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Opinion & Analysis

Does the Ryder Cup need a 9th man?

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Woulda, coulda, shoulda.

On Wednesday, Tom Watson announced that he would eliminate the fourth captain’s pick and allow the top-nine players on the U.S. Ryder Cup Team to qualify on points.

“There’s not a lot of method in my madness, if you will,” said Watson, 63, who will be the oldest U.S. Ryder Cup captain in history. “I truly think the players themselves ought to have another shot at getting on the team because of … their play.”

In every Ryder Cup, there is always a debate on whether or not the captain’s picks were the correct ones, and there are different schools of thought on the best approach. Should captain’s picks be veteran players who have experience and can mentor the younger guys, or should they be younger players who can provide a spark? Let’s take a hard look at the facts of the last five Ryder Cup matches and get a firm grasp on the importance of those captain’s picks.

CASE STUDY No. 1: 2004 at Oakland Hills

2004 Ryder Cup

Won by Team Europe (18.5 to 9.5)

The 2004 U.S. Team’s points list had the top-10 point getters making the team, which in this case left veteran player Steve Flesch in the 11th spot. In 2004, Flesch won at Colonial and also tied for seventh at the U.S. Open.

That’s an impressive campaign for most, but it wasn’t enough for captain Hal Sutton to take notice. Sutton eventually went with seasoned veteran Jay Haas, who in 2003 had an impressive showing at the Presidents Cup (he went 2-1-1) and was ranked in the top 20 in the OWGR at the time of his selection to the Ryder Cup. Stewart Cink, who had won twice in 2004 including the prestigious WGC Invitational at Firestone, was the second captain’s pick.

Sutton’s picks were somewhat expected, so there wasn’t a whole lot of discussion about them leading into the matches. Granted, the U.S. got manhandled in the matches, but it was Sutton’s pairings — Phil and Tiger together, mostly — that took most of the heat. Both Cink and Haas finished with records of 1-2-1, which in 2004 was a lot of points for a U.S. player.

Analysis: No amount of clever picks would have been enough for the U.S. to triumph at Oakland Hills.

CASE STUDY No. 2:  2006 at The K Club

Darren Clarke at the 2006 Ryder Cup

Won by Team Europe (18.5 to 9.5)

A good of amount of debate was provided in 2006 as to the captain’s picks and the point system in general. Relatively unknown players like J.J Henry, Vaughn Taylor and Brett Wetterich made the team on points, which led most to believe that the point system was flawed.

John Rollins finished 11th in points and was overlooked so that veterans Stewart Cink and Scott Verplank could be added to the inexperienced squad. Verplank finished the matches with a record of 2-0, which supported captain Tom Lehman’s pick, and Cink who played in all five matches and finished 1-1-3. In the end, much like 2004, it didn’t really matter who Lehman picked because of the birdie onslaught from Team Europe, which was fueled by the inspiring play of Irishman Darren Clarke who had just lost his wife to breast cancer.

Analysis: Hogan, Snead and Nicklaus could have been picked for the squad, but nobody was going to beat Clarke that week, especially on his home turf.

Case Study No. 3: 2008 at Valhalla

Azinger at the 2008 Ryder Cup

Won by the U.S. (16.5 to 11.5)

Captain Paul Azinger made a controversial decision prior to the 2008 matches — he adjusted the qualifications for the U.S. Team to allow only eight players to make it on points, which enabled him to make four captain’s picks.

His pod system proved to be just what the U.S. Team needed to spur them on. He paired players based on personalities rather than their style of play. Even with six rookies on the team, his plan came off without a hitch.

Azinger was able to compensate for the absence of Tiger Woods, who was sidelined with a knee injury. So in this case the “9th player” on the list happened to be the 10th player, Steve Stricker, who in the golf world’s mind was a shoo-in to make the team. Although he provided some fireworks when he halved a match with Ben Curtis against Sergio Garcia and Paul Casey, Stricker finished the matches winless at 0-2-1.

All told, the four captains picks (Hunter Mahan, J.B. Holmes, Steve Stricker and Chad Campbell) finished the matches 6-3-5 and further solidified Captain Azingers model.

