I’ll go out on a limb here and say that this year’s Junior Ryder Cup, thanks to some long-awaited cohesion, will be closer than the last one.
The United States won 22-2 in 2008 in Kentucky, remember, with Europe winning only one match outright.
It was a bit of a mess, and pretty symbolic of the way the event has gone since the PGA of America decided to officially take on the “Junior Ryder Cup” moniker in 2002.
A little history lesson: The PGA conducted the “The Junior Match” for the first time in 1995, before outsourcing it to the American Junior Golf Association for the 1997 and 1999 events. (The Junior Ryder Cup, like the Ryder Cup, was postponed in 2001 to the following year because of 9/11.)
What’s been the problem? Consistency, if not communication.
In other words, one team has been stacked heavily against the other three out of the last four matches, leading to about as much drama as most of the real Ryder Cups have given us of late (not counting that last time out, of course).
• Before the 2006 matches – which ended in a 6-6 tie, the only time the Junior Ryder Cup hasn’t ended in a blowout (the Day 2 singles matches were only added in 2008) – the PGA of America’s selection system for the U.S. team was based only on points awarded for top finishes at PGA Junior Series events, PGA sectional qualifiers and the Junior PGA Championship. The result was a team devoid of most – if not all – of the top juniors in the country, names people were used to seeing at the top of American Junior Golf Association and U.S. Junior leaderboards; Europe won with scores of 9 1/2-2 1/2 (2002) and 8 1/2-3 1/2 (2004). In 2006, a couple top-ranked juniors even turned down the opportunity to go to Wales and play.
• According to European captain Gary Stangl, the European Golf Association altered its selection process before the 2006 matches in response to its lopsided victories; Accordingly, Europe’s 2006 and 2008 teams (both sides are made up of six boys and six girls) were picked exclusively from the final leaderboard at that respective year’s European Young Masters, a tournament for only players 16-and-under.
“When they started, the Europeans were older than the Americans, and then the Europeans always won by far, and then they changed it,” Stangl said in 2008.
• At the same time, the PGA of America was busy revamping its own selection process to include the country’s best juniors, with little age restrictions.
That led to a 2008 team that included the top 3 boys in the the Golfweek/Sagarin Junior Rankings and four of the top 10 on the girls’ side. (The 2004 team featured just one player in the top 20.)
There also seems to be a shift in top U.S. players adjusting their summer schedules in order to make the team, which is a big reason the Junior PGA Championship has seen better fields in recent years.
This year’s team, to compete Sept. 27-28 at Gleneagles Resort’s PGA Centenary Course in Perthshire, Scotland, (along with a 9-hole exhibition match at the grown-ups’ Ryder Cup), will consist of: the winners of the Junior PGA Championship from the last two years; the 2010 U.S. Junior and U.S. Girls Junior champions; the top boy and girls from a points list that includes AJGA invitationals, PGA Junior Series events, USGA championships, PGA section championships and select independent events; and two captain’s picks (if a player in one of the previous categories is not a member of the high school graduating class of 2011 or younger, that selection also turns into a captain’s pick).
Europe’s selection process for 2010 seems a huge step forward. This year’s team will still rely heavily on the European Young Masters, choosing three girls and three boys from the top of the leaderboard. But the other six picks will be picked by a selection committee, taking into account results in the European Girls’ and Boys’ Team Championships, national level junior championships and players’ standings in the European Amateur Golf Rankings and Ladies European Amateur Rankings; those selections will also come from the 18-and-under category.
“Two years ago some of the American players were nearly 18 years old and were playing against Europeans who were under 16,” Stengl said in a recent press release. “This year it will be more even in terms of ages and it promises to be an electrifying competition.”
As it should be.
You can’t call it a “Ryder Cup” and expect no one to care, you know.