Captain’s Picks Never Easy

Will Bubka’s Team Europe choices match Bjorn’s?

If you have ever heard any of your golf buddies refer to the Ryder Cup as “Golf’s Greatest Event,” I would be a happy camper. A lot of people certainly agree with that sentiment, but that’s not my reason for elation. No, my reason is that it happens to be the title of a book I co-wrote back in 1999. The Ryder Cup was a big deal back then, but guess what? It’s even bigger now.

In a few weeks, I will be struggling to communicate due to my lack of understanding the French language . . . gosh, do I wish I had taken that course when I had the chance . . . but I can assure you that the language I’ll be speaking is the universal language of golf: pars, birdies, and eagles.

By the time you read this week’s column, the European Ryder Cup captain, Thomas Bjorn, will have already announced his four captain’s picks to round out Team Europe for this year’s Ryder Cup. It’s a tough job and I’ll explain why. The wisdom of the picks will only be evaluated by the outcome of the matches. If Team Europe wins, Bjorn will get all the credit for making the right picks, but if they lose, even if his captain’s picks play lights out, there will be stinging criticism that his picks were wrong.

For many years, the top half of a European Ryder Cup team was strong and the bottom half was weak, but now, with so many talented players in the mix, that no longer is the situation.

I can make a strong case for at least six players to fill the remaining four Team Europe spots. Englishman Paul Casey, who plays on the PGA TOUR, was a member of two winning European teams back in ’04 and ’06 and would be full of positive thoughts. Positive thinking is one of the biggest weapons anyone can bring to the first tee in the Ryder Cup. I mean, wouldn’t you want someone on your team whose wife’s name is Pollyanna?

Also waiting for the call will be Sergio Garcia who has played on eight Ryder Cup teams and, on paper, would seem to be a perfect partner for fellow Spaniard Jon Rahm, who will be a Ryder Cup rookie. In my opinion, it would really be a gutsy call for Bjorn to leave Sergio off the team.

A good case can also be made for fellow Spaniard Rafael Cabrera-Bello. In his rookie experience in 2016 at Hazeltine National Golf Club, just outside Minneapolis, Rafa played in three matches with a record of two wins and one tie.

Probably causing Bjorn to toss and turn the most is Ian Poulter. Poulter has played in an amazing five Ryder Cups and owns a record of winning 12 matches, losing only four and two ties. Poulter in full swing at a Ryder Cup is like turning a big eater loose at an all-you-can-eat buffet. I just don’t think there’s any way Bjorn cannot saddle up Poulter for Paris.

From where I sit, one pick that is a lock is Englishman Matt Wallace, who won for the third time this year in last week’s European Tour event, called “Made in Denmark.” Two more players who are getting hard looks from Bjorn are Scotland’s Russell Knox and the long-hitting Belgian, Thomas Pieters. Pieters, in 2016, set a rookie record of four points earned.

There are a tough couple of days ahead for Captain Bjorn finalizing the makeup of Team Europe. Just imagine this scenario — you have a choice of three courses to play — Maidstone, National Golf Links, and Shinnecock — but you can only play two. Which two do you pick? Well, that is what it’s like to be in Captain Bjorn’s shoes right now. My picks would be Poulter, Garcia, Pieters, and Wallace.

My problem is that by the time you read this, Bjorn’s picks will have already have been made.

Timing is everything.

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