Taking stock in the world of team golf
Last week’s trip home from Melbourne, Australia, was a lengthy one, but not so long that it deposited you into September. Granted, it may feel like a 10-month flight, but it’s only 14 hours or so, and that has provided plenty of time to rest and take many deep breaths and take stock of when we’ll have to do this team golf stuff again at the 2012 Ryder Cup.
Clearly, there is a difference between the Presidents Cup and Ryder Cup – in passion, in history, in qualifying systems. But because in our provincial red, white, and blue world one pretty much runs into the other, it’s convenient and sensible enough to group them as one and offer some observations as we look back on one and look forward to another:
• Coincidence or not, but the Americans are 4-1 in team play since putting forth in what in my estimation is their worst-ever Ryder Cup effort. The 2006 debacle at the K Club had many laughable moments, from the heralded post-Labor Day trip to Ireland to promote team bonding (upon landing at the golf course, a couple of players asked if they could take naps, not play; so much for togetherness), to the day the U.S. sent all 12 players out for a practice round (honestly, Sgt. Saunders and Cage should have been there to complete the Combat mission), to Tom Lehman making Scott Verplank a captain’s pick, then sitting the man the entire first day and for three of the four team matches (no surprise, given his competitiveness, but Verplank went 2-0 when he did get to play), to the comical look on Lee Westwood’s face as he watched Chris DiMarco refuse to quit on the 18th hole, despite having hit a few balls in the junk and despite the fact that Europe had already won (apparently, DiMarco held out hopes of halving the match with a a triple-bogey or whatever it is he was scoring).
• In going 4-1 in the last five team competitions (three Presidents Cups, two Ryder Cups), the Americans have enjoyed a 33 1/2 - 15 1/2 edge in foursomes, which can be attributed mostly to this mystery – the boys from Australia, South Africa, Fiji, Asia, and South America are baffled by the format. (Still, I wouldn’t expect to see Adam Scott and Geoff Ogilvy go out in a Masters practice round and play alternate-shot.)
• The U.S. only has a slight edge in singles play the last five years, 32 1/2 - 27 1/2, which perhaps supports the belief that the gap in the depth department has been closed dramatically.
• Only four players have been on each of the last five U.S. teams – Phil Mickelson, Jim Furyk, Steve Stricker, and Hunter Mahan. Toss in Woods (he would have been there in 2008 if not for knee surgery) and you have nearly half the team who’ll tee it up at Medinah.
• As an aside, when a colleague offered his prediction that Furyk will not be on the 2012 Ryder Cup team, momentary shock set in. He’s been an annual staple in these things since 1997 and here’s the glory of this man – he’s earned his way onto all 14 teams. In my book, that already qualifies him for at least one captain’s pick, should he need it. Hear that, Davis Love?
• Flowing from Presidents Cup team to Ryder Cup team to Presidents Cup team isn’t as seamless as one might think. Only five players who played in the 2007 PC made the 2008 RC team. That number picked up to eight when it went from 2008 RC to 2009 PC, fell back to seven (2009 PC to 2010 RC), and then back to eight (2010 RC to 2011 PC).
• That’s all another way of saying that there are probably four or five players who didn’t tee it up at Royal Melbourne who’ll factor into the Medinah festivities. Here’s one man’s prediction that Gary Woodland, Anthony Kim, and Rickie Fowler will be three of them. Woodland simply brings so much to a team format such as this that Love, the American captain, should already have called for his clothing measurements. Kim got sidetracked with a thumb injury and with being his precocious self, but oh how another singles chance against Sergio Garcia would pump electricity into the Medinah landscape. As for Fowler, despite his penchant for neon green, electric yellow, and passion pink, he’s made for red, white, and blue affairs.
• On the surface, you’d think that Keegan Bradley would be in great shape for a Ryder Cup berth in 2012, given that he was the only American to win a major in 2011. But take heed: The new Ryder Cup points system, put in place in the aftermath of that K Club disaster, has not done any favors to those who win majors in odd years. For instance, Zach Johnson won the 2007 Masters, which helped get him on that year’s Presidents Cup team, but he did not make the 2008 Ryder Cup squad. (Apparently, captain Paul Azinger didn’t have a Sea Island “pod” penciled into his gameplan.) And Lucas Glover won the 2009 U.S. Open, played in the Presidents Cup that year (albeit as a captain’s pick), but did not earn his way onto the 2010 Ryder Cup team. Bradley does lead the current Ryder Cup standings, but only the four majors in 2011 earned you points as it’s now for all intents and purposes a one-year qualifying march for the Ryder Cup.
• The present system for Ryder Cup qualifying, as set up by Azinger, is intended to favor those who are playing best the year of the competition. But it hasn’t precluded rookie surprises from earning their way on – Boo Weekley and Ben Curtis at Valhalla in 2008, Bubba Watson and Jeff Overton at Wales in 2010. Two who have never been in these affairs who could surprise their way into the Medinah picture – Jason Dufner and Kyle Stanley. The former is a veteran who seems on the threshold to his first win, the latter is star-in-waiting you should familiarize yourself with.
• David Toms, such a quiet and workmanlike star at Royal Melbourne, would surely add quality to the U.S. team at Medinah. But just in case he’s been wondering, it wouldn’t present much of a conflict that week, because LSU’s game opposite the Ryder Cup is against Towson. Breathe easy, David.