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.
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.
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!
Davis Love III admits the decision on Ryan Moore as the final captain's pick wasn't made until after the final putt at East Lake yesterday.
— Jason Sobel (@JasonSobelESPN) September 26, 2016
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?
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.
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.
Will say 1 more time
Ryan Moore's PGA Tour ranks since PGA Championship ended
Score to par: 1st
Rounds in 60s: 1st
— Justin Ray (@JustinRayGC) September 25, 2016
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!
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.