The best -- and not best -- Ryder Cup captain's picks
If Tiger Woods is added to the 2018 team that will represent the U.S. at the 42nd Ryder Cup outside Paris Sept. 28-30 -- being named perhaps as early as Tuesday, when captain Jim Furyk announces three of his four selections in Philadelphia -- it would not mark the first time Woods has been added to the Ryder Cup mix via a captain’s pick.
Coming off an abbreviated, 12-start campaign in 2010, the first season in which Woods had not won in 15 years as a professional, he was added to the U.S. side by then-captain Corey Pavin for the 38th Ryder Cup matches at Celtic Manor in Wales. Woods was asked heading into that year's competition if there would be additional pressure on him as a result of being a captain’s selection and not an automatic qualifier.
“Well, I just need to go out there and play,” Woods said. “Whatever captain puts me out there however many times, hopefully that’s as many points as I can earn.”
He came pretty close. He delivered a 3-1-0 mark to Pavin as the U.S. lost a close match, 14.5-13.5.
Earlier this month, in his Ryder Cup news conference following the completion of the 2018 PGA Championship at Bellerive Country Club, Furyk said he’ll be looking to add four players who embrace the big moment and who want to be in the fire competing in a Ryder Cup away from home. He has some interesting options ahead for picks, from longtime veterans such as Woods, Phil Mickelson and Matt Kuchar to promising rookies such as Bryson DeChambeau, Tony Finau and Xander Schauffele. And perhaps even another player or two might emerge this week at the Dell Technologies Championship, or answer the 11th-hour call next week at the BMW Championship, after which Furyk will name his 12th and final team member.
“We are looking ahead, and we have a long-term plan, but we’re trying to identify the four players that fit with these (first) eight,” Furyk said. “So when I look at my captain’s picks, I’ll be looking at guys that have had a great body of work this year, guys that are playing well and maybe hot players at the time. I’m looking at pairings. I’m looking at who fits in well with these eight players.
“I’m also looking at the golf course. I mean, Le Golf National is a wonderful golf course, in my opinion, but it suits a certain style of player, and I’ll be looking at that. So it’s my job, I think, to round this team out in the best possible way, and these four players that we’ll add will give us the best opportunity to be successful, whether it’s adding more veterans, whether that’s adding more rookies to the team … I think both can be very valuable.”
Next year will mark 40 years since captain’s picks were introduced at the Ryder Cup. In 1979, when the side from across the pond expanded from Great Britain & Ireland to the continent of Europe, Peter Oosterhuis and Des Smyth rounded out a team that was captained by John Jacobs at The Greenbrier. At that time, the U.S. team was formed entirely off a points list. (The criteria was constantly being tweaked; Two years later, the U.S. team comprised 11 players off a points list and the PGA champion, Larry Nelson.)
It would not be until a decade later, in 1989, that a U.S. captain would join his European counterpart in having the luxury of captain’s selections. The historic first two captain’s picks from captain Raymond Floyd ahead of a 14-14 draw at The Belfry in England were Lanny Wadkins and Tom Watson.
As expected, some captain’s selections have shined brightly and emerged as heroes, while others didn’t perform to the high standards expected when they were chosen.
Europeans Sandy Lyle and Jose Maria Olazabal each won three full points as Europe turned a corner in defeating the U.S. at Muirfield Village in Ohio in 1987. Ray Floyd was 51 years old in 1992 when added to the team by Watson as a captain’s pick. He responded by finishing 3-1-0, contributing a key 2-up singles victory over another captain’s pick, Olazabal, in a 15-13 U.S. triumph. That was the last time the U.S. tasted victory away from home – 25 years ago.
Who could forget the emotional impact of captain Ian Woosnam selecting Northern Ireland's Darren Clarke to play near home in Dublin in 2006 just weeks after Clarke’s wife, Heather, had lost her battle with cancer? There was not a dry eye as Clarke teed off that week at the K Club, and he paid Woosnam back for his unwavering faith by winning all three of his matches.
Ian Poulter, a candidate to be one of Europe captain Thomas Bjorn’s four wild-card picks to be named Wednesday, went 4-1-0 in a losing cause as a captain's selection in 2008 and, at 4-0-0, was the spark for Europe as it turned around a four-point deficit into Sunday singles and won at Medinah outside Chicago in 2012. In the last Ryder Cup, Thomas Pieters, a wild-card pick making his Ryder Cup debut for Europe, played brilliantly, finishing 4-1-0.
Captain’s picks Tom Lehman and Steve Pate each won key singles matches in 1999 for Ben Crenshaw as the U.S. overturned a 10-6 deficit to win at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass. And two years ago at Hazeltine in Minneapolis, it was that final man to be named to that team, Ryan Moore, who contributed the clinching point on Sunday.
Conversely, there were captain’s picks who didn’t experience such heights. Bernhard Langer finished 0-3-0 after being chosen by Tony Jacklin in 1989, when a half-point from him would have lifted Europe to victory. (Langer would finish his Ryder Cup playing career with a record of 21-15-6.) To boost crowd spirit, Sam Torrance wanted to name a Scotsman to the team that was competing at Gleneagles in 2014, but Stephan Gallacher felt the immense pressure, played only twice, and finished 0-2. Steve Stricker went 0-4-0 as a captain’s pick in 2012 at Medinah, losing the deciding singles match to Martin Kaymer, 1 up.
Nick Faldo is Europe's all-time leader in Ryder Cups (11), matches played (46) and points won (25). Surprisingly, the steely competitor was a four-time captain's selection, yet never returned his captain a winning record, coming closest in 1995, when he had a record of 2-2-0.
That's the same year that Wadkins, as U.S. captain, leaned on his old Wake Forest teammate, Curtis Strange, as one of his two captain's picks (Fred Couples was the other). Strange had an uncharacteristically poor week, finishing 0-3-0 at Oak Hill, ending with three consecutive bogeys in singles to lose a 1-down heartbreaker to Faldo. Europe captured the singles, 7.5-4.5, coming back to post a 14.5-13.5 victory that stunned the Americans.
A stand-up guy and two-time U.S. Open champion who now broadcasts golf for Fox, Strange said after that rough finish, “I probably deserve what I’m gonna get now (from the media). No matter how bad you beat me up, it’s not gonna hurt as much as what I’m gonna do to myself.”