Europeans send early Ryder Cup message

European Ryder Cup captain Colin Montgomerie at a Aug. 29 press conference to announce his wild card picks.

European Ryder Cup captain Colin Montgomerie at a Aug. 29 press conference to announce his wild card picks.

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Debate all you want about whether Colin Montgomerie went the best route with his three captain’s picks for the upcoming Ryder Cup. Certainly with five legitimate candidates for just three positions, there’s enough fodder to consume your time from here to the opening tee shot Oct. 1 in Wales.

But from this vantage point, the more disturbing issue is the manner in which the picks were made, i.e., the timing. Honestly, what was the big rush?

That’s a rhetorical question, of course, because the big rush is easy to explain. It was show time for the European PGA Tour, which lives for the Ryder Cup, and it mattered not in the least that Montgomerie’s announcement was going to provide some awkward moments to The Barclays clear across “the pond.” It was paramount that the European Tour bask in the spotlight, not make things better for the American PGA Tour, a point that Paul McGinley hit on when reporters asked him why the captain’s picks couldn’t have been held until Monday.

“What’s important is that we have this qualification on European terms, on European soil,” said the Irishman, one of Montgomerie’s vice captains.

By making his picks at the conclusion of the Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles, at approximately 6 p.m. in Scotland, Montgomerie was front and center at a time (1 p.m. Eastern) when the top of the leaderboard were starting to play their final rounds at The Barclays. As fate would have it, four of the five candidates were teeing off at that time: Justin Rose within five of the lead, Padraig Harrington and Paul Casey each seven back, and Luke Donald nine behind.

While it perhaps demonstrated that this final round of The Barclays didn’t matter at all in Montgomerie’s decision-making process, at least as far as the players’ chances were concerned, more significantly it showed that there remains a clear divide between the tours, that they’re not all in this together all the time.

Said McGinley: “We shouldn’t be watching what happens in America. As a tour, we should be dictating the end of our own qualification process.”

photo

Padraig Harrington, Paul McGinley and Darren Clarke celebrate after Europe wins the 2006 Ryder Cup.

That sort of us vs. them mentality, of course, is what made the Ryder Cup what it is. In another era, European golfers received very little respect globally, so the biennial competition was their chance to thump their chests and show the world – actually, the Yanks – how good they really were.

Certainly, times have changed. Europeans won two of the season’s four major championships, and a third was captured by a guy who calls the European Tour home. Three of the world’s top 10 are European-born, eight of the top 20, and when it comes to the World Cup, oh boy. Italians won it a year ago to stretch European dominance to six straight, with even Wales in the victorious mix, for goodness sakes.

All of which seems to make it abundantly clear that Europeans needn’t take a back seat to any corner of the golf world, the U.S. included. Yet with the Ryder Cup, all bets are off; it always has been and perhaps always will be seen by the Europeans as a galvanizing cause.

That’s why you shouldn’t expect them to change their tradition and push the announcement of the captain’s picks till Monday. But had they done so, it sure would have made for a better day of golf this past Sunday, a brilliant day of competition throughout the world, though much of it got overlooked.

Consider the storylines we had:

Two down with three holes to play, Edoardo Molinari went birdie-birdie-birdie to win the Johnnie Walker Championship and virtually force Montgomerie to name him a captain’s pick. . . . An unheralded Scotsman, Martin Laird, was in position to win a PGA Tour playoff event. . . . Michelle Wie triumphed for the second time on the LPGA Tour. . . . Peter Uihlein won the U.S. Amateur at Chambers Bay in a coming-out party for the 2015 U.S. Open course.

Yet what stole attention from all of that? Montgomerie’s selections. While it’s impossible to speak for the proceedings at Gleneagles, for sure the announcement made for some awkward moments at The Barclays, with more media members chasing Donald, Casey, Harrington and Rose than the guys who actually were chasing victory.

Should European Tour officials have cared about that? Perhaps not, but it’s worth noting that Barclays is a serious player in the European Tour world, too, sponsoring tournaments in Scotland and Singapore, so with friends like that. . . .

But back to Ridgewood Country Club, where four of Europe’s finest were involved in a tournament of great significance. Unfortunately, their chances were hindered by a situation that was both unprecedented and bizarre. Donald said he learned on the 10th hole that he was picked for the team, Casey and Harrington – paired together – were on the seventh, Rose fielded a phone call from Montgomerie as he hit balls on the range.

Two got good news, two got bad news, yet all four struggled with their emotions.

“It did throw me off a little bit,” said Donald, who went out in 28, heard the news, then came home in 40. Go figure, because he doesn’t know what happened.

photo

Colin Montgomerie won his singles match against David Toms at the 2006 Ryder Cup.

“I was trying to get it out of my head and just play golf. But I didn’t do a very good job on the back nine.”

As for Casey and Harrington, can you imagine how much ice must have appeared when the Irishman got a thumbs-up from his wife? No, Casey didn’t have to ask for a translation on that one.

“Caroline (Harrington’s) a great friend,” Casey said. “She would have said something to me if I had been picked.”

Exactly how did the remainder of the round go for the two European players?

“It was difficult,” Casey said.

Harrington pursed his lips, shrugged his shoulders and nodded his head.

“It was never going to be easy,” Harrington said. “My own head was swimming a bit out there. Strange enough, once I got picked, I couldn’t do much right for about five or six holes. It was an odd occasion.”

Probably, it was worst for Rose, for he started closer to the lead than his fellow Europeans. As it turns out, a 67 would have gotten him into a playoff and a 66 would have won it for him. Certainly scores of that measure were out there. Only Rose never stood a chance.

He got the disappointing news on the range, walked to the first tee and proceeded to shoot 72 and tumble into a share of 15th.

“Obviously,” Rose said, “it was a very difficult situation to deal with.”

It didn’t have to be that way, it says here.

But then again, to some, the Ryder Cup can be handled in no other manner.

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