Making the right choice
As The Ryder Cup gets underway this week, the play of the captains’ picks will tell whether their analysis of potential will equal performance when it counts.
A typical golf press conference is as entertaining and informative as watching a dentist perform a root canal. The lone exceptions occur when Ryder Cup captains reveal their wildcard selections. When Darren Clarke, captain of the European Team in this week’s Ryder Cup, announced his choices on Aug. 30, it was the culmination of a year of careful consideration and evaluation on his part—not to mention an equal amount of speculation by the media and fans.
Clarke chose two Ryder Cup veterans in Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer, and one player new to the event, Belgium’s Thomas Pieters. At his presser, Clarke offered a hint of what the process felt like for him. “The past few days have been some of the toughest in my career,” he said. “It has been wonderful to see the team take shape. I’ve probably watched more golf and paid attention to more stats than I ever have, watching how all the possible contenders were playing.”
Two weeks after Clarke, it was U.S. captain Davis Love III’s turn, when he announced three of his four wildcard choices: Rickie Fowler, J.B. Holmes and Matt Kuchar. Love, who was the U.S. captain once before, called the selection process nerve-racking, and said, “The only time I’ve ever really gotten nervous both times as captain is this press conference.” This past Sunday evening, Love added the final member to the U.S. Team, Ryan Moore, completing the lineups for golf’s greatest thrill ride, which begins Friday at Hazeltine National Golf Club, in Chaska, Minn.
Importance of a ‘good fit’
Throughout the year, Clarke was careful to point out that his choices would strike a balance between current performance and experience, and that’s precisely what he accomplished with the three players he tapped. “I was always going to look for experience,” said Clarke. “In Lee and Martin, I’ve got two former world number-ones, and guys that bring a wealth of it to the team. That matters because it’s just not about playing; it’s about what goes on in the team room, and the dynamics of the entire team.” Clarke sees Kaymer as a “cool, calculating player” who plays golf in a “meticulous fashion.” In his longtime Ryder Cup partner and friend Westwood, Clarke has someone who “will be somewhat like the general amongst the team. Anything he says, everybody sits up and listens. That’s what makes Europe the team that we are— there’s always guys who want to learn and want to get better.”
In describing Kaymer and Westwood, Clarke also hints at the world-class attributes of Standard Life Investments, the first Worldwide Partner of The Ryder Cup. Standard Life Investments prides itself on deep and thorough analysis—à la the meticulous Kaymer—that helps uncover potential and drive performance for investors, the way Westwood’s leadership might help less experienced players up their game under pressure.
Selecting a player that’s a perfect fit for a team has parallels to selecting the proper data that, combined with superb analysis, is the backbone of informed investment decisions. “Not all data is equally useful,” says Jeremy Lawson, Chief Economist, Standard Life Investments. “Some data is poorly constructed and sometimes data is more noise than signal. The first step in high quality analysis is collecting the right data sets. The worst thing that you can do is identify spurious relationships that you won’t be able to rely on in the future.” This is especially true in volatile markets, which Lawson says “are not just reasons to become cautious, but actually can be reasons to take additional risks if your data and analysis are strong.”
An analytical assist
Assessing his selection of J.B. Holmes, Love agreed with Clarke that it’s how the parts come together to create the whole that matters. “There are different reasons we pick players,” said Love. “J.B. is a guy that every guy on the team wants to play with. He’s a great match-play personality. We kept saying: ‘Do you want to play against that guy in singles?’”
Love also said that this turn as captain has seen “a lot more time spent planning and strategizing.” Especially interesting is the role Tiger Woods is playing in assisting Love; the U.S. captain calls Woods a “tactician” in the way he approaches the game.
Woods spent countless hours leading up to this week’s showdown creating various potential pairings and lineup orders for Love to consider. “Tiger looks at things from maybe a little bit higher viewpoint than the rest of us sometimes,” Love said.
Even Woods’ longtime rival Phil Mickelson, who will be playing in his 11th Ryder Cup, has been taken by the analytical efforts of Woods, including possible pairings and order of play for the Ryder Cup’s distinct formats of four-ball and foursomes. “Tiger has really thought all of this through,” said Mickelson. “I’m really impressed.”