Tour Confidential: Could this be the most talented U.S. Ryder Cup team ever?

September 4, 2018
bryson dechambeau

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1. Bryson DeChambeau pulled away from a crowded leaderboard on Sunday, notching his second victory in as many weeks and his fourth in just over a year. And he needs a captain’s pick just to get on the Ryder Cup team! With other likely selections (Finau, Mickelson, Woods) rounding into form, could this be the most loaded U.S. Ryder Cup team ever?

Alan Shipnuck, senior writer (@AlanShipnuck): Gee, who could have seen this coming? I mean, besides those who were reading a certain Golf Mag column a year ago?!

Sean Zak, associate editor (@Sean_Zak): It could be. But Fowler is hampered and Spieth isn’t on point. Couple rookies that could falter in the heat of the moment overseas. This is a post-RC question, not a pre-RC one.

Shipnuck: Spieth has actually found it a little bit in the last few weeks, which makes the U.S. even scarier.

Josh Sens, contributing writer (@JoshSens): It could be. But the Euros aren’t slouches, and our stat guru Mark Broadie actually has them as the slight favorite, thanks to home field advantage. Buckle up.

Joe Passov, Courses and Travel editor (@JoePassov): So far, the U.S. is sporting a historically impressive lineup. Still, it’s far from the biggest mismatch of all time – years in the 1950s where we could have sat our top 4 and still won handily. And since I’m in Old Man mode, I’m still serving up 1981 as the finest U.S. team. Jack Nicklaus would eventually have 18 majors, Tom Watson (8), Lee Trevino (6), Raymond Floyd (4), Larry Nelson (3), Hale Irwin (3), Ben Crenshaw and Johnny Miller (2), plus once and future U.S. Open winners Jerry Pate and Tom Kite. Round our the squad with that year’s British Open winner and POY Bill Rogers and with Bruce Lietzke (three wins that year) and top to bottom, that’s the greatest ever.

Michael Bamberger, senior writer: It’s a team with a great deal of golf talent (Dustin Johnson) and experience (Tiger Woods, presumably) and form (Brooks Koepka). But I would say the 1981 U.S. team was likely the best ever: Watson, Floyd, the late Bruce Lietzke, Kite, Irwin, Jerry Pate, Crenshaw, Miller, Bill Rogers, Larry Nelson – and Big Jack. Oh, now I see Joe Passov’s gone the same way. Nicely played, Joe!

Dylan Dethier, associate editor (@Dylan_Dethier): Wacky course setup could make it a close race, I guess. But my goodness. Finau and Bryson have been the best players in the world the last two weeks and Tiger and Phil are looking lively. This squad is loaded. Best ever? I dunno. But potentially good enough to flatten the Euro side.

2. Matt Wallace notched his third win of the season on the European Tour, staking his Ryder Cup captain’s pick claim. Step into Thomas Bjorn’s shoes and can pick four of the following: Ian Poulter, Rafa Cabrera-Bello, Paul Casey, Matthew Fitzpatrick, Sergio Garcia, Eddie Pepperell, Matt Wallace, Russell Knox, Henrik Stenson. Who would you take?

Shipnuck: You have to preface this with the inconvenient fact that 5 of the top 8 Euro qualifiers will be Ryder Cup rookies. Plenty of guys have said they couldn’t feel their hands/legs/face on the first tee as a Ryder rookie. There is simply no pressure like it. The formats are quirky and challenging and players are massively taken out of their routines/bubbles. It’s a totally different animal than any other golf event, so I find specious this notion that because these guys have won regular tournaments they are fully prepared for the Ryder Cup. Ergo, I think Bjorn has to pick experience.

Casey and Poulter are locks. Stenson is such a stud you gotta take him and hope his nagging injuries are overcome by adrenaline. For me the last pick comes down to a red-hot Wallace (who would be another rookie), the slumping Sergio or the Notorious RCB, who played well in his Ryder debut in ‘16. All are defensible, but I’d take Rafa.

Bamberger: Something old (Stenson), something new (Matt Wallace), something borrowed (Paul Casey, Stateside more often than not), something blue (Ian Poulter).

Zak: Wallace for his form. Stenson for his history with Rose. Poulter because he’s Poulter. Then I’ll take Rafa for being a steely baller. Sorry, Serg.

Sens: I’m tempted to say Eddie Pepperell because I like saying “Eddie Pepperell,” but I agree that Stenson and Casey are pretty much shoo-ins, that Poulter’s fire and history will get him the rightful nod, and that RCB should prolly get the final slot, given what he did last time out.

Dethier: On pure merit and performance I’ll grab Casey, Poulter, Stenson and Wallace. But I’m sad not to include Pepperell on that list, especially after he tweeted out a picture of a pinot noir bottle this week – the night before he was to tee it up with Bjorn. He’s golf’s most lovable character.

Passov: Sergio has had a miserable year by his or any standards. But that hasn’t stopped Euros from starring in the past under similar scenarios – witness Martin Kaymer, on several occasions. I think that in match play, given his passion and past successes, Sergio gets a nod. Poulter has had a remarkable comeback year, and we all know what he and his flatstick and fist pumps bring to a Ryder Cup. I like Stenson’s ballstriking prowess for the venue and Paul Casey, for the firepower he brings, and to atone for some close misses on the selection front over the years.

tiger woods
Tiger Woods plays a shot on the first hole during the final round of the Dell Technologies Championship at TPC Boston.

3. Tiger Woods put a new putter into play this week and rolled it fairly well, 36th in strokes gained putting on the week despite going cold on Sunday. Still, he faded with a bogey and a double late on Sunday. Is the putter a missing ingredient? What’s keeping Tiger from putting four good rounds together?

