Like it or Not This is Americas Team

By Mercer BaggsAugust 21, 2006, 4:00 pm
36th Ryder Cup MatchesMEDINAH, Ill. -- Tom Lehman said he got about two hours worth of sleep Sunday night. And yet he still looked better Monday morning than he did a few days ago.
That can be attributed to a sense of peace and comfort Lehman is feeling now that his entire U.S. Ryder Cup team has been finalized.
Lehman, in announcing Stewart Cink and Scott Verplank as his captains selections, admitted in his press conference at Medinah Country Club, the day after the PGA Championship, that he was feeling the stress and strain of making such a decision.
Ryder Cup Trophy
The Ryder Cup trophy will be up for grabs at the K Club in Dublin, Ireland in late September.
He said that he called everyone from 11-25 on the list, with the exception of Billy Mayfair and Dean Wilson, both of whom he ran into Sunday afternoon in the player dining room, and let them know their fate.
Unfortunately for six of them, they had to wait until Monday morning to find out whether or not they made the team.
Its been a difficult decision for me to make. Its tough to call people who I respect and admire so much as players and as people and let them know that, no, I did not pick you, Lehman said.
Its been a long two years and its been a grueling summer.
Those six left hanging Sunday night were: Cink; Verplank; Steve Stricker; Davis Love III; Lucas Glover; and Lehmans assistant captain, Corey Pavin.
Lehman said he looked long and hard at each and every one. He talked it over with Pavin until late in the night. He even talked with Phil Mickelson around midnight for about a half-hour and with Tiger Woods on his way to the airport. And then he slept on it ' for a few hours anyway.
Love, he said, was the toughest to tell no.
It was not easy, Lehman said. With all his experience and all of the things hes accomplished, I still want to have guys who are playing well. I think he has definitely struggled.
For Love, the streak is over. He had played in every Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup dating back to 1993. But, its not like he didnt have his chance to make the team on his own merit. After struggling all year, he put himself in great shape after two rounds of the PGA, just one off the lead, then went on to shoot 73-76 over the weekend to tie for 34th.
I think Lehman made the right call. Love has played horribly this season and doesnt deserve to be a part of this team. He even said as much Sunday evening, sounding and looking like a man reserved to an unfortunate fate.
Picking Cink was no surprise. Its not like Lehman had a lot of wonderful options from which to choose. Hes a solid player and a good putter. And he was sixth on Lehmans personal points list, which varied from the new system implemented this year.
No. 9 on that list was Verplank. I have to admit I was a bit shocked when I heard his name called out. Verplank was 20th on the real Ryder Cup list. I figured Pavin had a better chance of being chosen than did Verplank, who missed the cut this past week.
At least Pavin has won this year ' at least hes won in the last four years. Verplanks most recent win came in the 2001 Canadian Open. Cinks, for that matter, came in 2004.
The new system, which awards a greater number of points to players finishing inside the top 10 than it did two years ago, is supposed to reward those who are playing well this season. Lehman, by contrast, picked a pair of players who havent won since before the playing of the last Ryder Cup.
But, again, its not like he had much to choose from. Of the players 11-25 on the standings, only John Rollins (No. 11), Tim Herron (17) and Dean Wilson (23) had won this year. And did he really want any of these three on a team that already had four rookies?
Lehman had said for quite some time that Ryder Cup experience would not be the key to his decision making in rounding out his team. He said it would be desire. And desire, apparently, superseded winning as well when it came down to it.
Match Play is a bit of a matter of heart. Almost completely its a matter of heart and the passion that you have ' you take it personal. I think the picks I made ' thats part of why I picked them. I feel like they do that, Lehman said.
Now that the team is complete, its time to gel. They will start the bonding process when at least 10 of the 12 team members leave Sunday night after this weeks WGC-NEC Invitational in Ohio and head to the K Club in Dublin, Ireland, site of this years Cup competition, for a three-day excursion.
Were going to play some golf, were going to do some fishing, were going to drink some Guinness, were going to have some fun, were going to get our pairings together, Lehman said.
The group will consist of Lehman, Pavin, players and their caddies. But Woods wont be there, and Mickelson may skip it, too. Both, said Lehman, had prior obligations.
While people may try and make a big deal out of this, they shouldnt. Woods and Mickelson arent just players; theyre sports stars, celebrities in the game. They have schedules that are booked well in advance. I have no doubt that both men would love to take that trip, but if they have obligations which they simply can not cast aside, then so be it.
This team will consist of eight veterans and four rookies. Those eight vets consist of the top 3 players in the world, as well as three others in the top 20. Yet, those eight have combined to go 31-39-10 in the Ryder Cup
Mickelson, David Toms and Verplank are the only ones with winning records.
Ironically, Verplanks lone appearance came at the expense of Lehman. Curtis Strange bypassed Lehman, who was No. 11 in the standings, in 2001 in favor of Verplank. He went on to go 2-1-0 in an overall losing effort at The Belfry.
And so, America, this is your 2006 Ryder Cup team: Woods, Mickelson, Jim Furyk, Chad Campbell, Toms, Chris DiMarco, Vaughn Taylor, J.J. Henry, Zach Johnson, Bret Wetterich, Cink and Verplank.
Europe will finalize their team in three weeks.
This team looks a lot like one of the European squads of a few years ago, one with an extreme amount of leaders and followers. One where you can hide someone for most of the Matches, before sending them out on Sunday for the singles (incidentally, Lehman expects all of his guys to play at least once before the singles).
And maybe this is a good thing. The veterans didn't seem to complain this week, and said they looked forward to filling that leadership role; though, Woods looked a bit perplexed Sunday night when he saw that no one new had moved inside the top 10 at the PGA. It looked like he was thinking, 'Brett Wetterich is on my team?!?'
I guess it's actually Lehman's team, and one that he says he loves from top to bottom ' not that you would expect him to say anything otherwise. Overall, on paper, they dont look that impressive ' certainly not as impressive as teams in the past.
But those teams didnt win. The U.S. has won only one of these things since 1995. Perhaps this team has a chance. Lehman, of course, thinks so.
I feel incredibly good about where were at, Lehman said. I feel tremendously, tremendously confident in this squad.
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