Who will be Davis Love’s wild-card picks for the Ryder Cup 2016 US team?
First published in The Telegraph on the 29th August 2016.
It's crunch time for Davis Love as he makes the first three of his four wild-card picks at the conclusion of the BMW Championship in Indiana on Sunday 11 September.
It is fair to presume that the United States team captain’s brain is as active as his phone at the moment.
When welcoming the eight players who qualified for his team automatically last month, Love vowed that they will have a say in who will join them at Hazeltine as the US attempt to win just their second match this century. As well as his four assistants – one of whom just happens to be Tiger Woods – Love clearly has plenty of talking and listening to do in the forthcoming days.
From the outside, a few of the picks seem obvious. But like his counterpart, Darren Clarke, Love has made the point that it is not simply a case of going down the standings or the rankings. Love is determined to get the right mix both on the course and in the team room and that is why at least one of his selections may be called “a surprise”. Yet the beauty of the Ryder Cup is that it is never straightforward.
Rickie Fowler, Bubba Watson, Matt Kuchar... these are all certainties, right? Well, they are most definitely the top three in the betting market to gain the nod from Love, but none of them can think of themselves as completely comfortable and all of them only have themselves to blame for this.
The trio are easily good enough to make it by right, but, in the cases of Watson and Fowler they let their early form desert them in the second half of the qualifying campaign.
Kuchar rescued the US challenge at the Olympics, coming through with a final-round 63 to snatch bronze, and although he has fallen away in the first two FedEx Series events, his expertise in matchplay (he won the WGC-Accenture Matchplay Championship in 2013) as well as his versatility and popularity makes it hard to overlook him. Love will surely remember the two four-balls Kuchar won alongside Dustin Johnson at Medinah four years ago. They looked the perfect fit.
Fowler has always appeared the ideal team member. Impossible not to like, in his two Ryder Cups he has been involved in eight matches and lost three of them. However, there have been four halves as well, meaning he has earned his country only three points; less than a 50 per cent return. Put this together with a recent results list that shows just one top-eight finish in 11 events stretching back four months and the alarm bells start ringing.
Could Love possibly exclude a superstar such as Fowler, an impressive young man who was part of the task force? It would be a huge call on Love’s behalf, if only because he will get so much backing from the players already qualified.
Watson, maybe not so much so. His game, that giddying mixture of distance and creativity, is made for Hazeltine, but is his personality and temperament suited to team golf and team matchplay golf at that? Watson is a quirky, curious character who sometimes allows his emotions to run away with him.
He lost three out of three at Gleneagles two years ago and, overall, his record is a miserable three wins and eight defeats from 11 matches. Depending on how Watson plays in Indiana this week, Love could quite conceivably leave him hanging, with the final pick to come after the Tour Championship in Atlanta on the Sunday before the match starts. Whether Watson could handle the tension of that is a moot point.
Perhaps it is daft to bracket JB Holmes amongst those hoping for a pick rather than expecting one. After all, Love has singled out the big-hitter from Kentucky as eminently suited to the Minnesota layout. Holmes won two and a half points out of three in his own Ryder Cup in 2008 and that was the only match the US have won since 1999.
However, since finishing third at the Open in July, his form has gone AWOL with three missed in five events and should he fail to rise into the top 30 on the FedEx standings who will make it to Atlanta, his hopes could start to look forlorn. Holmes’s fall would bring so many more names into the mix.
Jim Furyk has been hailed as a dark horse, not least because Love keeps mentioning his assistant captain as a possible wild card. But he did not even make it into the top 70 in the standings who tee it up in Indiana and his chances must surely be slight. With only one rookie on his team – Brooks Koepka – Love must be tempted to call up another fresh face and the ones who catch the eye include Ryan Moore, Kevin Chappell, Justin Thomas, Kevin Kisner and Daniel Berger.
If they play well at Crooked Stick this week, then even if they are not named in the initial three, there will still be all to play for at the Tour Championship. It is an intriguing scenario and one that will be giving Love and all of his advisors plenty of headaches.