NORTON, Mass. – For the American Ryder Cup effort the fall of 2006 could easily be defined as rock bottom.
Fresh off its second consecutive nine-point loss in the biennial matches and its fifth defeat in the last half dozen title bouts, the red, white, black and blue had officially fallen from grace and the PGA of America’s marquee event was quickly slipping into the throws of irrelevancy.
If not for an impassioned prognostication by Ben Crenshaw in 1999 at Brookline and a historic Sunday comeback, the U.S. side would have been 0-for-the-decade in Samuel Ryder’s member-member. With this elephant perched in the room, PGA officials sat down to talk with Paul Azinger about captaining the ’06 squad and his message was simple, “blow it up.”
The American selection process was broken and no amount of administrative duct tape would fix it. The receptive audience listened politely to Zinger’s pitch, but he had them at “blow it up.”
The new selection process went to essentially a one-year system, with only the majors in odd numbered years counting toward the Ryder Cup standings, and began awarding all Americans, not just those finishing inside the top 10, points based on money earned.
“As Boo Weekley put it, ‘Money don't lie,’ and I just felt like that was going to be the barometer,” Azinger said at the time.
The PGA also expanded the number of captain’s picks from two to four and pushed the selection date back in an attempt to identify the best players right now.
The result of Azinger’s tinkering was America’s 16 ½-11 ½ rout, some would even say upset, of Europe in ’08 at Valhalla.
That the new system, combine with the FedEx Cup playoffs that now keep the U.S. side in game shape, identified America’s top dozen is largely accepted as fact. The eight picks since Zinger’s extreme makeover are a combined 12-6-10, compared to the four picks in the two matches before ’08 that went 5-5-5.
That the 'built in delay' between the points cut off after the PGA Championship and the announcement of the picks has given Cup hopefuls a chance to prove themselves is still something of a work in progress.
Consider that just one of the eight captain’s picks since 2008, Chad Campbell - who tied for seventh at the ’08 Deutsche Bank Championship and posted a top-10 finish in the three-event audition - suggests that all eight would have likely been picks either way.
Campbell was the lowest-ranked player on the U.S. points list (No. 21) to make the team in ’08; while Rickie Fowler, 20th in points at the deadline, was Corey Pavin’s highest pick in 2010 despite having finished 36th and 41st at that season’s Barclays and Deutsche Bank, respectively.
That trend, however, seems likely to change on Tuesday when captain Davis Love III announces his picks in New York.
Following a missed cut at the PGA Championship Snedeker, who was passed over for a captain’s pick on last year’s Presidents Cup team, seemed to embrace the idea that he had three events – Wyndham Championship, Barclays and Deutsche Bank – to make his mark.
“Still have got three more to impress the captain and try to make the team that way,” Snedeker said. “(Love) texted me this (PGA) week and said, ‘Have fun and play golf. Don’t worry about the Ryder.’ That’s what we’re trying to do, but you want to get there . . . you want to be there.”
Watney, who was 30th in points at the deadline, also gave Captain America something to think about with his three-stroke victory at the playoff opener; and Dustin Johnson, 15th in Ryder Cup points, made a statement as well with his tie for third at Bethpage and his quick comeback from injury this season.
Conventional wisdom at TPC Boston suggests that Steve Stricker and Jim Furyk, cup veterans who played key roles in the U.S. side’s victory last year in the Presidents Cup, will land the first two picks and the final two selections will come from a pool including two-time Tour winner this year Hunter Mahan, Fowler, Snedeker, Johnson and perhaps Watney.
Of course that all depends on how they play in Beantown and how much stock Love puts into recent form over season-long resumes. It’s a choice the previous two Ryder Cup captains never really had to consider, and a truth that will probably make Monday night a long one for the American skipper.
Azinger may have made the system better, but as Love is learning it’s not easier.
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