Given the leeway to name the rest of his team later than any other U.S. Ryder Cup captain, Davis Love III simply could tick off the next four names on the qualifying points list that selected his first eight players and call it good.
But will he?
After earnest consultation with those eight players already chosen, Love will announce the first three of four captain’s picks Monday morning at Hazeltine National Golf Club, two weeks before the U.S. and Europe team arrive to play for the Ryder Cup. He’ll name his final choice during the “Sunday Night Football” halftime show on Sept. 25, the night before each team arrives in Minnesota.
The next four players on the qualifying points list are Bubba Watson, J.B. Holmes, Rickie Fowler and Matt Kuchar, and 11-time Ryder Cup player Phil Mickelson calls the forthcoming decisions “fairly obvious.”
Love himself admits “two, maybe three” of his captain’s picks will be “pretty easy” decisions, but the chance to pick one final player right before the U.S. team gets on its plane is unique. The PGA of America changed its qualifying process after the U.S. lost to Europe in Scotland in 2014 for the sixth time in seven tries and created a late addition in case a player gets hot in the FedEx Cup playoffs.
“Handling that last one, this is new territory for all of us,” said Love, who also will consider first-timers Justin Thomas, Daniel Berger, Ryan Moore and nine-time Ryder Cup player Jim Furyk as well for a team that currently has Brooks Koepka as its only rookie.
Holmes presented his case to get picked Monday by finishing tied for fourth Sunday at the BMW Championship near Indianapolis after he and Watson last month missed claiming the eighth and final spot that went to two-time major winner Zach Johnson.
Holmes has played in one Ryder Cup, on the 2008 team that won back in Holmes’ home state of Kentucky. That was the last time the U.S. team beat Europe and the only time since 1999.
“I definitely really want to make the team,” said Holmes, a long hitter who seems suited to a Hazeltine National course that could play three par-5s at longer than 600 yards, “but it’s out of my hands now.”
Two of the world’s top 10 ranked players — No. 7 Watson and No. 9 Fowler — didn’t automatically qualify by the U.S. team’s procedure and it’s possible that Love could leave one, if not both, off the 12-man team.
Fowler was on the verge of automatically qualifying for the team at last month’s Barclays Classic but lost the tournament lead — and enough Ryder Cup points — and fell out with a bogey-double bogey-birdie-bogey finish.
Watson tied for 20th Sunday and hasn’t had a PGA Tour top-10 finish since early March. He, Kuchar, Thomas, Moore, Berger and Holmes will play in the 30-man Tour Championship in Atlanta the week before the Ryder Cup and Fowler won’t, missing the chance Sunday to advance in the playoffs by just one spot.
“Hopefully, he looks at the world rankings and sees I’m pretty decent,” Watson said. “My whole goal this year was the Ryder Cup and the Olympics. That’s all I cared about the whole year, was making those two events. I didn’t care how I did it, as long as I made those events. And I got in the Olympics. So I got one more to go, I guess.”
Watson said he “can’t get mad” if he doesn’t make his fourth Ryder Cup team and said he’ll just take the week off and rest for a new season that starts in October if he doesn’t play at Hazeltine National.
Mickelson said everybody had their chance to qualify and said the tough decisions Love still must make are just the way it is.
“I wanted to play in the Olympics this year, and I’ve known for years what the criteria were,” Mickelson said. “I missed it by about a week. I could have changed my schedule. I could have done some other things to make it or I could have simply played better. If you don’t make it on your own, then you need to bring a lot more to the table than just your game. That’s the great thing about golf: If you don’t like where you’re at, you can do something about it by simply playing better and shooting lower scores.
“There are no judges here who are subjective. It’s all out there. Whatever your number is, just shoot it. Shoot a lower score than the other guy and you’ll do pretty good. You might win.”