The second-guessing began in the immediate aftermath of Sunday’s miracle comeback or stunning meltdown (depending on your allegiances) at Medinah. And while Davis Love III supported sticking to the script, the U.S. Ryder Cup captain conceded he did try to alter the agenda on Saturday.
“We had a plan and we stuck to it,” Love told reporters Tuesday, ahead of this week’s PGA Tour event in Las Vegas in which he will appear.
Love may have considered tweaking the blueprint, which may or may not have included sitting the winless Tiger Woods-Steve Stricker duo on Saturday morning, but for Phil Mickelson’s insistence that his skipper adhere to it.
“I stood up to a couple of things last week [and was] criticized in the press because I was being too nice and letting them do what they wanted to do. I guarantee you Tiger Woods didn’t want to sit out,” said Love, alluding to the 0-2 record Woods and Stricker compiled on Friday.
“There was a lot of guys on our team that said, ‘Do not take Keegan [Bradley] and Phil out,’” Love contended about the outfit’s hottest players, who hit the pine for the afternoon session. “But if you make them go play when they don’t want to play, they’re probably not going to play well.”
Perhaps, but the teammates showed no signs of letdown after going 3-0 through Saturday morning's foursome match, which they needed only 12 holes to complete. Certainly Love entertained second thoughts about resting the mentor and the acolyte, who were in the midst of a run-away, record-tying 7 and 6 victory over Lee Westwood and Luke Donald after notching two previous wins.
“I actually rode out to 10, popped under the ropes, and as soon as Phil saw me, he ran over and said, ‘Don’t even think about,’” Love said, backing up Mickelson’s recollection of the scenario. “He knew why I was there. I wasn’t there to watch; he was winning.
“I was there to see if I could talk to Bones [Mickelson’s caddie, Jim Mackay] and see if they would play,” added Love. “He said no.”
Assistant captains Scott Verplank and Jeff Sluman weighed in on the “to play or not to play” decision as well, urging Love to remain steadfast.
“Every time I would go, ‘Hey, you know what, they want me to sit Keegan and Phil, and Phil doesn't want to sit ‑‑ or I mean doesn't want to play, he says he's done and stick with the plan, but I could put Keegan with this, you know,’” said Love, who seemed to suggest he considered pairing Bradley with someone other than his idol. “And they go, ‘No, no, no, stick with your plan, the plan is working. We're way ahead.’”
As for bypassing youth (in the form of Nick Watney, Bill Haas, Hunter Mahan, and Rickie Fowler) for experienced Ryder Cup vets, Love said he had no misgivings about adding 40-somethings Jim Furyk and Steve Stricker to the 12-player team. No one will ever know how the four golfers -- or any other potential wild-card options -- would have fared in the pressure-cooker that was Medinah on Sunday, but Furyk’s and Stricker’s inability to drill clutch putts offered a decent argument for giving the youngsters a chance going forward.
Love defended his choices but suggested the old guys may have played their final Ryder Cups.
“Steve Stricker is the No. 10 player in the world. It's not like we took a chance on a guy,” Love said about Woods’ long-time foursomes and four-ball partner who went 0-4 (0-3 as Tiger’s wingman) last week. “I'm happy with the decision.
“Now, I love Rickie Fowler and Bill Haas and Hunter Mahan Nick Watney. They are the future of the Ryder Cup,” Love added. “Sure, maybe they would have done better, but I love the team I had. They gave it their all. Most importantly, they represented their country on and off the golf course.”
In the end, Love said, quoting another member of his 2012 team, Dustin Johnson, “it’s just golf. They knocked in a bunch of putts and ours lipped out.
“There’s nothing we can do about it.”