NEW YORK – Now that mathematics has determined the first eight members of the U.S. Ryder Cup’s 12-man team, captain Davis Love III possesses four more selections of his choosing, which are due in September before the patriotic match-play event against Europe arrives at Hazeltine National Golf Club.
Love said Monday he will listen intently to the first eight players already selected before he announces three more players at Hazeltine National on Sept. 12 and one final pick during “Sunday Night Football” on Sept. 25.
“I can’t say it enough,” Love said at a Manhattan news conference in which he discussed the eight players who qualified automatically from a two-year points system that ended with Sunday’s final round of The Barclays. “It’s their team.”
In 2008, U.S. captain Paul Azinger allowed players to choose teammates as part of his “pod” system that broke the team into four-player groups, believing players would feel ownership and investment. The Americans beat Europe, the only time they have done so since 1999.
Love said he went to all his automatic qualifiers when he was captain in 2012 and asked each with whom he would like to be paired during the first two days of four-ball and foursomes (alternate shot) play.
Love plans to do the same this time around with Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Phil Mickelson, Patrick Reed, Jimmy Walker, Brooks Koepka, Brandt Snedeker and Zach Johnson.
European captain Darren Clarke finalized his team Tuesday morning in England, Lee Westwood, Martin Kaymer and Ryder Cup rookie Thomas Pieters will fill out the European team as Clarke's captain's picks. Adding Pieters gives Europe six Ryder Cup first-timers, including Masters champion Danny Willett, on its roster.
Love won’t fully fill his roster until the night before both teams fly to Minnesota He said Monday he and his eight chosen players have more options filling out their team.
Love’s first eight players include 11-time Ryder Cup player Mickelson and have, among them, 11 major championships, an individual distinction that hasn’t brought the Americans recent success in team competition. Love said he will consult statistical analytics the PGA of America has hired — just as the Europeans have done — but ultimately he will listen to players’ preferences as well as the opinions of vice captains Tiger Woods, Tom Lehman, Steve Stricker and Jim Furyk.
“Those eight players and the four assistant captains, they are pretty good golfers,” Love said. “They know what’s going on. They know the players. They know who they want to play with.”
Their options include two players ranked top 10 in the world — No. 6 Bubba Watson and No. 8 Rickie Fowler — left off the team so far by a qualifying formula that valued play both in 2016 and in major championships. Fowler had the eighth and final spot all but in his grasp Sunday but faltered over the final four holes and Zach Johnson kept it.
Big hitter J.B. Holmes and Olympic bronze medalist Matt Kuchar finished just outside the top eight and Furyk, at age 46, has played well enough in his return from a seven-month absence after wrist surgery that Love calls him “obviously in the conversation for a pick.”
The PGA of America changed its rules after the 2014 loss in Scotland and moved the timing of captain’s picks from early September and allowed Love freedom to name his final player the night before his team flies to Minnesota. Love said that change brings into the conversation anyone — Justin Thomas, Sean O’Hair, Ryan Moore, Gary Woodland to name just a few — who gets hot here in the four FedEx Cup playoff events at season’s end.
That’s where he’ll listen to his players’ opinions on whose talents best complement the team already chosen.
“If my team needs a quarterback and I draft a running back, they’re going to be mad at me,” Love said. “Golf is different than other sports. The mental side is huge. If they go in there believing they have the best team, they are going to play well. We don’t want to start off with any question marks. … We need to give these guys a feeling of security. If Patrick Reed says, ‘I want you to pick this guy because I want to play with him and we won’t lose a match,’ then we’re going to take that into account.”
The Americans have branded the motto “12 Strong” — an emphasis on team — on apparel and equipment they’ve ordered for next month’s Ryder Cup.
“That’s what we want these guys to be,” Love said. “It’s time for this top eight to take ownership of this team.”