Two things about the Ryder Cup:
One, Your team, whichever side that is, is never perfect.
Two, It doesn’t matter who’s on your team—superstars, major-winners, player of the year candidates or rookies. It matters only how they play during the Ryder Cup. History records the past, it does not predict the future… although in golf, it can be an indicator of who can handle the pressure.
When the dust settled Sunday night after The Barclays, the United States Ryder Cup team was exactly who we thought they were. Nothing changed. Rickie Fowler had a chance to crack the top eight, who qualified on points, but a poor finish left his charge unfinished.
Patrick Reed, who held down the eighth spot going into the tournament, won The Barclays and moved up, but the other qualifying players remained the same.
The scary part of this U.S. team is that three of its eight qualifiers haven’t won this year. Wait, what? And three others have only one victory. That’s pretty underwhelming. Is it important? Maybe not. See above, One and Two, for details.
Phil Mickelson, Brooks Koepka and Zach Johnson didn’t win a tournament this season. Phil, by the way, hasn’t won in 3 1/2 years. He’s the league leader in heartbreakers, though, so he’s still got more than enough game.
Jimmy Walker and Patrick Reed won only once but they were big. Walker won a major—if you’re only going to win one time, that’s the event to win. Reed came through in the last tournament when he was in danger of being bumped off the squad, at least temporarily, on points. That plus his “Ssshhh!” moment at Gleneagles two years ago made him a guy who was going to be on the team one way or another.
Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth are the only two-time winners and one of Spieth’s was the Hyundai Championship, a limited-field event for winners only that frankly ought to come with an asterisk because of its small field size.
The European team isn’t looking like Murderer’s Row this year, either, but again, that doesn’t mean much.
I’m a believer that the Ryder Cup is pretty much a putting contest, especially in the bestball and singles formats. These guys are all relatively even in ball-striking ability on any given Sunday. The Ryder Cup is all about putting and, specifically, who can putt well under pressure.
The Europeans have found some secret in that department and have been closely guarding it for years. How else to explain how not-so-green greens-men such as Colin Montgomerie, Lee Westwood, Darren Clarke and Sergio Garcia typically show up at the Ryder Cup and putt like young Ben Crenshaws? They have figured something out.
Luckily, I’m not in Davis Love’s shoes. Because I’m only a size 9, and they’d probably be way too big. Also, I don’t have to make any decisions that matter. But if I’m captain, I want hot putters.
In that case, I’m reasonably happy with my starting eight. I’ve got Spieth, the world’s best putter. Yes, he’ll be playing all five matches. I’ve got Zach and Snedeker, two other guys who are capable of running the table on the greens. I’ve got Mickelson and Walker, who are also very good. Phil was maybe the best putter from 15 to 25 feet in the modern era, along with Crenshaw, until Spieth arrived, and Walker is streaky good.
Reed has been spotty, showing flashes of brilliance. That leaves Dustin Johnson, who has greatly improved his wedge play but is still mostly an average putter, and Koepka, who also falls in the average department. From a putting standpoint, I definitely love six of the eight guys who made the team. And one of the other two, DJ, is a guy nobody on the European team wants to square off against no matter how he putts. He’s a beast.
Naturally, still wearing my DLIII face, I would like to have a couple of players get hot in August and really play their way onto the team. I’d like to know that some of my guys who were on the bubble all summer were able to suck it up and get something done under pressure. This happens every two years and typically, no Americans rise to the occasion. That’s what went on this summer, too. That was disappointing.
I can point to the last part of the selection process as what’s been the difference between these two teams for most of this century. The Americans look around and see who’s left to pick and they’ve got four openings and nobody they’re dying to add to the team. The Euros have two or three spots left and they’ve got half a dozen guys they absolutely can’t play without.
Look no further than that simplistic explanation for why the Americans are 1-6 in the last seven Ryder Cups.
You always wish somebody on your side had played better during the summer and really earned a spot. It’s the same in baseball, you always wish you had one more ace starting pitcher or bullpen star or another big bat in the lineup. It’s never good enough.
Now captain Love can survey the field and see who’s left. There are five obvious contenders for the last four spots: Fowler, who’s likely to be picked; Bubba Watson, who’s won a pair of Masters; Matt Kuchar, your Olympic bronze medalist; J.B. Holmes, one of the few Americans who’s ever played on a winning side, in 2008; and Jim Furyk, your Hartford champion and the newly minted Mr. 58.
Are you going to hold Fowler’s poor finish against him from the Barclays or blame that on Bethpage Black? Do you count on Bubba, who’s inconsistent but often brilliant, even though he doesn’t have an obvious partner in the team format? Does Kuchar’s lack of a closing kick matter, since he last won in spring of 2014? Furyk is an assistant captain—does that make him less likely or more likely to be picked? And is Holmes a better choice than one of the aforementioned?
There’s still time in the next two weeks for someone else to make a statement. Webb Simpson, Love family pal Justin Thomas, Daniel Berger, the long-lost Billy Horschel.
Davis Love has options. They’re pretty good options, relative to Ryder Cups past.
No matter who he chooses, this U.S. team isn’t going to be perfect. You can’t worry about that. You can only tell these guys to start spending extra time on the putting green. Because at Hazeltine, that’s where the Cup will be won… or lost.