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Ryder Cup Mailbag

We’re less than a week away from Davis Love III making the first three of his four captain’s picks, and about three weeks away from the opening tee shots (still waiting on Webb’s opener from 2014 to land by the way). I rounded up some twitter questions, and spent way too much time answering them below in what is Part 1 (of hopefully two parts) of the Ryder Cup Mailbag.

A lot of people are asking for my captain’s picks. I’ll give out what I would do at the same time that Love will be announcing his. I was clamoring for the US to change their system to allow them to make their picks as late as possible, and I’m on board with their approach so to name all four picks at this point would be premature. A lot can change over these coming weeks, and as I’ve said plenty of times, on September 7, 2014, no one was clamoring for Horschel to be on the team, and by the week of, we were incredulous that he was not wearing the stars and stripes. But of course, I’m going to break down all of my thoughts on the picks below.

If this is not sufficient, I spent an hour and a half chatting with Shane Ryan on the Friends of Tiger podcast last week talking nothing but the Cup.

Mailbag

I’m not gonna go full Bush 2003 and declare “Mission Accomplished” (you NEVER go full GWB), but I really want to think that we are safe now. I’ve already pleaded my case on why Furyk has absolutely no business being on this team, and I’m hoping his uninspiring performances in the FedExCup playoffs have sealed his fate. If you go 10-20-4 in the EPL, you get relegated. You get sent to an entirely different league. But if you’re an American Ryder Cupper, you get to be one of the captains… and maybe even a captain’s pick!

However, Love has mentioned his name enough times to scare us into thinking that we could see Furyk tee it up for the 10th time (for future reference, we will call it Not So Fast, Very Furious 10: Minnesota Drift), and he’s thrown in some Trump like logic when inaccurately stating how well he’s playing. In reality, he’s actually had his worst season (by the strokes gained measure, which is an average) since strokes gained became a stat, which should be qualify him to be forced to wear a hazmat suit on the premises to make sure his radioactive presence doesn’t infect any of the other players. He’s 37th in strokes gained average among Americans! And in the seasons where he’s actually been a great stroke play player (and there are many of them), he’s been at minimum one of the five worst Ryder Cup players ever.  Ejected. Get him out of here.

One thing we do know is that Love has to pick him next Monday, or that he won’t be on the team. His season is over, and he has to save the last spot for someone that shows out at the Tour Championship, or else he basically defeats the purpose of the Horschel Rule. I just can’t see him locking himself to Furyk’s wagon with still so many guys out there right there on the edge (Moore, Berger, Woodland) that could really force his hand at East Lake.

The last note I’ll make on this is that a source close to the situation has told me that he really does not think that Furyk is going to be picked. This is hardly a confirmation, but this source was right on information he gave me on the Presidents Cup picks last year, so let’s hope he or she is on top of it again.

Combining these two questions here.

Let’s start by saying that I don’t think Kuchar, Bubba, Fowler, or Furyk for that matter would qualify as sleepers. How you and I define a sleeper may vary greatly from the next person, but for the purpose of this exercise, I’ll say Woodland, McGirt (don’t laugh), Moore, and Berger are your main sleeper candidates. I’ll talk more down below as to why I think strokes gained is a way better way to fill in your team than the current points system, but these guys stack up quite favorably with a lot of guys already on the team in that regard. The eight automatic qualifiers rank as follows:

Strokes Gained Q's

One of those things is not like the other, and has done nothing this season to warrant being on the team, but that’s none of my business (and has already been covered).

Here’s how the top non-qualifiers rank:

Strokes Gained Non-Q's

(One notable that is cut off is Justin Thomas, who sits at 53rd. More on him below.)

So over the course of the entire season, Rickie, Kuchar, and Bubba have been the best at beating the field out of all the non-automatic qualifiers. When Love makes his picks next Monday, this is who I think he’s going to go with (although, there’s a nugget below on the Holmes question which says that they are not high on Bubba). I have a hard time arguing against it. While their results may appear uninspiring, they are consistently outperforming their peers (which tells me a lot more about their seasons than the arbitrary points system does).

Yes, combined, those three have rather atrocious Ryder Cup records (Fowler is 0-3-4, Bubba is 3-8, and Kuchar is 4-6-2). If it were me, that record would matter more to me if I was looking much further down the list for their names. For instance, if Fowler is sitting where Webb is sitting in the standings, and I see that fat zero in the win column, the combination of those two factors has him snapchatting the Ryder Cup from Jupiter and not from Minnesota. Of these three, I think Bubba is the only guy who truly has his record working against him.

It would be interesting to see what a strokes gained stat for the second half of the year would look like. I’m not capable of producing that, but this guy has created one that includes numbers since the PGA Championship. This helps Fowler, Moore, Kisner, Na, and Woodland, hurts JB and Kuchar a lot, and Bubba a little. But if Love wants the guys that have been the best over the course of the year, and have experience in the Ryder Cup (for whatever that is worth), then he’s going with Fowler, Kuchar, and Bubba.

