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The Most Worthless Criterion for Making U.S. Ryder Cup Selections

By Josh Eaton, Rotary Swing Golf Business ManagerWhat's Eating at Eaton in Golf? Blog

Here I sit.  Irritated by so-called golf experts.  What a surprise.

You would have thought golf writers, TV commentators, and more fans would have paid attention during the last edition of the Ryder Cup.  I mean, American victories are so rare (especially blowouts), people are bound to notice them, right?


With U.S. Captain Corey Pavin set to announce his four at-large Ryder Cup selections tomorrow, a slew of writers, commentators, and fans continue extolling the virtues of having prior Ryder Cup experience.


The American team won in 2008 with six rookies.  Half the team had never been in what Jason Sobel of ESPN.com calls the “Ryder Cup pressure cooker.”

He must be shocked those newbies survived, much less won.

Before the event, I was personally thrilled that the 2008 team had so much new blood and rid itself of quite a bit of dead weight from the prior few matches, including stalwarts like Davis Love III (44% point percentage), Couples (45%), Tiger Woods (44%), David Toms (42%), Chris DiMarco (29%), Paul Azinger (43%), Mark Calcavecchia (46%), and David Duval (33%).  Plenty of others disagreed with my opinion, calling for Azinger to pick fading stars like Love III and Couples to offset the dangerous inexperience of many on the team.

But why would any captain look to pick a guy with “experience” when the present Americans’ experiences have been putrid the past couple of decades?

I’d rather have someone unproven in the Ryder Cup than someone who has, time and again, proven they can lose.

I like having some hope.  Is that so wrong?

What is experience supposed to provide anyway?  They don’t play the same course each time.  These guys have all played thousands of rounds before.  I can’t imagine any of them not having a fair amount of match play experience somewhere along the way.

The only argument I consistently hear is that the experience will help with the pressure.

That must be it.  Because these guys—24 of the best players on the planet—have never really faced much pressure on the course, right?

Peter Kostis said before the ’08 Ryder Cup that rookies lack “major-league experience.”


We’re not talking about college players, Nationwide players, or even lower level PGA guys here.  We’re talking about guys who are consistently on the leaderboard on Sundays, both in regular Tour stops and major tourneys.  How else do you climb high enough in the rankings to be named to a Cup team?

Plus, isn’t there a consensus that the U.S. players care more about majors and individual accomplishments anyway?  If that’s true, it seems to be a contradiction to think that they will feel more pressure at the Ryder Cup than when in contention for an individual trophy.

Finally, consider this: Tiger Woods has been in as many pressure situations as anyone playing the game today, and he had tremendous success in match play before joining the Tour (and pretty good success in individual match play events since).

Yet, he has a less than stellar record in the Ryder Cup.  If that much experience doesn’t help (arguably) the best player ever to enjoy more Cup success, why do we spend any time at all lauding experience unless it is good experience?

We shouldn’t.

Now, if we can just get Pavin to think that way and avoid a guy like Stewart Cink* (40% point percentage), who one writer thinks would bring “seasoning” to the young squad.  (Would that seasoning go well with whatever’s in Sobel’s pressure cooker?)

That same writer (Ron Green Jr. of the Charlotte Observer) and a few other “experts” recommend Couples as well.  I like Couples as much as the next guy, but guys, seriously, it’s time to move on.

According to Green Jr., “what Freddie brings goes beyond his golf, which has been outstanding this year. He brings camaraderie. He brings that Freddie vibe.”  Ugh, enough with the man-crush!  What he brings are a poor personal record and a history of team losses.  How could picking Couples possibly be better than giving a hungry young guy a chance?

Let’s just hope that Pavin follows in the footsteps of his predecessor, Paul Azinger, who said this before the last Ryder Cup:

I’ve said this all along, that to me, experience is important but it is also overrated. I mean, experience now, anyone who has played Ryder Cup in the last six Ryder Cups has experience getting their (butt) beat. So, I mean, I’m not looking for experience.


* I’d also recommend not taking Tiger except that Rory McIlroy called him out a couple of weeks ago.  If you’ve forgotten what happened when Stephen Ames provoked Tiger before the World Match Play Championship in 2006, check this out: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/02/22/AR2006022202739.html.

Note that individual player records were obtained here:  http://www.rydercup.com/2010/usa/history/us_player_records.cfm

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