Analysis: Although Stricker was the highest-ranked player on the points list (No. 10) and the most experienced, he was the least successful of Azinger’s picks. 

Case Study No. 4: 2010 at Celtic Manor

The captains of the 2010 Ryder Cup

Won by Team Europe (14.5-13.5)

U.S. Team Captain Corey Pavin continued with Azinger’s 2008 model and used four captain’s picks. Pavin decided that injury-laden Anthony Kim, who slipped to 9th in the Ryder Cup standings, would watch the matches from home.

His four captain’s picks of Tiger Woods, Zach Johnson, Ricky Fowler and Stewart Cink finished the week 6-3-5, and left little doubt as to whether Pavin made the right choices. The U.S. Team fought hard in Wales, and if two or three more putts would have gone in perhaps it would have hoisted the cup for a second straight time.

Analysis: Pavin picked the four best players he had access to at that moment, and most agreed that going leaving the injury-plagued Kim off the roster was the right choice. 

Case Study No. 5: 2012 at Medinah

Jim Furyk, Phil Mickelson and Webb Simpson at the 2012 Ryder Cup

Won by Team Europe (14.5 to 13.5)

There was some buzz early in the week in regards to Mahan’s name missing from the roster, but at no point was it 100 percent obvious that Love had made an oversight.

Love’s captains picks of Dustin Johnson, Steve Stricker, Jim Furyk and Brandt Snedeker finished a total of 5-8. The man who shouldered the majority of the scrutiny was Steve Stricker, who finished the week 0-4. But Love’s real mistake was picking Furyk, because there’s just no way an aging Furyk has more value to the future of the U.S. Ryder Cup team than Hunter Mahan, one of the game’s brightest stars who has plenty of Ryder Cup appearances in his future.

Yes, Mahan finished the 2010 Ryder Cup in tears after fatting a chip that could have kept the U.S. in the match, but Furyk blew several tournament leads in 2012, including the Transitions Championship, the U.S. Open and the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. Shocker that he did the same thing on Sunday at the Ryder Cup, right?

Analysis: Strickers’ 0-4 record and Furyk’s meltdown on the final holes started this debate. In retrospect, either or both of them probably should have been replaced with Hunter Mahan and Nick Watney, all in their early 30s. 

The Takeaway

Having the access to pick four key Ryder Cup players seems like a great weapon for a captain to have, but it’s hard to prove that picks have faired any better than comparable players would have over the years. Keeping that in mind, Watson might have a point — what’s wrong with putting the responsibility of the team’s success on the shoulders of the players to qualify?

Up until 1989, that’s how all players qualified for the U.S. Team. And get this, the U.S. completely dominated the Ryder Cup. If you take a look back at how captains have used their picks, they were often to add a couple of experienced veterans (or friends) to the roster. Rarely has a captain used a  pick to select a younger player.

If the U.S. Team went back to the old format, there’d be no picks and no debate — just simple math. I can assure you that the guy who is in the 13th spot is going to make sure he’s never there again, sort of like the guy who landed at 126th on the money list. Motivation works in mysterious ways and what it does to a player is amazing.

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Johnny Wunder is the Director of Original Content, Instagram Manager and Host of “The Gear Dive” Podcast for GolfWRX.com. He was born in Seattle, Wash., and grew up playing at Rainier G&CC. John is also a partner with The Traveling Picture Show Company having most recently produced JOSIE with Game of Thrones star Sophie Turner. In 1997 Johnny had the rare opportunity of being a clubhouse attendant for the Anaheim Angels. He now resides in Toronto, On with his wife and two sons. @johnny_wunder on IG

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. GAMES

    May 2, 2013 at 7:46 pm

    Picking the #10 player in the world (Stricker) over #19 (Mahan) and #29 (Watney) was a no-brainer. No one could have seen Stricker’s 0-4 record coming.

    BTW, if the same decision had to be made today, picking Stricker would be EVEN MORE of a no-brainer as he has moved UP to #9 in the world, while Mahan and Watney have both fallen three spots, to #22 and #23, respectively.

