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Davis Love III Selects Ryan Moore With His Final Ryder Cup Captain’s Pick, But How Did We Get Here?

On Sunday night, Davis Love III and the US Ryder Cup team announced that they would be using their fourth and final captain’s pick on Ryan Moore following his runner up finish to Rory McIlroy at the Tour Championship earlier that day. The pick makes a lot of sense in many ways, but how we got there is a bit of a circus.

Following the disaster that was the 2014 Ryder Cup, the PGA of America instituted what is naturally known as “The Horschel Rule.” Billy Horschel won the 2014 BMW Championship, Tour Championship, and FedExCup after Tom Watson’s captain’s picks were already decided, and an uproar ensued. The U.S. team was demolished 16.5-11.5, and while Horschel could not have saved that team (neither could Tiger in his prime), it was clear that some improvements in player selection could be made. So when the Ryder Cup task force put together a new selection process, they increased the number of captain’s picks from three to four, and announced that the fourth and final pick would be made after the Tour Championship, a week before the event.

The Horschel Rule

In 2014, all three captain’s picks were made on September 2, with two full tournaments remaining (the BMW Championship and the Tour Championship) in the season, and the top 70 players from the FedExCup standings still vying for that $10 million prize. The possibility of a player catching fire after the picks were already made was very real, and when it happened, the task force wanted to make sure this disaster never occurred again. In comes the Horschel Rule, and the problem is solved, right? Well, no.

When they put the rule in, I was all for it. I’m a proponent for setting up the team as late possible to make a best effort to fill out the roster with a combination of guys in great form, and guys that you’re bringing with you to battle regardless of what kind of form they are in.

But the scenario in 2016 would play out much differently than the one 24 months prior. Directly following the first three selections, which were made after the Deutsche Bank Championship on September 11th of this year, there was a scheduled break in the PGA Tour season. While the thought of identifying a hot player clearly has logic, this “rule” that was established made a lot more sense with the 2014 schedule, with the season and Tour Championship ending two weeks before the Ryder Cup, than it did with the one in 2016.

The only additional information you gain in those extra two weeks before you make the final selection is their result from the 30 man Tour Championship in Atlanta. The PGA Tour’s grand finale event is effectively turned into a play-in game for the final spot, and when Ryan Moore showed out, Love’s hand was forced.

For all the changes that the task force and the PGA of America have claimed to make in the last two years, the one thing they’ve been adamant about is that they have a plan in place. But how much of a plan can you have in place, when your team is not complete less than five days before the first matches? What occurred on Sunday night, both in the public’s eye and behind the scenes, showed that this Horschel rule caused them a lot more trouble than they had originally anticipated.

Saturday Night

I floated it out on Saturday night that it appeared that Bubba was going to get the final captain’s pick. I’m not an insider, and I know people like to roll their eyes at anonymous sources, and I totally understand why. No one likes word of mouth “reports”, but I felt that I had some very solid information that was well worth sharing. Bubba obviously did not end up getting chosen, so please feel free to take any or all of this with every grain of salt that you wish to.

I was told on Saturday night that the Bubba pick was “100% done.” And I was shocked. As of 24 hours before that, I was told that JT was the front runner, and in my mind, I had already ruled Bubba out.

To me, the even more interesting part of this news was that apparently Tiger had flexed his muscle to get Bubba on the team, and had “thrown a fit to get his way.” Previously unaware of any relationship between Bubba and Tiger (other than Gerry buying Cat’s old house), I was skeptical to say anything about this on twitter. But not because I didn’t trust the information. I was just not convinced that these guys were done changing their minds.

And they weren’t.

Sunday Night

Phil Mickelson had the following to say at his press conference after his round on Sunday:

“It might have been a mistake to wait this long for the final pick, probably. It’s kind of hard to get all the game plans and so forth in sync when the team is not quite finalized, but those are all little details.”

Around 6:30 PM ET (12:30 AM my time) on Sunday evening, I got word that the Moore situation (final round 64) made things a lot more complicated, but the captains were in the process of finding a way to still pick Bubba, and “explain Ryan Moore away.” As Moore was still in the playoff, a person close to the decision making process said that, as of now, it was still 90% that Bubba was going to be the pick!

To me, combined with the Phil quote above, this was an indication that their minds had already been made up going into the week on who the pick was going to be, and if Love had the ability to make that fourth pick on September 11th, he would have so he could have avoided this disaster. But with what was unfolding on the course, a public firestorm was looming, and the rage was already boiling over on twitter. What was the purpose of holding off on the final pick if you weren’t going to take the hottest hand? It wasn’t at the 2014 Horschel level, but the people clearly wanted the final pick to go to Moore.

