Let the second-guessing of Love's picks begin
- By John Feinstein
- Sep 4, 2012 3:26 PM ET
Four years ago, in an attempt to boost his team’s chances to end Europe’s domination of the Ryder Cup, Paul Azinger asked the PGA of America to grant him four captain’s picks instead of two. Azinger believed, correctly as it turned out, that the added flexibility would give the U.S. a better chance to win cup for the first time since 1999.
Davis Love III, U.S. captain for this year’s matches, did not have that flexibility. Oh sure, he technically had four picks. In reality though he only had two picks because he absolutely had to select Jim Furyk and Steve Stricker.
It isn’t as if either Furyk or Stricker is a bad pick. They both have loads of Ryder Cup experience and both have played reasonably well in recent months. Plus, they are two of the most popular players in the game whose presence in the team room will be a positive for Love and his 47 assistant captains throughout the week.
What’s more, they have both proven in the past that they can successfully partner with Tiger Woods, which is no small task. Woods has had decidedly mixed results through the years on Friday and Saturday in part because his partners have sometimes felt extra pressure to win and, in at least one case (Phil Mickelson) because the two partners barely spoke to one another during two opening day losses in 2004.
Furyk and Stricker both get along with Woods and are experienced enough that they aren’t overwhelmed playing in the crucible of Woods’ world.
Since Furyk and Stricker were automatics, Love had two picks to make. There were, realistically, five players in contention for two spots: Hunter Mahan, Rickie Fowler, Nick Watney, Dustin Johnson and Brandt Snedeker. The smart money going into the PGA Championship was on Mahan and Fowler.
Both were on the 2010 Ryder Cup team and both had won this year – Mahan twice. Mahan was No. 9 on the points list, one spot out of being an automatic qualifier. Love wanted Fowler on the team because he believed his youthful enthusiasm had been a boon to the team in 2010 when Love was an assistant captain.
But Fowler played his way off the team with a poor summer. After winning in Charlotte and following up with a second at The Players and a fifth at Colonial, Fowler went into a funk – failing to crack the top 20 in his last seven starts. Basing captain’s picks strictly on recent play is a mistake if only because there is a 24-day gap between the day the picks are announced and the day the matches begin. But Fowler failed to give Love an excuse to choose him – even though he probably wanted to.
Mahan, recent play notwithstanding, easily could have been the third pick behind Furyk and Stricker if for no other reason than the fact that he would go into the matches with a chip on his shoulder left over from his bitter loss to Graeme McDowell in the clinching singles match two years ago. He was also the only player among the candidates with two wins this season and probably the best all-round player in the group.
Johnson and Watney were the two bombers under serious consideration. Watney really wasn’t a contender until his win at The Barclays. Johnson’s length, his Ryder Cup experience and a solid summer no doubt made him more attractive to Love than Watney.
Which leaves Snedeker, who has to be the closest thing there was to a surprise pick. He has certainly had a solid year and played well the last two weeks – second at The Barclays; sixth in Boston. He’s an excellent putter, which is never a bad thing to have on a Ryder Cup team.
That said, the choice inevitably will raise some questions. No one would ever accuse Love, one of the game’s good guys, of playing favorites but it’s worth pointing out that Snedeker and Love are both represented by the same company. Snedeker is part of what is known on Tour as the “Sea Island mafia,” – players like Love, Snedeker, Zach Johnson, Matt Kuchar and Jonathan Byrd who all live in Sea Island, Ga.
Love said it came to down to Mahan and Snedeker for the last spot and, after going back and forth, he decided to go with the guy who had played better of late, the guy with the best putting statistics on Tour. The pick isn’t outrageous though it will certainly be questioned. But that’s what a captain’s pick is: it doesn’t really matter the reason why a captain picks someone it matters only how the player in question plays. If Snedeker plays well at Medinah, then Love made the right pick. If he plays poorly, Love got it wrong.
Love said on Tuesday that he always believed the hardest part of being the captain would be making the phone calls to those who were worthy of consideration but didn’t make the team. The Mahan call, he conceded, was the toughest.
Even so, there’s plenty left for Love to do. Like win. Only four of the last 13 U.S. captains have accomplished that feat.
On Sept. 30, Love will know if he made the right picks. He will spend the rest of his life riding the crest of his accomplishment or second-guessing himself in defeat. It’s really that simple.
On Wednesday at Sea Island Resort Davis Love III hypothetically referred to David Toms as the next U.S. Ryder Cup captain and a reporter playfully pressed him, “Did you just confirm David Toms is the ... Read More
Sunday night at last month’s Ryder Cup was already going to be difficult for the American team, which lost the largest lead on home soil in match history, and having the two squads mix in a post-game ... Read More
Feinstein is a best-selling author and is a contributing writer for GolfChannel.com.
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