Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly said that golfer Padraig Harrington is from Northern Ireland. He is from Ireland. This version has been corrected.
Davis Love III, the captain of the American side for this month’s Ryder Cup, announced his four selections as wild-card picks Tuesday morning in New York, choosing a blend of youth and experience that he believes is essential for his team, but one that also leaves him open for a bit of second-guessing.
In selecting 40-something veterans Jim Furyk and Steve Stricker to go along with bombing Dustin Johnson and hot-putting Brandt Snedeker, Love finalized his 12-player side that will face Europe Sept. 28-30 at Medinah Country Club outside Chicago. But it was the phone calls he had to make Sunday night to those left off – notably Hunter Mahan, Nick Watney and Rickie Fowler – that made Love’s job seem difficult.
“This is probably the deepest, strongest year … that I’ve seen; and there was a lot of guys that played a lot of really good golf,” Love said at a news conference in New York. “You can analyze the numbers up and down and back and forth. It was tough to leave, really, anybody off. We could’ve gone very, very deep this year down the points list.”
The top eight players on the American points list – a two-year performance analysis weighted toward this season – were locked in after last month’s PGA Championship. Snedeker’s addtion to that group – veterans Tiger Woods, Bubba Watson, Zach Johnson, Matt Kuchar and Phil Mickelson, along with Ryder Cup rookies Jason Dufner, Keegan Bradley and Webb Simpson – gives the U.S. side four players making their Ryder Cup debut, compared with one for Europe.
But Snedeker and Johnson, both of whom missed time with injuries this season, essentially played their way onto the team the past two weeks. Snedeker finished second at the Barclays and sixth at the Deutsche Bank Championship, where Johnson tied for third and tied for fourth, respectively.
“You can’t argue with the golf that Brandt and Dustin have been playing,” Love said. “They laid it right out there for us.”
Love’s selections of Furyk, 42, and Stricker, 45, were clearly nods to experience. Love called Stricker, who has paired well with Woods in international competition, “a guy that’s been the best player, in my mind, on tour the last five or six years” and “somebody I really trust.”
Though Love spent most of the summer talking up Furyk, a case could be made for his exclusion. He has not won a tournament since 2010. His record in seven previous Ryder Cup appearances is a spotty 8-15-4. And his two most notable performances this season came in collapses — first at the U.S. Open, where he shared the 54-hole lead but made a nasty swing off the tee at the 16th hole in the final round and finished bogey-par-bogey, then at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, where a double bogey at the 72nd hole pushed him from a shot in front to a shot behind, another devastating loss.
Love, though, seemed comfortable selecting Furyk, with whom he teamed in four Ryder Cups.
“You definitely need some of both,” Love said. “You need the youthful, enthusiastic energy of some of the young guys. But you also need that calming influence.”
That left off Mahan, who finished ninth in the American points standings and has won twice this season, including beating world No. 1 Rory McIlroy in the finals of the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship. Watney won the Barclays, and his length would have suited Medinah, which will be brutally long. Fowler, 23, is one of the game’s most recognizable young stars, but he essentially played his way off the team, finishing no better than tied for 24th since May.
“I’m extremely excited,” Furyk said in a telephone call broadcast at the news conference. “Davis has been a good friend. … It’ll be fun playing for one of the guys that I’ve played a lot of years on the PGA Tour with.”
European captain Jose Maria Olazabal had less freedom – and therefore less difficulty – than Love when he made his wild-card choices late last month. The European formula calls for 10 automatic qualifiers, so Olazabal had just two wild-card choices. He used them on England’s Ian Poulter, a feisty and passionate Ryder Cup player, and Belgium’s Nicolas Colsaerts, who will be the European side’s only rookie. Left off the team: Padraig Harrington, a three-time major winner from Ireland.
What’s left are two unusually strong teams. The 24 players all place in the top 36 of the Official World Golf Rankings, from No. 1 McIlroy to No. 36 Colsaerts, and nine of the top 10 in the world will be at Medinah. And regardless of who qualified automatically and who Love chose, the American task is significant: Europe has won six of the last eight Ryder Cups, including twice when the U.S. has hosted.
“I know they’re going to be tough,” Love said. “They are every year. But I can tell you this: I love my team. I’m excited about my team.”