excited about those eight,” he said. “I'm excited about Medinah. I'm excited about the way this team's shaping up. I'm very nervous of the next three weeks of having to pick four more guys.”