Watson’s chosen ones: Bradley, Mahan and Simpson
By Stephanie Wei under Ryder Cup

At a glitzy (slow-played) press conference at 30 Rockefeller in NYC, American captain Tom Watson revealed his three wildcard picks on Tuesday evening, deciding to go with a mixture of experience and form as he named Keegan Bradley, Hunter Mahan and Webb Simpson to round out the underdog U.S. team.

The trio join the nine players who automatically qualified for the squad based on points —  Bubba Watson, Rickie Fowler, Jim Furyk, Jimmy Walker, Phil Mickelson, Matt Kuchar, Jordan Spieth, Patrick Reed and Zach Johnson.

As I transcribe the 18-minute media scrum with Watson following all the pomp and circumstance you saw on TV, so that I can finish writing this post, please provide your instinctive reactions to the captain’s picks.

The theme of redemption was brought up repeatedly and hammered home incessantly by all — Captain Watson, the players and the media.

“Every played I talked to had one thing to say, they wanted to make amends and go back and win the Ryder Cup after what happened in 2012,” said Watson in his opening remarks. “It was a hard loss for the American players and still sticks with a lot of them.”

He kicked off the first of three picks with Bradley, whom he noted still had laundry bag of Ryder Cup clothes from 2012 unopened in his room.

“One of the reasons why I picked him was he played with all this pressure on himself to get on the Ryder Cup team,” said Watson. “He came up to Gleneagles before the Open Championship to go around the golf course and see it.

“Most important thing he brings to (the Ryder Cup) is his unbridled passion to play in it.”

Bradley echoed the topic of redemption, saying, “This is a redemption year for a lot of guys…hopefully come Sunday we’ll all be able to touch (the trophy) and get some redemption.”

He added that getting the call from Captain Watson was “so emotional,” and “I’ll finally be able to get a good night’s sleep in about five months.”

Next up, Watson announced a player who has been rounding into form, particularly with his victory at The Barclays the other week — Hunter Mahan, who also finished T7 at the PGA Championship and T15 at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.

“He led greens in regulation in three of the last four tournaments he played,” said Watson as he introduced Mahan. “He’s really a great ballstriker. He’s coming into his own right now and he’s starting to play some great golf.

“Hunter, you’re probably going to go five (matches).”

Everyone remembers Mahan, who was in the anchor position for Sunday singles in the 2010 matches, chunking a chip on the 16th hole while playing against Graeme McDowell, and relinquishing any hope for an American victory.

Despite that heartbreaking moment, Mahan has more positive memories than most and Watson also likes his match play record overall.

“One of the things you look at is how you play match play — Hunter Mahan has really shined,” Watson said. “Match play is a little different than medal play, you play the course and you play the man.”

Mahan won the 2012 WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship, beating Rory McIlroy. A year later at the same event, Mahan made it to the finals once again, only to be taken down by Matt Kuchar.

Lastly, Watson announced Simpson as his third and final pick, which he only decided this morning (whereas the other two he had already made up his mind the night before). Watson said he went to sleep and woke up and looked at a stat sheet and it was Simpson’s record at the last Ryder Cup that did it for him.

“Webb was the toughest of the decisions,” said Watson. “He had some good play and some bad play lately, but he has shown what he can do…

“When I made the decision, it was based on how he was playing in the total sense of it. It was kind of an afterthought (Webb being paired with Bubba). He won 5&4 and 5&4. It was kind of a revelation. I want someone like that on the team, who has that kind of positive memory of playing in the Ryder Cup. Those positive memories are really important.”

Similar to the other two picks, Webb reiterated the idea of redemption.

“I do (have the feeling of redemption),” said Simpson. “I feel like our team was playing well all week. It was a week where I felt like our team was going to win. It was kind of a shock Sunday afternoon.

“I’ll never forget the feeling watching the other team celebrate. Two years has gone by very quickly. I remember all my matches hole by hole like they were yesterday.”

Watson revealed his simple method to motivate his team for the week of the Ryder Cup.

“Everybody knows from the beginning, every player on this team will go in there thinking about Medinah in 2012,” he said.

“I don’t have to tell them, they know that. They ought to go and take care of business. I know how it hurt me. In 2012 I watched that and for three days, I had a big hole in my stomach. It was really, really hard to take. I’m sure the players who played in it had a hole in their stomachs for a lot longer time than that. I want those players to go in there and think, we have some makeup time to do.”

He also doesn’t mind going into the biennial matches as the underdogs.

“Our players are on an upswing right now,” said Watson. “They’re playing very well. I think we’re going to go in there with attitude that we’re going to make amends for 2012.

“They’ve got a great team on paper — they have four of the top 5 of the worlds point standings list. They’ve got Rory McIlroy, they’ve got all these stars on their teams right now. We’re going to go in there under the radar. No one is going to expect us to win because of that, but I fully expect us to win.”

Finally, did Chris Kirk get snubbed after going head-to-head with the no. 1 player in the world and beating him at the Deutsche Bank Championship? Hard not to think that Kirk’s comments last weekend didn’t help his cause when he basically said he’d rather be at an SEC football game than at the Ryder Cup. 

