John Raoux/Associated Press file photo
John Raoux/Associated Press file photo
ELGIN, S.C. – Davis Love III is prepared for the lobbying and politics that come with being America’s Ryder Cup captain. He’s also ready to learn more about those U.S. players he may pick for the team in September.
“Guys that I don’t know, I want to get to know Kyle Stanley,” Love said. “I want to get to know these guys.”
Love and 2006 U.S. captain Tom Lehman held a clinic at a tournament honoring the late father of five-time PGA Tour winner Jonathan Byrd.
Love said he’s beginning the fact-finding process that comes as captain, who must select four golfers to fill out the 12-man U.S. team that will compete against Europe at Medinah (Ill.) Country Club from Sept. 28-30. The top eight Americans qualify on a points standing that concludes after the PGA Championship at The Ocean Course on Kiawah Island outside of Charleston.
Love will make his selections a few weeks later in September. That’s when the fun begins.
Lehman remembered getting calls and texts from friends, agents and players about Ryder Cup hopefuls.
“You’re aware of all that,” Lehman said. “At the end of the day, guys really want to play and be on the team for all the right reasons.”
Love’s spoken with Lehman and other past captains like Corey Pavin about their criteria and process. Love remembers during Lehman’s time several cookouts and gatherings during tournament weeks months before any selections were made.
Love, who’s played on six Ryder Cup teams, including winning U.S. squads in 1993 and 1999, said it gave the players a sense of togetherness and familiarity.
“We were bonding already. Tom (Lehman) was getting to know those guys,” Love said.
“I want Phil (Mickelson) to spend a little time with Kyle Stanley so when you go to the Ryder Cup, they know each other,” Love said. “So if you have to put them together, they’re not feeling each other out.”
Love understands things can change dramatically in the four months before he must tell the world his picks. Bubba Watson’s win at the Masters two weeks ago moved him to the top of the U.S. points standings. Steve Stricker is the third best American at No. 7 in the golf rankings, but he is eighth in the Ryder Cup points just ahead Stanley.
For those final spots, does Love choose veterans over younger players coming into their own?
“It’s a tough, tough call,” Lehman said.
Lehman went with experience six years ago in choosing Scott Verplank over higher-rated players such as Love and Lucas Glover.
The Americans were beaten by the Europeans 18½ points to 9½ points at The K Club in Ireland. The Americans, captained by Paul Azinger, won two years later at Vahalla Country Club in Kentucky. Europe regained the cup in 2010, defeating Corey Pavin’s U.S. squad.
There’s been no shortage of interested candidates, Love said. He’s looking to set up some gatherings this spring at places like the Colonial and Memorial tournaments that typically draw the top Americans. Love’s list of final candidates for those picks will take shape after the British Open, he said.
“Right now is laying the groundwork,” Love said.
He’d like a group that meshes well and feeds off each other during the pressure-packed weekend of competition. Love’s seen plenty of hopeful signs like when Americans Ben Crane, Rickie Fowler and others watched Watson’s playoff win at the Masters and hugged their friend with congratulations.
Love thinks his spring and summer gatherings will help break the ice for others “doing their own thing.”
He said there already are plenty of players with similar interests such as baseball games and Bible study who have forged bonds that will be helpful at Medinah.
“We’ve got a lot of camaraderie,” he said.
Love hasn’t announced his choices for assistant captains and isn’t sure when that will happen.
“I’m getting more lobbying for that than for guys playing,” he said, smiling.
The hardest part of being captain? Sitting on the sidelines watching matches unfold and knowing you can’t hit a tee shot or stroke a putt to affect the outcome, Lehman said.
“It’s a mixed bag,” said Lehman, who was on three U.S. teams and was Love’s teammate on the 1999 cup winners. “It’s an honor to be the captain, no question, but it’s somewhat easier to play.”
There are many who’d like that chance come fall. Byrd is 29th in the U.S. points standings and hopes to start a spring and summer push to catch Love’s eye and bring a happy phone call from the captain come September.
“That’s the understatement of the year,” he said.