Captain Tom Watson’s captain’s picks for the Ryder Cup became more difficult when Dustin Johnson announced that he will not play in the event. And that was just the start.
I’ve posted the current U.S. Ryder Cup Team standings below. Remember, the top-9 finishers on the points list automatically earn a spot on the team, and T. Watson will pick two additional players of his choice to round out the lineup. Qualifying finishes this weekend at the conclusion of the PGA Championship.
- Bubba Watson
- Jim Furyk
- Jimmy Walker
- Rickie Fowler
- Matt Kuchar
- Jordan Spieth
- Patrick Reed
- Jason Dufner
- Zach Johnson
- Phil Mickelson
- Keegan Bradley
- Brendan Todd
- Ryan Moore
- Chris Kirk
- Webb Simpson
- Harris English
Jason Dufner (No. 8) announced that he has bulging disks in his neck, and Tiger Woods, who all expected to either make the team or be a captain’s pick before his back surgery, has yet to play well enough to prove that he can be a good addition to the Ryder Cup team, even if he is 100 percent healthy. To make things worse, Matt Kuchar (No. 5) withdrew from the PGA Championship today with back spasms, bringing his health into question.
The U.S. Team will also be playing against an impressive European team that has a red hot Rory McIlroy and Sergio Garcia. Despite these recent events, I still believe that a statistically oriented approach to the Ryder Cup can greatly overcome these odds.
First, I want to run over some of the main tenets when it comes to using a statistically oriented approach to the Ryder Cup:
No. 1: Versatility is critical
Ryder Cup teams need golfers who are suited to play both the four-ball and foursome format. This way, if a player is playing poorly, the team does not have to rely on him to start playing well and can have a different golfer come in and win valuable point(s).
No. 2: When in doubt, favor youth over experience
Most of the U.S. Ryder Cup team captains in recent years have favored experience above all else. Even if a Ryder Cup player is experienced, however, if he has proved to be a poor Ryder Cup player he is simply an experienced, poor Ryder Cup player.
The other part about youth is that if a young player gets a hot hand, the captain can keep him in the lineup without worrying about his stamina. That’s not always true for an older player or an injured player. Lastly, it serves future Ryder Cup teams to see how well these young players perform. It will help future captains better determine if they are a good, poor or indifferent Ryder Cup players.
No. 3: Favor players with great short games over the “hot putter”
While being a good putter is certainly helpful, the best Ryder Cup players historically have been very good around the green. This includes players like Luke Donald, Ian Poulter, Jesper Parnevik, Raymond Floyd, Billy Casper, Larry Nelson and Seve Ballesteros, to name a few. The problem with looking purely at putting is that it is hard to rely on player to putt well at any given moment. Even the best putters on Tour putt great (+1.0 strokes gained per round per event) in only about 30 percent of the events they play. Conversely, players with good short games can take that short game from event to event much more consistently, and the ability to save par and stymie your opponent appears to be critical to successful match play.
No. 4: Four-ball format is about birdies and playing each type of hole well
In the four-ball format, Ryder Cup team captains want players who can make a lot of birdies. One of my favorite teams in the four-ball format was Boo Weekley and J.B. Holmes in 2008. Weekley is a long hitter who finds a ton of fairways and is usually one of the most effective drivers of the ball. Holmes was the long distance hitter who made a ton of birdies and had the capability to make eagles. So they would have Weekley tee off first and he would usually blast a 300+ yard drive down the middle. And if Weekley was in good shape that would allow Holmes to get a free rip and blast a 375+ yard drive. If the ball was in play, it would put them at a sizeable advantage. Weekley was also a strong par-4 player and a pretty good par-3 player, while Holmes was an excellent par-5 player. Essentially, they had all of their bases covered and could rattle off birdies.
5. Foursome format is about avoiding bogeys and pairing players whose styles of play compliment each other
The foursome format is where bogeys are more likely to happen and this is where a great short game can be even more important. You can have two players who make few bogeys, however, who are a terrible match for each other. For instance, Phil Mickelson and Jim Furyk may not make a lot of bogeys, but that is on their own ball. Furyk is a player who hits fairways and does not play well from the rough. Since Mickelson is an errant driver of the ball, the combination would not likely be a very good one.
