Everybody knows that the golf season is built around the four majors. However, in a Ryder Cup year like 2012, American and European players have a fifth major, and their motivation to make their respective teams is the X-factor that will affect where, how often and how well they play this season.
Let’s look at the Euros first. In 2010, Padraig Harrington, Luke Donald and Paul Casey were in the running for two captain’s picks. Casey lost out, so he’s got extra motivation to play well this year. Donald is now the World No. 1, so he wants to earn his way on the team. Harrington has struggled, so he’ll need to find a way to snap out of his slump or he’ll have to look for another captain’s pick this year. This is not the year to rely on a captain’s pick, either, because the competition for those 12 spots on Team Europe will be intense. Three of the vice captains from the 2010 team that won in Wales – Thomas Bjorn, Darren Clarke and Sergio Garcia – all played extremely well last season and want to be on the 2012 team.
On the American side, Tiger Woods is the big name to watch. He’s had to rely on captain’s picks for the last two U.S. team events, and that Presidents Cup pick created a headache for captain Fred Couples, who had to fend off criticism that he should have picked PGA Championship winner Keegan Bradley. Tiger doesn’t want to have to rely on a captain’s pick again; he’s got too much pride. The flip side is that Keegan Bradley will have a lot of pressure on him as well. Bradley will want to qualify for the team so he doesn’t get left home again, but more importantly to prove that he’s not a one-hit wonder. The other 2010 Ryder Cup captain’s picks have lots to prove as well. Except for the last four holes, Rickie Fowler didn’t play great golf in Wales and he needs to step up and win in 2012 to earn a spot on the team. Zach Johnson and Stewart Cink have not played well and they need to turn things around to make it to Medinah.
I expect to see new faces on the American team next year, but I am not sure who they will be. Webb Simpson looked great in 2011, but, like Bradley, he needs to show that he is not a one-hit wonder. Bill Haas and Gary Woodland too. The mark of greatness is backing up good years with more good years. Can the Class of 2011 pull that off? We’ll see.
One thing is for sure: they all want to be there. You might hear some griping from time to time, but deep down inside, every player wants a spot on these teams. To be named one of the 12 best players in your country or continent is an honor every golfer strives for. Watch closely this season and you’ll see just how badly they want it.
This article first appeared in the February 2012 issue of Golf Magazine. The February issue is on newsstands and the tablet version is available for free for magazine subscribers on iPad, Kindle Fire, Nook Tablet, Nook Color and Samsung Galaxy Tab. Learn more