Now for the sleeper, I don’t think he will, or should go past the Woodland, McGirt, Berger, and Moore names mentioned above.

I’m surprised that I’m not more intrigued by seeing Woodland’s name at the top of this list. I’m a Woodland fan, but used to be a much bigger one. Pre-NLU days, he was my 2010-2011 version of Brooks Koepka – incredibly long, swaggy, and just oozing potential from an impregnable frame. But since his breakout 2011 campaign, he’s been borderline forgettable, and even during this solid 2015-2016 season, I have exactly zero memories of Woodland doing anything noteworthy the entire season (probably because he has just two top-10’s on the season). That surely says more about me than it does about him, and he makes a ton of sense for a long course, but it just doesn’t seem like he’s done enough to warrant a pick.

I think the pick is going to go to whoever is the hottest of these four guys, and they’re most likely the ones. I’m not counting out the Na-Chappell-Horschel trio sitting there just a few spots back, but it will likely take a win for one of those guys to fully get Love’s attention.

I’ll close this by briefly mentioning Justin Thomas. This is where you’re expecting me to lobby for him to be on the team, but I’m not going to do that. I was shocked to see how far down he was on the strokes gained list, and while I know that does not mean he wouldn’t thrive in this environment, it’s hard for me to say that he’s been a consistent enough player to be trusted on the team. I only mention him here because, similar to Furyk, DL3 seems to say his name at every possible press conference, and if Thomas has a hot finish these last two events, it absolutely can happen. People I’ve talked to close the situation have told me that Love wants to pick him badly.

Usually I’m thinking of this from the US side when I say that I don’t put much value in experience. The only Americans that even remotely showed out at Gleneagles were rookies, and over the past decade or so, the US records of the rookies and veterans have been generally a wash (a slight advantage even to the rookies, if I remember right…. not gonna recalculate this one).

From the European side, they of course have a ton of guys with fantastic records from their two decades of dominance. But what I don’t see are guys with great records that were snubbed for this team that strike fear in me. Poulter? Injured, and I actually wish he was there. He was awful in 2014, and I would love to see Reed bludgeon him again. Donald? Haha.

The Euros still have their core four that have incredible Ryder Cup records and great experience. They’ve quietly kept a revolving door open the last decade that has included the likes of Steven Gallacher, Jamie Donaldson, Peter Hanson, Nic Colsaerts. Ross Fisher, the flying Molinaris, Robert Karlsson, Thomas Levet, and David Howell. And they’ve still managed to stack trophies on the reg. So I’m going to say the experience factor for this year’s event is mostly irrelevant.

Moore. J.B. has not really had a strong season, is not in good form, and doesn’t really strike me as a guy that will play great in Minnesota in (what could be) cold weather in October. Overall, he’s 33rd among Americans in strokes gained this season, and comes in even colder, having missed three straight cuts after the Open Championship, which cost him his automatic spot.

Hitting it far is great. Hitting it close to the hole with your second shot is even better. Holmes actually loses shots to the field with his approaches, while Moore ranks 35th. Moore also putts it a lot better when he’s on the green. Holmes is a truly elite driver of the golf ball, but you’re not sending out a one sided player like that in foursomes, and this team already has enough guys that fit the “only send him out in four-ball” mode. So for me, between those two, I’m taking Moore.

One more nugget I’ll share is that I know that both Love and at least one assistant captain really like Holmes (and are not high on Bubba), and that they aren’t necessarily looking for a guy that gets hot in the playoffs. The first part, I have a problem with, for the reasons states above. Other than perhaps camaraderie or cohesiveness reasons, I don’t know what Holmes gives you that Bubba doesn’t. Bubba hits it just is far, and is much more rounded than Holmes is, so I’m not sure what the justification there is.

The second part, I do agree with. A hot finish to the season doesn’t mean you’ll ball out in the Ryder Cup. But it also means to me that they’re leaning towards someone from the good ole boy network, rather than taking a flyer on a guy like Berger. Which I’m obviously not keen on.

Figuring out the team has always been fun to me, but for some reason, figuring out pairings has never interested me as much. If you have the better team, I have a hard time seeing a captain screw up the pairings so bad that it costs you significantly (even if Hal Sutton and Tom Watson tried his best to prove this statement wrong). Additionally, it’s hard for an outside observer to truly understand the complications of the player relationships, so in this regard I trust the captains to make the pairings way more than I do to make the proper selections for the actual team.

That being said, I think the foursome combinations are tough to figure out, and more important than the four ball, so I’ll at least take a shot.

