SPRINGFIELD, N.J. – One way or another, PGA Tour veterans Jim Furyk and Steve Stricker will participate in the Ryder Cup at Hazeltine National Golf Club two months from now.
Given their druthers, two men already committed to serve as U.S. captain Davis Love III’s vice captains prefer to play their way there.
Whether shaped by Stricker’s limited schedule or Furyk’s lengthy wrist injury, both are well down the U.S. qualification points standings — Furyk is 18th, Stricker 23rd — that a month from now will automatically decide the first eight players for the 12-man team.
Each man made Friday’s cut at the 98th PGA Championship, and a strong finish Sunday (or Monday or Tuesday) at Baltusrol Golf Club will move either significantly up the list. That’s because the season’s last major rewards double points for every dollar won. No matter the mathematics, each probably is playing as much to attract the attention of Love — their longtime peer and pal — when it comes to making his final four captain’s picks.
Stricker is 49 and has played in three Ryder Cups. Furyk is 46 and has played in 10. They’d add experience and age to the U.S. team that will include 46-year-old Phil Mickelson but is anchored in good part by 23-year-old Jordan Spieth, in a year when 20-something players Brooks Koepka, Rickie Fowler and Patrick Reed all are just on the other side of that top-eight bubble.
“I think it’s on everyone’s mind,” Furyk said after Saturday morning’s 1-under-par 69 that left him even for a championship that was suspended by afternoon thunderstorms. “It’s an honor to represent your country. I think most guys playing that event — the competition, the camaraderie, the history of it, it’s my favorite event. In one respect, it’s nice to know I’m going to be there to help the United States team. Obviously, I’d like to play, but I also have to play well here the next month or so.”
Furyk returned in May after seven months away injured and played his first tournament practice round with Love. He tied for second at the U.S. Open in June, finished 13th at the RBC Canadian Open last week and played well these past three days on Baltusrol’s brawny Lower Course.
Love said he’ll have his number crunchers analyze “10,000 times” what Furyk might have done had he played his regular schedule or if Stricker chose to play a busier schedule. Love said he, his vice captains and the players themselves “know who the best players are and who they want.”
Stricker and Furyk are two of Love’s four chosen vice captains so far. Minnesota’s own and 2006 U.S. captain Tom Lehman and injured Tiger Woods are the others. Love will pick one more, or two or three more if Stricker and/or Furyk make the team.
Stricker suddenly is thinking about what could be after a second-place finish in Memphis and a fourth-place finish at the British Open. His high finish in Memphis got him to Scotland. His high finish there earned him invitations to the PGA as well as next year’s Masters and Players Championship.
It also has him “excited” and thinking ahead, to late September at Hazeltine and beyond.
“It’s got my attention,” Stricker said about the prospect of playing another Ryder Cup. “It wasn’t really on my radar too much until after Troon. I’m really starting to play nicely. If I continue to play like I’m playing, maybe I can warrant a pick. But it’s going to have to be special. I don’t play full-time, so I’ll have to show Davis and everybody else that I’m legit, that I can still play. That’s my goal anyway.”
The return to good form by both players gives Love options when it comes to making three captain’s picks by Sept. 11 and his final one Sept. 25, just before the U.S. team gets on the plane to Minneapolis.
“I think it would be really cool,” Spieth said about the prospect of two vice captains playing for their team. “They both have got a lot of experience. I know Steve certainly didn’t think that was going to be a reality for him, but he played fantastic golf at a tournament that he doesn’t play very often. And Jim, the grinder that he is, no one expected him to fall apart, even after being injured. I mean, the guy is the ultimate tour professional …
“I think it would be extremely helpful for the United States team to have either one of them or both of them on the team.”