Sep
21
2016
Early practice at Hazeltine seems to reveal top candidates for DL3’s final captain’s pick
By Stephanie Wei under Ryder Cup

Screen Shot 2016-09-22 at 1.18.17 AM

Almost immediately following the conclusion of the Tour Championship, the fourth and final leg of the FedExCup, U.S. Captain Davis Love III will announce the fourth of his captain’s pick to round out the U.S. Ryder Cup team. The other week, Love, who was also the skipper in 2012 during the biennial matches, which has been dubbed “the Miracle at Medinah” selected three of his wildcard picks, who didn’t make the team on points –Rickie Fowler, J.B. Holmes and Matt Kuchar.

With all sorts of crazy arguments made recently about DL3’s fourth pick, like that he should use it on vice-captain Tiger Woods (which isn’t one that I feel like I’d find compelling at all, but try me), the practice sessions at Hazeltine this past Sunday and Monday may shed light on DL3 narrowing it to three possibilities: Bubba Watson, Justin Thomas and Daniel Berger.

A number of U.S. team members Rickie Fowler, Phil Mickelson, Brooks Koepka, Brandt Snedeker, Jordan Spieth and Jimmy Walker showed up for some team bonding  and practice at the Ryder Cup venue. They were joined by vice-captains Jim Furyk and Steve Stricker. What’s WAY more interesting and telling than the guys who made the team being there was the select three players invited to tag along.

The Hazeltine scouting trip was joined by Justin Thomas, Daniel Berger and Bubba Watson. Which can only bring anyone to assume that those are the three candidates Davis had narrowed it down to with his final captain’s pick. According to a well-placed source, DL3 plans to pick Bubba if a non-American wins the FedExCup — probably eh same rationale if someone who already made the team won, too.

Now, Bubba’s Ryder Cup record isn’t anything write home about at 3-8-0, but he did miss an automatically qualifying spot by one at no. 9 in the standings. A reliable source has told me that Bubba will be the pick if a non-American or American already no the team wins the FedExCup.

I like that Davis is going out of the box a little bit with Berger and Thomas (well, kinda, he’s in the cool kids’ clique, so it’s not totally crazy).

“Great for both (hopefuls and team members” said Spieth on Tuesday in his presser. “Jimmy and I were the first ones there. We ended up having a dinner where everyone had come in. We had dinner at the hotel that we’re going to end up staying at, just story-telling. We had Butch and Claude Harmon there. We had a few of our caddies there with Davis and (Steve). Stricker even fielded in a call from Tiger via speaker before he quickly shut it off and went and talked to him for about 30 minutes. Tiger’s all in. He is putting a lot of work into this too.

“So we were talking Ryder Cup. We were talking anything. We had breakfast the next morning. Then we went out, and everyone just kind of teed off and played. And the reason the groups were the groups is because — I played with Brooks as well in ours. We had a five-some. But Butch’s guys wanted to play together, and Phil joined those guys, and that was Rickie, Brandt, and Jimmy, so it was convenient for them to get work in. And Phil joined them because Phil probably has the potential of playing with a couple of those guys.

“In my opinion, we want whoever’s playing the best to be the last pick. There’s, I think, five or six options. It’s — at this point, they’ve all asked all of our input, and it’s going to be up to the captains to make that choice, and we’re welcoming of whoever that is, obviously, and excited to move forward. Very friendly.”

There’s the feeling on Tour — rather it was media-generated or the actual sentiment among the team members — that no one wants Bubba on the team, especially with the way he got passed over by three guys who were ranked lower than him in the points standings. Snedeker has his former teammate’s back.

“Let me answer your question perfectly clear,” said Snedeker. “I don’t know why everybody thinks — because you’re asking about Bubba Watson specifically, or are you not? I don’t know where everybody gets this idea that Bubba Watson is a bad teammate. He is probably one of the best teammates you could possibly have. I want that out there for everybody to hear. Bubba Watson is a great teammate. So I don’t know why everybody keeps making this diversion of the truth, making Bubba out to be this bad guy. He is a great teammate. He was unbelievable on Monday. He’s been unbelievable all year. And we would be lucky to have him on the team as a teammate, period, end of story.”

