As a matter of fact, this is all Paul Azinger’s fault. Everything that’s wrong with this year’s Ryder Cup selection process lies at the feet of Azinger. He wanted more picks in 2008, so he jawboned the PGA of America and got things Zinger’s way, which is the only way, which meant he had four captain’s picks instead of the traditional two.
The problem is that the U.S. won at Valhalla and so Azinger looked like some kind of genius for manipulating the selection and for separating players into pods or whatever and made them hang around one another and practice together. And that’s all, as far as we know.
Whether that strategy caused the Americans to make more putts than the Europeans – which is what the Ryder Cup always comes down to, doesn’t it? – is largely unknown. But apparently Azinger was looked at as a savant because Corey Pavin didn’t use Azinger’s program (and the U.S. lost), concentrating instead on rainsuits and such. Nor will Davis Love III follow Azinger’s blueprint that we know of.
All of which brings us to Hunter Mahan. The most deserving of the players who were up for a captain’s pick is the one player who was left out – because Azinger jacked around the system.
Mahan was ninth on the U.S. Ryder Cup points list at the conclusion of the PGA Championship. He won the WGC-Accenture Match Play, taking down Rory McIlroy in the final. And he won the Shell Houston Open – more victories in 2012 than anyone on the U.S. team, except Tiger Woods, and just as many as Jason Dufner and Zach Johnson. Under the old system, Mahan would have made the team. Instead, he was passed over by Love in favor of, most think, Jim Furyk.
As it stands, the U.S. team has nobody – not one player – with a winning Ryder Cup record, including Furyk, who is 8-15-4 in seven previous Ryder Cups. Mahan, in two Ryder Cups, is 3-2-3.
“I need Jim Furyk,” Love said when he announced the selections. For what? At age 42, is Furyk likely to play five matches? He did at The Presidents Cup last year in Australia, going 5-0. And it’s certain that Love used that yardstick to choose Furyk for the Ryder Cup. However, The Presidents Cup is a garden party when compared to the cauldron of the Ryder Cup and everyone knows it, except maybe Love.
So is Furyk a good foursomes or four-ball partner? Ask Tiger Woods. During the Friday foursomes at the K Club in 2006, Woods and Furyk were 1 down heading to the 18th hole, a reachable par-5. Woods put his partner in the fairway, 228 yards from the green, a certain birdie for the dependable Furyk.
Furyk hit a hybrid club and hooked his shot some 30 or more yards into the water, causing the Americans to lose the hole to a par and lose the match 2 down to Luke Donald and Sergio Garcia. (To be fair, Woods and Furyk won their Saturday foursomes match against Padraig Harrington and Paul McGinley, 3 and 2.)
But a halve against Donald and Garcia would have halved the session, which would have put the Americans one point behind after Friday’s play instead of two behind. And in four-ball, Furyk is downright dismal, a collective 1-8-1.
Mahan, on the other hand, was 1-1 in foursomes in the 2010 matches, beating McIlroy and Graeme McDowell with partner Zach Johnson. He was 1-0-1 in foursomes and 1-0-1 in the four-balls while compiling a 2-0-3 record in the 2008 victory at Valhalla.
But what everyone apparently wants to remember is when he laid the sod over a chip shot against McDowell in the the anchor singles match in 2010 at Celtic Manor. But remember this: McDowell was 2 up with two to play after a birdie at the 16th and Mahan would have had to hole that chip shot on the 17th to stay in the match. Reality is that McDowell was probably going to win that match anyway. But the lasting memory is Mahan shedding some tears in the media center after the loss.
Azinger wanted more picks so that he could choose the hottest players at the right time. That’s good strategy to a point. However, there are more than three weeks between the time Love made his picks until the first match is played.
Mahan would have had 23 days to get his game back to top form, which is a lifetime for a professional golfer. Players have had turnarounds in a matter of days, not weeks, just ask McIlroy. Mahan isn’t playing badly, like, oh, say, Phil Mickelson had been until last week. He’s just a little off. Having a putt or two to fall at the right time can often be difference between mediocre and mind-blowing.
Bottom line is this: If you want the most deserving to participate in the Ryder Cup, Mahan is your man, no argument. He has nothing for which to redeem himself for what happened two years ago, no matter what he or anyone else thinks.
And if Love’s picks, one in particular, come back to bite him at Medinah, he knows exactly who to blame.