In many ways, the US PGA Championship this week is a tournament within a tournament. Sure, it is the last major championship of the year, but given that the tournament also offers double ranking points for those on the bubble still seeking to qualify for the Ryder Cup at Hazeltine in September, the stakes couldn’t be any higher.
Winning a Ryder Cup is all about finding players and combinations who can excel under pressure, so it is hardly surprising therefore that both captains, Davis Love III from the US and Darren Clarke from Europe, are in attendance this week — no doubt taking a keener than usual interest in the performances of key fringe players.
In fact, with five rookies currently in Europe’s automatic qualifying spots, Clarke is in the enviable position of being able to look at veterans like nine-time Ryder Cup player Lee Westwood (who has been on seven winning European teams), Martin Kaymer, and our own Graeme McDowell to add greater experience and back room support to his team.
Historically, the rookies in the Ryder Cup have made a very telling contribution because they not only add much needed optimism and enthusiasm but they are also carry no baggage.
In fact it is interesting to note that the last time that America won the Ryder Cup in Valhalla in 2008, Paul Azinger’s side contained six rookies, three of whom — Steve Stricker, Hunter Mahan and JB Holmes — were captain’s picks.
Azinger, a veteran of many Ryder Cups had done his home work. He knew that it was all about getting his team balance right so his players practiced in pods with their partners all week. It proved an inspired piece of captaincy and by the end of the week, it was hardly surprising to find that his six rookies had in fact contributed 12 points towards their team’s 16½-12½ overall success.
Looking at the current standings, Davis Love right now faces an altogether different dilemma, with the automatic places on the US team currently being dominated by Ryder Cup veterans – players who have experienced defeat more often than not, so he now needs to get the team’s balance right by filling his remaining four picks with a combination of experience and youthful enthusiasm.
This week, Love will be delighted with the strong starts by Ricky Fowler and Patrick Reed as both are exceptionally strong and influential team players so he will be hoping now that one or ideally both can force their way into the automatic berths with big performances.
For Clarke, he too will be delighted with the start made by the two-time major champion Martin Kaymer. Although his form in recent years has been inconsistent, no one should forget that it was he who held the winning Ryder Cup putt at Medinah in 2012.
As for our own Shane Lowry, its now squeaky bum time.
Second at the US Open as recently as June, Lowry was at that time, banging on the door for automatic Ryder Cup selection a little more loudly than some of the more established names, but in recent weeks he has squandered that great position and Clarke, a fan, will have duly noted the inconsistent nature of his performances.
No one doubts his immense talent but right now, I have to believe that Shane will not be afforded any favours from Clarke in terms of Captain’s picks, so he simply has to get his form back again or risk losing out altogether.
Over the coming weeks, we can expect to see a lot of changes in the Ryder Cup points table, especially for those players competing in the Olympics as it offers no points. Before then, the bragging rights begin this week especially if either a European or an American wins the PGA Championship.
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