With those out of the way, here’s a table looking at the rankings of some key players that are not in the top-8 in Ryder Cup points. You can click the table to enlarge it.
I will start with some of the obvious players. Zach Johnson should be a sure fire pick if he doesn’t automatically qualify. He’s played well in previous Ryder Cups and his rankings in the key performance metrics are excellent. In fact, he has done a nice job of hitting shots from the rough this year, which have typically given him issues. And he has been spectacular on the par-5’s despite being a short hitter.
I would also eliminate the following players:
- Matt Every (poor driving and par-4 play).
- Erik Compton (poor driving, poor iron play, poor bogey rate).
- Webb Simpson (poor 175-to-225 yards play)
- Brendon Todd (poor 175-to-225 yards play)
- Kevin Stadler (poor par-4 play)
The Ryder Cup courses generally favor hitting shots from 175-to-225 yards, so I would be leery of using any player who has struggled from that distance this year. And since there are 11 par-4’s to be played, the team cannot afford a weak par-4 player.
From there, I will bring it down to these players for the final three spots.
- Phil Mickelson
- Keegan Bradley
- Ryan Moore
- Kevin Na
- Harris English
- Brian Harman
Keegan Bradley becomes the first obvious choice. He has driven it well and has been good with his long approach shots, short game and putting. The issue for Bradley has been iron shots from less than 175 yards. However, he can be paired with an accurate driver of the ball and keep him playing those shots from the fairway. Combine that with his performance on par-3’s, par-4’s and par-5’s and his Birdie Rate, and Bradley is a versatile player who played superbly in the last Ryder Cup.
I will assume that Phil Mickelson will be selected if he does not automatically qualify. Regardless of what the data says, I have a hard time believing a captain would not select Lefty if he is healthy. So as far as his analysis goes, he’s been a streaky Ryder Cup player. But, he has been better in recent Ryder Cups.
The interesting thing about Phil is that while he has had an off year, the numbers indicate that he is better suited for the Ryder Cup than he has been over the years. His driving has been the best it has been in years, although I would not call him overly accurate. What has hurt him this year, however, is that his iron play has not been quite as good from inside 175 yards than it has been in previous seasons, but he is still a great long approach player. The other issue is that his putting was giving him issues, but we have seen some progression lately.
I don’t think Phil will be a bad pick, although both Ryan Moore and Brian Harman are enticing. Harman is ranks 6th on shots from the fairway, has a good short game and has quality scoring metrics. If there is a worry about Mickelson, it’s that he has yet to finish in the top-10 this year and suffered back problems earlier in the year. I would not be vehemently against a Mickelson pick, but I am not assuming that he and Keegan Bradley will automatically pick up where they left off in 2012 at Medinah.
The Last Pick
This player currently has all of the elements of a good Ryder Cup player.
- He has a super low bogey rate.
- He has a great short game.
- He is one of the premier putters on Tour.
- He hits his long approach shots well from both the rough and the fairway.
- He has having a fine year with his scoring metrics.
- He is only 30 years old.
Who is this player? If you guessed Kevin Na, you are correct.
The possible knock against Na is he has gone fairly unnoticed this year. He has five top-10 finishes, however, which include two second-place finishes. He also finished T12 at the US Open.
The other knock against Na may be his slow play. That could aggravate his partner, but it may aggravate his opponents as well. Colin Montgomerie was not overly liked and was a phenomenal Ryder Cup player, and Sergio was one of the slowest players on Tour during his unbeatable years in the Ryder Cup.
Regardless of how this year’s Ryder Cup qualifying plays out, I see Captain Watson making sure that Mickelson, Z. Johnson, Bradley, Simpson and Dufner (if he’s healthy enough) for this year’s team. That’s a shame, because I’d like to see Harman and especially Na get a chance to prove that they could be fantastic Ryder Cup players.
