<
>

Quick 9: U.S. needs more than Ryder Cup meetings

Davis Love III will get a shot at redemption in the 2016 Ryder Cup. He captained the Americans during a heartbreaking loss at Medinah in 2012. Andrew Redington/Getty Images

1. Ryder Cup plans

Davis Love III is not wasting any time trying to get to know potential members of his U.S. Ryder Cup team, scheduling a dinner meeting for next week during the Honda Classic and promising to have several more throughout the year.

Love, who was appointed the 2016 captain nearly a year ago after the formation of a task force to deal with the continuing American struggles in the competition, said last week at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am that "we want to get ahead of the game.''

"I think if we all get to know each other a little bit better in March and April and May, rather than waiting until August and September, we're going to be better off.''

Europeans are likely chuckling, if not laughing out loud.

Look, there is nothing wrong with what Love is doing. Getting the guys together, even inviting players well down the list, and talking golf and possible pairings seven months ahead of the competition can't hurt.

But it won't mean one point at Hazeltine in September.

For all the talk about European unity leading to success over the years, there's been enough acrimony in that team room (Padraig Harrington and Sergio Garcia's relationship comes to mind) to put the idea to rest that it greatly affects the outcome.

What the U.S. needs is more players making clutch putts, especially on the 18th green. Love keenly remembers Medinah in 2012, where his team blew a 10-6 lead and lost 14½ to 13½.

There was ample squandered opportunity for the U.S. to claim that Ryder Cup -- just as there was during another 1-point defeat, in 2010 -- that no amount of camaraderie will fix.

2. Vaughn's return

Vaughn Taylor's victory Sunday at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am was his first in nearly 11 years dating to the 2005 Reno-Tahoe Open -- a victory that, coupled with six top-10 finishes in 2006, helped him earn his first and so far only spot on the U.S. Ryder Cup team.

That team is generally regarded as the worst in U.S. history as it lost to Europe by a record-tying nine points. Taylor was one of four rookies on the team along with Zach Johnson, J.J. Henry and Brett Wetterich.

Although calling out those players has always been unfair -- Phil Mickelson went 0-4-1 at that Ryder Cup, and only Tiger Woods was on the winning side of as many as three matches -- it is true they did not perform very well.

Johnson went 1-2-1 and would soon become a top player (he won the Masters the next spring), but none of the other three rookies on that team ever made it back to the Ryder Cup. Those three combined to go 0-3-4. Taylor played just twice, going 0-1-1.

3. The Masters field

With his victory at Pebble Beach, Taylor qualified for the Masters, the first player in 2016 to do so by winning a tournament. All of the previous winners this year on the PGA Tour were already invited. Taylor's return to his hometown event is truly amazing when you consider he had no status on the PGA Tour and was ranked 447th in the world.

Taylor, 39, hasn't played in the Masters since 2008 and called the event "my Super Bowl.'' He is one of 92 players so far who have qualified, with non-opposite PGA Tour events through the Shell Houston Open as well as the top 50 in the world at the conclusion of the WGC-Dell Match Play Championship also receiving invitations.

4. Caddies and the PGA Tour

The lawsuit that some 168 PGA Tour caddies filed against the PGA Tour last year seeking monetary compensation for the advertising that appears on the bibs they wear while working for their players was dismissed by a federal judge last week. Although the result was not surprising -- the bottom line is caddies work for players, not for the PGA Tour -- there is still room for some common ground to be reached.

Caddies are not employed by the PGA Tour, but they are part of the show. They are inside the ropes, and players are not allowed to compete without them. (You are not allowed to carry your own bag.) They happen to be the only person who can offer the player advice during a round of golf.

They have come a long way over the years, but there is more the PGA Tour can do, if not in the form of direct payments for advertising, then certainly by allowing access to health care and retirement benefits. It's not an easy solution, given the nomadic and ever-changing caddie arrangements, but given all the money the tour brags about giving to charity each year, it can perhaps see clear to steer some of it to those who are an integral part of every tournament.

Colleague Michael Collins, a former PGA Tour caddie, went back and forth with me on the subject.

5. Olympic test event

Nothing is official as of yet, but it appears that a required test event at the golf course that will hold the Olympic tournament for men and women in Rio de Janeiro will go on next month without any name players or even possible Olympic participants from the men's or women's side. Who will play has yet to be announced.

