NORTON, Mass. – Our cup is firmly half full this week, with the Ryder Cup comings and goings dominating the first part of the week followed by a return to the FedEx Cup Playoffs and the Deutsche Bank Championship.
Team USA. Davis Love III stayed on point this week, explaining how this Ryder Cup will be different and that it’s the team, not the captain, who will change America’s fortunes in the matches.
“Now it’s time for this top 8 [the automatic qualifiers] to take ownership of this team," Love said Monday. "These eight guys need to pick four more. From No. 1 to No. 8 they need to take ownership of this team."
The new selection system, which will save the final captain’s pick until after the Tour Championship, was designed to give Love the best chance to win, and the U.S. players who have already qualified seemed genuinely inspired by the prospect of ending the side’s swoon.
Soon the picks and pairings will be made and the outcome will rest entirely with the players, but until then the U.S. team is at least saying all the right things.
Case-y in point. It’s been seven years since Paul Casey won a PGA Tour event, a reality that despite the Englishman’s easygoing nature is not always easy to hide.
On Friday at TPC Boston following a first-round 66 that propelled him into a share of third place, Casey was asked if he was hungry for a win.
Casey’s response was not verbal, but perfectly clear as he smiled and nodded his head.
“I've been working hard with [caddie Johnny McLaren] on things like distance control and working on some different shots and on the putting, but it's very much time to try and make that hard work pay off if we can,” he said.
There’s always a fine line between patiently wanting something and applying too much internal pressure. To Casey’s credit, he seems perfectly positioned.
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Team Europe. It’s always best to keep the second-guessing to a minimum until after the matches, but Darren Clarke’s captain’s picks this week have left some room for early criticism.
Clarke went heavy on veteran leadership with his first two choices of Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer, which is understandable considering the Europeans already have five rookies on the team, but his third choice, Belgium’s Thomas Pieters, drew a few raised eyebrows.
Pieters certainly earned consideration considering his victory last week in Denmark and a runner-up showing a week before at the Czech Masters, but the decision left Scotland’s Russell Knox off the team and could end up haunting the captain.
Knox has had a breakout season this year on Tour, winning the WGC-HSBC Champions last fall and the Travelers Championship two weeks ago.
Captain’s picks are always a judgment call, but the choice to bypass Knox is curious, particularly if the Europeans don’t win next month.
Some things are better Left unsaid. The Ryder Cup team assembled this week at Gillette Stadium for a team bonding dinner, but the event had an interesting undertone.
Officials held a closest-to-the-pin contest from 78 yards on the field at Gillette Stadium, an event which was reportedly won by Phil Mickelson . . . using right-handed clubs.
“Honestly, it's just not that hard to play golf right-handed,” Mickelson jokingly told ESPN.com. “I think the real challenge and enjoyment I get is from trying to play the game left-handed.”
Mickelson, who is a notorious trash-talker, appeared to leave out a few details.
“Phil hit more balls than anyone else, so that’s why,” Brandt Snedeker smiled.
There is also some debate over who really won the contest, with Jimmy Walker telling reporters on Friday, “Davis [Love] hit it closest.”
Lefty’s competitive nature, and the occasional needle, is what makes him so special, but maybe he should save some of his barbs for the Europeans next month for the sake of team chemistry.
Playing to the crowd. News surfaced this week that the Tour will not renew the top 125 money list exemption, which in itself is not entirely surprising or overly newsworthy, but word also circulated this week that the circuit has floated the idea of reducing the total number of members.
This week the player advisory council debated whether the circuit should consider reducing the number of exemptions from the FedEx Cup points list - the top 125 are currently exempt heading into the following season - and from the Web.com Tour’s Finals Series.
The move, which according to various sources was widely dismissed by the PAC, is an attempt to assure those who do get their Tour cards that they have plenty of playing opportunities.
Although the pressure to give every member a chance to play has been mounting in recent years, taking away playing opportunities seems counterintuitive.
Woe is Rory. It hasn’t been the best of seasons for Rory McIlroy and things haven’t gotten much better in the playoffs.
McIlroy switched to a new putting coach last week at The Barclays, Englishman Phil Kenyon, and explained this week that the makeover isn’t a complete overhaul, but it’s close.
On Friday at TPC Boston, the conversation took another poor turn when the Northern Irishman played his first three holes in 4 over par – which included a three-putt at his second hole – and McIlroy’s plan to have his putting game back on track in time for next year’s Masters likely doesn’t bode well for Europe’s Ryder Cup chances.
McIlroy – who did rebound on Friday to shoot an even-par 71 – also has the added pressure of trying to play his way into the Tour Championship. He’s currently 38th in FedEx Cup points. He will figure out his putting woes eventually, he always does, but it’s clear this will take some time.