Being on European time, I shut off the TV around 1:30 AM with alarms set for two hours later to catch the announcement at halftime of the Sunday Night Football game, and to see people lose their minds over the Bubba pick. I awoke to an alarming number of messages, and in this complete daze, spent ten minutes trying to comprehend the fact that Arnold Palmer had just passed away (I was convinced I was still in a weird dream/nightmare state, but that’s a story for another time). At the same time, I had several messages saying that the captains had changed their mind, and they were instead going to select Ryan Moore with the final pick!

The update I received was that it was “all Bubba until Ryan emerged,” and even after selecting Moore, it was clear that both Davis and Tiger still wanted Bubba! The pressure of the Horschel Rule to select the hot hand appears to have gotten to the captains, and they picked against their instincts.

To my knowledge, Love has never officially indicated whether or not he actually planned to take the “hottest hand” with that final pick, and this is where the problem lies with the Horschel Rule. Picking Bubba with this final pick, who was clearly not the hottest hand, could not be justified in the eyes of the public. Love had just invited Moore up to Hazeltine to practice with the team in the week leading up to the Tour Championship, clearly indicating that he was being considered for the final spot. So how do you pass up on him after he finishes T2? What was the point in inviting him north if that performance wasn’t good enough to put him on the team? What would Moore have had to do in Atlanta to actually get picked?

Love had to know that he would be raked over the coals to the point that it could be a distraction for the team if he passed on him. Thus, the Horschel Rule forced his hand. So was it the right move?

Hazeltine

If you ask twitter the question above, the overwhelming response is that Ryan Moore was the better option for this team than Bubba. While I am in support of this pick, I am not completely convinced that this is the case. Let’s break down the pros and cons.

Pros:

1.) This pick moves past what would have been an overwhelming distraction, as outlined above. The fans, and the press alike would have been destroying Love and the task force for coming up with this Horschel Rule, only to burn it on a guy with a 3-8 record in Ryder Cup play, and hasn’t had a top-10 in a full field event since March. This alone is enough to justify the pick in my mind.

2.) He’s playing some great golf. He won the John Deere Classic in August, and has been one of the best players in the world since the last major.

3.) He’s the best putter of all of the available remaining options.

4.) He makes for a great foursome partner, which is a desperate need on this team.

5.) No Bubba in the team room.

6.) Bubba’s case is actually that strong. Yes he’s 7th in the world, but that’s largely off 2015 accomplishments. Yes he was 9th in points, but the points system is flawed. He’s got a very poor Ryder Cup record, and has been MIA for most of the season. (More on this below).

(*Stephen A. Smith voice*)…. BUT!

Cons:

1.) East Lake is not very similar to Hazeltine. Take Phil’s word for it:

“We’re not going to have rough like that — this is the worst rough I’ve seen in years. We’re not going to have that rough next week. Why the Tour set it up so differently from what we’re going to have next week is a lack of communication and working together.”

2.) Perhaps Moore’s greatest strength, his driving accuracy, is going to be neutralized significantly by a 7,600 yard course that will mostly not punish those that are wild off the tee. So is Moore a better fit for Hazeltine than Bubba? Of course, the possibility exists that the answer to this question is no, and Moore’s hot play still outshines Bubba’s (hypothetical) play, but this is a very fair question to ask at this point.

3.) Does one tournament really change anything? You can make the case that Moore has been considerably better than Bubba for most, if not this entire year. The last five times that Moore and Bubba have teed it up in the same tournament, Moore has bested Gerry. But when you sum up all of the information above, it’s clear that this decision was made on the final day of the season, and if Ryan Moore shoots 75 on Sunday, he’s not the final selection. So are we comfortable saying that we let one final round of golf decide the final spot on the team? This very well may work out in the U.S. team’s favor, but what I’m bringing into question is the process. Perhaps this public pressure saved Love from making a poor decision with Bubba, but did Love make this pick because he thinks Moore is the best available player to help Team USA, or did he make it because he couldn’t justify the backlash?

The answer to that last question likely does not matter, but if Moore plays poorly, and the US is dealt a fourth straight defeat, it’s a question that Love and the vice captains are going to be asked on repeat.

About the Author

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

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  • John Hancock

    Barrel fire hot take from Nick. Interesting that someone who doesn’t care about the RC took the time to read and comment on a niche golf blog article.

    That aside, I question the average viewer’s knowledge level, and whether there would actually have been backlash about a Bubba pick, except from a relatively small community of educated and invested golf fans (and of course the golf media). I guess this gets into audience demographics but how many know the background here and actually believe Moore was the better pick? I would venture to say that the average fan is more influenced by Bubba’s name recognition than the empirical case for Moore, and that this pick has generated more controversy than the opposite would have. In terms of feedback I’m also assuming your Twitter universe is populated more by those educated fans (not a knock), rather than the broader group of casual observers.

    Bottom line: average fans (like Nick) know Bubba, not Moore and his superior stats, and will question the pick. (This line of thinking also requires accepting the premise that DL3 is heavily swayed by public opinion, which is debatable.) But maybe Shane Ryan can clear all this up in his next book.

