U.S. captain Corey Pavin said that he didn’t really think too much about his captain’s picks until the end. If he’s telling the truth, that was a good move.
About a month ago, Pavin could have driven himself crazy thinking about the possibilities. Tiger Woods had turned in such an awful performance at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational that he not only looked unlikely to make the team on points, it was questionable whether his form would be good enough to merit a pick. Stewart Cink was a Ryder Cup veteran and a 2009 major champion who hadn’t shown much this year. Anthony Kim was coming back from thumb surgery and not playing well yet but showing enthusiasm for making the team. There were muddles everywhere you looked.
In the four weeks starting with the PGA Championship, things clarified themselves so much that three of his four captain’s picks were glaringly obvious.
Woods got it together enough to finish T28, T12, and T11 in the three events he entered. The finalization of his divorce might have taken away an off-course distraction. And, of course, he’s been the No. 1 player in the world for most of the last 14 years.
Cink followed up a T19 at the Bridgestone with T18, T15, T18. Combined with his four previous Ryder Cup and three Presidents Cup appearances, that kind of consistently solid performance made him an attractive pick.
Zach Johnson pretty much sewed up a spot by finishing third at the PGA Championship, to go along with a win at the Colonial and making the cut in 20 of 22 events this year.
Meanwhile, Kim took himself out of consideration by missing the cut the last three weeks on the heels of finishing nearly last at the no-cut Bridgestone in his return. It’s too bad, considering how well he was playing early this year, how much he wanted to play in the Ryder Cup, and how well he played at Valhalla in 2008, but there was no way Pavin could have felt that Kim was someone to be relied on in three weeks.
So, there were three picks Pavin didn’t have to sweat and one player who could have posed a dilemma but didn’t.
So all Pavin really had to think about was the fourth pick. It wasn’t an easy call, for sure. But even here, Pavin had a bit of a break. There were several players who would have made decent picks. But there were no players whose credentials screamed that they should have been on the team—and thus less opportunity to criticize the captain for leaving someone off.
Not everybody would have picked Rickie Fowler, as Pavin did. But can you really get worked up about not including Sean O’Hair (who would have been my pick), J.B. Holmes (the next guy I would have considered), Ryan Palmer, or Ben Crane on the team?
Fowler might have been the first player ever to be a captain’s pick because of his Walker Cup record (7-1), but in an odd way the 21-year-old was a safe choice. He’s very talented, has made a big impact in his rookie season, does not appear overwhelmed by the big occasion, and seems a natural for the enthusiastic rookie role that Kim performed two years ago. In the end, it must have come down to a gut feeling for Pavin.
They may be underdogs, considering that they are going on the road to play against a European team that is so deep that it had to leave off Paul Casey and Justin Rose, but I give this U.S. squad a real chance. Europe has some vulnerability (Lee Westwood will not have played for a month-and-a-half because of a calf injury, some of the players on the team are not as good as Casey and Rose, Padraig Harrington is more of a question mark than an exclamation point) and the U.S. is pretty solid from top to bottom. In fact, I like the depth of the U.S. team. It may come down to whether Woods and Phil Mickelson play anything like the No. 1 and 2 players in the world, which they have not done this summer.