Ryder Cup captain Davis Love will turn to his eight automatic qualifiers for advice on his wild cards as the United States seek to avoid an unprecedented fourth straight defeat at Hazeltine.
Patrick Reed’s victory in the first FedEx Cup play-off event on Sunday secured his place on the team alongside Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson, Jordan Spieth, Jimmy Walker, Brooks Koepka, Brandt Snedeker and Zach Johnson. And those players will now have a major say in who joins them on the plane to Minnesota, mirroring the approach taken by the last victorious US Ryder Cup captain Paul Azinger in 2008.
“It’s time for these eight to take ownership of this team and help us pick four more,” said 2012 skipper Love, who will name three wild cards on September 12 and his final one after the Tour Championship in Atlanta, just five days before the 41st Ryder Cup starts.
“We’ve talked a lot to the guys that played for Paul and in fact I was helping my son clean out his truck the other day and I found Paul Azinger’s book in his truck.
“Paul has been a great help. He was successful. There’s guys that played for him like Phil Mickelson that know what went on. In 2012 I went down the list with everybody that made it on points and said, ‘What do you think? Who do you like? Who do you think you would pair well with?
“Golf is different than other sports. The mental side of it is huge. If they go in there believing in what we are telling them, that they have the best team, and that they are ready to go, then they are going to play well. We don’t want to start off with any question marks.
“It’s their team. If Patrick Reed says I want you to pick this guy and we won’t lose a match, we’re going to take that into account.”
Love, whose side led 10-4 before losing to a brilliant European fightback at Medinah in 2012, believes “two or three” of his wild cards are going to be easy, with the likes of Bubba Watson, Jim Furyk and Rickie Fowler firmly in contention, despite Fowler failing to convert a 54-hole lead for the fourth time on Sunday.
But he admits the timing of the process will lead to an awkward period between those first selections and the final one, a change brought about after Billy Horschel won the final two play-off events and overall FedEx Cup title in 2014 — but only after the team had been selected.
“The last guy is going to be hanging out there until the end and if you have it down to three guys going into the Tour Championship, what do you say to these players?” Love added.
“Handling that last one is new territory for us. It’s going to be an interesting week for sure. A lot of pressure on two guys, three guys, going into the Tour Championship. Not only are they playing for the FedEx Cup and for a lot of money, trying to win the last tournament of the year, but they have got this Ryder Cup thing hanging over them. So it’s going to be fun.”
Meanwhile, European captain Darren Clarke faces arguably the most difficult decision of his career when he must decide between form and experience in naming his three Ryder Cup wild cards.
Rookies filled five of the nine automatic qualifying places and although one of them is Masters champion Danny Willett, Clarke has made no secret he wants to “balance the team” with experienced players.
That points towards the likes of Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer, who finished 13th and 14th on the world points list respectively, or perhaps even Francesco Molinari, Graeme McDowell or Luke Donald, who were 18th, 19th and 21st.
Westwood and Kaymer are understood to be the favourites from that list, with Westwood a long-time friend and former Ryder Cup partner of Clarke who is seeking a 10th consecutive appearance in the event.
Clarke will announce announce his decision at 12:30pm at Wentworth today.
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