Scott Michaux

Sports columnist for The Augusta Chronicle. | ScottMichaux.com

Michaux: Tom Watson shouldn't have overlooked Chris Kirk

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Tom Watson announced his trio of Captain’s picks for the American Ryder Cup team at 30 Rock on Tuesday night in the studio where Saturday Night Live is produced.

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Hunter Mahan.  Mel Evans
Mel Evans
Hunter Mahan.

Fitting, since one of the picks he settled on was a joke.

As most expected, Watson picked Ryder Cup veterans Hunter Mahan and Keegan Bradley – two choices that can easily be supported by their performance records in the past and 2014.

But for the third choice he ignored red-hot former Georgia golfer Chris Kirk – who just assumed the FedEx Cup playoffs lead with a victory Monday at the TPC Boston, shooting 66 while paired with world No. 1 Rory McIlroy. Watson instead played the veteran card once more and rolled with 2012 U.S. Open winner Webb Simpson despite his inferior record in 2014.

Golf is supposed to be a meritocracy, but Watson’s uninspired choice proves that it’s just a boys club that prefers to remain exclusive.

“The final selection really came to me this morning,” Watson said a half-hour into the long, drawn-out unveiling ceremony Tuesday night. “I kind of had a revelation this morning and took a look at the last Ryder Cup played ... I looked down and I see ‘Webb Simpson 5&4; Webb Simpson 5&4.’ That’s got to be the guy.”

Good to know that two matches that happened two years were the determining factor instead of a season-long body of work that is peaking right now.

When former captain Paul Azinger lobbied to change the points system before the 2008 installment, the rational was to reward the players who play the best in a Ryder Cup year.

“I want players who are red-hot if I can find them,” Azinger said, in announcing a weighted points system as well as delay in selecting more captain’s picks.

Azinger meant it and delivered the only American victory since 1999 with six rookies on his roster and no Tiger Woods.

Watson was supposed to be an inspired leader who would break the pattern of cyclical thinking that hasn’t worked very well for the United States in losing the cup 10 of the past 14 times and five of the past six. What was the point of waiting three weeks if those performances didn’t really matter?

“I’ve been looking at these statistics for a long time,” Watson said.

What stats? Clearly not performance if he can ignore a guy with two wins in past 12 months, who’s leading FedEx Cup by a lot, ranks No. 5 on the money list and has the most Official World Golf Ranking points gained in 2014 of all candidates as well as eight members of the European team.

This isn’t just about last week for Kirk, though that should have been proof enough. It’s about the last year where he distinguished himself above Simpson.

That world rankings points gained stat is a significant one. No matter what you think of the world rankings, there is method in its madness.

There was not a single unqualified Ryder Cup candidate for either team that gained as many points as Kirk in 2014. His 163.33 points gained was more than Mahan (157.17), Bradley (126.86), Bill Haas (113.70), Simpson (91.08) and Brandt Snedeker (78.87) not to mention Phil Mickelson (137.26) and Zach Johnson (132.26).

It blows away Paul McGinley’s European wild-card picks Stephen Gallacher (149.75), Lee Westwood (95.80) and Ian Poulter (45.99) and five other guys on the European roster.

A familiar lament among experts was that Watson didn’t really have much to choose from. In fact, he had more that Europe which was beaming about its embarrassment of riches.

“It says a lot about the European Tour and the standards we have now in Europe the quality of picks that I have and how far we’ve come over the years for me to have such an abundance of talent to choose from,” said McGinley on Tuesday, who opted to leave No. 30 Luke Donald and his 10-4-1 Ryder Cup record off the team.

McGinley’s European squad has four of the top-five players in the world and winners of three of 2014’s four majors plus the Players Championship, McGinley will have the kind of elite firepower that the U.S. typically loses with lately.

On Tuesday, McGinley added a worthy 40-year-old rookie from Scotland (Gallacher) and a pair of Ryder Cup stalwarts (Poulter and Westwood) whose reputations look way better on paper than either one of them has looked on the golf course this year. The 12 European cast members all rank among the top 38 in the world.

McGinley could afford to take a flyer on Poulter and Westwood because they are proven players in a Euro model that has been working. Yet even McGinley was willing to give a rookie a chance based on form.

“I’ve said all along fromDay 1, I’m not afraid to pick a rookie if he proved himself and there’s no doubt that Stevie Gallacher has proved himself and earned his spot on this team,” McGinley said. “He was up against it. As a rookie, you’ve got to do a little bit more to earn a pick, and I think Stevie did a little bit more.”

Gallacher finished third in a relatively weak Italian field last week. Kirk beat McIlroy and the PGA Tour’s best. Yet Watson didn’t have the guts to pick the new blood that has proven a tonic for a stagnant U.S. side.

Watson already had three rookies on his roster – Jimmy Walker, Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed – before making his three wildcard selections Tuesday night. It shouldn’t have stopped him from adding one more.

The Americans have won only one of the past six Ryder Cups since 1999, and the formula for that lone triumph in 2008 spits in the face of the conventional logic. Azinger’s U.S. team at Valhalla was considered heavy underdogs with six rookies and no Woods. Yet the energy and performance of those six rookies generated 13 points in a 16.5-11.5 American victory that was its most lopsided since 1981 before Europe had ever won the event.

The three rookies on this American team aren’t to be overlooked. Two of them are among the only four Americans with multiple victories this PGA Tour season. The fourth (Spieth) is considered the next great American golfer who almost won the Masters Tournament in his first start and already proved his international chops with two points as a captain’s pick in last year’s Presidents Cup.

Kirk is the only player in the world with multiple victories this season not to be chosen. We’ll know in a few weeks if Watson’s faith in the past pays off.

We’ll unfortunately never know what Kirk might have added to the present and future of the U.S. in the Ryder Cup.

WATSON FILLS OUT U.S. ROSTER

U.S. captain Tom Watson announced Tuesday night that he was selecting Keegan Bradley, Hunter Mahan and Webb Simpson to round out his Ryder Cup team which will face Europe, which has won seven of the past nine cups. The matches are Sept. 26-28 at Gleneagles in Scotland.

WILDCARD SELECTIONS
  • KEEGAN BRADLEY: The 2011 PGA Championship winner is winless the past two years but has six top 10s this season. This is his second Ryder Cup selection. He went 3-1 in 2012 at Medinah.
  • HUNTER MAHAN: A two-time World Golf Championships winner, he won The Barclays two weeks ago. He made the Ryder Cup team in 2008, going 2-0-2 in the Americans last win. In 2010, he went 1-2.
  • WEBB SIMPSON: The 2012 U.S. Open champion has one win and nine top 10s in 17 cuts made this year. This is his second Ryder Cup and first Captain’s pick after going 2-2-0 in 2012.

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