The wild card. Four players on Team USA came to Wales with that label, three on Team Europe, for a total of seven out of the 24. But much of the media focus this week has been on two of them, one from each side. And you know exactly who they are.
The most decorated players from each side of the pond struggled in 2010 but both captains took into account career resumes (not so much Ryder Cup resumes), heavily weighing that over recent performance in making their selections.
“There are reasons why Padraig Harrington was picked. Judge me about that selection on October the 4th and not on September the 26th,” Montgomerie said at the start of the week. “I feel the criticism was very unjustified to be honest. I know what Padraig Harrington can do, and that’s why he was picked. He’s a world player; he’s won three major championships and the stature of the guy is second to none within our team.”
It’s not just the Ryder Cup captains who feel the pressure to defend their picks and hope their picks perform. The wild cards themselves feel it, and that could be what motivated Padraig Harrington to a final-round 64 on Sunday at the Vivendi Cup to tie for eighth coming into the week in Wales.
“A wild card. It obviously puts you under a little bit more focus during the week, and brings certain expectations and certain pressure. So it’s certainly different. It definitely makes you more enthusiastic and keen to play your part and do everything you can amongst the team,” Harrington said Wednesday.
So how does the label play a role in a match that hinges on a shared team mentality? Montgomerie knows.
Widely considered one of the greatest Ryder Cup players of all time, Monty has teed it up as a member of the European team eight times and holds the win-lose-draw record of 20-9-7. He also famously sank the winning putt for Team Europe in 2004…and he did it as a captain’s pick.
That year, after a tumultuous time in the press in regards to his private life, the Scot went into the BMW International Open in Munich, last tournament before that year’s captain Bernard Langer made his picks, having to impress the captain to make the team as a wild card. He tied for third, got the bid, and then he took on the role as the recognized on-course leader for Langer’s team at Oakland Hills.
As such, Monty also was key in setting the tone for the team even before the competition began. In the 1990s Montgomerie picked up on the different ways in which the two captains announced their teams in the opening ceremony – alphabetical order versus listing the players in order of the merit they made the team and then adding on the names of the wild-card picks at the end.
“Every player has to be made to feel good about himself,” said Montgomerie.
Especially that singled-out wild card. And perhaps that very player will set the tone for the Europeans. Now, it’s fact that Paddy’s record in the Ryder Cup is anything but stellar and does not compare – period – with the career Monty has had in the team competition, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Paddy is out first in Friday morning’s fourball session to prove a point. That’s what Langer did with Monty in 2004…and it turned out to be a good call.