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Wednesday, March 20, 2013
Tom Watson's trimming not enough

By Farrell Evans
ESPN.com

Tom Watson didn't go far enough in his pull-back of the Ryder Cup captain's at-large picks from four to three. The move still gives the captain considerable and overreaching powers.

The team should be put together entirely from the standings. That would be the most meritocratic way of doing it. But then this would severely limit the authority of the captain. Beyond picking out the team wardrobe, the captain's responsibilities wouldn't really begin until the start of the matches.

Mahan
Had Tom Watson's system for automatically qualifying for the 2014 U.S. Ryder Cup team been in place for the 2012 matches, Hunter Mahan, above, would have made the American squad.

So much is made of golf as a by-the-numbers business. You are what your scores say you are. Decisions about who gets into major championships are made mostly from the world rankings and PGA Tour money list. 

The folks who oversee the world rankings don't have the power to lift Charles Howell III from 57th to 50th in the rankings, so that he can play in the Masters next month in his hometown.

No matter how much they like him or think he would be a good addition to that field, Howell has to earn his way in by the numbers.

Paul Azinger successfully increased the power of the U.S. captaincy for the 2008 Valhalla matches by getting two more picks. Watson's move seems to be a very soft rebuke of this power grab.

Watson can't make amends for Hunter Mahan being left off the 2012 U.S. team at Medinah by giving up control of one spot. The only way he can do that is by taking the top 12 guys off the standings. 

But then his powers of judgment, culled from more than 40 years in the game, would be completely in the service of the matches.  

Yet as we know from team sports, coaches feel it's very important to choose their own players. It's the most important part of their jobs.

A football coach selects his 22 starters from a depth chart that he has put together with his assistants. 

The U.S. Ryder Cup captain is given a certain number of selections from the standings. He gets to choose a few to complete his team with the ability to skip over guys high in the rankings, such as Mahan, who might have been in a slump at the time of the Medinah picks, but had won twice earlier in the season.

Football meritocracies work because the second- and third-string guys have a clear, unimpeded route usually to playing time in the order in which he sits on the depth chart. 

Player A outperformed Player B in practice, so he will be the starter. The coach might use other mitigating factors in his determination of his starting roster, but the depth chart is his primary evaluative tool for personnel.

The U.S. Ryder Cup selection process has its own depth chart: the standings. That should be the last word on how a team is picked.