On Spec: Winners’ WITBs and my week in golf
The original 0311
In the first episode of “The Disruptors,” GolfWRX’s new video series with PXG, Johnny Wunder sits down with company founder Bob Parsons for an in-depth talk about Parsons’ background and got into the golf equipment business.
The Bob I know
I’ll start by saying this: Bob Parsons has a stigma attached to him. With every move he makes or idea he pushes, many people think: Rich guy. No perspective. Who does he think he is?
I also need to say this (whether you believe it or not): This is not a puff piece. This is my honest perspective as I have experienced. Until 30 days ago, I didn’t have one PXG club in my bag and have never been given favor from PXG to “make them look good.”
OK, that’s out of the way, so you know what isn’t the motivation here. The motivation is to describe my relationship with Bob, so the golf community knows exactly who he is, why he is so important, and why we don’t want him to ever go away.
I first met Bob Parsons on December 11th, 2007 on the set of the first commercial I ever booked as an actor. It was for GoDaddy.com, and it was a Super Bowl ad that was later banned and became a “cult classic” for years to come. On the set of that commercial, Bob showed up before principal photography began and walked up to every person on that set (100 people) and personally introduced himself and thanked them for the hard work. When I met and I told him my name, he said in a way only Bob can, “Johnny Wunder!? I’ll never forget that name, that’s a no brainer.”
Fast forward to March of 2018 and PXG’s initial launch of the GEN2 irons. Before our interview was set up, I was reintroduced to him, and he said “Johnny Wunder!? THE Johnny Wunder? I know that name. We have met. I never forget a name.” I explained how we met and he started to laugh, “I may forget a face, Johnny, but I’d never forget a name like that.”
Since then, I have interviewed Bob four times and been his guest during product launches. NOBODY does hospitality like Bob. NOBODY. You are inside the bubble, and you are well taken care of but also respected to the utmost degree. He understands the job we in the media have and will give you everything he can to make the experience worthwhile. Yes, Bob has a larger-than-life on-camera persona. It’s big, funny, gregarious, and to some, intimidating. Bob off camera is a bit of a different thing. He’s a thoughtful, quiet man that will ask about your kids far before he asks what you think about his products.
I recall a morning he called me personally to ask me a question, it was a Saturday, if memory serves, and when I picked up the phone and realized it was him, I had to kind of laugh. Not at him but at his first few comments
- Apologized for interrupting my family’s Saturday morning
- Asked how my family was doing and if the kids were fans of golf
- Asked how I was doing beyond work and what I was planning for the rest of the year
These were real questions from a man that REALLY cares. Care is the key word here. I’ll get to that in a moment. After the call was done, he thanked me and wanted to make sure I told my wife that he apologized for stealing me away (if only for a few minutes) from my family on a Saturday morning.
This is not Bob selling me. This is Bob.
The message here is that Bob cares, immensely, about improving the conditions of those he can. Yes his clubs are expensive. Get past that. Yes he has a ton of cash. Get past that. Yes his persona is BIG. Get past that. He spun the industry on its head by introducing and selling clubs that were “too expensive.” “He will never make it” was something I hear a lot. Well that idea is now put to bed as PXG, leading with its strong chin, made it OK to spend a lot of money on golf clubs. He paved the way for bespoke companies like Artisan, Tyson Lamb, National Custom Works to charge premium prices for custom gear. I think any gearhead on GolfWRX could find a way to be thankful for that one…just for the Instagram pictures alone.
The interview accompanying this article will give you just a glimpse as to who Bob really is. He came from nothing. He built this. He dug it outta the dirt. He is the American Dream walking and talking. No one gave him anything. In this day and age, I honor that narrative. I respect the hell out of it, and I want my kids to see men and woman like this.
It’s the real “meat on the table” that Bob has. You can’t learn this in school, you have to learn it by trying and failing A LOT. PXG is something he built. He didn’t hire smart people to do his bidding, he hired smart people to learn from and get in the mud with. PXG clubs are the product of that collaboration. PXG clubs are not Bob, but they are a symbol of how much this guy cares about doing things differently. He’s a disruptor. He cares. That’s all that matters.
I hope you see what I see. Enjoy the interview.
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