Lehman admitted what is painfully obvious Monday - that his stated goal of picking players who have lots of wins wasnt an option this year. And it wasnt an option because he just didnt have too many Americans who have won this year. So Lehman had to go to alternative No. 2 ' get a couple of guys who are good chippers and putters, and, secondarily, men who have experience in the Ryder Cup arena.
A sermon from this corner explained why the Americans should not be considered favorites this year. The last couple of months have not been kind to most of the Yanks. Ergo, Lehmans choices were made excruciatingly difficult because there were no clear-cut selections.
Jerry Kelly? Davis Love? Maybe a John Daly or a veteran like Corey Pavin? Fred Couples? Lucas Glover or Tim Herron or maybe Shaun Micheel?
But as much as all of these men have characteristics that probably would have made them acceptable, none had talents that would have made them stand out. Cink and Verplank have their faults, but Lehman decided to pick them because they give him what he needs most from this squad ' day-in and day-out, a gutty, solid performance.
Cink would have made the team under the old format. Its a little disheartening to say that he was chosen because he had a lot of finishes that were in the 20-30 range, but thats what has happened. And the last two months he has performed pretty steadily, finishing T5 in the Buick Championship, T5 in the International, and T4 in the Cialis Western.
Verplank? Because of the diabetes which he has battled his entire career, you can never be sure just how hes going to play. But when he has been close to healthy, he has played pretty consistently. This year he had the double whammy of playing with a shoulder injury much of the season, eventually dropping out of the EDS Byron Nelson.
But he is third among the PGA Tour players in putting this year, and sixth in scrambling, which primarily measures the ability to chip it close. He doesnt hit it far at all ' hes currently 187th in driving distance. But the Ryder Cup venue, The K Club in Ireland, isnt overbearingly long, either. An inability to drive it long wont be particularly painful.
Cink led the tour in putting as late as 2004, and this year he has been pretty consistent, though he stands just 59th. He stands 18th on the scrambling rankings.
The point is, you could put either player with anyone else on the team and he would certainly be acceptable.
With four rookies on the team, Lehman could just not afford to gamble on a what-if or a maybe. Maybe Kelly would pick the week of September 18-24 to have his career performance. Maybe Glover would, or Love would rebound and play like he used to five years ago. But Lehman, unfortunately, does not have the luxury of finding out. Therefore, he had to go with two guys who maybe dont have that upside potential, but then they dont have the downside, either.
One oddity here ' in 2001 (the matches were played in 2002), Verplank was Curtis Stranges wildcard pick at the expense of one Tom Lehman. Lehman, who had a 5-3-2 record and was 3-0 in singles, was in the top10 for most of the year. But an injury knocked him out late in the year, and he missed the cut in the PGA. Strange picked Verplank, the first time in history that a rookie was U.S. wild-card pick, and Paul Azinger and left out Lehman.
Verplank rewarded Strange by going 2-1, including a win in singles against Lee Westwood. And now, Lehman himself puts the finger on Verplank.
Now, Lehman will take this American squad to Ireland. What is there to be optimistic about? Not much, if you look at the American players and what they have done this year. Not much, if you consider they will be opposed by Colin Montgomerie, Sergio Garcia, Jose Maria Olazabal, Padraig Harrington, maybe Thomas Bjorn or Lee Westwood or Darren Clarke.
But all is not well in the European camp, either. Some of the Euros have been struggling of late. Clarke recently lost his wife after a lengthy illness. Westwood has not been particularly impressive, and neither has Miguel Angel Jimenez, all of whom were counted on to play big Ryder Cup roles at the start of the season.
This American team, as a matter of fact, looks a whole lot like what the Europeans have been throwing up against us the past 10 years or so. For Lehmans sake, Cink and Verplank have to think that, too.
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