Following the U.S. team’s Ryder Cup loss at Gleneagles in 2014 — the eighth loss in the last 10 competitions — the PGA of America decided changes needed to be made. The most recent failure not only involved recriminations from within the team and Captain Tom Watson, but ultimately produced the resignation of PGA President, Ted Bishop.
A commission was formed, and a new process put in place. The first product of the new process was the naming of Davis Love III as the 2016 captain.
Love has a nearly spotless record in his playing career, including 21 PGA Tour victories, the 1997 PGA Championship at Winged Foot and six Ryder Cup appearances as a player. His character is beyond reproach. In fact, the biggest blemish on his resume, ironically is his loss as captain of the 2012 U.S. Ryder Cup team at Medinah. Going into the Sunday singles, the U.S. enjoyed a 4½ point lead but lost to Europe with one of the worst final days in U.S. history.
Second guesses are always easy in sports. But in this case I questioned a Love decision before the Sunday collapse. In his Saturday evening press conference, I asked Love to defend his decision to start three rookies among the first five players out in Sunday’s matches. “But I’ve been saying all along, my rookies aren’t rookies. Bubba Watson is not scared to go out there, and Webb Simpson is not scared to go out there. Keegan has been just on fire,” he answered. “We’ve got a lot of firepower distance-wise in that first bunch, and a lot of strength and good putters. I think they’ll do very, very well at it.”
The U.S. lost the first five matches out at Medinah, and the Europeans never looked back.
Love’s four Captain’s picks were Dustin Johnson, Brandt Snedeker, Jim Furyk and Steve Stricker. Johnson was 3-0 for the week, with a singles win. The remaining three were 2-8 for the week, with all three losing in the Sunday singles.
Fast-forward to little over a week ago, and Love’s announcement of three of his four Captain’s picks for this year at Hazeltine. J.B. Holmes, Matt Kuchar and Rickie Fowler were added. All three were in the top 12 in qualifying points and defendable, with the possible exception of Fowler.
This is the second time Rickie Fowler has been a Captain’s pick for the Ryder Cup team, his third appearance overall. In his previous two competitions, Fowler has never been a part of a winning match. In his eight matches, he has earned a total of two points.
One of the changes in the player selection process created by the Ryder Cup committee was to try to identify and include “hot” players on a roster largely built with records over a two-year interval. Some might question whether Fowler fits that description.
In this year’s majors, Fowler missed the cut at the Masters and the U.S. Open, and finished T46 at the Open Championship and T33 at the PGA Championship. He also missed the cut at Memorial for the second straight year and followed up his 2015 win at the Players Championship with a missed cut there as well. He was outside the top 30 at the Olympics. He wrapped up his ‘hot’ summer in the FedExCup playoffs with a top 10 at Barclays followed up by T46 at Deutsche Bank and 59th at BMW. When the Tour Championship plays out this week in Atlanta, Fowler will not be in the field, having failed to qualify in the top 30.
Love has one more player to add to his roster after Atlanta, and Bubba Watson, also in the group of 12 leading point getters, is favored to be selected. He has a Tour win in 2016 and made the cut in all four majors. He finished nearly 30 places higher than Fowler in the Olympics, qualified for the Tour Championship and at seventh, ranks two positions higher in the World Golf Rankings than Fowler.
If you can set aside two U.S. wins in the last 20 years, a captain from the greatest collapse in U.S. Ryder Cup history and a team with a total of four players with career winning records in the competition, the U.S. should be the favorite. At least that’s what the committee believes.
Dan Reardon has covered golf for radio station KMOX in St. Louis for 32 years. In that time, he has covered more than 100 events, including majors and other PGA, LPGA and Champions Tour tournaments. During his broadcast career, Reardon conducted one-on-one interviews with three dozen members of the World Golf of Fame. He has contributed to many publications over the years and co-authored the book Golf’s Greatest Eighteen from Random House. Reardon served as Director of Media relations for LPGA events in both St. Louis and Chicago for 10 years.