Let The Chess Match Begin!
|European captain Darren Clarke has selected Thomas Bjorn, Padraig Harrington and Paul Lawrie as three of his vice captains for the Ryder Cup|
By R.J. SmileyDarren Clarke, the sly old fox with the grey muzzle, created an interesting pairing puzzle as he completed Team Europe with his Captain's Picks. The Ryder Cup team that Europe has assembled for the 2016 version of golf's biggest event will cause USA Captain Davis Love and his Vice-Captains many sleepless nights. The six veterans on Team Europe have a combined Ryder Cup record of 62-38-22.
Clarke's captain's pick of a sixth rookie, Thomas Pieters, was balanced by the addition of two wily Ryder Cup veterans, Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer.
How much does experience count in Ryder Cup??
Much has already been written about the use of 4"x6" cards, with players names boldly printed on each, pinned to a poster board, or magnetic name cards (used by Ben Crenshaw) that can easily be shuffled and moved on a magnetic board to create all possible and/or probable pairings for the Cup Matches. This exercise will represent the hallmark of 2016 Ryder Cup as it is repeated over and over.
Team Europe, who seems to thrive on the Ryder Cup format menu, would seem somewhat short handed with the absence of former stars, Graeme McDowell and Ian Poulter. These two have proven to have what it takes to win Ryder Cup Matches and keep the Cup on European soil. G-Mac has suffered through an off year while Poulter, a Vice Captain, is on injured reserve with a foot injury.
Questions For Team Europe:
Will any of the six rookies rise to the occasion and fill the shoes of the missing stars?
Thomas Pieters won last week's tournament in Denmark to solidify his position on the team. He has finished in the top 10 the previous two weeks and comes into the Ryder Cup on a hot streak. "I found it impossible to leave him off the team," Clarke said.
Andy Sullivan's solid play all season earned him a spot on Team Europe. He is a Ryder Cup rookie, but not a rookie to international match play championship golf. Sullivan represented the winning Great Britain and Ireland Team in the 2011 Walker Cup Matches. He will be seeking revenge after loosing his Walker Cup singles match to Jordan Spieth 3&2.
Matthew Fitzpatrick has golf experience in the USA and upper Midwest. He attended Northwestern University in Chicago and went on to win the USGA Amateur Championship. That win earned him a spot in the Masters, the U.S. Open and the Open Championship. He may be a rookie in Ryder Cup, but he is not in a rookie in big time golf championships.
Rafa Cabrera Bello, earned his spot on the European team. The rapidly raising Spanish professional has proven that he can win. As an amateur Bello won the Spanish National Championship at every age from under 7 through age 18. This unknown rookie, who shares Spanish blood with Ryder Cup heroes from the past, could be the dark horse.
Chris Wood had earned enough points to qualified for the Ryder Cup before he was forced to skip The Open Championship at Troon because of a neck injury. Wood is playing himself back into Ryder Cup form but has only one top 10 finish in the last six starts. Earlier he won the BMW PGA Championship. How much will Clarke use this rookie?
Danny Willett, the reigning Masters Champion, is not in the best of form as the Ryder Cup rapidly approaches. Willet's best finish in the past six tournaments is a tie for 37th. However, anyone capable of winning the Masters cannot be counted out.
Will the veterans on Team Europe find a way to elevate the rookies to international victory?
Rory McIlroy was at one time the best golfer in the world. However his Ryder Cup record (6-4-4) does not reflect that praise. Most golf fans thought that Rory would replace Tiger Woods and challenge Jack Nicklaus' record 18 Majors. Rory is still great, but he seems to have lost that extra something, that at one time made him All-World. Rory is a player not a cheerleader.
Henrik Stenson who played the best round of golf ever played in the final round of the Open Championship at Troon, seems to be suffering from an "Open hangover." His silver medal in the Olympics might have rekindled the competitive flame. Stenson brings a 5-4-2 record into the Ryder Cup Matches, but has the ability to be unbeatable.
Sergio Garcia, the Spaniard who shares the same intense emotion as fellow Ryder Cup Spaniard, Seve Ballesteros. Seve, who compiled a Ryder Cup record of 20-12-5, once said, "I look into their eyes, shake their hand, pat their back, and wish them luck, but I am thinking, 'I am going to bury you.'" A mature Sergio, with a Ryder Cup record of 18-9-5, could lead Team Europe to another victory. He represents all that is great about Ryder Cup.
Justin Rose, who won the Olympic Gold medal in Brazil, has been unbelievably tough in the past two Ryder Cups. He is the only player who has played all five matches. Winning 7 of the possible 10 points, Rose, with a Ryder Cup record of (9-3-2) is a force to be reckoned with. Will he sport his Gold after the winning putt?
Lee Westwood is a Ryder Cup veteran having played 41 Ryder Cup Matches. His record 20-15-6 is strong evidence of his ability. Always near the top of the leader board in Major championships, Westwood is one of the great golfers who wear the title of Best-Never-To-Win-A-Major. Westwood, with time running out on his career, has something to prove. This could be his time!
Martin Kaymer has won two Major championships. He has a Ryder Cup record 4-3-3. Though never a star performer in Ryder Cup, Kaymer brings a steady presence to the 2016 team. He has proven that he can stand the heat. How Clarke, who chose him as one of his picks, will use him remains a mystery?
On a Thursday afternoon in late September, the Ryder Cup teams will line up wearing their team dress-up, jackets and ties, uniforms and pretend this is just a golf game. Nothing could be farther from the truth. This is a war! Chess is a more civilized word for this war. In the minds of the team captains, where to place your horses will prove important. In Ryder Cup no one shows their line-up prior to the matches. Who will pair with who is the guessing game. Though the public will never be allowed inside the team rooms, rest assured the drama will be intense.
Six experienced Ryder Cup players teamed with six rookies. The question for Love and his Vice-Captains, "How will Clarke shuffle the deck?"
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