    • Soly

      Fair point Johnny boy. I guess I meant more from a media standpoint, when talking about the backlash. And perhaps I mistakenly view my twitter feed as good look into what the average fan thinks, so you’re probably right in that regard. That being said, I don’t think the average fan knows enough about the situation to stir up enough meaningful feedback, but those close to the game, in the press conference, and writing the articles would make a clickbait forture off the controversy.

  • Chris McNeal

    I bet you go far in life.

  • Will Hall

    Absolutely 100% agree with everything pertaining to media and the backlash that would have ensued if they would have chosen Bubba Watson over Ryan Moore for the final Ryder Cup spot. If I remember correctly, last Tuesday or Wednesday I believe one of the guys in the booth (almost positive it was Chamblee) made the argument that if the winner of the Tour Championship was American, he should receive the last Ryder Cup pick. Obviously that wasn’t the overall view of Golf Channel or any of the golf media outlets covering the Ryde Cup, but I did feel like there was a consensus almost that if one of the players that Love was considering made a charge that week and finished in the top 3 or better, that should easily be enough for that certain player to jump over whoever Love had pegged as the favorite at that point in time. I will be the first to admit that I wanted change desperately with these captain’s picks so the end result is something that I am completely okay with, but I have so many issues with everything else in regards to this years Ryder Cup. Obviously the timing of this all is just absurd, but the issue isn’t the “Horschel Rule” pick being done the week of the Tour Championship, the problem is the Tour Championship being a week before the Ryder Cup, a problem that won’t be fixed anytime soon because I think the PGA’s ability to work with other tours and golf associations when scheduling conflicts occur is horrendous at best. That means these picks really have to be made well in advance with much to no wiggle room, which is what we were told by Phil a week prior to the BMW, where he basically said the captains were already putting together lineups and basically had their player on lock unless a player caught fire the last two weeks. Well obviously that happened and even though there would have been adjustments to be made, you would like to think that the captains had accounted for the few players that could take over that spot that Bubba was occupying at the time. However, not only did Love and his vice-captains only consider Moore once the Tour Championship ended, it seems like they didn’t even truly have a favorite if these sources are correct in saying that JT was the favorite for the last pick the night before. Love got put into a bind and that’s unfortunate, especially considering Moore isn’t really in any clique on tour making it more difficult to get comfortable for him and the others in his pod, but in all honesty it seems like there was a lack of preparation for anything outside of Bubba or JT making the squad. The last thing that future Ryder Cup captains absolutely need to do is go with their gut if they believe it is what is best for the team. When Darren Clarke left Russell Knox off the squad, there seemed to be some frustration, but most probably realized that it was going to come down to Pieters or Knox considering the massive inexperience already on the Euro’s side, meaning that the other two picks absolutely had to go to Westwood and Kaymer. Really, there wasn’t a wrong decision looking at it that way and the unfortunate truth is that unless a player is exclusively playing in Europe, the only way for Knox to qualify for the squad is through the World Ranking. Clarke’s reasonings were fair and even though Russell Knox paid the price, Clarke needed to do what was best for the team. Then you travel over to the US’s corner and you see a team of Captains going over stats and data to see who best would fit the course, looking over recent form, adjusting the Ryder Cup points system to see where guys like JT, Na, and others stood if the Fall season actually counted, and opening up discussions between all vice-captains and players to give their advice to Love. So with the compilation of all off this information (and a lot of pouting from Tiger), the decision ends up being a new guy each day? After all these months of Love telling everyone the hard work that his team was putting in, the phone calls with Tiger where they would discuss strategy and lineups and who they wanted on the squad every chance they had, you are telling me it still wasn’t enough to make a decisive decision a week before the Ryder Cup starts? It just seems like Davis Love is overthinking every decision he makes and then second guessing himself for whatever reason because a quick comparison of Thomas, Moore, and Bubba’s stats shows that Bubba has a nice distance advantage and scores really well on the Par 5’s, but when looking closer you can see that Ryan Moore leads both in SG: Around the Green and SG: Putting, is one of the best on tour proximity wise with a long iron in his hand, and averages more birdies than Bubba/is equal to JT and averages less bogeys or worse than both. I don’t know how Ryan Moore is going to play this week, but I do believe this was the right decision either way, mostly because the last thing I wanted to do this weekend was sit and watch the American’s early Sunday during singles with Bubba dormie 5 and a live cut of him barking at Ted Scott because the wind had changed just as he swung, oh, and he is playing Andy Sullivan to top it all off. Sorry for the rant, but Jamie Donaldson and that smug grin of his as he’s pointing to his Euro teammates is burned in my memory forever as well as the duff in 2010 by the somehow still sponsored Hunter Mahan, have been boiling inside of me for years and these new changes with the picks were all I could take

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