Rude: U.S. team is deep, but not 'great' yet
CARMEL, Ind. – Davis Love III nailed his four captain’s picks Tuesday. He called the selection task tough, but from the outside it appeared easy. He needed and got respected and consistent veterans in Steve Stricker and Jim Furyk, and he needed and got 11th-hour hot players in bomber Dustin Johnson and putter Brandt Snedeker.
Love came away calling his 12-man team “great” and “extremely deep” and a “great driving team.” Little wonder then that he thinks one of his most difficult jobs ahead will be deciding which four players sit out in the four pairs sessions.
Yes, his team is deep. As for the “great” part, the matches at the end of the month will determine that. As Americans have known too well over recent decades, the Ryder Cup is played on grass, not paper.
For now, though, paper again looks good.
“I think that team might be as good as any Ryder Cup team that’s ever been for the U.S.,” Jeff Overton, a member of the 2010 squad in Wales, overstated Tuesday here at the BMW Championship at Crooked Stick.
While you can delight in Overton’s youthful enthusiasm and understand his jingoism, the 29-year-old was not yet born when the 1981 U.S. team, golf’s version of the 1927 Yankees, featured nine Hall of Famers, two other major champions and a 13-time PGA Tour winner in Bruce Lietzke. And, oh yes, won 18.5-9.5.
As happens on selection day, some focus shines on those bypassed for a team. Notables Hunter Mahan and Rickie Fowler, both on the 2010 team, were left out – and understandably so, for Johnson and Snedeker outplayed them under stretch-run pressure, as Mahan conceded while calling them “deserving” choices.
Mahan won twice early this year but has but one top-10 finish since April Fool’s Day, and that’s no joke. Like Mahan, Fowler looked like a lock in spring, for from late April to late May he had four consecutive top-10 finishes (including his breakthrough victory at the Wells Fargo Championship). But since then, he has had none and shot in the 80s three times.
Mahan said he was disappointed that he was going to “miss out on all the fun.” And then he offered this sentence several times: “It feels empty right now.”
The reason is, he views the Ryder as the “coolest experience” in golf. And he was “extremely” motivated to make the team two years after he flubbed a chip, lost the deciding match and broke into tears afterward.
“I feel I wanted to redeem myself because you feel somewhat responsible,” said Mahan, a member of the past five U.S. international teams, Ryder or Presidents.
Mahan said when Love called with the news, he didn’t ask the captain questions because he “didn’t want to know too much.” He said that he will try to somehow get motivated to play the last two FedEx Cup playoff events because “they don’t feel as important right now.”
Fowler clearly seemed less disappointed Tuesday at Crooked Stick. He said he knew he was “on the outside looking in” because of his recent scoring slump. He said he’s second-guessing his questionable decision to take time off in the summer before major tournaments with an eye on being fresh for postseason.
“I completely understand,” Fowler said of Love’s decisions. “The guys he picked, you can’t really argue with.”
Mahan and Fowler will be watching on television, if they so choose, because captain’s picks are made in September, not May. Not even in mid-August, like the old days. Captain Love is a beneficiary of having the selection date moved closer to the matches.
While Love is a Southern statesman and a respected leader, Overton on Tuesday got higher marks for Ryder candor. The beauty lay in his lack of filter.
“Let’s be honest: Stricker and Furyk had had pretty good years, and those guys probably kind of had get-out-of-jail-free cards for that thing, if you want to say that,” Overton said.
Well, we wanted Overton to say that, and say more, and he did.
“And let’s be honest: Brandt Snedeker – how do you leave that guy off the team? He is red hot, probably the best putter in the whole world right now, other than maybe (Rory) McIlroy.
“And then Dustin. I played with Dustin last week, and he was just cranking it 30 or 40 yards by me. I’m like, ‘Where did this come from? Did you get 10 yards longer in the offseason since you took your little break? So you get hurt, you come back, you’re 15 yards longer?’ I was like, wow, he is hitting it so good and he was making everything.”
Personally, I think bombers Johnson and Bubba Watson would make a scary four-ball tandem. They could scare the Europeans with their length and birdies, and probably scare their own captain at times. Whether we’ll see that is debatable, for Watson and fellow devout Christian Webb Simpson forged a nice team at the Presidents Cup last year.
But it’s worth a try, and here’s why:
A few years ago, Padraig Harrington told me that he was amazed long John Daly had never been on a U.S. team because he would have intimidated the Europeans. Love has that type of animal in Johnson and Watson, just as Euro counterpart Jose Maria Olazabal does in Nicolas Colsaerts.
Yes, Medinah is full of trees. But together Watson-Johnson could be full of birdies, or better.