It was more than merely symbolic that Corey Pavin announced his captain’s picks for the Ryder Cup at the New York Stock Exchange. Anyone with money in the market knows what a crap shoot that kind of bet is these days and Pavin had more of an appetite for risk than flight to safety in deciding who to put his stock in. So much so that he will be looking to cover his shorts if this quartet runs with the bears and not the bulls.
It’s an eclectic bunch that Pavin chose to represent the U.S. in the Ryder Cup next month in Wales. Three of the four are major champions with Ryder Cup experience, although none of the three have a winning record. The fourth is a rookie both on the PGA Tour and on the Ryder Cup team, who was chosen for reasons that don’t make a great deal of sense.
Tiger Woods was a lock to be chosen for reasons that go beyond the actual competition and filter into impure factors like revenue and television ratings. We’ve already had one Ryder Cup without Woods. The powers couldn’t fathom another.
The question becomes how much will Pavin play Woods if his game is not up to standards. In his five previous Ryder Cups, he played in five matches each time. But he has only won 40 percent of his 25 matches.
It’s no secret that Woods is still struggling, although it’s clear that he’s making progress. How much he can turn his form around in the next three weeks will determine whether Woods finds himself as the world’s highest-paid cheerleader while his teammates try to slay the dragon.
Stewart Cink is a curious pick, simply because he keeps making the U.S. team as a pick. He can’t seem to rack up enough points to be an automatic qualifier, but this will be his fifth Ryder Cup appearance. He has a record of 4-7-4, nothing that would scare any European on the team. So it appears that Pavin chose Cink because of his experience, never mind that it hasn’t been a particularly good experience.
It appeared that Cink had made a breakthrough when he broke so many hearts when he beat Tom Watson in a playoff to win the 2009 Open Championship. But he has done little since. He has only three top-10 finishes in 2010, topping off a year of strictly mediocre golf.
Cink was a choice for stability’s sake. There are five rookies on this year’s American team and Pavin apparently felt he needed a Ryder Cup veteran to be able to pair with the first-timers in foursomes and four-ball. Pavin is not likely to send Matt Kuchar, Jeff Overton, Dustin Johnson, Rickie Fowler or Bubba Watson out there without a partner that has been tempered in the Ryder Cup fire.
Zach Johnson falls into the same category, although he was 11th on the final Ryder Cup points list, which makes his selection look like less of a dice roll. However, Johnson has but one Ryder Cup on his résumé and his record was a paltry 1-2-1.
He has only two top-10s this year, but both came at opportune times. The first was a victory at the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial in May and the other was a tie for third in the PGA Championship, a result that apparently caught Pavin’s eye. It was that finish that led Pavin to skip Anthony Kim and Lucas Glover, who were ahead of Johnson on the points list.
Fowler is the choice that has created the most risk for Pavin. The Tour rookie is truly the wild card in the U.S. Ryder Cup hand. He played in only two major championships this year, finishing tied for 14th at the Open Championship after an opening-round 79. He has two runner-up finishes this year, including the Waste Management Open in Phoenix, when he was criticized for not going for a par-5 in two late in the final round with a chance to win.
Pavin pointed to Fowler’s stellar Walker Cup record as an amateur, but that’s like comparing golf balls to kumquats. There seems to be a clear division where Fowler is concerned. Players, writers and commentators who are under 40 all think Fowler was a great pick. Those over 40, except most notably Pavin, tend to question the wisdom of taking someone so untested with virtually no track record in the big events.
Paul Azinger, the 2008 U.S. captain, convinced the PGA of America to give him four picks instead of the two that had been the custom for years. He wanted the opportunity to choose players who were on top form late in the current year that might not have been high on the points list. That was the theory, anyway.
This year, it is apparent that Pavin’s choices were fairly limited. Not only are none of the four picks hot, they aren’t even lukewarm. Pavin has to hope that Ryder Cup magic will rub off on this foursome – and the rest of his team – between now and the end of the month.
It’s the biggest gamble of his career.