In less than a week, US Ryder Cup Captain Tom Watson will fill out his roster in New York with his September 1 announcement of his three at large picks. For Watson the task has been manipulated by facts beyond his control and planning. Dustin Johnson dropped from the squad with personal demons. Tiger Woods withdrew from consideration with physical problems. Jason Dufner, next on the points list and the star of the losing American squad at Medinah, is also likely sidelined with neck problems and a performance record in 2014 lacking distinction. The one good piece of news handed Watson is the solid effort at Barclays by Matt Kuchar keeps him on the team and appearing to be his reliable self.
Against that backdrop let me presume to counsel fellow Missourian Watson with some selection advice.
Know going in this American team will be the biggest underdog in the history of the series. This is not only attributable to the somewhat pedestrian resumes of a number of the current nine but the exceptional depth and talent European Captain Paul McGinley will field at Glen Eagles. From this chair the only chance the US has to pull the upset will come from the kind of chemistry the Euro’s have shown over the last two decades in turning their US masters to US hopefuls. Think Europe at Oakland Hills in 2004.
Looking at the current qualifiers you have three distinct groups – three veterans: Phil Mickelson, Jim Furyk and Zach Johnson; three rookies: Jimmy Walker, Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed; two cycling up Tour talents; Rickie Fowler and Matt Kuchar; and then you have Bubba (Watson).
My advice to Captain Watson starts with the partnered matches that make up the first two days of the competition. Put your pairs together and then figure out who you need to fill in the gaps on the team for the ones who need a complementary skill set to make them a threat. Don’t pick the next best three players regardless of points standing. Pick the ingredients than perform the alchemy to turn straw to gold.
Furyk, despite his recent finishing issues, can probably be plugged in anywhere most effectively perhaps with any of the three rookies. Johnson was the perfect other half for Dufner at Medinah and might be a good fit for Walker’s length in the foursomes. You have to hope that Fowler’s major magic will carry over to Scotland and he can be more veteran than his record attests. He was a stalwart in Wales four years ago.
Kuchar is the wild card that can be mixed and matched with virtually anyone. He drifts off the rails sometimes within a round but he has a knack for finding a way back onto the tracks.
Mickelson has to be a cause for concern, and at the same time confidence. Good Phil was brilliant at Valhalla for the most part. Bad Phil visited corporate hospitality twice in missing the Saturday cut at Barclays.
If Mickelson can be erratic, Watson can be manic by comparison. “Bubba Golf” makes good copy but at this point looks frightening for the matches. On the plus side he has moments of electric shotmaking, a match play machine who can play eighteen without ever halving a hole. On the minus side heh as done little or nothing since the Masters, shown a pronounced disdain for golf overseas, and in my estimation, lacked a mature sense of decorum and focus at Medinah. Partnering with Bubba is like climbing aboard the best ride in the amusement park and hoping to stay strapped in.
Now to the specifics.
As mentioned, I have eliminated #10 on the list Dufner. Brendon Todd at number twelve is too much of a Patrick Reed, Jimmy Walker clone to change the personality of the team or provide a unique skill set for anybody in place. At fourteen, Chris Kirk sounds like the son of the Captain of the Enterprise and should never get a sniff. Webb Simpson is sitting fifteenth, and with a major win in his history, looks interesting until you check out his record over the summer. Ditto that for #20 Brandt Snedeker minus the major.
Ryan Moore in the eleventh spot may seem as nondescript as Todd until you consider his game. He is distanced challenged but accuracy reliable from the teeing ground. He has Zach Johnson qualities without the Green Jacket. He might be able to stay on the Bubba “bull” until the horn. For Cardinal fans he is a Matt Carpenter type.
I would bet great odds that Watson will choose #13 Keegan Bradley largely because he and Mickelson owned Medinah until they begged out of the afternoon on Saturday; a decision I still reject two years later. If the reunion works, Watson will cite history proving him right. For my part I think it is a necessary choice but one with as much downside as up.
Captains always seem to see the player they remember more than the one in the present. Lanny Wadkins put Curtis Strange on the team in 1995 at Oak Hill because he had one back to back US Opens six year earlier and they were teammates at Wake Forest with Jay Haas on the best collegiate team ever. Unfortunately, that Curtis had given way to a fading talent and it cost the US a win. Mickelson/Bradley have that same potential karma.
My last choice is Hunter Mahan but not because of the back nine at Barclays on Sunday. With six career wins he would tie Johnson for third on the US team. Mahan was an undefeated Captain’s pick by Paul Azinger at Valhalla in 2008. Most remember his flubbed chip at the 17th at Celtic Manor in losing to Graeme McDowell in singles in 2010 but he is one of the few Americans viable today with a winning record for the US. An enigmatic iron player, Mahan is eighth in total driving this year on Tour and inside five feet he ranks in the top ten. A Mahan/Patrick Reed combination has a nice vibe in my mind. At 25 on the points lists he is the sort of reach every Captain seems to like.
Let’s see what Captain Tom decides.
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