KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. – Few Fridays in golf are as emotionally toxic for the game’s top 1 percent as PGA Friday.
Each year, be it a Ryder Cup or Presidents Cup calendar, those looking to play for crown and country receive the most Draconian of progress reports. That Friday at Kiawah felt more monsoon than major only served to add to the degree of difficulty.
The Ryder Cup clock has been running for two years now, but on Friday the hands finally caught up with the hopefuls.
One by one they drifted off a windswept Ocean Course counting strokes and crushed dreams. First off was Rickie Fowler, 12th on the U.S. points list but out of time following his second consecutive Friday 80.
The captain’s-pick-turned-darling of the 2010 matches will need another lifeline, this time from Davis Love III who will announce his four picks on Sept. 4, if he’s going to make it to Medinah.
On Thursday night Fowler, and a handful of other Ryder Cup hopefuls, attended a dinner hosted by Love at the tony Sanctuary Club on Kiawah Island, and Captain America’s message was predictably esoteric.
“(Love’s) biggest thing was just go out and have fun and play. Try not to worry about making the team or pushing yourself and putting extra pressure on yourself,” Fowler said. “Let it happen.”
Easier said than done, as all six players currently on the “pick bubble” (Nos. 9-14 in Ryder Cup points) learned on Friday.
Just three of the six bubble boys made the cut – No. 10 Steve Stricker, No. 14 Dustin Johnson and No. 15 Bo Van Pelt – while No. 12 Rickie Fowler, who rebounded from his Friday 80 last week at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational with a weekend 69-69, No. 9 Hunter Mahan, No. 13 Brandt Snedeker will now have to wait until Sept. 4 to learn their Ryder Cup fate.
But then Van Pelt has been here before. In 2010 he arrived at Whistling Straits, another faux linksland design courtesy of Pete Dye, 13th on the U.S. points list. He tied for 28th to finish the week where he started at No. 13 and never got the phone call from captain Corey Pavin.
For Van Pelt, a salt-of-the-earth, no-nonsense type, getting worked up over the Ryder Cup is wasted energy.
“It’s one of those deals where you had two years to get inside that top 8,” said Van Pelt, who missed Thursday’s dinner to celebrate his son’s sixth birthday. “Coming down to the last week it’s kind of like an exam. Whatever happens, happens. It’s kind of out of my control.”
Mahan, who did attend Love’s dinner, seemed a tad more invested in the subject, the byproduct, no doubt, of a burgeoning cup resume that saw him emerge as a team leader at last year’s Presidents Cup.
“It’s not just one tournament, it’s all year long. It goes on for all year. The focus is on this week, but we have the next few weeks to make an impression,” Mahan said. “This isn’t a one-tournament pick. Through eight months of golf you’re not going to play well every week. You’re not going to play well when you want to.”
If the status quo remains unchanged – a distinct likelihood given No. 8 Phil Mickelson’s turnaround on Friday (71) and Lefty’s 600-point advantage over Stricker – conventional wisdom suggests Love would pick Mahan, Stricker and Furyk, who was 5-0 at last year’s Presidents Cup, and let Fowler, Snedeker, Johnson and Van Pelt decide who lands the last spot with their play over the next three weeks.
But then picking a rookie, either Snedeker or Van Pelt, over Fowler, who scored his first Tour victory this year and was a rare bright spot on the ’10 team, seems unlikely considering Love’s apparent aversion to risk taking.
In that scenario, the person with the most to lose, or gain, on a fierce Friday was Snedeker, who has not been treated kindly by the various team selection processes throughout his career.
In 2003 Snedeker won the U.S. Amateur Public Links, earned All-America honors at Vanderbilt and was named the Southeastern Conference Player of the Year and yet was snubbed for that season’s Walker Cup team.
Last year, he was again passed over for a spot on Fred Couples’ Presidents Cup team. A Ryder Cup snub would make it an imperfect trifecta, a reality that seemed etched into Snedeker’s face as he slumped onto a bench in the locker room following a second-round 78 that left him at 11 over.
“I don’t think I played poorly because of the Ryder Cup, I just played poorly. I can’t put my finger on it,” Snedeker said. “I didn’t put more pressure on myself, felt like I had good preparation for the tournament, sometimes you just have one of those weeks. You just don’t want it to be this one week because it is two years boiled down to this one week to try to make the team . . . that sucks.”
Snedeker missed Love’s soiree on Thursday, opting instead for an intense 45-minute session on the practice tee with his swing coach. There didn’t seem to be much Love could say, but he tried.
“He texted me at the British Open, he texted me this week. It’s just, ‘Have fun and play golf don’t worry about the Ryder Cup,’” Snedeker said. “That’s what we’re trying to do, but you want to get there.”
When it comes to playing for one’s country it seems you really can want something too much.