Ryder Cup System Check

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Tom Lehman spent the first few months of this year talking about the possibility of being a player-captain at the 36th Ryder Cup. Hes spent the last few months discussing the merits of the reformed U.S. points system and the impact its having on his team.
 
At least he hasnt had to talk ad nausea about the butt-whipping the Europeans handed the Americans on their own soil two years ago ' at least not yet.
 
Tom Lehman
Tom Lehman can still qualify for his own U.S. Ryder Cup team despite no top-10s since February.
That will happen after his team is finalized, after the conclusion of next weeks PGA Championship. Then Lehman will have to talk until hes literally red, white and blue in the face about what he and his are going to do to avoid another embarrassment.
 
The thing is, though, Lehman doesnt yet know who will be his.' Of course, this is always the case leading up to the seasons final major, but usually there are only a couple of players on shaky ground.
 
At the moment, the final four spots are up for grabs. And it just so happens that all four spots are currently occupied by players who have neither Ryder Cup nor Presidents Cup experience.
 
To make matters more perplexing for Captain America, Nos. 11, 12 and 13 in the current standings have combined to compete in all of one team event ' Jerry Kelly in the 2003 Presidents Cup.
 
These are strange times under a strange system.
 
The points system was revised in the aftermath of the 2004 Ryder Cup, in which the U.S. lost at Oakland Hills outside of Detroit, 18 - 9 . The new system is supposed to better reward recent performance. And it does; though, a little too much so.
 
Before, players who finished in the top 10 were rewarded double points during a Ryder Cup year at regular tournaments. They now receive four times as many during a Ryder Cup year, and five times as many for a victory in said season.
 
Points awarded during major championships have also been increased exponentially, from 300 points for a victory in 2004 to 675 points this time around.
 
Now, a player can do squat for most of the year, have one great week, and earn a ticket to Dublin, Ireland in late September.
 
Take, for instance, Lehman. He could still qualify for his own team ' and he hasnt earned a single point since the Match Play in February.
 
Should he somehow win this weeks International, he would garner 375 points and could move from 29th to seventh in the standings.
 
That might seem like an unlikely scenario, but then again, John Rollins won the B.C. Open a few weeks ago and jumped from 29th to 10th.
 
The PGA of America altered the points scale in order to try and provide the U.S. with the hottest players leading up to the Ryder Cup, not the most consistent over a longer stretch of time. They wanted to make sure that they were stacked with players who were playing well at the moment; not players who had played exceptionally well in March and April, but were now struggling.
 
It was a move made to make the Yanks, who have won only one of these things since 93, more competitive. Something had to be done, and this was it. And its not all that bad. It just needs a little tweaking ' like possibly handing out points to the top 10 Americans each week as opposed to the top 10 finishers who may or may not be Statesmen. Or, perhaps not allotting quite as many points for a victory (Rollins shouldnt jump 19 spots by winning an event held opposite the British Open).
 
But having the likes of Vaughn Taylor, J.J. Henry, Zach Johnson, Brett Wetterich, or even Rollins on the team isnt all that bad either. They are all in their early 30s, and some stand a chance to be on more Cup teams to come.
 
The fact is, up to this point, veterans like Davis Love III, Fred Couples and Stewart Cink havent done enough to earn their way onto the team.
 
And, unfortunately, neither has anyone in their 20s.
 
Glover, at 26, is the only player under 30 in the top 35 on the current points list. That, in and of itself, should give Lehman serious pause to consider him as one of his two captains selections should he not move up the necessary three spots from 13th.
 
But with all the greenhorns likely to comprise his team, Lehman will likely use his discretion on experience ' on players like the aforementioned Cink and Love, who finished runner-up at this years Match Play. Or maybe Scott Verplank, who went 2-1-0 as a captains pick in 2002.
 
Glover will have a chance this week to take his name out of Lehmans hat and earn his way outright onto the team. Hes one of nine players from positions 7-20 who are in the field at Castle Pines: Henry (No. 8), Johnson (9), Rollins (11), Glover (13), Love (14), Couples (15), Tom Pernice (17), Arron Oberholser (19) and Cink (20).
 
Taylor (7), Wetterich (10), Kelly (12), Tim Herron (16) and Verplank (18) are apparently saving themselves for one final push next week at Medinah.
 
The PGA Championship will be the defining event for the U.S. Ryder Cup team (the European squad wont be finalized until three weeks thereafter). As previously mentioned, a victory will be worth 675 points. Thats a hefty load considering that Wetterich, the man currently on the bubble, has accrued 746 points over the last two years. A runner-up finish will net 360, almost as much as a victory at a regular event.
 
Does the new system work? Well find out in just over a month. Like most everything else in sports, if victory is achieved then everythings A-OK. If not, then its not.
 
The one thing that we do know: its not like the Americans ' whoever is on their team ' are going to be any worse off than they were two years ago.
 
Email your thoughts to Mercer Baggs
 
Related Links:
  • U.S. Points List
  • European Points List
  • Full Coverage - 36th Ryder Cup Matches