• Alistair Tait

Stricker halfway to Ryder Cup nirvana


Can you imagine if Sir Alex Ferguson had been told he could only pick two, three or four of his 11 players every week when he was Manchester United manager? Or someone telling Bill Belichick he couldn’t choose his entire New England Patriots squad?

Wouldn’t happen, would it? Ferguson wouldn’t have become the greatest football manager the game has ever seen if he didn’t have complete control over his side. Ditto for Belichick. That’s one reason the Ryder Cup is one of the strangest competitions in all of sport.

Opposing captains have very little control over who they’ll lead into action. U.S. captain Steve Stricker will have more control over who he leads at Whistling Straits this September, if the match takes place, a very big if in everyone’s book.

Stricker will pick half of his team after the PGA of America changed the selection criterion because of the coronavirus’s impact on this year’s PGA Tour schedule. He moves from four picks to six:

“With all the various changes to the 2020 schedule, it quickly became apparent that we would need to amend our selection criteria,” Stricker said. “After many deliberate discussions, we collectively agreed that a smaller sampling of 2020 events — including just one major championship — would justify a one-week extension of the qualification window and an increase in the number of Captain’s selections from four to six. These changes were sparked by circumstance, but conceived with integrity in mind. In the end, we believe they will allow us to put our best team together to compete at Whistling Straits in September.”

Padraig Harrington gets to select just three of his 12 team members. Bet both captains wish they could pick all 12.

Colin Montgomerie was a strong advocate of the captain picking all 12 team members. He was also given three picks for the 2010 match at Celtic Manor. That was one more than Nick Faldo had for Valhalla two years previously. Montgomerie chose Luke Donald, Padraig Harrington and Edoardo Molinari following the Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles. He wasn’t happy: he had to leave Paul Casey and Justin Rose off the European team. Casey was a one of Faldo’s wild card picks along with Ian Poulter. Rose qualified for the 2008 European team.

"Having to leave out two players ... was the worst day of my professional career," Montgomerie said. "I don't want any future captain to have to go through what I went through on that awful evening in Gleneagles. We have to devise a system of getting top players like that into the European team."

That’s the problem with the current system: the selection process doesn’t guarantee the 12 best players play for either side. There are other examples of players being left out because the system didn’t cater for them. Remember the 1999 match when there was no room for Bernhard Langer because Mark James had only two selections and opted for Jesper Parnevik and Andrew Coltart?

Players have made previous teams even though they wouldn’t have had a sniff if the captain had picked his 12 players. Remember Miguel Martin, who took the 10th and final automatic spot on Seve Ballesteros’s 1997 team? No one was happier than Ballesteros when Martin had to pull out through injury, allowing Jose Maria Olazabal to take his place. Seve added Faldo and Parnevik as his wild card picks. You can bet if Martin hadn't been injured then Seve might have sat him until the singles.

We know why the current selection process is in place, especially in Europe. It helps the tour in its bid to get U.S. based stars to stay loyal to, and play more on, the European Tour.

True, every captain knows the ropes before he takes the job. And every captain usually plays the game and says he’s happy with the selection process. However, you can bet deep down they wish they had a free hand as Montgomerie wished.

Stricker's lucky: he's halfway to Ryder Cup nirvana.

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