Shipnuck: We’ve seen this movie before in ‘18: Tiger does a lot of really good stuff but one part of his game lets him down…plus a back-nine fade. I guess the putting was a bit of an improvement but he definitely had some cold stretches, too. Overall it’s been a very, very successful season but as the sample-size gets larger it’s increasingly clear there is a gulf between Woods and the very best players on Tour. Doesn’t mean he won’t put it all together at some point and win again, and it could very well be at a Pebble Beach or St. Andrews when they’re hosting an Open. But week-in-and-week-out it seems like he’s doing a lot of searching.

Zak: I’m not exactly surprised that Tiger’s best finishes came at courses (Bellerive and Carnoustie) with slower greens where he could hammer putts without huge concern. He’s a solid putter at best, but just not great. The weekend that he becomes great with that flatstick is probably gonna be a win. Unless of course the driver fails him.

Sens: What they said. It’s been a Whack-a-Mole run for Tiger during his otherwise amazing comeback. Knock down one problem, and another rears its head.

Dethier: That shot on 16 was discouraging, to be sure. Trying to close out a round and he makes a significant miss in the only place you can’t miss? Not good! I like the idea of having a Scotty-like look to his putter, but I’m not confident this is going to suddenly put everything together. Still, it looks pretty damn good. I see a smaller gulf than Shipnuck.

Passov: What’s remarkable is how many times Tiger has been in the mix this year, whether near the top or at least on the second page of the leaderboard. So in fact, he has put four good rounds together – just not four great rounds. We’ve got ‘em all covered here – driving woes (at times), putting woes (at times), bad misses late in rounds (at times) – but he’s doing plenty right to arrive where he has. It will all come together, soon.

Bamberger: Age, miles, outside interests.

4. Webb Simpson’s caddie Paul Tesori confronted a heckler on the final hole of Sunday’s third round. Where’s the line between good fun and boorish behavior? Is this a bigger problem now than it was 5-10 years ago?

Shipnuck: No question. I’m not sure why – wannabe social media attention? – but it feels like we’re approaching some kind of tipping point.

Bamberger: Absolutely. It’s all part of the selfie craze. Must be in on the action. Meghan McCain said this of her father at his funeral: “As a girl I didn’t appreciate what I most fully appreciate now; how he suffered and how he bore it with a stoic silence that was once the mark of an American man.” That silence, the actual discipline of silence, was part of what made golf golf. It’s not dead but it’s on life-support.

Zak: The line is probably somewhere between .08 and .12 BAC? Can’t speak myself for five to 10 years ago, but there’s definitely an urge to say things that might get on TV or elicit a response from players. Fans are generally abusing their right to be closer to these pro athletes than any other sport.

Sens: Agreed, and another factor to consider in the Ryder Cup run-up. The European team took issue with some fan comportment last time around. Hard to imagine that the Ole, Ole chants gone wild – or is it Oo-lah-lah in France? – won’t be a factor once again.

Dethier: One other factor that can’t be ignored – gambling and daily fantasy. Ever read the Twitter mentions of a player who has WDed or is playing poorly (see Horschel, Billy on Friday)? It’s a negative scene. I still think players should toughen up and ignore it all, but there’s no doubt golf could do without some of the nonsense.

Passov: We (here in Phoenix) did open the door to a lot of this – for better or worse – but we’ve seen it for years in Ryder Cups and in select New York-area tournaments as well. Yes, it’s worse now, but as you’ve all pointed out, it’s a society-driven thing now.

5. A Colorado golfer ended up with a bolt impaled in his leg after a freak driving range accident (the bolt was successfully removed). What’s the weirdest golf-related injury you’ve ever seen?

The bolt shot off a boundary rope and impaled the golfer's leg.
The bolt shot off a boundary rope and impaled the golfer’s leg.

Shipnuck: Richard Boxall snapping his leg mid-swing at the 1991 Open Championship.

Zak: Buddy of mine somehow dislocated his shoulder during the finish of his mega-flop shot. Club went flying into the air and left a crater in the green. I thought he was just enraged and threw the club in the air out of anger, so I quickly cussed at him. Felt pretty bad afterward.

Bamberger: I vaguely remember a golfer who pulled a rib muscle while sneezing, but I can see that.

Sens: I saw a guy break his leg while trying to jump out of a runaway cart. He was lucky. Coulda woulda shoulda been much worse.

Dethier: Remember last year, when the hot thing to do was run people over with golf carts? That was sort of spectacularly dumb and fascinating, though I can’t say I ever partook. The best story from my childhood was when one buddy chasing a golf ball into the edge of a pond ended up in some sort of muddy quicksand and started sinking, sinking, sinking… suddenly he was up to his chest in thick sludge before his feet finally hit the bottom. Ended up with just a bruised ego, a wrecked outfit and some ‘splainin’ to do when we got back to the clubhouse. But for a moment it felt like death in pursuit of a Pinnacle Gold was a very real possibility.

Passov: Not counting a Three Stooges episode from 1935 where there were repeated, multiple injuries caused by golf shots, I think of another episode from my youth. I was paired with a tennis playing friend who didn’t play much golf. He teed off Number 1 with an iron and didn’t so much shank one, as he did line a rocket off the toe of the club, directly to the right – no curve here – and it struck a poor guy in the calf who was hitting balls on the driving range. Understandably, the guy crumpled. To this day, I’m hoping he’s OK. My friend then hit his follow-up onto the green of the 260-yard par-4…and four-putted.