    I know Steve Stricker’s modest midwest demeanor doesn’t play well with you people on the coasts. But, the reality is Stricker simply was AND IS a better player than either Watney or Mahan…

  2. Brandon

    Mar 25, 2013 at 12:01 pm

    I still think leaving Mahan off last years team was a mistake, especially considering how well he plays in match play. I definitely like the idea of one less captains picks I would say get rid of them all together and just take the top 12 at the time. I don’t think you can go wrong with pick the guys who are playing the best that year.

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Opinion & Analysis

How Tiger Woods lost the 2009 PGA Championship

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11 years ago, the PGA Championship produced one of the greatest upsets in sporting history.

The all-conquering Tiger Woods arrived at the 2009 PGA Championship as the prohibitive favorite, having won three of his last four events. Woods then backed up that favoritism over the opening two days, picking apart Hazeltine National with extreme precision to build a four-stroke advantage by the halfway point.

It felt like such a formality that here in Ireland, our biggest bookmaker, PaddyPower declared Tiger as the winner and decided to pay out all outright bets on the World Number One after just 36 holes.

It proved to be a big mistake.

Next week will be the 11th anniversary of the monumental upset, and here I’ll take a look at the factors behind Woods’ unthinkable loss that week to Y.E. Yang.

Tiger’s Ultra-Conservative Saturday

On a scoring Saturday, Woods was too content to play it safe. Why not? After all, the ultimate closer had won so many majors by forging a lead, aiming for the middle of the green, two-putting for par and watching his opponents slowly falter one by one.

Only this time was different, and even Tiger with a two-shot lead going into Sunday’s final round as much as admitted he was too conservative during round three, saying after his round:

“They gave us a lot of room on a lot of these pins, six and seven even from the side, so you can be fairly aggressive. I just felt that with my lead, I erred on the side of caution most of the time.

“If I did have a good look at it, a good number at it, I took aim right at it. Otherwise I was just dumping the ball on the green and 2-putting.”

The incessant safety first, lag putting strategy of Saturday even transformed into a tentativeness at the beginning of Sunday’s final round.

On the par-five seventh hole, with Yang in trouble, Woods had 245 yards to the pin for his second with a huge opportunity to make a statement eagle or textbook birdie. He inexplicably layed up, hit a poor wedge and once again lagged for par.

Horrific Sunday Putting

To say Tiger’s trusty Scotty Cameron betrayed him during Sunday’s final round would be underselling it. Putt after putt just refused to drop when he needed it most.

In the end, Woods’ seven-foot birdie effort on the 14th hole is the only putt of any note he managed to make on the day.

Tiger played Sunday’s final round in 75 strokes. Thirty-three of them were putts.

Yang Stood Up To Tiger

Critics of Woods have long claimed that in his prime, Tiger would crowd his opponents as an intimidation tactic, or rush off the green to the next tee leaving his competitors to putt out while the crowd dispersed.

Regardless, nothing was going to faze Yang that Sunday.

In fact, during the early stretch of the final round, Tiger’s indecision and tentativeness led to the pairing being behind the pace of play. It forced on-course officials to remind the two that they needed to speed it up—and of course, they only stressed that Yang needed to do so.

How did the Korean respond? By pointing at Tiger and saying “Not me. Him.”

The Pivotal Two-Shot Swing

Many look back on Yang’s chip-in eagle to take the lead at the 14th hole on Sunday as the significant turning point of the Championship. However, Yang was always likely to make birdie on the short par-four hole, and the previous hole may well have been the tipping point for the upset.

On the par-three 13th hole, Yang found the bunker, while Woods hit a beauty to eight feet. The two-shot swing in Tiger’s favor looked even more likely when Yang failed to get his bunker shot inside Woods’ ball.

But when Yang buried his par effort, and Woods let yet another putt slip by, the two remained all square.

Woods’ reaction following his putt was telling; his frustration poured out despite him still being in a share of the lead. It was a show of exasperation that may have given the Korean all the encouragement he needed to turn Tiger’s 54 hole major lead record of 14-0 into 14-1.

Asked following his round when he felt his control on the tournament beginning to loosen, Woods said:

“But as far as the tournament switching, 13, I stuffed it in there. He made a mistake, hit it in the left bunker. He blasted out. I missed my putt. He made his. And then he chipped in on the next hole.

