Captain plays it safe with wildcards

Davis Love confidently walked out to deliver his Ryder Cup team yesterday quietly aware he had already gained a small advantage over Europe.

With Jose Maria Olazabal announcing his selection eight days earlier, Love had the time to make whatever changes in personnel he deemed necessary to counteract the apparent depth of talent of the Europeans. More importantly, he had the opportunity to give his ‘wildcards’ an extra week to play themselves into form, analyse their performances and more importantly, finalise any team pairings he and his vice captains may have considered.

His wildcard selections of Steve Stricker, Jim Furyk, Brandt Snedeker and Dustin Johnson are solid if unspectacular. None of the four will strike huge fear into the hearts of the European team, but you must consider that the selection form part of what Love believes is the most capable team available to the US as they attempt to win back the Ryder Cup at Medinah.

I can understand Stricker’s selection in that he was only a shot away from bumping Phil Mickelson and qualifying automatically for the team but it is his record with Woods over the past Ryder and President Cups that is of most importance. He gels well with Tiger and if the Americans are to win then they will need to have their big players, especially Woods, in good form.

Johnson has performed when it mattered most and two tied 3rd positions in his last two tournaments has deservedly secured his selection. He is an immensely powerful and talented player but his form, especially his short game, can be flaky. Love will require a solid head alongside him so don’t be too surprised to see him paired with the likes of Furyk, Kuchar or Zach Johnson.

Snedeker has performed very well all year. A natural player he relies very much on instinct but it remains to be seen if he will be able to control his quick tempo in the knee-knocking, vomit-inducing cauldron of a Ryder Cup. If he does, then his selection could be inspirational as he has the game and talent to be an asset to any player paired alongside him.

Furyk, for me, is the luckiest of all the ‘wildcard’ selections. Although still a great player he has not won for some time and with a Ryder Cup record that is less than spectacular, he can count himself lucky that he has a conservative captain calling the shots. That said his consistency is an asset and if he can strike form over the week then his contribution to the team effort may well in fact be the difference.

Others were unlucky not to be selected yesterday, most notably two time winner Hunter Mahan, as well as Nick Watney and Ricky Fowler. Watney’s charge came too late while the others showed little form to merit selection over the closing half of the season.

The devil now for Love will be in the detail and how he gets his team to gel. His selection is made up of highly successful players, whose opinions are backed up by a record of achievement. He and his vice captains must create an atmosphere of openness and trust so that the players feel able to share their views, even when the team is under pressure. Once he achieves that right environment he must then get out of their way and allow them to perform.

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