By Jennifer Myers
TERRE HAUTE — When Paul Azinger called Steve Stricker to tell him that he had been selected as one of his captain picks for the Ryder Cup, Steve had to ask right away whether he was receiving a good call or a bad call. He had been on the other end of those calls too many times, so he needed to know. He was obviously very excited when Captain Azinger revealed that it was a good call. Stricker, at age 41, is the oldest of the captain’s selections, and it is his first time to make a Ryder Cup team.
The other captain’s picks are Chad Campbell, 34, and Hunter Mahan and J.B. Holmes who are both 26 years old. Prior to November 2006, when the PGA of America granted a request by Azinger to allow him four picks, the captain of the American team had only gotten two captain’s picks. Besides allowing the captain four picks, PGA of America has adjusted the way Ryder Cup points are earned.
In prior years Ryder Cup points were accumulated equally in the two years between Ryder Cups, which could allow for a player to make the team if they had a stellar first year, and fell off the map in the second. The new method skews more points toward the second year. In 2007, points were only earned in major championships, with one point given for every $1,000 earned.
In 2008, points were given for money earned in official events through Aug. 11 with one point for each $1,000 won. Also in 2008, two points were given for every $1,000 earned in the four major championships. Hopefully these changes, along with having four captain’s picks, will allow Azinger to field a team that is going to be able to contend with the European side, because his team will be made up of men who are playing well in the current year.
The players who made the team by virtue of Ryder Cup points — excluding Tiger Woods who leads in points with 11,365.627, but can’t play due to knee surgery — are Phil Mickleson (who placed second with 5,342.00 points), Stewart Cink, Kenny Perry, Jim Furyk, Anthony Kim, Justin Leonard, Ben Curtis and Boo Weekley.
One of the notables missing from the team is Woody Austin, the player who was the pride and joy and entertainment of the U.S. team in the President’s Cup last year, finishing 11th in the points standings. Another player who was overlooked as a captain’s pick was Rocco Mediate, who proved he was pretty tough in what essentially was a match play event in the playoff for the U.S. Open.
Only six of the Americans have any Ryder Cup experience, but perhaps youthful exuberance is a better ingredient for match play. Captain Azinger put it well when he said, “… experience is important but it is also overrated. I mean, experience now, anyone who has played Ryder Cup in the last six Ryder Cups has experience getting their [butt] beat. So, I mean, I’m not looking for experience.”
The method the Europeans had of choosing their team seems to be working well. They are sticking with the same system that was used to pick the 2004 and 2006 teams. Both of those teams won The Cup by a score of 18-9.
In this system, five players qualify through The Ryder Cup World Points list, based on World Ranking points accumulated from all world ranked tournaments over a 12-month period and five more players qualify through The Ryder Cup European Points list, based on money won on the European Tour Order of Merit tournaments. Two more are chosen via captain’s picks.
Some of the European team members were in the top ten on both lists. Padraig Harrington leads both points lists. Lee Westwood, Robert Karlsson, Miguel Angel Jimenez, Graeme McDowell, Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson all appeared in the top ten on both lists. Sergio Garcia was at No. 2 on the Ryder Cup World Points list, while Soren Hansen and Oliver Wilson made it in via their eighth and ninth place standings, respectively, on the European Ryder Cup points list. Nick Faldo, captain of the European team, also had two captain’s picks, which he used to pick fellow Brits Ian Poulter and Paul Casey.
On paper, the European team looks stronger than the American team, and it could very well turn out that they prove it is so. However, I like the grit and determination of Azinger leading this U.S. team. I like that he is going to take the team to the Muhammad Ali museum in Louisville, and then meet him in person. He understands that his role is to inspire his team, and place them with partners that they can play well with.
There have been some bone-headed moves made by captains in the past, but I don’t expect Azinger to make any of those. He’ll actually ask them whom they’re comfortable playing with. I’m looking forward to watching the Ryder Cup in the coming week, so I hope that this time it is at least close enough to make it interesting. Otherwise, well, there’s always football!
• Quote of the Day — “We lost the best player in the game, Tiger Woods, and we are all going to have to step up. We are going to take on an underdog role in this Ryder Cup for the first time in a long time, even on paper, when you look at the strength of the European squad.” – U.S. Ryder Cup Team Captain Paul Azinger.
• Upcoming event — The Terre Haute Women’s Golf Association will have a four-person scramble on Sept. 27 at Hulman Links. For more information inquire at Hulman Links or contact Candy McCord at (812) 230-1090.