On Saturday morning at the PGA Championship, with the Golf Channel set quarantined off from the rain, 2008 Ryder Cup captain Paul Azinger joined the set of Live From and spoke on all things golf, including, of course, the Ryder Cup.
Azinger famously led the United States to their most recent victory in the biennial event in 2008 on the same grounds that the last major of the season was contested. And beings that last week’s PGA Championship marked the last opportunity for US players to rack up automatic qualifying points, the 12-man roster became just a bit clearer as darkness fell in Louisville.
Three weeks from today, 2014 US captain Tom Watson will pick the final three players to round out his team, but the question of who those three players will be remains one that will be kicked around for the next 21 days. Beings that the PGA of America — who is charge of the US Ryder Cup — went off the board to choose Watson for a second time as captain, why not throw out all the stops and do everything in their power to have the best chance to win?
By nearly all accounts, the European team will be the betting favorites when the 24 players are solidified. In fact, European betting house Paddy Power already has the Euros at nearly 1-2 to win the Cup and slightly worse odds to retain it.
Watson was the last US captain to win the Cup on European soil, defeating Bernard Gallacher’s European squad 15-13. Since ’93, the US has won the Cup just twice — in 1999 at Brookline and in 2008 at Valhalla. With that kind of pedigree taking to the Centenary Course at Gleneagles next month, let’s take a look at how the US team could stack up using the last known winning method, Azinger’s pod system.
First things first, we need to understand the pod system. Azinger formed his strategy long before he was the captain and lifted the idea from a documentary he saw on the Discovery Channel about the Navy SEALs, which he would later detail in his book “Cracking the Code.” The Navy broke down the SEAL recruits into small groups to help them learn how to fend for their teammates. Azinger translated that thinking to the Ryder Cup, by and large giving the players ownership over their own team within a team, even allowing the players to make their own captain’s selections.
The thinking behind this is brilliant for a number of reasons, but none moreso than Azinger knowing the type of guys who play for the US. This is not a debate about whether or not the US “wants” the Ryder Cup enough, but certainly it could be argued that regardless, these players don’t want to be embarrassed by their play or the play of a guy they tapped themselves. Azinger tapped into the players’ egos, which in turn led to more accountability and playing for one another.
Azinger broke down his eight automatic qualifiers, plus Steve Stricker — an early captain’s pick. From there, with nine guys, Azinger broke them up into three groups of “like-minded” personalities. Those three groups were then tasked with picking one player each from a group of six to fill out their four-man pod. Throughout the four-session (fifth was rained out) event, players only played with guys from their pod.
So, here’s how the automatic qualifiers of US Team looks today, Aug. 12, broken down into respective pods by yours truly:
Now, with that done, each group would get a pool of six players from which they can select one player to fill out their four-man pod. Running through the standings while keeping in mind the like-mindedness, here are the 18 players available for picks:
The pool consists of guys from No. 9 (Dufner) in the rankings to No. 39 (Koepka), but all were added with a pod in mind. Just looking at the names, having 18 solid guys with others still left out, could make you think that the US isn’t in as bad of a way as some are portraying them to be. That’s a different argument for a different day. Let’s break down the pods.
An important aspect of the pods, fairly or not, is favoritism. Plain and simple. In this format, guys are going to have to vouch for one another; put their name on the line for the sake of someone else and that should be taken into account just as much as current form.
Starting with the Bible Boys, there are three names that jump out right away — Simpson, English and Haas. Todd seems to be tapering off after what was a really good stretch of play; Harman, while a winner this year and fellow Georgia Bulldog with Bubba, and Compton, despite an unbelievable story and solid year to match, just don’t seem to have the caché needed.
Ranking the top-3 in the Bible Boys group, Simpson seems the most likely to garner a pick, followed by Bill Haas and then Harris English. English, as a member of the Sea Island Mafia, would be a natural pair with Johnson, but unless he kicks it in in the next few weeks, the two ahead of him seem like tough mountains to summit.
Simpson has the slightest edge over Haas at the minute given his recent form and his 2-1 record with Bubba in the 2012 Ryder Cup where the two dominated two of their three matches together. Haas has not played in a Ryder Cup to this point in his career, although he did play on the 2011 and 2013 Presidents Cup teams. He has a combined record of 3-5-2.
In the Steady Eddie pod, again, it seems to be a three-man race. Dufner’s neck injury sounded serious when he backed out of the PGA Championship and he didn’t seem keen on coming back even next season, much less in two months. Chris Kirk goes the way of a Todd, Harman, Compton type and Steve Stricker, for as well as he played last week and all of his experience, may not have five rounds in three days in him.
That leaves us with a strong pool of talent including Moore, Mahan and Snedeker. The latter two of the three played solidly on the weekend at Valhalla, posting T7 and T13, respectively. Moore, for as well as he’s played this season, fell down the leaderboard on Sunday, posting a 3-over par 74.
This threesome seems to have the most to prove and most to gain over the next three weeks in the FedEx Cup Playoffs. A win by any one of the three would be huge, but barring that from happening, let’s rank them from most to least likely: Snedeker, Mahan, Moore. Again, even though Moore has the best résumé of the bunch this season, going off of players willing to put their name on the line for one of the three, more often than not, they’re going to go with proven Ryder Cuppers.
Lastly, we get to the Young and Fiery. Phil Mickelson will act as the patriarch for this pod, which excuses him from the “young” misnomer. This pod may be the easiest to pick based solely on past Ryder Cup experience and want-to.
For Na, Every, Woodland, Horschel and Koepka, the fire is there. They’re young and talented and want to play for their country, but unfortunately for them, Keegan Bradley is in their pool. The most impressive thing Keegan Bradley did, should he get on the 2014 Ryder Cup team, is make it in 2012. A natural understudy to Mickelson and a explosive competitor, expect Lefty to take over the de facto captainship of this pod. As such, Bradley is the only option.
The pair went 3-0 in team competitions before not playing in the afternoon on Saturday at Medinah in 2012. Both lost in tight singles matches, but are among the most passionate Ryder Cuppers that America has. This pool is the biggest no-brainer of them all and with Bradley starting to show some form over the past few weeks (PGA excluded), he’s got to be the one to come out of this pool.