AUCHTERARDER, Scotland – It’s debatable if a Ryder Cup wild-card news conference has ever been as predictable as the one that unfolded in the five-star Gleneagles Hotel.
Talk about an anti-climax. England’s Ian Poulter and Belgium’s Nicolas Colsaerts were widely tipped to get Jose Maria Olazabal’s two picks. Guess what? The European captain duly obliged.
Poulter and Colsaerts will join automatic qualifiers Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose, Paul Lawrie, Graeme McDowell, Francesco Molinari, Luke Donald, Lee Westwood, Sergio Garcia, Peter Hanson and Martin Kaymer on the trip to Medinah (Ill.) Country Club to take on the United States on Sept. 28-30.
Poulter will make his fourth appearance in the biennial contest. Colsaerts makes history by becoming the first Belgian to play in the Ryder Cup. The long-hitting 29-year-old is the only rookie on the European team.
“(Poulter) had a great Ryder Cup record. He was playing well, he had some issues early in the season,” said Olazabal. “He got ill and he couldn’t play as much as he could, but his attitude and his spirit in The Ryder Cup team has always been great. He’s one of those players that likes to be in that situation.
“I think he gets the best out of him playing The Ryder Cup.”
Poulter was a lock to get one of the wild cards. He occupied the last automatic spot after finishing third in the PGA Championship. Sergio Garcia bumped the Englishman out of the side with victory in the Wyndham Championship. However, Olazabal couldn’t pass on Poulter.
The colorful Englishman has taken the Ryder Cup to his heart in the way Olazabal did during his playing days, the way the late Seve Ballesteros did. Poulter’s description of the match underlines that. “It’s the biggest buzz in golf,” he said.
Besides, the Englishman has played in three matches and has an 8-3 record.
“If Poulter was 50th on the list, you would pick him because of the confidence of the guy,” said Colin Montgomerie, who captained Europe to victory two years ago.
Kaymer was the only player whose place on the team was in danger as the Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles unfolded. Kaymer occupied 10th place in the points table before the tournament, but did not travel to Scotland. Colsaerts could have knocked him out had he finished second or better.
Poulter also could have stolen Kaymer’s place with a 35th-or-better finish at Gleneagles.
However, Colsaerts finished joint 19th while Poulter opted to play in The Barclays Championship, ensuring Kaymer would make his second appearance in the biennial event.
Whisper it softly, but deep down Olazabal probably wished either scenario had happened. Kaymer has been in a deep slump all summer.
Olazabal could have gone with experience rather than opt for a rookie. Padraig Harrington, who has played in every Ryder Cup since 1999, was an obvious choice. However, the three-time major winner needed to win The Barclays to force his way into the side. Harrington placed joint 19th and misses out.
“(Colsaerts) had a very solid season, and on top of that, he’s made the extra effort trying to make the team. He really showed me that he wants to be a part of that team. Those are the reasons for me to pick him,” said Olazabal.
Thomas Bjorn will travel to Medinah as one of Olazabal’s vice captains. Bjorn made history in 1997 by becoming the first Dane to play in the Ryder Cup. Although he hasn’t played in the match since 2002, he is in the midst of a career revival, with three wins last season and five top 10s this campaign. No one would have been surprised had Olazabal opted to take Bjorn as a player rather than a vice captain.
Bjorn might have been a consideration had there been more rookies on the team.
Olazabal played in seven Ryder Cups from 1987 to 2006. He formed a near-unbeatable partnership with the late Ballesteros. The duo won 11 matches, lost two and halved two as a partnership. The 46-year-old Olazabal appeared on three winning teams, three losing teams and played in the halved match of 1989. He’ll be desperate to emulate Ballesteros in 1997 at Valderrama by captaining the European team to victory in probably his only tilt at the captaincy.