European captain Thomas Bjorn has certainly played it safe in his bid to win back the Ryder Cup.
Selecting Paul Casey, Ian Poulter and Henrik Stenson made perfect sense. But adding Sergio Garcia’s name to that list suggests Bjorn has been too conservative. Rafa Cabrera Bello, Matt Wallace and Thomas Pieters might think so.
Can Bjorn be blamed for choosing Garcia considering the hand he’d already been dealt? With five rookies already on his squad, Wallace had no chance despite winning the last qualifying event, the Made in Denmark, with the sort of golf needed in a Ryder Cup. Wallace, 28-year-old Englishman birdied seven of his last eight holes to win.
The last thing Bjorn needed was another rookie. Bjorn was a vice-captain to Darren Clarke two years ago at Hazeltine, when a European team with six rookies lost to a powerful U.S. side.
Lack of experience can’t be levelled at Cabrera Bello and Pieters. They impressed in their debuts two years ago. Pieters was 4-1, while the Spaniard won 2 ½ points out of 3. Yet they lost out to Garcia on spurious grounds.
Besides vast experience, Bjorn opted for Garcia because of a mysterious intangible.
“Sergio is the one that will stand up in the middle of the room and they will listen to,” Bjorn said. “He’ll be the one for me that is Ollie (Jose Maria Olazabal), Seve (Ballesteros) in the old days. Now it’s Sergio. That’s what he is and there’s not many of those people. There’s not many of those people that stand up in front of their peers one week every two years and make everybody better. That’s a massive quality to have and it’s something, as a captain, I feel like I can’t look away from.”
Yet Garcia’s pick flies in the face of Bjorn’s statement earlier this year about picking players running into form. Garcia has none compared to Pieters and Cabrera Bello. Garcia’s performances this year prove that, with seven missed cuts in his last 12, including all four majors, and no appearance in this year’s FedEx Cup.
Bjorn has been around long enough to know past performances don’t guarantee future success. He saw that two years ago with Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer. Both were captain’s selections to bring experience to the European team. They bombed badly. Westwood went 0-3. Kaymer was 1-4-0, with his win coming in the singles when the contest was already over.
Of course, these aren’t the only two “experienced” players who didn’t deliver in the Ryder Cup. Lanny Wadkins picked 40-year-old Curtis Strange for the 1995 match at Oak Hill and Strange did a Westwood by going 0-3. The two-time U.S. Open champion lost a crucial singles match to Nick Faldo despite being one up with three to play. Strange bogeyed the final three holes to hand Faldo the match and, ultimately, Europe the Ryder Cup. A half point from Strange and the U.S. would have retained the trophy.
Bjorn believes another intangible lifts Garcia, the 2017 Masters winner: playing in his ninth Ryder Cup.
“This is going to give him a boost to play good enough golf to be on the Ryder Cup team,” Bjorn said.
It didn’t work for Strange, Westwood or Kaymer. The cauldron of a Ryder Cup is not the place for anyone, even Garcia, to find his game.
Sports Illustrated ran a “Wrong Man, Wrong Time” headline that practically blamed Strange for the 1995 loss. European golf fans will be hoping the same isn’t said about Garcia 23 years later. Gwk