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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

What’s old is new again

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All of a sudden, today’s newest trend in golf is yesterday’s clubs.

Golfers are making a move towards old classics the way car enthusiasts would ogle a classic Porsche 911 before they would look twice at a new Tesla Model 3. On the spectrum of art to science, Tesla is peak science and focused on efficiency in every fathomable way. The other will absolutely get you from A to B, but you are more likely to have a smile on your face while you take the detour along the water while enjoying the journey to get there. It is the second type of club that is enjoying this latest resurgence, and I can’t get enough.

New businesses are springing up to refurbish old clubs such as @mulligansclubmakers and @twirledclubs with price tags approaching (and exceeding) the RRP at the time of release of many of the clubs in question. These old clubs are often found in pictures of major champions being used in the 1970s and 1980s, which serves to make them more valuable and interesting to enthusiasts. Other clubs are simply polished examples of the clubs many of us owned 25 years ago and now regret selling. The more polish on an old blade, the better, with classic designs from brands like Wilson Staff, Mizuno, or MacGregor seeing demand and prices increase every month. Seeing these old clubs reimagined with shiny BB&F co ferrules, updated shafts, and grips can get some golfers hot and bothered, and they will open their wallets accordingly.

Around 15 years ago, I bought an old set of blades from the brand Wood Brothers. For many years, I was unable to find out a single thing about those clubs, until @woodbrosgolf came out of hibernation this year onto Instagram and into a frothing market for handmade classic clubs from a forgotten past. I was able to get information that the blades had come out of the Endo forging house in Japan, and my decision to keep the clubs in the garage all these years was vindicated. Now I just need an irrationally expensive matching Wood Bros persimmon driver and fairway wood to complete the set…

Among other boutique brands, National Custom Works (@nationalcustom) has been making pure persimmon woods with the help of Tad Moore to match their incredible irons, wedges, and putters for some time, and now the market is catching up to the joy that can be experienced from striking a ball with the materials of the past. There is an illicit series of pictures of persimmon woods in all states of creation/undress from single blocks of wood through to the final polished and laminated artworks that are making their way into retro leather golf bags all over the world.

There are other accounts which triumph historic images and sets of clubs such as @oldsaltygolf. This account has reimagined the ‘What’s in the Bag’ of tour pros in magazines and made it cool to have a set of clubs from the same year that shows on your driver’s license. I hold them wholly to blame for an impulse buy of some BeCu Ping Eye 2 irons with matching Ping Zing woods… The joy to be found in their image feed from the 70s and 80s will get many golfers reminiscing and wishing they could go back and save those clubs, bags and accessories from their school days. If you want to see more moving pictures from the era, @classicgolfreplays is another account which shows this generation of clubs being used by the best of the best in their heyday. Even better than the clubs are the outfits, haircuts and all leather tour bags to match.

It seems that this new generation of golfer – partially borne out of COVID-19 — is in need of clubs that can’t be sourced fast enough from the major OEMs, so they have gone trawling for clubs that were cool in a different time, and they want them now. Those golfers who match the age of the clubs are also experiencing a golfing rebirth, as the technology gains from the OEMs become incremental, many are now finding enjoyment from the classic feel of clubs as much as they are searching for an extra couple of yards off the tee.

Either way, the result is the same, and people are dusting off the old blades and cavities from years past and hitting the fairways more than ever before. With the desire shifting towards fun over challenge, they are even creeping forward to the tees that their clubs were designed to be played from and finding even more enjoyment from the game. If only I hadn’t got rid of those old persimmons in high school…

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Opinion & Analysis

The Wedge Guy: Top 4 reasons why most golfers don’t get better

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A couple of years ago, I attended a symposium put on by Golf Digest’s research department. They explored the typical responses as to why people quit or don’t play more – too much time, too expensive, etc. But the magazine’s research department uncovered the real fact – by a large margin, the number one reason people give up the game is that they don’t get better!

So, with all that’s published and all the teaching pros available to help us learn, why is that? I have my rationale, so put on your steel toe work boots, because I’m probably going to step on some toes here.

The Top 4 Reasons Golfers Don’t Improve

  1. Most golfers don’t really understand the golf swing. You watch golf and you practice and you play, but you don’t really understand the dynamics of what is really happening at 100 mph during the golf swing. There are dozens of good books on the subject – my favorite is Ben Hogan’s “Five Lessons – The Modern Fundamentals of Golf.” But pick any good one and READ IT. LEARN IT. It will help you immensely if you understand what the swing is really all about. Use a full length mirror to pose in key positions in the swing to match the drawings and photos. All the practice in the world will not help if you are not building a sound fundamental golf swing.
  2. Learning golf doesn’t start in the middle. A sound golf swing is built like a house. First the foundation, then the framing, roof, exterior walls, interior, paint, and trim. You can’t do one before the other. In golf, it all starts with the grip. If you do not hold the club properly, you’ll never accomplish a sound golf swing. Then you learn good posture and setup. If you don’t start in a good position, the body can’t perform the swing motion properly. With a good grip and a sound setup posture, I believe anyone can learn a functional golf swing pretty easily. But if those two foundations are not sound, the walls and roof will never be reliable.
  3. Most bad shots are ordained before the swing ever begins. I am rarely surprised by a bad shot, or a good one, actually. The golf swing is not a very forgiving thing. If you are too close to the ball or too far, if it’s too far forward or backward, if you are aligned right or left of your intended line, your chances of success are diminished quickly and significantly. The ball is 1.68 inches in diameter, and the functional striking area on a golf club is about 1.5-inches wide. If you vary in your setup by even 3/4 inch, you have imposed a serious obstacle to success. If you do nothing else to improve your golf game, learn how to set up the same way every time.
  4. Learn to “swing” the club, not “hit” the ball. This sounds simple, but the golf swing is not a hitting action: it’s a swinging action. The baseball hitter is just that, because the ball is in a different place every time – high, low, inside, outside, curve. He has to rely on quick eye-hand coordination. In contrast, the golf swing is just that – a swing of the club. You have total control over where the ball is going to be so that you can be quite precise in the relationship between your body and the ball and the target line. You can swing when you want to at the pace you find comfortable. And you can take your time to make sure the ball will be precisely in the way of that swing.

Learning the golf swing doesn’t require a driving range at all. In fact, your backyard presents a much better learning environment because the ball is not in the way to give you false feedback. Your goal is only the swing itself.

Understand that you can make a great swing, and often do, but the shot doesn’t work out because it was in the wrong place, maybe by only 1/4 inch or so. Take time to learn and practice your swing, focusing on a good top-of-backswing position and a sound rotating release through impact. Learn the proper body turn and weight shift. Slow-motion is your friend. So is “posing” and repeating segments of the swing to really learn them. Learn the swing at home, refine your ball striking on the range and play golf on the course!

So, there you have my four reasons golfers don’t get better. We all have our own little “personalization” in our golf swing, but these sound fundamentals apply to everyone who’s ever tried to move a little white ball a quarter-mile into a four-inch hole. Working on these basics will make that task much easier!

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Club Junkie

Club Junkie: VA Composites Raijin shaft and more cheap Amazon grips

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Very solid, other than one hole, last week in my league. Talking about the VA Composites Raijin shaft and how it is a smooth feeling, mid/high launching shaft. I also try another set of cheap grips off Amazon to see if they are better than last time.

 

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