The International Olympic Committee requires an event be staged well in advance of the Games at each venue, mostly to work out logistical matters. The delays in getting the golf course completed contributed greatly to the problems for such an event in golf, an event that at one time was going to be a 72-hole preview tournament.

There had been hope that perhaps a PGA Tour Latinoamerica event could be staged there, then there was talk of getting several PGA Tour players together on a charter for what will now be a one-day event on March 8.

That is right in the middle of the Florida Swing on the PGA Tour, just two days after the WGC event at Doral and during the week of the Valspar Championship. The LPGA Tour does not play that week but will have just played a tournament in Singapore. And the European Tour has an event in Thailand.

None of those situations is conducive to getting players to Brazil for one day, but those who do participate ought to be able to provide the type of test run organizers are looking for, even if it is limited in scope.

6. Naming the offenders

The best deterrent to slow play at the professional level in golf is to hit offenders with penalty strokes (the LPGA Tour does this after a group is on the clock and then after a player is warned about a slow time). Short of that, the European Tour's new mandate to name players who are guilty under its new monitoring policy is a solid step. It takes two such monitoring violations to get a fine that is all but a pittance (approximately $2,800), but at least names are named.

The European Tour last week disclosed surprising improvements at pace of play for its Middle East tournaments, especially during weekend rounds. And it announced those players who got slapped with monitoring violations, including No. 1-ranked Jordan Spieth. There were five in all named, the others being Daniel Brooks, Benjamin Hebert, Eddie Pepperell and Gavin Green. Maybe not all are the biggest names, but their names being cited at all ought to help get them moving.

Next up: PGA Tour, which discloses nothing when it comes to any kind of fines, including ones for slow play.

7. A wise sage on the bag

Mike "Fluff'' Cowan has some time on his hands because of the wrist injury that is keeping Jim Furyk -- his steady bag going back to 1999 -- out of action through the Masters.

Circumstances matched him with Sung Kang, 28, who had split with his caddie a few weeks ago. "I wanted to try Fluff because he's been doing this for, like, 40 years,'' Kang said of the 67-year-old veteran caddie, who's actually been at it for 37 years.

On Friday, they nearly made history together as Kang shot 60 at Monterey Peninsula, narrowly matching the PGA Tour record score of 59, shot just six times -- the last by Furyk in 2013 at Conway Farms, site of the BMW Championship, with Cowan on the bag.

8. Sense of humor

Spieth had a simple answer when asked before the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am how he would approach the aftermath of a second-place finish in Singapore. "Work harder to not finish second and maybe have a caddie that can help close the deal,'' he said.

Spieth was jokingly referring to his agent, Jay Danzi, who filled in in Singapore for regular caddie Michael Greller, who had an ankle injury. Greller was back to work at Pebble Beach, and Spieth tied for 21st -- his first finish outside of the top 10 since he tied for 13th at the BMW Championship in September -- eight worldwide events ago. It was the first time Spieth was out of the top 20 since he missed the cut at the Deutsche Bank Championship in the FedEx Cup playoffs. He is playing at Riviera this week.

9. The good and the bad with Phil

Mickelson's near miss at Pebble Beach was filled with the kind of up-and-down play we've come to expect from Lefty in his Hall of Fame career. He hit just nine greens in regulation Saturday yet still managed to shoot 66 without a bogey. He hit just nine greens again on Sunday and shot 72, unable to put together the magic necessary to overcome his erratic play.

And yet he came to the 18th hole with a chance to tie Taylor, having made two tough putts at the 16th hole for par and at the 17th for birdie. And when he left himself a 5-footer to force a playoff, Mickelson said, "It never crossed my mind that I wouldn't make that one.'' He had been 23-for-23 on putts inside 7 feet that week.

A cruel lip-out left Mickelson in disbelief, but it was nonetheless a strong overall performance after switching swing coaches in the fall. Mickelson now has a third, a tie for 11th and a second among his four starts in 2016.

He's now back to 20th in the world after dropping to 34th at the end of 2015 and has risen to sixth in the U.S. Ryder Cup standings, all at age 45 and in his 25th season on the PGA Tour.