Originally created 08/04/06

No time like now for Taylor to shine



Vaughn Taylor shot 67 on Thursday in the first round of the Buick Open. He could use another 67 today ... and another one Saturday ... and another one Sunday.

At the risk of overstating it, the next 17 days might be the most significant of Taylor's career. Opportunities like the one he's facing aren't guaranteed to ever come around again. It's entirely up to Taylor to seize it.

The Hephzibah High and Augusta State golfer is so close to qualifying for the U.S. Ryder Cup team, it's excruciating. With three events left to count, Taylor is 11th by a whisker in a race that only rewards the top 10.

Now, Taylor absolutely positively has to post at least one top-10 finish over the next three weekends. He needs to make up, at the bare minimum, 25.833 points on John Rollins. To be honest, he probably needs more than that. A top-five just might be enough.

Taylor is like one of those mid-major bubble teams trying to make it into the NCAA Tournament. He understands that if he doesn't win his conference tournament, he's not going to the dance.

American captain Tom Lehman likes Taylor and would love to have him on his team, but he's not going to spend one of his two captain's picks on a player who has never played in a match-play event in his life and hasn't earned any Ryder Cup points since the first week of June. It's that simple, and Taylor knows it.

So does Lucas Glover (13th in points, 67 on Thursday). So does Aaron Oberholser (18th, 66).

These are the potential Ryder Cup rookies with the most at stake in the next 17 days. These are the guys (along with vulnerable top-10 guys Zach Johnson, Brett Wetterich and Rollins) who have to prove they belong in one of the toughest fraternities on the PGA Tour to enter.

Lehman seems more willing than any captain in recent memory to give youth a chance, but you have to make the decision easier for him.

"I'm not the kind of person who thinks that it's all everything to have the experience of having played before," Lehman said in a press conference Tuesday. "It doesn't take long to get used to that environment. ... If you're a good player and you're mentally strong, you can handle it, whether you're a first-time guy or not."

For all of the criticism that has been levied against the revamped American Ryder Cup points system, it should be given credit for helping to uncover new blood that might never have been given the slightest consideration in the past. The Ryder Cup has been a closed shop for too long, and the Americans have been paying for it on the course against European squads that have been far more successful at finding fresh talent.

Consider this. There are only 28 active PGA Tour players under the age of 50 who have ever competed in a Ryder Cup. And that definition of "active" is very generous to include the likes of Ken Green, Steve Pate, Jim Gallagher Jr. and Hal Sutton.

Just how closed shop is it? Four-time PGA Tour winner Tim Herron (currently 16th in points) has never played in a Ryder or Presidents Cup. Neither has six-time winner and 1988 PGA Champion Jeff Sluman (23rd). Or double major winner John Daly.

The U.S. has a bad habit of putting too much stock in "experience." When most of that recent experience in Ryder Cups has been bad, maybe the old school thinking has to change.

Which is why the worst thing Lehman could do on the Monday after the PGA Championship is step up to the podium and introduce Davis Love III or Fred Couples as his captain's picks - leaning on their veteran leadership as the crutch for making a ridiculous decision that would in no way be in the best interests of American golf.

If that sounds too harsh, please check the 2006 records - which is what the new Ryder Cup points system is designed to accentuate. Other than fine performances (which ultimately displayed serious flaws) on his two favorite courses - Riviera and Augusta National Golf Course - Couples hasn't finished better than 24th in any event since October. And Love hasn't registered anything notable since his runner-up finish in the WGC Match Play in February.

Love and Couples, however, rank 14th and 15th on the current Ryder Cup points list, which masks their ineffectiveness this year and makes it tempting for a captain to play it safe with their 12 and nine prior at-bats in international team play.

Lehman, however, doesn't sound like a captain who will be prone to playing it safe.

"I think at the end of the day, I'm really looking for guys who are going the right direction with their game," Lehman said Tuesday. "If they were 25th three months ago, and they were 20th two months ago and now they are 15th or they end up 12th where they are improving and improving and getting better and better."

The only veterans with international team experience who fit that description are Jerry Kelly (12th), Stewart Cink (19th) and Scott Verplank (22nd). And if the team already includes five rookies, any of those three would be fine choices.

But consider this. Two years ago, a relatively young American inspired such little faith that captain Sutton had no plans to choose him even if he finished 11th in points. The guy had to get in a playoff at the PGA Championship to clinch a spot.

Now Chris DiMarco is considered the most valuable American team player.

Nobody knows if Taylor or Glover or Oberholser is that next DiMarco. Now might be the best chance they'll ever have to prove it.

Reach Scott Michaux at (706) 823-3219 or scott.michaux@augustachronicle.com.

THREE ON THE BUBBLE:


Vaughn Taylor, Lucas Glover, and Aaron Oberholser are all in the top 20 of the Ryder Cup standings. They will need to finish high enough in at least one of the next three PGA Tour events to make the Ryder Cup team. It is unlikely any of them will be a captain's choice by Tom Lehman.