Pavins Sixth Sense


Rickie Fowler? Talk about hunches and gut feelings. By adding a winless, 21-year-old PGA Tour rookie to the U.S. Ryder Cup team – a kid who finished 20th in the standings, no less – Corey Pavin made the gutsiest captain’s pick since Lanny Wadkins chose Curtis Strange back in 1995.

That one didn’t go so well, and in the 15 years since, seven U.S. skippers have ducked bold selections the way Lady Gaga avoids conventionality. In 2010, however, Pavin really didn’t have many suitable alternatives. Of the 11 guys between America’s eighth qualifier (Matt Kuchar) and Fowler, only Zach Johnson (11th) and Tiger Woods (12th) looked like sure things. The rest either had no experience or played their way out of serious consideration. For instance, Anthony Kim, who looked like a lock after winning in Houston this spring, made a hasty return from thumb surgery that proved futile – four consecutive missed cuts after a bottom-of-the-pack finish at the no-cut WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.

Bo Van Pelt, Ricky Barnes, Nick Watney and Sean O’Hair all are without a victory in 2010. So is Fowler, for that matter, but Pavin clearly has a sense that Little Rickie has the competitive moxie and enough game to help the U.S. team, even if it means wearing red, white and blue instead of popsicle orange. Fowler’s case isn’t without some glaring holes, however. The kid was squarely in the hunt at the Memorial before knocking his tee shot in the water at the par-3 12th, leading to a double-bogey and a solo second, three behind Justin Rose (Van Pelt and Barnes finished T-3).

It was the last of five top-10 finishes Fowler has collected in 24 starts this year. He hasn’t vanished in the three months since, but he hasn’t contended, either. To say Captain Corey is going out on a limb with the selection isn’t, uh, going out on a limb. Having watched the Tuesday news conference, my sense is that Pavin chose Fowler against the wishes of his advisers, which I’m perfectly OK with. Independent thinkers will always be criticized, but let’s not penalize the man until we’re operating with the luxury of 20/20 hindsight, otherwise known as a moot point.

John Hawkins appears on Golf Central every Tuesday at 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. ET and on the Grey Goose 19th Hole every Wednesday at 7 p.m. ET.

The addition of Fowler might have induced Pavin to get conservative with his three other picks: Tiger Woods, Zach Johnson and Stewart Cink. Tiger was the proverbial no-brainer, even if his game hadn’t started moving in the right direction. Johnson hasn’t missed a cut since the Valero Texas Open in May – he won at Colonial the following week and finished T-3 at the PGA. Cink? This is where things start to get a bit fuzzier. The 2009 British Open champion has just one top 10 at a full-field, stroke-play event all season (T-8 at Memorial).

What Cink does bring to the team is a large collection of battle scars and the type of easy personality that can serve as an asset in the team room. He has played in four consecutive Ryder Cups, but his 4-7-4 career record vs. the Europeans doesn’t exactly provide overwhelming evidence in terms of substantiating his addition. Again, Cink made the team because so many around him in the standings failed to win, or even command any leaderboard presence at big tournaments throughout the summer.

In final analysis, nobody could examine the large collection of options that went into composing this U.S. team and make everyone happy. Pavin’s roster is as strong, if not stronger, than yours or mine, but not as strong as that of the opposition, which will make winning in Wales a difficult task.