Golf's scriptwriters whiff on bid for prime-time drama

U.S. Ryder Cup captain Tom Watson named Keegan Bradley, Hunter Mahan and Webb Simpson as his captain's picks Tuesday night in New York.

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If forced to give a match-play score to this day of Ryder Cup captain’s picks, it would be offered respectfully as a 3-and-2 European victory.

And that was before sitting through a New York hour that seemed as if it would never end, just to hear Tom Watson say who would round out the American side. Let’s amend the score to 4 and 3.

In what amounts to the silliest TV decision since “My Mother the Car” polluted our airwaves in 1965, the PGA of America and Golf Channel teamed to present a prime-time presentation of something that lacks a prime-time audience.

This is the Ryder Cup, for goodness sakes, not the NFL. A huge percentage of people who care feverishly for the Ryder Cup live in Europe, and they were in bed when Watson got around to telling us who’s behind Door No. 3. Nothing like a lack of respect for the other side.

The fact that Webb Simpson was behind Door No. 3 was surprising. While there are upsides to Simpson – he held strong under pressure to win a U.S. Open, he earned points in last year’s Ryder Cup and he might be the only one wearing red, white and blue who seems able to tolerate Bubba Watson’s boorishness – it unfortunately came at the expense of Chris Kirk.

Fortunately for Kirk, he knew about the snub and didn’t have to wait till the evening hour like the rest of us. Did we say what a silly idea this prime-time broadcast was?

Last we looked, U.S. Open tennis had cornered quite a bit of the New York sports media’s attention and, though neither team might catch your fancy, Red Sox-vs.-Yankees in the Bronx makes people stop and watch. Also, there are whispers about pro and college football being in full swing.

But egos being monstrous things, the PGA of America and Golf Channel went forward with this silliness for something that did not really hold massive suspense. Did anyone really think Watson could consider a trip to Gleneagles without Keegan Bradley and Hunter Mahan? For a third pick, Kirk was my guy.

Each of them seems to have the “form” that Watson consistently has talked about, so insistent that the men he picks need to have been “playing well.” In his past six starts, Bradley has two fourths among four top 20s, and 13 of his 22 scores have been in the 60s. As for Mahan and Kirk, it's hard to argue against what they’ve done in the last two weeks: Mahan won The Barclays, and Kirk triumphed Monday at the Deutsche Bank Championship.

There exist possible avenues on which you can travel to nit-pick, of course. Such as pointing out how Mahan followed his victory by nearly missing the 54-hole cut at the Deutsche Bank Championship, or how Kirk didn’t exactly assert himself in the U.S. Open-to-PGA Championship stretch. He played six times, missed two cuts and his best finish was a tie for 19th. But if some folks inside PGA of America circles were scrambling to learn more about the 29-year-old Kirk as he marched toward victory at TPC Boston, clearly they didn’t do their homework.

Kirk had done plenty to thrust himself into serious consideration even before the Deutsche Bank Championship, and here’s something they should have considered: Call former captain Davis Love III, who would have vouched for Kirk.

Kirk, a former Georgia Bulldogs star, left for Cherry Hills and the BMW Championship with significant numbers: No. 1 in the FedEx Cup standings, No. 25 in the Official World Golf Ranking and No. 5 on the PGA Tour money list. If you’re addicted to statistics, nothing about Kirk would lead you to have given him the nod. He’s neither long (83rd in driving distance), nor consistently straight (67th in driving accuracy), nor the model of precision (133rd in greens in regulation), but here’s the thing: At some point, don’t we need to toss aside the computer-crunching data and trust what our eyes see? And what I’ve seen with Kirk is a guy who knows how to play, how to manage a golf course, how to get it up-and-down, how to score.

There’s something to be liked about making the cut in 23 of 25 stroke-play events, and even more to be liked about rewarding a deserving player.

None of that, however, overpowered Watson, which is fine. His team, his rules, his conscience. But for months Watson said he would pick those who were playing well, and Simpson missed the cut in the biggest tournaments of the past two months: the Open Championship, the PGA and The Barclays. He has sprinkled in top 10s at lesser tournaments. Maybe the image of Simpson pairing with Bubba Watson for two four-ball wins was impossible to shake.

Which brings us to why it was such an easier day for the Europeans and captain Paul McGinley than the Americans and Tom Watson. Not to belabor the timing of the announcements, but McGinley and Europe getting right to it (just after noontime for them, 7:30 a.m. for us) and blurting out the names of Stephen Gallacher, Ian Poulter and Lee Westwood works wonders compared with Tuesday evening's show in New York.

No-nonsense, let’s-get-right-to-business beats the look-at-me attitude every time.

But beyond that, consider that McGinley really didn’t have heavy lifting here. Poulter was a lock. Gallacher has been faithful to the European Tour and truly did everything asked of him. Westwood has been a key member of seven Ryder Cup-winning teams out of nine tries. Methinks that’s not a coincidence.

The fact that McGinley’s only other serious candidate, Luke Donald, is himself a Ryder Cup stalwart only reinforces the notion that Europe’s team for Gleneagles appears to be an embarrassment of riches.

Watson was not so fortunate, and his job was that much more difficult. Heck, he didn’t even have what he had when he did this job for the first time, in 1993, that being a few grizzled veterans who may not have had “form” but sure had impressive, successful Ryder Cup experience. But Lanny Wadkins is 64 and Raymond Floyd is 71. They were not likely to be announced as captain’s picks this time around.

Watson again sided with Ryder Cup experience, thin as it may be, by taking Simpson over Kirk.

It’s just a shame we had to wait all day to hear it.

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