But, Watson tried to turn some of what Kirk said into a positive.

“Well, Chris made it pretty clear yesterday — actually when I was watching the tournament,” said Watson. “He made the comment, ‘I don’t expect to get on the team because I didn’t earn my way on the team — I want to *earn* my way on the team.’ I said, ‘Man, I like that attitude.’

“It made it a little bit easier for me to tell him and he took it like a man — ‘I wanted to be on the team, but I didn’t get there.’”

Watson said he made 6-8 phone calls last night, including one to Jason Dufner, who essentially took himself out of the running after he withdrew from the PGA Championship due to injury. He also disclosed that he considered picking Brooks Koepka at one point as an outside shot.

Here’s the official press release…

Keegan Bradley, Hunter Mahan and Webb Simpson to Complete 2014 U.S. Ryder Cup Team
U.S. Captain Tom Watson selected the three players to join nine other golfers who earned automatic berths on the U.S. Team following the 96th PGA Championship. The U.S. Team will bid to regain possession of the Ryder Cup, which it last won in 2008.
NEW YORK (Sept. 2, 2014) – United States Ryder Cup Captain Tom Watson selected Keegan Bradley, Hunter Mahan and Webb Simpson today to complete the 2014 U.S. Team. The three players join nine other golfers who earned automatic berths on the U.S. Team on Aug. 11, following the 96th PGA Championship.Watson made his picks at NBC’s Studio 8H in Rockefeller Center, the home of “Saturday Night Live.” He will guide the U.S. against Europe, Sept. 26-28, in the 40th Ryder Cup at Gleneagles’ PGA Centenary Course in Perthshire, Scotland.

Bradley, the 2011 PGA Champion, will make his second consecutive Ryder Cup appearance. In 2012, he posted a 3-1-0 record in a 14½ to 13½ loss to Europe at Medinah (Illinois) Country Club. Mahan was a member of the 2008 and 2010 Teams, posting a 3-2-3 record. Simpson, the 2012 U.S. Open Champion, also was a member of the 2012 U.S. Team at Medinah, finishing with a 2-2-0 record.

The U.S. Team will bid to regain possession of the Ryder Cup, which it last won in 2008. Those earning automatic berths on the Team through the U.S. Points System were: Rickie Fowler, Jim Furyk, Zach Johnson, Matt Kuchar, Phil Mickelson, Patrick Reed, Jordan Spieth, Jimmy Walker and Bubba Watson. Mickelson will be making his 10th consecutive Ryder Cup appearance, a U.S. Team record for most consecutive and most all-time appearances.

European Captain Paul McGinley also announced his three picks earlier today to complete his Team. He selected Stephen Gallacher, Ian Poulter and Lee Westwood, who join the players who qualified via the Ryder Cup World Points List and the European Ryder Cup Points List: Thomas Bjorn, Jamie Donaldson, Victor Dubuisson, Sergio Garcia, Martin Kaymer, Graeme McDowell, Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson.

Begun in 1927, the Ryder Cup is the pre-eminent event in golf. The United States owns a 25-12-2 advantage in the biennial competition, although Europe has won five of the past six Ryder Cups. Europe has not lost a “home” Ryder Cup since 1993, when Tom Watson was the U.S. Captain.

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(Top 9 Earned Berths Based Upon U.S. Points System)
Player Years/Ryder Cup Record
Rickie Fowler 2010 0-1-2
Jim Furyk 1997, ’99, 2002, ’04, ’06, ’08, ’10, ’12 9-17-4
Zach Johnson 2006, ’10, ’12 6-4-1
Matt Kuchar 2010, ’12 3-2-2
Phil Mickelson 1995, ’97, ’99, 2002, ’04, ’06, ’08, ’10, ’12 14-18-6
Patrick Reed Debut
Jordan Spieth Debut
Jimmy Walker Debut
Bubba Watson 2010, ’12 3-5-0
Captain’s Picks
Keegan Bradley 2012 3-1-0
Hunter Mahan 2008, ’10 3-2-3
Webb Simpson 2012 2-2-0
(Top 9 Earned Berths Based Upon World/European Points Lists)
Player Years/Ryder Cup Record
Thomas Bjorn 1997, 2002 3-2-1
Jamie Donaldson Debut
Victor Dubuisson Debut
Sergio Garcia 1999, 2002, ’04, ’06, ’08, ’12 16-8-4
Martin Kaymer 2010, ’12 3-2-1
Graeme McDowell 2008, ’10, ’12 5-5-2
Rory McIlroy 2010, ’12 4-3-2
Justin Rose 2008, ’12 6-3-0
Henrik Stenson 2006, ’08 2-3-2
Captain’s Picks
Stephen Gallacher Debut
Ian Poulter 2004, ’08, ’10, ’12 12-3-0
Lee Westwood 1997, ’99, 2002, ’04, ’06, ’08, ’10, ’12 18-13-6