CHASKA, MN—When the process for selecting the USA Ryder Cup team was changed following the ’14 Matches in Scotland it was determined to keep one spot available — to be named upon the conclusion of The Tour Championship — the final event prior to the 41st Ryder Cup Matches.
American Captain Davis Love III opted to bypass the 7th ranked player in the world and two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson for Ryan Moore. Moore lost in a three-way playoff to Rory McIlroy in the recently concluded Tour Championship played at East Lake. Earlier in ’16 Moore added his 5th career PGA Tour win with a triumph in the John Deere Classic and his recent form on the PGA Tour has been steady.
“Ryan fits so well with what we have in place,” said Love. “He’s an easy-going, thoughtful guy, but don’t be fooled, Ryan’s a great match-play player with an incredible match-play record. He has guts and determination, and everyone saw that today. We are thrilled to have him with us.”
The addition of Moore means two rookies will be on the American squad with this year’s matches along with Brooks Koepka. Moore has been a successful player at all levels and he is no stranger to team competition having been a member of the USA Walker Cup team, Palmer Cup and World Amateur Team Championship. Moore’s demeanor is decidedly low key but is through the deft skill he shows with his clubs that has made him a consistent performer on the PGA Tour.
Nonetheless, the decision to leave out the 7th ranked player in the world is a major statement by Love. No player ranked so high, since the world rankings started, has ever been left off either team.
Watson’s play in recent months has been far from the level he has demonstrated at times and there was a general feeling his idiosyncratic demeanor on the course and with players had been viewed in far from glowing terms. Watson has 9 PGA Tour titles — the most recent coming this past February with a win in the Northern Trust Open at Riviera just outside of Los Angeles. Watson has won two green jackets and his absence from the American squad leaves only Phil Mickelson, Jordan Spieth and Dustin Johnson as team members who have won at least one major title.
Watson had played in the last three Ryder Cup Matches but his overall record was far from solid with a 3-8 record and no wins in the singles matches that often times are crucial in determining which side is able to secure the Cup. Watson did play as member of the USA golf squad that competed in the Summer Olympic Games in Rio this past August but he did not medal in the event. On the flip side — Watson has played on several President’s Cup Teams and his record there is more impressive — 5-3-2.
The issue for Bubba stems not from his physical ability to hit the ball but his mental strength in extremely pressure filled events such as The Ryder Cup. Finding a teammate capable in dealing with the highs and lows Bubba can bring has proved to be a vexing situation for past USA Ryder Cup Captains.
The decision by Love to decide upon Moore is somewhat surprising given the fact that all indications had Watson along with Tour players Daniel Berger, Justin Thomas and Jim Furyk were on the likely short list for the final spot. Clearly, the desire not to include Watson is a clear indicator that Bubba simply doesn’t fit in well with the others members of the USA squad although all the diplomatic speak has been stated that such is not the case.
The issue for Love will be in winning back the Ryder Cup — something only done twice in the last ten meetings and which Davis failed to do as Captain in ’12 at Medinah after leading going into the final singles matches by a score of 10-6. If Moore should stumble during his play — or if the other three earlier wild card picks with Rickie Fowler, Matt Kuchar and J.B. Holmes stumbles — the focus will shift back again to what might have been if Watson were the final selection.
The personality and game strength Moore brings is clearly “more” than what Bubba Watson has shown in recent months. There’s no question when Watson has been in peak form his game is world class. But golf is not just a game of physical prowess alone but mental strength — to grind and work with your partners whenever needed.
Moore is a dogged competitor. His pushing of McIlroy during The Tour Championship shows the steely strength he possesses. Having players who don’t wilt easily but play through all situations is a vital characteristic for an American squad that will be under enormous pressure on home turf to do what has not been recently — win back the Ryder Cup. Love’s statement in selecting Ryan Moore is one where Davis believes the good of the team is better than the individual elements any golfer brings. Sometime “tough Love” has to happen for the good of the overall team. We shall see if such a strategic move pays off for the American squad this week.
M. James Ward, a member of Golf Writer’s Association of America (GWAA) and past member of Met Golf Writer’s Association (MGWA), has reported on golf’s grandest events since 1980 in a variety of forums.