Monday, September 3, 2012
Updated: September 5, 3:02 PM ET
Davis Love III's work just beginning
By Farrell Evans
NEW YORK -- As a player on six Ryder Cup teams, few better understand the enormous pressure that comes with the biennial matches than Davis Love III. The lanky son of a famous teaching pro always carried himself like a true American patriot to a 9-12-5 record. But by his own admission, he often let that pressure keep him from playing his best golf.
Love came into the job as this year's U.S. captain vowing to lead a looser, more relaxed team that would try not to get too overwhelmed by the intense weight of trying to stop the Europeans' recent Ryder Cup dominance.
On Tuesday morning, the 48-year-old, 20-time PGA Tour winner made his first major decision as the U.S. captain. His four wild-card picks were Jim Furyk, Steve Stricker, Brandt Snedeker and Dustin Johnson.
Furyk and Stricker, both Ryder Cup veterans and favorite playing partners of Tiger Woods, were thought by many to be locks to make Love's team. The conventional wisdom was that the competition was really for two picks.
Snedeker and Johnson earned their way to Medinah Country Club for the Sept. 28-30 matches over the last month with both notching top-10s at the Open Championship and in the first two FedEx Cup playoff events.
Truthfully, it wasn't a very hard decision for Love. Snedeker and Johnson distinguished themselves from Hunter Mahan, Bo Van Pelt, Robert Garrigus, Bill Haas and Rickie Fowler. Mahan had two wins on the year, but he has only one top-10 finish since early April.
Now that the roster is complete, Love's real work begins with the molding of 12 unique players into one team. Love has four rookies on his squad, two of them -- Keegan Bradley and Webb Simpson -- are major champions, who have both had big wins this season. The other two rookies, Snedeker and Dufner, are steely veterans in their 30s.
So this is a very mature U.S. team full of impressive résumés. But for all their individual achievements, these matches are a team effort, built off a chemistry that can be unnatural to players accustomed to always doing their own thing.
In recent years, the Americans have worked overtime through after-hours pingpong matches, dinners and bull sessions to bring some of the camaraderie to their team that has characterized the notoriously clannish European bunch.
These 12 American players have had the special opportunity to use the FedEx Cup playoffs to prepare for the Ryder Cup. Now that the full team is set, they can use these next few weeks leading into the matches to try to bond as a group as they each individually try to win the playoffs.
Love doesn't have to worry about them coming into Medinah flat. Most of them will go straight from the Tour Championship in Atlanta to suburban Chicago.
When Love was a perennial Ryder Cupper in the 1990s, he had nearly a month off between the end of the season and the start of the matches. So he's very pleased to have his players sharpening their games in the playoffs.
"I think we want our guys to know generally who they might be playing with because they are getting ready to go play two big weeks of golf," Love said. "They are going to be playing together and they are going to be hanging out together, and we want them talking about it and we want them starting to match up pulling this team together.
"It's not like USA Basketball who got to travel a bunch together and play a whole bunch of games before they got to the Olympics. We are going to show up Sunday night, Monday morning and have to go get it."
So if you're trying to figure out the chances of the U.S. regaining the Cup, look at how it plays in the upcoming BMW Championship and the Tour Championship.
"We are going to talk a lot about what we are going to do when we are there," Love said. "I think getting prepared mentally for everything that's going to happen that week is very, very important, but these guys will be golf ready for sure."
Fortunately for Captain Love, most of his team is playing well in the playoffs and has a chance to win the $10 million first prize. Many of the players off the European team are also sharpening their games in the playoffs, but they won't have the privilege of having their entire team together for a couple of weeks leading up to the matches.
On Wednesday, Love will meet his full team for the first time at the BMW Championship at Crooked Stick, outside of Indianapolis. He has already started talking to players about possible pairings, team chemistry and scheduling. They will talk more about that Wednesday night.
But perhaps the best advice he can give his players is for each one of them to try their hardest to win the playoffs. Most likely a handful of them will fight it out for that title in the finale at East Lake.
That might not be the most unifying thing to happen for the team, but it would show that these players are hungry to win.