Ryder Cup 2016: Case for Scott Piercy as U.S. Captain’s Pick

September 4, 2016

U.S. Ryder Cup captain Davis Love III has a daunting job ahead of him: filling the four spots on his squad reserved for wildcard picks. Who’s on DLIII’s short list? Presumably he already has his favorites — and we have ours. Each day in the run-up to Sept. 12, when Love will announce three of his picks (he won’t name his final pick until Sept. 26, the Monday after the Tour Championship), a GOLF.com staffer will make the case for a player who deserves the nod. Up next, Scott Piercy. Who do you think belongs on the team? Let us know here.

Scott Piercy came to the 36th and final hole of U.S. Open qualifying. It was four or five years ago, maybe more, and he was still in his prime as a big hitter. I would argue that nobody on the PGA Tour could smash a ball any harder. Farther, maybe, but not harder.

It had been a tough day for him, first at Scioto Country Club and then at Ohio State University’s Scarlet Course. There had been club tosses and helicoptering. One of his wedges was fired into a greenside bunker, where it left an impression like a snow angel. There were multiple expletives. He was intense and, obviously, a perfectionist.

He appeared to have given up until the last few holes, when a friend limped out to give him a scoring update and inform him that, despite his frustrating play, he still had a shot to qualify. Why was I following him? He was grouped in a threesome with Mike Van Sickle, my son, and I was spectating.

Piercy stepped onto the Scarlet’s 18th tee. It’s a sweeping dogleg left around a thick forest of trees. The hole measures almost 440 yards from the tips but that’s following the fairway line. Piercy set up to the left. Way left. Are-you-kidding-me left?

He must’ve figured that he was two shots short of qualifying, so he decided to try driving the green at this wicked par 4. I can’t believe many guys have attempted this or even thought it was feasible.

Piercy put everything he had into the swing and launched it over the trees. Unbelievable. No one had any idea where it was. When he arrived at the green, he was once again irritated. His drive had found a greenside bunker. Still unbelievable. Piercy splashed it out and made the putt for birdie. And with that, he qualified for the U.S. Open.

Piercy is now 37 and a candidate for a wild-card captain’s pick for the U.S. Ryder Cup team. He has won three times on the PGA Tour, and he’s coming off a pair of 2s — runner-up finishes at the U.S. Open and the Bridgestone Invitational, both impressive because they were played at Oakmont and Firestone, two long, tough tracks. I’m not surprised he finally elevated his game to this level, I’m only surprised that it has taken this long. Everyone grows at their own pace, I guess. Plus, Piercy lost a couple of years after elbow surgery.

“He’s been a guy who has fought and clawed his way onto the tour,” said Rickie Fowler. “He’s a very talented player, a great ballstriker.”

Many observers believe the Ryder Cup’s match-play format demands players who make putts. But this R.C. will be played at Hazeltine National in suburban Minneapolis. It’s long and rugged. It could be wet, soft and cold, too. Hazeltine will play tough no matter the weather, but if it gets breezy and firm, look out.

Hey, can you think of anyone who plays tough courses well? He may be just what the American team needs.

Let’s talk about the putting again. That’s not Piercy’s strength. He ranks 158th in strokes gained putting, 184th in one-putt percentage and 151st in scrambling. But he ranks sixth in left-rough proximity. Which means only five players on tour drive it into the left rough less often than he does.

His ability to make birdies and hit fairways and greens might make him a good candidate in the best-ball format. He’d be the partner who’s always in play and always has a shot at birdie. A steady Eddie.

Since returning from elbow surgery, Piercy is not the same kind of bomber. But he’s not trying to be. He’s playing better golf now, smarter golf, and maybe those two weeks in June were two of his best weeks. He may not be the first player you tap for the Ryder Cup lineup, but he is a name who should be considered. USGA president Diana Murphy pronounced his name wrong during the awards ceremony at Oakmont, calling him “Purr-see” instead of Piercy.

That figures. “My whole career has been under the radar,” Piercy has said. “I think I’m respected by the players for having game.”

Maybe he should get a chance to show it off on golf’s biggest stage at Hazeltine.