Pairing 1: Reed/Spieth – I’m sending these two out together until it stops being wildly entertaining, or until Tom Watson comes parading down the fairway and runs them both over with a golf cart.

Pairing 2: Koepka/DJ – Bombers. Similar players with similar tendencies. Similar DGAF personalities. Would be an automatic advantage if a 2-on-2 basketball tournament broke out. Pairing just makes sense from every angle.

Pairing 3: Phil/Fowler – The legendary Tuesday partnership takes it to the big stage. Phil playing the role of the overexcited father that gets a little too jazzed up when his son hits an infield single. Rickie will probably be sporting a mullet. I can already hear the echoes reverberating across the Gopher State when Phil stuffs one from the rough on the opening hole. Also this separates the Walker/Fowler pairing that has been wildly unsuccessful at both the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup but somehow still keeps happening.

Pairing 4: Sneds/ZJ – Hiding them in the back to make sure too much energy doesn’t get zapped. These two are going to be on the team, and are not going to sit out the entire first day, so you’ve gotta send them out in foursomes. ZJ won two foursomes matches the last time he was on home soil, and plays a similar grind it out style to Sneds. Throw this pairing out there, hope you don’t get the Rory/Sergio or Rose/Stenson pairing opposite them, and pray for a half point.

Webb Simpson would be texting DL3 from his couch, volunteering to be on the next flight so he could be on that tee and accept that offer from Rory. ZJ would offer to make it 3&2. Reed would take a 25 pound dumbbell from the gym, put it in his own bag, and carry it around for 36 doing military presses in between in each shot to show Rory that’s he better than him at both golf and lifting.

I think 100% captain’s picks would be a bit messy. It won’t ever happen, and it seemingly puts a lot of power (and subsequent pressure/blame) on the shoulders of the captain.

I think six automatic qualifying spots would be great, and six captain’s picks. Again, unrealistic, but the six automatic spots should go to the guys that played the best golf for that season. To me, that’s the top six in strokes gained. Zach Johnson making the team because he won a tournament six time zones away, 14 months ago, on a style of course completely opposite of Hazeltine makes absolutely no sense (I explained how silly, arbitrary, and volatile the points system can be here).

I just don’t understand the point of giving away so many spots automatically. Would Sneds be on this team if he didn’t qualify on points? Why saddle the captain with a guy that he maybe wouldn’t have picked for the team himself? At least if you use the system I proposed above, you’re guaranteeing six spots to the six best performers (by measure of the best statistic that we have to measure that), rather than a points system that is specifically designed to protect a certain type of player (the veteran with a more selective schedule). Sure, we view majors with more importance than regular tour events, but are they really a great indicator of how well you will play in a Ryder Cup? Should they (when you factor in that the purses are larger, and double points are available in these events) count for almost triple the points of a regular tour event? I would say no.

I think that terrifies me. But it doesn’t seem that likely.

The Euros seem to pair their stalwarts together, and Rory almost never gets paired with the rookies. In 2014, he played three times with Sergio, and once with Poulter. In 2012, he played three times with McDowell, and once with Poulter. In 2010, three times with McDowell. Rory and Sergio went 1-1-1 in 2014, but I’m guessing we see them together again, and also the formidable Rose/Stenson pairing as well (3-0 together in 2014).

These matches are going to be huge. If the US can somehow play Rory/Sergio and Rose/Stenson neutral, they should win the cup. Despite some rather uninspiring play this season, I like the U.S. team’s depth at 5-12 more than I do Europe’s, and guys like Andy Sullivan, Chris Wood, and Rafael Cabrera Bello should (I repeat, should) be quite beatable. Keep those top four from going full Poulter 2012 and the cup should be ours, and if you can somehow beat them, this thing shouldn’t be close.

Rory vs. Reed would be the most exciting from an emotional standpoint. Just imagine for a second that Patrick Reed makes a 15 foot birdie on a sudden death hole to win the Ryder Cup on home soil. No one likes to exaggerate hypothetical Reed scenarios more than I do, but I want to ask, what would Reed actually do if this happened? I truly believe he would run right up to the Euro team standing greenside, and bob each one of them on the head like the bash brothers did to the Iceland bench in D2. Then he’d take his putter and throw it like a javelin through a clubhouse window.

OK, fun’s over. If this were the format, I’m guessing the power rankings of who DL3 would send out there would start with Spieth, and go no further than DJ.

This format would be too much for me to handle as a fan. I would be curled up in a ball on the floor watching from in between tiny gaps in my fingers. Bernhard Langer can win every Champions Tour event for the next twenty years and he’s still going to be known for his deciding missed putt in 1991. I would hate to see someone else get Mahan’d in the most public and excruciating way possible, and have that moment define their career.

#NeverFuryk.

About the Author

Inventor of #TourSauce, always waits for the green to clear, and club twirl savant.

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