If there’s any consolation for Hunter Mahan, Rickie Fowler, Nick Watney and even Bo Van Pelt on failing to be named to the United States Ryder Cup team on Tuesday, it’s that at least they found out beforehand from captain Davis Love III as opposed to listening in on the conference call from New York City. As Love and PGA of America officials prepared to make the announcement, those on hold were treated to Ray Charles crooning, “How unlucky can one man be?” When the bluesman finished that tune, he went straight into, “When you squeeze me, what would I do?”
There’s little doubt that those who were snubbed for the team – rightfully or not – will be singing the blues through the upcoming competition at Medinah, though it will be of little consolation for Mahan and Fowler that each already owns experience in the recording industry.
When Love was pressed for how and why he instead chose Dustin Johnson, Jim Furyk, Brandt Snedeker and Steve Stricker as his wild-card selections – naming them in order of height, it should be noted, like a modern-day Ty Webb – he carefully and thoughtfully detailed a multitude of reasons for each one. None of those explanations can be dismissed as unacceptable, even if any of the picks was deemed objectionable by observers.
The captain insinuated that Furyk and Stricker – a pair of 40somethings with a combined 20 international team appearances between them – were longtime considerations for the roster, their previous performances less indicative of merit than their overall experience itself.
“All of the guys on the team will benefit from those guys being in the team room, being in the locker room,” Love maintained. “Those guys can pair with anybody.”
It should similarly come as little secret that Johnson and Snedeker were added because of their recent form. Each has finished sixth or better in each of his last two starts, lending credence to the notion that Love was also seeking a few hot players to add to the mix.
Of course, “hot” is a pejorative term in the world of professional golf. Not only is a guy currently playing well hardly a lock to continue such form for three more weeks, the cyclical nature of the game would suggest that it’s more likely for a discontinuation of success. In fact, those struggling right now may have an even better chance of being “hot” when they reach the upper end of that cycle – which could just happen to be when the Ryder Cup is being contested.
It’s a quandary with which every captain is saddled: Choose the most deserving players based on results and statistics or those most likely to help the team to victory, even if such likelihood is based solely on gut reactions and hunches.
Instant armchair analysis can tell you today whether each of these four selections was the “right” pick or not, but the truth is such delineations won’t be properly proffered until after the competition has been decided. Furyk may prove to be the best player at Medinah; Johnson could prove to be the man most responsible for the loss. Right now, we don’t know, so there’s little point in wasting words as to whether Love made the correct call.
Consider it much like prognosticating the upcoming NFL season. One pundit may claim a certain team is a Super Bowl contender while another calls it a cellar dweller. Arguments will ensue, but nobody can be proven right or wrong until the results actually play out in competition.
If there’s one way in which Love may have given his team an advantage on Tuesday, it’s that he clearly looked toward potential pairings for the opening four sessions of team competition.
“We have guys that pair up very well this time,” he explained. “Something crucial that [former captain] Paul [Azinger] was telling me is you've got to make sure when you're picking guys, you're picking pairings.”
It would be unwise to believe that certain players should be paired with the same partner for each of the two different formats. One popular theory suggests that likeminded players should be teamed in foursomes (alternate shot) in order to capitalize on a comfortability level, while opposite types of players should be paired in fourballs (best ball), ostensibly to amplify the aggressive nature of one player with the steadying influence of another.
Of course, another school of thought – the one popularized by Azinger when he captained the U.S. team to victory four years ago – is to pair players based on personality profiles in an effort to maximize camaraderie on the course. Though previous captain Corey Pavin failed to implement this method, it would be surprising if Love didn’t employ this strategy in some part.
With that in mind, it’s not difficult to see each of the following as potential pairings at some point during the proceedings:
• Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker: Friends and former partners, Love all but alluded to this being a done deal already.
• Bubba Watson and Webb Simpson: They’ve also played together before and Simpson could provide the calming yin to Watson’s high-energy yang.
• Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley: The venerable lefthander has made a recent habit of playing with younger teammates and the two already have a mentor-mentee type of relationship.
• Jason Dufner and Jim Furyk: Not the most loquacious duo ever produced, but hard-nosed and gritty would describe both, with Furyk providing experience for his rookie partner.
• Zach Johnson and Brandt Snedeker: Two of the game’s best putters could feed off each other in competition, especially in the foursomes format.
• Matt Kuchar and Dustin Johnson: Hey, sometimes opposites attract. Tough to find a discerning reason as to why they’d play together, other than the fact that they’re both really good and could fit well in fourballs.
All of this conjecture – from which players were the “right” picks to whom could be paired together to which team will actually win the competition – will be subject to debate over the next three weeks. There are no right or wrong answers today, only fewer questions, as pieces of the puzzle are slowly revealed.
Love, of course, will be hoping for the right answers to each of these questions at Medinah. Otherwise he may be left singing the blues along with Ray Charles and those unfortunate snubs, thinking to himself the very words that served as an introduction to his wild-card picks on Tuesday: “How unlucky can one man be?”
Tags: Ryder Cup
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