Granted more time to complete his 12-man roster than any past U.S. Ryder Cup captain, Davis Love III shuffled index cards and consulted with his vice captains into Sunday evening before he chose Rickie Fowler, J.B. Holmes and Matt Kuchar as the first three of his four allowed wild-card picks.
In announcing those three players Monday morning at Hazeltine National Golf Club, Love made the world’s No. 7 ranked player — two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson — wait nearly two more weeks before Love decides upon his final pick.
Love still could choose Watson when he announces his final choice at halftime of NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” on Sept. 25. Or he could choose one of his own vice captains, namely nine-time Ryder Cup player Jim Furyk. Also, don’t forget the name Justin Thomas, a contemporary of young Ryder Cup players Fowler, Jordan Spieth, Patrick Reed and Brooks Koepka and one with PGA of America connections.
Kuchar — playfully, presumably — said by Skype that he’d heard a rumor “maybe even Tiger Woods could potentially be a pick” and seemed so smitten by the idea that he turned one word into two.
“That would be Legen Dary,” Kuchar said about the 14-time major winner and Love’s vice captain due to return to PGA Tour play in October after a year’s injury absence.
Love called the decision on the 12th player as difficult as the three he just made, even if both Love and Phil Mickelson previously had termed the captain’s picks fairly obvious.
“The nice thing is, we’ve still got that other pick out there,” Love said. “I’ve had to make the tough decisions before. We’ve left off the No. 9 guy in points. We’ve sat Tiger Woods for the first time ever. That’s the captain’s job. I get to make three fun phone calls yesterday and one more fun phone call. The rest of them aren’t going to be any fun.”
Love called Fowler a “great teammate” with “no weaknesses in his game” who is confident on the big stage, and stages don’t get much bigger than the biennial match-play competition that pits the U.S. team against Europe. Love called both Holmes and Kuchar consistent players who are easy to pair with others.
As for how exactly he will pair players or, as home captain, set up the course, Love wouldn’t exactly say, other than to reiterate he wants Hazeltine set up for low scoring so the American crowd gets loud.
“I’m not going to elaborate a whole lot on our game-plan strategy,” Love said. “I was just with Bill Belichick last week.”
Love and members of the U.S. team spent an evening at the New England Patriots’ stadium during a tour stop in Boston two weeks ago. The special guest speaker was 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey hero Mike Eruzione.
Fowler said Love texted him Sunday night as he was about to land in Florida after missing out, by a stroke, on advancing in the FedEx Cup playoffs to next week’s Tour Championship finale. Fowler had one of eight automatic qualifying spots in his grasp when he led The Barclays on Sunday’s back nine last month, then finished bogey-double bogey-birdie-bogey.
This will be Fowler’s third Ryder Cup, but his first at home in the United States. He played in the 2006 U.S. Amateur at Hazeltine, where he curiously looked away or turned his back to his opponents when they hit during match play.
“It’s really cool getting to play on home soil,” Fowler said. “I mean, the Ryder Cup is a whole different animal. Having the two overseas, it’s going to be pretty amazing getting to play in front of a home crowd.”
Love also called Kuchar coming home on a private jet from the BMW Championship. Kuchar called it a “thrill” to receive Love’s call, but also said, “It stinks to have to be picked. This is my first team I’ve required a [captain’s] pick and it’s not a pleasant situation to be in.”
Love praised Woods’ strategies on wild-card picks and pairing possibilities for the 11 players currently chosen, and jokingly dismissed Kuchar’s notion. Calling it “hearsay,” Kuchar said, “Imagine Tiger Woods being a playing captain, absolutely incredible. That last pick is going to be quite amazing.”
Recovering from hip surgery, Love joked he had planned on making himself, his son Dru and Woods his picks, but “none of us have shown any form coming off of injuries.”
Love didn’t, though, flat-out say no.
“I just said, don’t give away our secrets,” Love told Kuchar by Skype. “You’re going to get a call from Coach Belichick here in a minute.”