Published September 04, 2012
NEW YORK – Davis Love III faced a tough decision when he filled out his Ryder Cup team with four picks, no different from the previous 11 U.S. captains.
What helped is that he couldn't go wrong.
Steve Stricker and Jim Furyk were locks all along, and Dustin Johnson became impossible to ignore when his game rounded into shape over the past two weeks. Brandt Snedeker was the final choice over Hunter Mahan, but really, it could have gone much deeper.
"He was in a no-lose situation," said Paul Azinger, the 2008 captain who was behind the changes of picking four players instead of two.
"He could have picked Hunter, Bo Van Pelt or Nick Watney and not gotten slaughtered. He maybe could have picked Rickie Fowler and not gotten slaughtered. Really, has it ever been the case when you could look at 18 names and all 18 names would have been OK?"
The focus Tuesday from Times Square was on the four guys added to the American team. Not to be forgotten are the eight guys who previously earned a spot on the team. This might be the most talented U.S. team since 1999 at Brookline, where the Americans staged the greatest comeback in Ryder Cup history.
"I think we are extremely deep this time, I think deeper than we have ever been," Love said.
The eight players who qualified have combined for 12 wins on the PGA Tour, including two majors (Bubba Watson and Webb Simpson), a World Golf Championship (Keegan Bradley) and The Players Championship (Matt Kuchar).
Even so, the strength is best measured by who won't be at Medinah.
The Americans are finally starting to look like the European team, which has won six of the past eight times in the Ryder Cup. What made the Europeans look so strong in Wales two years ago was not so much the guys who made the team, but those who got left out — Sergio Garcia, Paul Casey, Justin Rose.
Check out that U.S. team from 2010. It had four players who hadn't won a tournament all year, and three of them were captain's picks because Corey Pavin didn't have many options from which to choose (except for Tiger Woods because, well, he's Tiger Woods).
Now consider the players Love left behind.
Mahan has won twice this year, including the Match Play Championship when he built a 4-up lead through 10 holes and beat Rory McIlroy, Europe's best player. Mahan was leading the Ryder Cup standings after the Masters and still couldn't make the team. Part of that speaks to Mahan's form, another part to the quality of the U.S. team.
Fowler finally got his first PGA Tour win — in a playoff over McIlroy (and D.A. Points) at Quail Hollow — and didn't come close to making the team. Nick Watney won The Barclays, one of the strongest fields of the year.
"Davis had an enviable and difficult time," said Curtis Strange, another former captain. "He had a lot of good players. Can't go wrong there."
Then again, Love's picks were never going to determine the outcome in the Sept. 28-30 matches.
That's never the case.
Strange gets maligned for going 0-3 at Oak Hill in 1995, losing the last three holes against Nick Faldo in a 14½-13½ win for Europe. Then again, Peter Jacobsen, Jay Haas and Brad Faxon all came to the 18th with a chance to earn points and missed crucial putts.
There have been rumblings that Snedeker was helped by having a winter home at Sea Island, the longtime home base of Love, along with being in the same management group as Love and having the same equipment sponsor.
"That's probably made it harder on me," Snedeker said over the weekend.
Strange has lived through that kind of gossip.
He had won the U.S. Open at Oak Hill and was playing well when Lanny Wadkins picked him 1995, even though he was down the list.
"There was this argument about a good ol' boy network, a couple of guys from Virginia," Strange said. "The truth is, I never had dinner with Lanny once in my life except at the Ryder Cup, and even then I didn't want to have dinner with him."
Even so, Strange said he felt more pressure than usual on the final day because he knew people questioned the pick, and because he had lost both his foursomes matches.
That won't be the case for any of these picks. Mahan, while deeply disappointed, couldn't find anything wrong with Love taking Snedeker and Johnson.
"Brandt and Dustin just outplayed me at the end of the day," he said. "I just didn't play good enough. And that's OK. It's OK to get beat by somebody. That's part of golf."
What intrigued Strange about the picks Tuesday was how Love said he was looking for good putters and to "plug holes." Strange made what some considered a curious selection in 2001 when he took Scott Verplank, the first captain's pick to have never played in the Ryder Cup. Strange wanted someone for foursomes, and few players combined accuracy off the tee and great putting better than Verplank.
He went 2-1. His only loss was when he and Scott Hoch lost on the 18th hole to Colin Montgomerie and Bernhard Langer, one of Europe's strongest teams which lost only one out of the seven matches they played.
Azinger was No. 22 in the standings when he was picked in 2001, and it didn't help that the matches were postponed one year by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
By the time the Ryder Cup rolled around one year later, he was out of form. He and Woods lost the opening match, and Azinger didn't play again until singles. He was in the eighth spot, where the Ryder Cup is often decided, and dreading it.
Azinger managed — barely — by holing a bunker shot on the 18th to earn a halve against Niclas Fasth and at least delay Europe's celebration.
"I made a 10-footer on the 17th with Europe around the green ready to pop the cork," he said. "I miss it and they win. I still think it's the greatest putt I ever made."
His advice to Love would be to not put a captain's pick anywhere around No. 8 through No. 11 in the Sunday lineup unless "you believe in your heart" he can handle it.
Based on this year's team, that shouldn't be a problem.