The first thing the American Ryder Cup task force should look at is the one thing Tom Watson got right.
Watson’s boldest move wasn’t benching Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley for all of Saturday in the United States’ loss in Scotland last month. It was seeing that the next generation of young stars is the best hope American has in cleaning up this Ryder Cup mess.
Watson’s boldest move was pairing rookies Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed.
His next boldest move was sending them off first and second in Sunday singles with Rickie Fowler right behind them.
Watson was desperate at that point, but maybe it took being there for him to finally see the real solution was investing in the fresh, new faces before him. Not just young faces, but new blood, like 35-year-old Jimmy Walker, who played well in Scotland.
So with this new wraparound PGA Tour season already rolling, the hope for an American Ryder Cup turnaround may ride more on what fresh, new faces step up this season than on anything the PGA of America’s task forces does.
There’s this little international team event known as the Presidents Cup that will serve as a nice warm up next year for evolving American talent with an eye toward the 2016 Ryder Cup. Will Chris Kirk continue to develop and make the U.S. Presidents Cup team? He’s 29. Will Billy Horschel? He’s 27.
The Presidents Cup will be staged at Jack Nicklaus Golf Club Korea in Incheon in October of next year. With the PGA Tour beginning its fall Asian swing at the CIMB Classic this week, it’s a good time to look at which up-and-comers may be best equipped to try and make their first U.S. team when the Americans return to Asia for the Presidents Cup next year.
• Billy Horschel, 27 – The FedEx Cup champion wants to parlay his confidence and momentum from the playoffs into success on larger stages. He has soared to No. 13 in the Official World Golf Ranking. He’s the highest ranked American who hasn’t made a Ryder Cup or Presidents Cup team. His FedEx Cup playoff victories at the BMW Championship and Tour Championship in September portend greater success.
• Chris Kirk, 29 – Watson skipped over him making his captain’s picks, which ought to provide an extra dose of motivation for Kirk to try to qualify for the American Presidents Cup team on points. There’s a long, long way to go, but he’s fourth on the points list heading to the CIMB Classic. With Kirk at No. 23 in the Official World Golf Ranking, Horschel is the only American who ranks ahead of him who hasn’t made a Ryder Cup or Presidents Cup team.
• Brooks Koepka, 24 –Maybe all that experience earning his stripes on the European Tour and Challenge Tour will bring some other Euro mojo with him. Koepka has a flair for the dramatic, winning his PGA Tour card the hard way earlier this year. He tied for fourth at the U.S. Open, winning his PGA Tour card through non-member winnings. He tied for 15th at the PGA Championship.
• Russell Henley, 25 –There are flashes of the spectacular in this guy, who won in his PGA Tour rookie debut, breaking the Sony Open scoring record by four shots. He beat an all-star field, including Rory McIlroy in a four-man playoff, in winning the Honda Classic in the spring.
• Harris English, 25 – With victories in each of the last two seasons and seven top-10 finishes a year ago, English is an emerging young talent looking to take another step up in class this season. He’s a big hitter who hits a lot of greens and makes a lot of putts. It’s a formidable combination.
• Gary Woodland, 30 –The big hitting two-time PGA Tour winner is steadily climbing his way back into the game's big picture.
• Morgan Hoffmann, 25 – Was that improbable FedEx Cup charge - going from No. 124 before the playoffs to inside the top 30 at the Tour Championship - a precursor to a swifter, greater climb this season?
There is other promise in the talents of Brendon Todd, Ben Martin, Erik Compton, Robert Streb, Brian Harman, Matt Every and Kevin Chappell. This early start to the wraparound season is an opportunity for these guys to follow Jimmy Walker’s lead last year and make early impressions.