Who To Pick
When Tom Watson was named Ryder Cup captain of the United States Ryder Cup team for 2014, I was thrilled as a fan of the game, and an American. No nonsense, no close connections to eligible players, no worry about results affecting any legacy. It was a brilliant move by the PGA, highly unconventional, but who needs convention when history shows nothing but European wins.
What I was disappointed in was Captain Watson removing some of his own power in limiting himself to three picks outside of the 9 automatic qualifiers. I wanted more gut feelings, artistry in assembling a team, from one of the all-time competitors. Now? I feel sorry for Watson. His team will head to Gleneagles as, possibly, the biggest US underdog in Cup history (4 European team members are currently ranked ahead of any US player in the World Golf Rankings – the top ranked American is Jim Furyk, which I didn’t see coming, did you?). Couple that with a Dustin Johnson lifestyle suspension, a Jason Dufner bulging disc and a Tiger Woods “it’s not you, it’s me” removal from consideration, and it is slim pickins to put together a full squad.
So, the biggest storyline now, even with the FedEx Cup ($67 million!!) getting started, is who will those final 3 picks be. Because a) everybody has an opinion and b) I love Power Rankings, here is my list of US hopefuls to make the squad that will shock the world (we can dream right?):
1, 2, 3, 4 & 5 – Keegan Bradley (13th in Final Points)
Technically, Bradley is top 3 of the “outside looking in” crowd because we’ve removed The Duff (10th, last out, in final standings) from consideration. We generally don’t get insight into who was the first captain’s pick, but this will be Watson’s. He brings emotion, a 3-1 record from Medinah and a good run of late (T4 at US Open, Greenbrier & Bridgestone). The MC at Valhalla stings a little, but he’s arguably the best driver in America (11th on Tour in Total Driving). He also is a good teammate by all accounts, obviously has a sweet partnership with Lefty (although I’d love to see Phil with Rickie a bit), and despite tinkering with the anchored putting stroke this year, was 21st in Total Putting. Oh, and he makes birdies. Why am I making an argument for Keegan here? It’s done. He’s on the team. No debate.
[He also accompanied Captain Watson to a practice round at Gleneagles in case you have doubt]
2 – Webb Simpson (15th in Final Points)
This one is so weird for me. A month ago, when it looked like the picks would need to include a lot of names that made you squirm, I felt like Webb was a lock. He was Top 10 for much of the year in FedEx Cup points, he has Ryder Cup experience, yada yada yada. It felt like the obvious, smart, safe pick. I even told Paul Tesori, Simpson’s caddie, that it was a done deal and he hinted that there was some conversations between possible player and possible captain when paired together at Greenbrier. Here are your other reasons: 10th in strokes gained putting and he was a closer this year, ranking 15th and 8th in third and fourth round scoring average this season (averaged under 70 for the weekend all year). While Simpson doesn’t strike you as a stone-faced killer on the course, this team needs a little historical edge to go into enemy territory. I think this is a safe bet.
3 – Brendon Todd (12th in Final Points)
If you don’t have captain’s picks, he makes the team on merit, which is crazy to think about. He was ranked 186th in the world on January 1st and is #41 as of today. You can make a case that he was the hottest American player for a good stretch of the summer: He has missed one cut since the Tour left Florida. Since winning in I’m-not-scared-of-winning fashion at the Nelson, he went T5, T8, T17, T5, T4. But now the but… No top 30s since the first week of July, including a whimper of a finish at the PGA after sitting atop the leaderboard early on Thursday. You get the feeling that if he is the last pick, he needs to show form in New Jersey and Boston while Watson still evaluates. Putting wins Ryder Cups, right? Todd is 6th in strokes gained putting. Jeff Overton made a Ryder Cup team as the from-nowhere hot hand. Give me Brendon Todd. Besides, in the year of Georgia Bulldogs, we need a four-year Dawg on this squad (Bubba and Reed had briefer stays)
4 – Brandt Snedeker (20th in Final Points)
Lots of love in the Sneds fan club and I just don’t get it. But, where there is smoke (everybody is practically giving him a spot on the team), there must be fire, so I put him here to avoid total embarrassment when I am wrong with my top 3. What Brandt has done is stolen Brendon Todd’s heat. Since the British, Snedeker has 14 of 16 rounds in the 60s and four straight top 25 finishes. The swing change appears to be settling in. While his putting wasn’t as amazing as we expect from him, he was still a top 20 roller on Tour this year. His ball striking from tee to green was ‘bleh’ for the year, but it’s getting better. He makes the team because he can putt, he’s playing well and you know what you’ll get. He won’t play in every session, but could you argue with Bradley, Simpson, Snedeker? Not really.
5 – Kevin Na (17th in Final Points)
I’m not joking. You want a putter? Check. (30th in strokes gained putting and near automatic inside 10 feet) Precision iron player? Check. (Top 10 on tour in proximity from 125-175 yards) You want hot play? Check. I have to give all of the credit to Rob Bolton on this, but nobody who isn’t already qualified for the US team accrued more World Golf Ranking points in 2014 than Na. Not even my boy, Brendon Todd. I say we throw both Todd and Na on the team, and put them out against McIlroy and McDowell and see if we can simply suck the life out of the match to a USA win!
6 – Ryan Moore (11th in Final Points)
With Dufner’s injury, Moore is unofficially the first one out in the point standings, and yet I don’t think I’ve seen anybody give him a shot of making the team. This is weird to me because, until Patrick Reed made us aware of how good his match play record was historically, Moore was the guy with the amateur resume that can’t get no respect. Hasn’t missed a cut since May, which includes three top 10s of late. You want numbers? I’ve got numbers: 9th in birdies, crazy accurate (14th in fairways and 12th in greens), and on a team that will dominate Par 5s, how about having the guy who led the Tour in Par 3 birdies and was 5th in Par 4 birdies? We need to start the ‘We Need Moore’ campaign now, right?!
So, there you have my top 6 to consider. I sooooo wanted to put Harris English on the list because he is a star waiting to be a star, but nothing inspiring of late inspired me. It’s an impossible situation for Captain Watson, made a bit “easier” with Phil qualifying and Tiger disqualifying, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see 3 “veteran names” added to boost the squad that will be breaking Spieth and Reed into Ryder Cup battles.