By Graham Otway
There was a quiet exchange of words between Patrick Reed and Rickie Fowler as they shook hands and walked off the 18th green at Bethpage at the end of the FedEx Cup’s Barclays tournament on Sunday night.
The spirits of the two Americans, who have been close friends since their childhood days, contrasted starkly.
Reed was ecstatic after clinching his fifth US Tour win in 15 months to guarantee himself a place in the Ryder Cup team and move him up to fourth place in this year’s FedEx Cup points list.
Fowler was distraught after dropping three shots over the last four holes that meant he failed to close out a win after leading going into the final round for the fourth time.
He also knew that by slipping back to finish in a three-way tie for seventh place, he had slipped out of the eighth and last automatic qualifying place to play at Hazeltine, handing that to two-times Major winner Zach Johnson.
Fowler still hopes that his name will be on Davis Love’s lips when the American captain names his first three wild cards in a fortnight’s time after the BMW Championship at Crooked Stick and he tried to be positive as the pair chatted.
“I am going to get my work done and I will see you in Minnesota,” he said to Reed.
However, it was the answer that he received that spoke volumes for the way Love is trying to prepare his team and prevent Europe from pulling off a fourth successive win for the first time in Ryder Cup history. Reed simply said: “I know you will.”
The fact that Reed could say that with some confidence was reinforced on Monday when Love met up with the American golf media in Palm Beach to discuss the eight players who have made his team automatically and the thought processes that will be used to decide who will receive his four captain’s picks.
And after a precedent set by Paul Azinger when he led the team who produced the 16½-11½ victory over Europe at Valhalla in 2008 – America’s previous Ryder Cup win – Love intends to consult with the eight players he has and act on their advice on the identities of the four players they think should fill the other spaces in the Hazeltine locker room.
Love said: “The statisticians are going to help us with this, but those eight players on our team and the four assistant captains, they are pretty good golfers. They know what’s going on. They know the players. They know who they want to play with.
“Now, it’s time for this top eight to kind of take ownership of this team. I’ve had great help from everybody at The PGA of America, from my assistant captains, but now we have a team and these eight guys need to help us pick four more.
“That’s what I did in 2012. I went down the list with everybody that made it on points and said, ‘What do you think, who do you like, who do you think you would pair well with’.”
Likening the process to the thoughts of an American NFL Football coach, he joked: “If my team needs a quarterback and I draft in a running back, they are going to be mad at me. I have to make sure if they say, we want this guy, that he pairs well with this other guy, then we pick that guy.
“I can’t say it enough: It’s their team. Golf is different than other sports. The mental side of it is huge. If they go in there believing in what we are telling them, that they have the best team, and that they are ready to go, then they are going to play well. We don’t want to start off with any question marks.”
As an aside, Love did suggest that if Jim Furyk, one of his vice-captains who finished 15th in the qualifying table, were to win or play outstandingly well in the final three FedEx Cup events then he could yet be handed a wild card to earn his tenth Ryder Cup cap at the age of 46.
But it was Fowler’s name and the distance that he hits he ball that repeatedly cropped up at the press conference and while Reed will be campaigning strongly for his old mate to play at Hazeltine, a long layout similar to one the pair were playing at Bethpage over the weekend, Love may have some reservations.
Asked about whether Hazeltine would suit a big hitter like Fowler, Love said: “It is a big part of it and everybody just automatically assumes that because it is big and long it is a bomber’s course. But we’ve broken it down a little bit. The assistant captains have cautioned me: Don’t just think about it this way; think about it from every angle.
“Just hitting long drives isn’t the whole key to this. And actually driving it on the fairway, we’ve proven over the years, isn’t really that important a stat. It’s strokes gained putting, strokes gained ball-striking, who can hit it closer to the hole with all their clubs, and who can obviously make the most putts.
“You look at all that. Rickie is trending up. That’s the great thing. He’s going into some tournaments that really suit him. He’s playing very, very well.
“And you look at right on down the list. We have a lot of guys that are playing very, very well, and there are a lot of guys that could play their way on.”
But Love added: “I like the way Rickie is starting to make some putts and feeling confident with his game, and you listen to what he’s saying, he’s excited about it.”
Numerous US players are enjoying good form and are in Love’s thoughts for a captain’s pick, but he did mention one name that raised big question marks. He praised the season enjoyed by Russell Knox, the Inverness-born, Florida-based Scot and US Tour regular who only joined the European Tour late last year for the first time to try to win a place in Darren Clarke’s team.
He would certainly have been on the Ulsterman’s shortlist before he named his three picks at Wentworth yesterday but holding dual American-Scottish nationality, he has been mentioned in connection with Love’s line-up as well.
And he certainly would have been in the frame, as Love said: “He’s playing great. He’s 20th in the world and you’ve got to give him credit for beating a great field over there (winning the WGC HSBC event in China late last year). If he could play for us I would certainly pick him and if I was Darren I would be looking at him. It looks like he’s not going to play for Darren’s side this time. Maybe we can get him in two years’ time.”
That raised the question of whether the golfing authorities on both sides of the Atlantic would permit a player to switch international allegiances in the way that Irishman Ed Joyce, having played in the 2007 cricket World Cup for Ireland, had to get clearance before he appeared for England in the same tournament in 2011.
When the Knox issue was put to the European Tour on Monday night, a spokesman responded: “He has declared himself Scottish for World Cup purposes and been part of our qualification process so that would debar him from playing for the US.”