The announcement of Keegan Bradley, Hunter Mahan and Webb Simpson as Tom Watson’s captain’s selections for the U.S. Ryder Cup team confirmed some important points: 1.) It helps to be a brown-noser, 2.) Capt. Watson is even nuttier than we presumed, 3.) LeBron’s “The Decision” wasn’t as bad as we thought, 4.) Experience is more important than form, 5.) The U.S. team is stronger than most folks think.
Bradley’s selection is probably the least surprising. He was a fist-pumping, foot-stomping revelation at the 2012 Cup, going 3-1 as he formed a potent team with Phil Mickelson. He’s also said brown-noser, the only guy in contention for a captain’s pick who accepted Watson’s invitation for a scouting trip of Gleneagles ahead of the British Open. It’s a risk-reward course and Watson was dazzled watching Bradley attack off the tee.
He doesn’t seem the least bit bothered that Bradley hasn’t won a tournament in more than two years or that he missed the cut at the PGA Championship, always an important audition in a Ryder Cup year.
During the spectacularly cheesy announcement show from New York, Watson hailed Bradley’s firepower -- “He can go real low” -- and his “unbridled passion.” The U.S. hasn’t won in Europe since 1993, and Bradley woofed that he would not be overly deferential in front of the Scottish crowd.
“I’m not gonna hide any emotion,” Bradley said. “The Ryder Cup is a great example of when you can just let it go and sometimes that can make you play amazing golf.”
Mahan returns for his third Ryder Cup after having missed out two years ago. His recent win at the Barclays clearly sealed his spot on the team but Watson noted that Mahan has been swinging well for a while, leading three of his last four tournaments in greens in regulation.
Mahan lost the decisive singles match at the 2010 Ryder Cup, which he referenced Tuesday evening: “I know these guys had a tough time at Medinah. I had a tough time in 2010. We have a lot to play for.
“I think redemption is going to be a strong word among all the players. Europe has flat-out kicked our butt over the last 10-15 years. That’s just the way it is.”
If Bradley and Mahan were straight chalk, Simpson is the most second-guessable of the picks. Watson admitted he hadn’t decided until a “revelation” this morning. (It would have been awesome if he said it came while on the throne, but no such luck.)
Trying too hard to make the team, Simpson had missed the cut at the British Open, the PGA Championship and Barclays, though, in between, he top-tenned in North Carolina and Boston.
Anyone who has ever sat through Watson’s after-dinner musings knows he’s capable of losing the plot, and his justifications for picking Simpson were a tad nutty. The Cap’n apparently had a look-into-his-soul moment during “conversations” with Simpson, saying he was impressed how badly the 2012 U.S. Open champ wanted to be on the team. (Uh, doesn’t everybody?)
Watson also mentioned the solstice and seasonal biorhythms, pointing out that Simpson played great last autumn and the Ryder Cup, er, takes place in the fall. Anyway, Simpson also sounded the redemption theme, saying of the last Ryder Cup, “I’ll never forget the feeling I had watching the other team celebrate.”
So, who got snubbed? No one, really. Chris Kirk became a trendy possibility after his win at the Deutsche Bank but it was his first brush with the big-time; the 29-year-old has never had a top-10 at a major championship, and an old-school hard-ass like Watson was never going to take a flier on such an unproven commodity.
Ryan Moore has had a comparable year to Simpson but he’s not a major champion and he’s never competed in a Ryder Cup, so he’s going to have to play his way onto his first team.
Brandt Snedeker is buddies with Watson but he’s in the midst of a swing change and missing the cut in his last two tournaments was a death knell to his chances. Bill Haas has had a nice year but typically generated little heat.
To appreciate how tightly bunched Watson’s candidates were, check out their World Ranking points accrued in 2014. Mahan ranked 20th (157.17), Bradley 23rd, (126.86), Kirk 25th (163.33), Haas 31st (113.70), Simpson 32nd (91.08), Snedeker 37th (78.87) and Moore 40th (78.35).
The stat also helps refute the widespread belief that the European team is deeper than the Americans. (It’s certainly not more top-heavy, as the U.S. has seven players among the top 15 in the World Ranking to Europe’s five.) Paul McGinley picked the guy who was 33rd on the list (Stephen Gallacher, 149.75), as well as 36th (Ian Poulter, 45.99) and 38th (Lee Westwood, 95.80). So, the American captain’s picks are stronger than their counterparts, at least on paper.
Of course, predictions are dicey because the Ryder Cup is its own unique spectacle. We got another reminder of this with Tuesday’s made-for-bad-TV announcement show, during which Watson and PGA of America president Ted Bishop bantered awkwardly on a stage in front of a crowd so torpid they must have been hypnotized by Bishop’s gaudy star-spangled socks. Now that the Ryder Cup teams are filled out, more pressing questions can be addressed.
Like, what’s Simpson’s astrological sign?