“So that two-hole stretch turned — if I make my putt, he doesn’t chip in, you know, he doesn’t make his putt on 13.”

The 2009 PGA Championship preceded a ten-year barren spell for Tiger at the majors before he claimed his fifth green jacket at the 2019 Masters. He is still yet to appear in the final twosome on a Sunday at a major since the 2009 PGA.

As for Y.E Yang, the 48-year-old now spends most of his time competing in Japan and his native Korea. He has played in all 10 PGA Championships since his remarkable victory. He has missed the cut seven times.

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The Gear Dive

The Gear Dive: Brandel Chamblee is back!

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In this episode of TGD brought to you by Titleist, Johnny goes in on the distance debate with a friend of the podcast, Brandel Chamblee. Also picks for the WGC, filling a hole in the bag and why the LPGA is the best place to learn how to play.

Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes or here to listen on Spotify.

Want more GolfWRX Radio? Check out our other shows (and the full archives for this show) below. 

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Opinion & Analysis

How to warm up like a PGA Tour pro

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@skysportsgolf

One of the keys to playing a great round of golf stems from how you prepare for your round. When you go to the range, you’ll often see amateur golfers hitting shots quickly and sporadically without much rhyme or reason. On the other hand, when you take a look at players on the PGA Tour, each of them has a well structured and methodical approach to how they warm-up.

From watching the pros, there are a few key takeaways that you can implement in your game to improve the quality of your warm-ups.

Arrive Early

Give yourself enough time to warm up before your round. Showing up 10 minutes before you’re due to tee off is a recipe for disaster and a double bogey waiting to happen on the first hole. Allowing yourself 30 minutes to an hour should be plenty of time to get through an awesome warm-up, leaving you confident when you step onto the first tee box.

Spend More Time Putting

Whether you watch Tiger Woods, Justin Thomas or any other pro, one thing is consistent: they all spend a lot of their warm-up practicing putting, accounting for well over half their practice strokes. And why wouldn’t they? If you 2 putt every hole, you’ll be hitting 36 shots, literally half of all your strokes during the course of your round.

Practicing both long and short putts will give you more confidence standing over your first birdie putt of the day.

Loosen Up

A little bit of stretching before you start hitting shots on the range can go a long way. Stretching before you start will activate your muscles for the day ahead. Spend some time doing bending toe touches, shoulder stretches, lateral twists, and a standing forward bend stretch to maximize your range session.

Work Your Way Up The Bag

When you watch a pro like Jason Day warm-up, you’ll notice when he gets to the range that he’ll start out by hitting shots with a wedge, working up the bag. This is how most pros structure their warm-up for the most part, and they do so to establish rhythm and tempo as they move into their longer irons and woods.

Try this out yourself by hitting some wedges, and then move up your bag using all even or all odd irons. Place emphasis on your short game as you move through your bag; the shots you hit inside 100 yards will lead you to the most scoring opportunities.

Hit Fewer Drives on the Range

It’s fun to hit the driver, but it’s one of the most taxing swings you can make. Plenty of amateur golfers spend way too much time hitting their driver on the range, and wearing themselves out before they get to the first tee. By doing so, not only do you tire yourself out, but you risk throwing off the swing tempo that you’ve worked so hard on during your warm-up.

Definitely still practice hitting drives, but make them count. Try only hitting 5-10 drives, but treating them as if they were on the course.

Hit Practice Shots With Purpose

It’s really easy to get onto the range and start hitting shot after shot in quick succession, trying to get the right swing out as quickly as possible. Not only does this use up a lot of your energy, but it’s not too realistic compared to how you’ll approach your shots on the course.

Instead, take the methodical approach and try to make each shot count. Take the time to set up correctly, paying attention to alignment and ball positioning. Hitting more shots with real intention on the range sets you up for success when you hit the course.

Wrap Up

Implementing some of this structure into your pre-round routine will put you into a position to score. Practicing more putts and placing emphasis on your short game will help you save strokes where they count. These tips will help you take a better approach to golf.

 

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