Even after watching his team get trounced on Sunday at Medina in 2012, Davis Love has enthusiastically embraced his encore as the U.S. Ryder Cup captain.
He spoke this week at the Masters about team-building and familiarizing his players with Hazeltine National this summer, as Ryder Cup Chairman Patrick Hunt of Hazeltine walked the grounds.
Love scouted European players and Americans alike, looking for hints that may help the U.S. win the Cup for just the third time in 10 tries.
Because of Tiger Woods’ one-time dominance, Love joked that he would, in the past, often ask himself, “What would Tiger do?”
“Now I ask, ‘What would Jordan do?’ ” he said.
Love was speaking on Friday outside the Augusta National clubhouse. Jordan Spieth appeared in control of a second straight Masters. On Sunday, Spieth collapsed and Englishman Danny Willett — previously ranked 12th in the world but largely unknown to casual golf fans — surged past him to win by three strokes.
Of the nine players who finished tied for seventh or better, four were from England and one was from Denmark. There were three Americans — Spieth, Dustin Johnson and J.B. Holmes.
There are three majors and many decisions between now and the selection of the Ryder Cup team. Willett is emblematic of European strength. His Masters victory will make him a top-10 player in the world and a likely member of the European team whether his name causes tremors or not.
While Willett, as the Brits like to say, showed his quality, Spieth for the first time in his young career showed vulnerability. He didn’t swing well all week but held a five-shot lead on the back nine on Sunday.
Bogeying the 10th and 11th closed the gap between him and the field, but Spieth came undone at the 12th and for uncharacteristic and worrying reasons.
All week, Spieth played like he was getting paid by the hour. He backed off shots, recalculated strategies with caddy Michael Greller, and twice was “put on the clock,” meaning he was warned he could be penalized for slow play if he didn’t pick up his pace.
At the 12th, Spieth rushed, for once. Spieth would admit later that if he had played a draw, he would have at worst hit the ball over the green, meaning he probably would have made a bogey or double bogey at worst.
Instead, he said at the last moment he told himself to play a fade right at the pin. That brought trouble into play. His fade drifted and trundled into the water.
Spieth would later say he should have dropped his ball in the drop area for a safe if tricky shot into the green and a chance to salvage bogey or double bogey. Instead, he paced back to what he thought was a comfortable wedge distance, then made the worst swing of his career, taking a chunk of sod. The ball barely made it to the water. He made the first quadruple bogey at a par-3 hole as a professional.
Spieth is a two-time major winner at 22. He could win a dozen more majors, and he may start winning again at the U.S. Open in June.
If you care about the U.S. Ryder Cup team, though, what happened on Sunday has to nag. Willett proved he can win under pressure. Englishmen Lee Westwood and Paul Casey finished in the top six, hinting at career resurgences. Countryman Matthew Fitzpatrick, 21, who won the 2013 U.S. Amateur and the 2015 British Masters, finished tied for seventh. Dane Soren Kjeldsen finished tied for seventh.
Given that Ian Poulter and Sergio Garcia always seem to play better in Ryder Cups than in majors, the Euros will have a deep field from which to pick.
Love has to hope that by the time the golf world convenes at Hazeltine in September, Spieth’s Sunday collapse at the Masters will have been obscured by a summer of success.
On Friday, Love asked, “What would Jordan do?”
Now Love has to be asking, “What will Jordan do?”