By Brian Wacker, PGATOUR.COM
KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. -- We won’t know for another month who will be the captains’ picks for this year’s U.S. and European Ryder Cup teams, but Davis Love III and Jose Maria Olazabal offered at least some insight on Wednesday.
“We'll be plugging holes, matching pairings,” Love said. “Obviously if Steve Stricker was on the outside, we have a guy that likes to play with him that's a lock.”
Tiger Woods is that lock as he’s the only player on either side to have mathematically secured a spot.
As Love indicated, Woods has had success alongside Stricker. The two compiled a 6-2 record when paired together in the last three international team competitions (2-1 in the 2010 Ryder Cup, 0-1 and 4-0 in each of the last two Presidents Cups).
Stricker is currently 10th in the standings. Only the top eight players after this week’s PGA Championship will automatically make the U.S. team, however. Love will then make four captain’s picks Sept. 4.
Others on the outside looking in include Hunter Mahan, who has won twice this season, at No. 9, and Jim Furyk, who had leads late into the U.S. Open and last week’s World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational, at No. 11. Furyk also finished second in Tampa, losing a playoff Luke Donald.
Rickie Fowler, who won earlier this year at Quail Hollow, is No. 12, while Brandt Snedeker, Dustin Johnson and Bo Van Pelt round out the top 15.
But as we saw with Keegan Bradley, a player can make a big leap in the standings with a win -- particularly this week with double points being awarded (players receive two points for every $1,000 in prize money earned). That means everyone down to Matt Every at No. 37 has a chance to earn an automatic spot with a victory at the PGA Championship.
“It just shows you that we are strong and all of the guys at the top are taking turns playing well,” Love said. “There's a lot of golf to be watched. Fifty-one days (until the Ryder Cup), there's three tournaments after this week. I would think somebody can get really hot that we are not even looking at.”
One player Love will be looking at is an ice cold Phil Mickelson, who is on the bubble of earning one of those automatic spots at No. 8 in the standings.
Mickelson, who won at Pebble Beach earlier this year, has just one finish inside the top 25 on the PGA TOUR since April. At one point during that span, he failed to break par in nine consecutive rounds -- the longest such streak of his career. He’s also missed the cut in two of his last three starts, including at the British Open, and admitted to being “lethargic” the last two months.
If Mickelson were to struggle again this week, he could drop in the standings and that might force Love to use one of his picks on the veteran of eight Ryder Cups and nine Presidents Cups.
“I think he and Steve and a lot of guys are trying really hard to make the team, and that might be hurting them a little bit,” Love said. “We have all been there; the last few weeks, you press a little bit, you try a little too hard.”
Olazabal is facing a similar dilemma with Sergio Garcia and Padraig Harrington, who have played in five and six Ryder Cups, respectively. They are 12th and 29th in the current standings, though Europe’s top 10 players won’t become final until the Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles later this month.
Europe’s team will be comprised of the top five players from the Ryder Cup European points list and the top five not otherwise qualified from the world points list. Olazabal will add two captain’s picks the day after Europe’s top 10 spots become final.
“He's a great team player,” Olazabal said of Garcia. “His spirit is always really good, and in that regard I think he's a great asset to the team. It's true that at the moment his game is a little bit off. Pairing-wise, he's proved the last few Ryder Cups he can play with anybody, and he's done well. I think that's very important. If you are looking at the players to be on your team, Sergio would certainly be one of them for sure.”
Harrington’s chances seem far more tenuous.
“He has to do really extraordinary well,” Olazabal said. “He's well down the list. He's a very methodical player. From tee-to-green, his game has been fairly good, but I think his putting has let him down this year so far. If he really does extraordinarily well, he can have a great chance of making the team still, but it's going to be up to him.”
Whoever Olazabal and Love pick, both men will lean on their assistant captains, among others, when it comes to making their selections.
Love added that he doesn’t yet have a hard list of player’s he’s considering when it comes to his picks. But he does have an idea of what characteristics he’s looking for.
“You want some hot putters,” Love said. “You might want another long'-ball hitter.
“This week is important, because it ends the points. But it's just as important as any of the guys who play at Greensboro or who plays well at Barclays. I would like to catch somebody that's hot this week and the next two tournaments they play.”
Check out the top five shots of the week from the John Deere Classic and Utah Championship featuring highlights from Zach Johnson, Troy Matteson, Sam Saunders, John Senden, and Steve Stricker.
Watch Steve Stricker's incredible fairway bunker shot and ensuing 25-foot birdie putt to win on the 72nd hole at the 2011 John Deere Classic at TPC Deere Run.
To me, the John Deere Classic could quite easily undergo a name change and become The Steve Stricker Classic without anyone, including John Deere, taking much offense.
Stricker has absolutely owned the event, winning the title for three years running, and he is an amazing 104 under par since 2000, when the event moved to TPC Deere Run.
How does he do it?
In short, with the scoring clubs -- the putter and the wedges. Stricker’s putting stroke is the envy of many PGA TOUR regulars, and a lot of them would happily let Strick putt for them when the chips were down. To me however, his performance with a wedge (inside 120 yards) is even more impressive than his proficiency with the putter.
In the first round on Thursday, Stricker holed a wedge shot from 80 yards on the 14th hole for eagle. The eagle was the catalyst to a stretch of five holes played in 4 under, and he wound up with a 65. That one pitch turned an ordinary round into one that gave him a shot at four in a row.
So if you want to make consistently good scores, improve your putting statistics, and hit those wedges a little closer to the target. Steve Stricker is a really good model to copy, and there are a few things that he does with a wedge in his hand that you can incorporate in your technique to aid in getting those wedge shots closer to the hole:
Quiet hands and wrists: One thing that Stricker does that lends itself to accuracy and good distance control is use a minimal amount of wrist hinge and hand action. Emulate this as you swing to hit your scoring clubs more consistently. As you swing the wedges, hinge your wrists less and make a three-quarter backswing. This reduction in wrist hinge will help to quiet the hands through the impact area and this should assist in squaring the clubface and controlling its speed – a sure-fire way to hitting wedge shots that are accurate, both in terms of distance and direction.
Quiet feet and legs: Good balance and good timing are crucial to delivering the clubface squarely and consistently into the back of the ball. To improve both of these components you must ensure that your swing has a sound foundation and a stable lower body action will go a long way to producing that. Watch Steve Stricker hit a wedge and you will see how he uses his lower body in a very sedate and controlled fashion. Emulate this as you swing and you will find it a lot easier to make consistent strikes with your short clubs.
Don’t overpower your scoring clubs: The worst thing you can do is try to hit your scoring clubs too far. By definition, the short irons are meant to move the ball a short distance, so be true to that whenever you have one in your hand. There is no benefit whatsoever to hitting a sand-wedge instead of a wedge to a target so resist every urge to do so. Swing the scoring clubs with control and poise, ala Stricker, and you will find you will put the ball closer to the target a lot more often.
Mark Immelman, the brother of PGA TOUR professional Trevor Immelman, is a well-respected golf instructor and head coach of the Columbus State University (Ga.) golf team. For more information about Mark and his instruction, visit his web site, markimmelman.com or follow him on Twitter @mark_immelman or “Like” Mark Immelman Golf Instruction on Facebook. He also has a golf instruction e-book called “Consistently Straight Shots – The Simple Solution” available on iTunes/iBooks.
In the third round of the 2012 John Deere Classic, Steve Stricker chips from 71 yards away on the par-5 10th hole and then sinks the 8-foot birdie putt.