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Tee Times Magazine | Minneapolis/St. Paul

Breezy Point

Local Golf
August 17, 2017

Phil Mickelson
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Phil Mickelson
Jordan Spieth
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Jordan Spieth
By R.J. Smiley

Team USA has won only one Ryder Cup Match since 1999, and only two since 1995. The unanswered question: Why doesn't Team USA win the majority of the Ryder Cup Matches?

The Ryder Cup division of the PGA of America is feeling the heat more than the players. If that is possible! They have left no stone unturned while attempting to find a way to bring the Cup back to the USA. If Team meetings, Team Captains, Vice Captains, stat sheets, fitness coaches, nutritionists and shrinks could create a winning formula, Team USA would win in a landslide.

Putting Strokes, Not Coaches Or Captains
Nerve, with the putter in hand, will determine which team is the winner of Hazeltine's Ryder Cup. The following is a quote from an earlier interview with Mike Barge, long time teaching professional at Hazeltine. "The 24 best putters in the world will be playing in the Ryder Cup this fall. The team that putts the best will win the cup."

Barge continues, "Making putts under pressure is an interesting thing. There are two kinds of pressure putts. It has often been said that the hardest thing to do is simply two-putt from 20 feet to win. Pressure putting on the defensive! Contrast that to the pressure putt where making the putt wins the match. The golfer has nothing to lose and puts a positive stroke on the ball."

For a professional golfer "Ryder Cup Team Member" on his resume means he has made it to the top of the world of golf. No matter which side of the Atlantic a player comes from, it represents he has played golf on the world's biggest stage. Membership in this elite Ryder Cup group, playing golf, not for money, for national pride, is earned through a two year long qualifying process.

However, being selected to represent Team USA or Team Europe means being placed under the most eminent golfing pressure known to man. With 50,000 screaming fans (and I do mean screaming) and only eight golfers on the course, 100,000 eyeballs will watch every critical shot live and another 1 billion two hundred million eyeballs worldwide will watch on TV. Making a putt at a critical time or hitting a great shot does not mean sudden stardom. The worldwide gallery expects Ryder Cup golfers to hit great shots. But, miss a putt to lose a match or a putt with the Ryder Cup on the line means a lifetime of being called a choker or a loser... or worse.

Now that eleven of the twelve-team members have been selected, the real drama begins. Who will fill the final spot? Will he be the longest hitter? Will he be the easiest to pair? Will he be the best pressure putter available? The group from which the final spot will be selected won't sleep much until that Sunday night just days before the Ryder Cup begins.

Thoughts on how various Team USA members putt under pressure:

Dustin Johnson has been called the best ball striker on the planet. With his length and crisp irons, he does not have to putt great playing his own ball. He should win his singles match. But, how will he do in the quirky foursomes matches. Not so sure he can make a putt with his partner watching.

Jordan Spieth seems to have his putting stroke back under control, but for how long. In 2015 Jordan was the best putter in the world. For a while this season, when he lost his confidence, he was among the worst. What happens if Jordan misses a critical putt in the first match? Will his confidence vanish?

Phil Mickelson has long been known for his magical short game. He is called one of the world's best putters. If that is so, then why does Phil have a Ryder Cup record of 16-19-7? Lefty makes a lot of putts, especially long ones. The question is will his nerves, which have let him down before, remain under control at Hazeltine?

Jimmy Walker was tied for the second most points on Team USA in the Gleneagles Ryder Cup. He played all four team matches with Rickie Fowler (0-3-1) and won his singles match. Walker is a streaky player who can get hot with the flat blade.

Brooks Koepka has had a burning desire to make the Ryder Cup team since not being chosen as a captain's pick in 2014. He has played his way on this team and may be the dark horse on the team with his "I'll show them attitude." With that mindset he will not feel the pressure.

Patrick Reed is one tough SOB on the golf course. Patrick plays with no fear. His great shot making and fearless putting will make him a leader on this and future Ryder Cup teams.

Brandt Snedeker with his happy-go-lucky southern boy look can putt like an assassin. He was part of the 2012 team captained by Davis Love. After the loss at Medina, Snedeker wants to win one for Davis Love. Brandt never left an important putt short.

Zach Johnson is a great putter! Pressure or not, the stroke is the same. How Zach will fit his game to Hazeltine will be a question mark. The course is really long for him. Can his wedge and putting be paired for the team's benefit?

Rickie Fowler was not chosen just to fire up the huge crowds that will fill Hazeltine to capacity. Rickie, sporting a new Pancho Villa mustache, will thrill fans with his go-for-broke style. But Rickie, with his no nerves pressure-putting stroke, has the ability to make it when it counts. Rickie has Ryder Cup experience.

J. B. Holmes is 10 on the list of Ryder Cup points. He has never had a losing record at the Ryder Cup (2008), Presidents Cup (2015), Walker Cup (2005) and Palmer Cup (2005). Having that empty Ryder Cup feeling since 2008, Holmes wants to be wearing red, white and blue in late September.

Matt Kucher, with an Olympic medal around his neck, was selected by Captain Love for his steady play. "Kuch" is a crowd favorite with a cool demeanor and has proven that he can make putts wearing the red, white and blue.

That leaves ONE more player to be named. The coffee shop talk for the next two weeks will be filled with opinions.

Tee Times will add to that coffee talk with the two players that could or should be named as the final captain's pick.

Bubba Watson is known for his shot making and long hitting. Bubba can be paired with guys like Zach in foursomes to make up for his lack of length. Who could beat that combination? With a Ryder Cup record of 5-5-1 and winning the pressure filled Masters, Bubba can play under pressure. He has experience and his putter can get really hot.

Jim Furyk with a Ryder Cup record 9-17-4, similar to Team USA, would bring a steady hand to the team. The Vice-Captain already has his team uniform and has visited Hazeltine several times. As a Major winner, he can putt under pressure.

The real winner, no matter which team makes the final putt, is Minnesota. Minnesota will be showcased to the world and forever be a part of Ryder Cup history.

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