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Advice for Captain America: the 2014 Ryder Cup

September 1, 2014

When the 40th Ryder Cup Matches commence at the Gleneagles Hotel in Scotland at the end of this month, the U.S. team, led by captain Tom Watson, will certainly have its work cut out for itself. While the recent Ryder Cups have been exciting to watch for even the most casual of golf fans, the outcomes have not been particularly pleasant for the Americans, with the U.S. having lost five of the past six competitions. And if recent history was already ominous enough, I wasn’t even born the last time the U.S. won a Ryder Cup played in Europe.

This week, Watson will announce his three captain’s selections.  They will join the other nine players who already qualified for the team: Bubba Watson, Rickie Fowler, Jim Furyk, Jimmy Walker, Phil Mickelson, Matt Kuchar, Jordan Spieth, Patrick Reed, and Zach Johnson. I intend to take nothing away from this group, which includes major champions such as Mickelson, Watson, and Furyk.  But the team will be severely overmatched when it hits the links against the Europeans, who boast major championship leaderboard stalwarts Rory McIlroy, Martin Kaymer, Graeme McDowell, and Henrik Stenson. And that list excludes renowned Ryder Cup veterans such as Sergio Garcia and possible captain’s picks Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter, who always seem to play their best in the match play format.

So simply put, Watson needs to catch lightning in a bottle with these three captain’s picks in order for the Americans to have any chance of winning the Cup back from the Europeans. Luckily for Watson, he has patriotic ball beaters like myself ready to offer our advice on who these three selections should be. Now I’m aware that it’s very rare for me, as a 15-handicap, to dole out a few golf tips to one of the greatest golfers of all time like Watson, an eight-time major champion. And I’m sure that Tom Watson will channel his inner Ty Webb and say, “thank you very little.” But hey, it’s worth a shot.

I chose my captain’s picks using three criteria:

1) Does the player have past, preferably successful, experience in the Ryder Cup?

2) Has the player ever won a major championship or shown the mental fortitude to compete in the most challenging circumstances of golf ?

3) Has the player been playing well recently?

Without further ado, here are my three selections. Take notice, Captain Watson.

Keegan Bradley

Past Ryder Cup Experience: In his Ryder Cup debut at Medinah in 2012, Bradley proved to be more than capable of handling the big moment. Bradley went 3-1, with all three wins of those coming as Phil Mickelson’s partner. Bradley gives Watson the opportunity to pair him up again with Mickelson with the hope of replicating the same success the pairing had last competition.

Major Championship Experience: Bradley won the 2011 PGA Championship, his first major start, in a playoff against Jason Dufner despite facing a five-shot deficit with three holes to play. Clearly, Bradley can come up clutch when it matters most.

Recent Play: Despite missing the cut at the PGA Championship this year, Bradley has posted three top-five finishes since June, including fourth-place finishes at the U.S. Open and WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.

Webb Simpson

Past Ryder Cup Experience: Although Simpson was not as successful as Bradley during his first Ryder Cup, he went a decent 2-2, with those two wins coming when paired with Bubba Watson. With chemistry playing a huge role especially during foursome play on Friday and Saturday, a pairing of Watson-Simpson pairing have the proven ability to counter any European team they’re matched up against.

Major Championship Experience: In the most difficult test of all the major championships, Simpson overcame a four-shot deficit to win the 2012 U.S. Open. He’s shown before that he can flourish under the toughest conditions.

Recent Play: Unlike Bradley, Simpson has had an inconsistent 2014 season. However, Simpson has shown some signs of a resurgence with a T-5 finish at the Wyndham Championship, as well as contending for the win at the ongoing Deutsche Bank Championship.

Hunter Mahan

Past Ryder Cup Experience: Although most golf fans will remember Hunter Mahan for losing the anchor match in the 2010 competition that gave Europe the trophy, Mahan has otherwise been highly successful during the Ryder Cup. In 2008, at Valhalla, he won two matches and halved three, while also winning one and losing another in 2010, if you exclude his singles loss to Graeme McDowell. No one will feel more motivated to win in Europe than Mahan after what happened during his last Ryder Cup.

Major Championship Experience: Of the three selections I’ve proposed, Mahan is the only one never to have won a major. But don’t hold that against him; Mahan has had success against some of the most talented playing fields, having won the two WGC tournaments: the Bridgestone Invitational in 2010 and the Accenture Match Play in 2012.

Recent Play: Aside from Rory McIlroy, not many people in golf can say that they’ve played better over the past few weeks. In his last three starts, Mahan has continued to one up himself. He finished T-15 at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, T-7 at the PGA Championship, and won The Barclays last week, the opening event of the FedEx Cup. There’s no reason to believe he can’t carry this strong form into the Ryder Cup in a few weeks.

Photo: Phil Allen

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