So, let’s get that out of the way? Spieth was asked to chime in about the awkward situation that Bubba find himself in and how the two-time Masters champion is handling it.

“It’s still extremely strong either way,” said Spieth. “Very confident about the team we have. It doesn’t take — I couldn’t imagine being in his position, wondering why at 7 in the world. So it’s an awkward position to be in.

“What do I sense from him? Well, we played a wolf game and on 18, he drove it down the fairway, and he went lone. He didn’t pick anybody. And he hit it up there, and three guys — I was the only one who wasn’t inside his putt for birdie. Three other guys were. So he was at an extreme disadvantage, and he banged it in the back of the hole, won the hole. The next three missed, and he took home the money.

“He was screaming about it on the 18th green, you know. He made the putt that — so he was in great spirits. We had a great time. I just told him, when I saw him today, Man, yesterday was a lot of fun. You don’t get to play those types of games that you play at home with the best players in the world. I mean, you play like little matches here and there, but you don’t get to play like a wolf game or something like that. I love that. We had a great time with it.

“He didn’t seem upset about anything. He didn’t seem like he was entitled to any position or any advantage over anybody else. I think he really feels like he needs to go do his job this week.

“The more he’s questioned about it, the more potential for that to bother him, which I hope he’s not pestered with it all week. I hope he’s freed up. I’m not going to ask you guys how to do your job, but I think it helps all of those out for our team. So I’m taking the papa bear, even though they’re all older than me, position of I hope that they’re freed up just to play their game this week and to bring out whatever they can and their best to have a chance to make that team.”

Well, I have a strong feeling he’ll be asked about it after every single round this week.

After the practice round, Spieth and Koepka joked around with the three main candidates that Davis was going to let them decide the last wildcard pick depending on which player shot the lowest socre.

“And then we played a five-some in our group and just had a match because there was nine of us,” said Spieth. “So the dynamic between the three guys that are trying to work their way in, we joked around that Davis was letting me and Brooks make the pick at the end of the round, and also they were playing low score, which obviously is not the case. But it was — you could see how badly each of them wanted to be there, and I think, being on property, seeing — it’s all red. Massive grandstands that are all red. I think it really excited them even more for the opportunity. Hopefully, that frees them up and doesn’t tense them up.”

Love that Spieth and Koepka managed to convince JT, Berger and Bubba that was actually the case and maintained the joke throughout the entire 18 holes, as far as we know. I feel like many would benefit from Bubba staying at home. (There’s a reason he was passed over for three guys who finished worse in the rankings than him.) jT would kinda be pure favoritism. And Berger…well, he has a super hot girlfriend.

Too bad it’s just limited to three guys. I would have loved to see a Kevin Na, Ryan Moore or Kevin Kisner get considered. I always love throwing at least one curve bath in there, though — makes (life) more interesting.

By the way, Dustin Johnson revealed the one player he doesn’t want to be partners with at next week’s Ryder Cup.

“Well, I think I can partner well with pretty much anyone — except for Phil,” said Johnson. “Me and him don’t partner well together. We play well against each other.

“I love Phil, and we’re great friends, but we have a lot more fun when we’re playing against each other, not as partners.”

That’s classic and at least they can be honest about their incompatibility, but I can definitely see why Phil and DJ wouldn’t exactly make the best partners.

If it were up to you, who would you chose for that last captain’s pick? I’m certainly glad I’m not in charge — it’s what they pay DL3 the big bucks for, right? Right. Well, the next four rounds could be extremely important for an American who has been playing well and is well-liked by his peers… and perhaps it will be someone other than the three who have already put in an audition at Hazeltine.