The wait for the Ryder Cup is almost over

It’s getting close now. The biggest event in Chicago’s rich golf history tees off at Medinah Country Club on Sept. 28, but plenty will be going on before then. September will be a month like no other for golf excitement in Chicago.

Medinah knows what big-time golf is all about, having been the site of three U.S. Opens and two PGA Championships, those being the most recent in 1999 and 2006. But Don Larson, the club’s Ryder Cup chairman, called the team event “the PGA times three.’’

To put it mildly, Chicago is about to witness an emotion-charged display of patriotism that – in that regard – will likely put the recent Summer Olympics to shame. There’s no event in all of sports quite like the Ryder Cup matches.

Players start arriving at Medinah on Sept. 25 for practice rounds. Even before that there’s a Junior Ryder Cup competition on Olympia Fields’ South course and a bevy of events relevant to the Ryder Cup will be going on throughout the month.

There’ll be golf ball artwork, Tartan Art on the Avenue, that may be the best viewed of everything, since it’ll be moved around the city and suburbs. It’s part of the Magnificent Moments fundraising campaign that includes a Sept. 27 pep rally, entitled Bagpipes & Blues, at the Field Museum.

During Ryder Cup week there’ll be the finals of a youth skills competition that will climax at Medinah. There’ll also be a celebrity scramble there. Needless to say Medinah will be packed throughout the week, and don’t expect to get a ticket unless you’re willing to be a big spender. The event was a quick sellout long ago.

First in importance as the big event closes in is the determination of just who will be playing in the competition. There’ll be 12 players on each team, and the first phase to determine who will be on the U.S. came immediately after the last putt dropped at the PGA Championship at Kiawah Island, S.C., on Aug. 12.

Point standings, accumulated over two years, determined the eight automatic berths on the U.S. team and those earning spots were Tiger Woods, Bubba Watson, Jason Dufner, Keegan Bradley, Webb Simpson, Zach Johnson, Matt Kuchar and Phil Mickelson.

In past years the U.S. captain named his picks the day after the PGA, but that was changed this time around. U.S. captain Davis Love III will name four (as opposed to just two in the past) picks on Sept. 4 in New York.

The new system is much better than the old, in that it allows the captain to pick the players who are hot leading into the biennial matches. That meant Love was able to analyze play in three tournaments, two of them part of the pressurized FedEx Cup playoffs, before filling out his roster.

Love was looking for experienced, as well as hot, players for his four selections, which are to be announced on the Tuesday of the BMW Championship at Crooked Stick, in Indianapolis. The automatic eight are short on experience. Dufner, Bradley and Simpson have never played in the biggest team competition in golf and Watson and Kuchar have played only once. Love will want some veterans to back them up, even though Mickelson – the last of the automatic qualifiers – will make his ninth straight appearance. That’s a record for consecutive, as well as all-time, appearances.

Woods has played on seven Ryder Cup teams and Zach Johnson on three. Otherwise it’s a pretty green U.S. team.

Though he wouldn’t say it initially – the PGA of America wanted to build excitement for his picks’ announcement — Love is sure to name Steve Stricker to the squad. He was 10th on the points list but is Woods’ preferred partner. Hunter Mahan, one spot in front of Stricker and a two-time winner this season, also figures to make the U.S. squad for the second time as a captain’s pick.

The other two picks are up for grabs, with performances in the Wyndham Championship and the first two FedEx playoff events – The Barclays and Deutsche Bank Championship – critical in Love’s view.

If Love is worried about experience he could pick Jim Furyk (11th in the point standings) or even dip into the Champions Tour ranks for Fred Couples. If he wants an exciting young star Ricky Fowler or Dustin Johnson are possibilities.

Unfortunately there won’t be a local player on the U.S. squad. Mark Wilson, D.A. Points and Kevin Streelman loomed as possibilities, however remote, early in the year but Wilson was down in 23rd place in the standings with Points 31st and Streelman 69th. All are too far back to merit consideration.

If you put stock in the point list Brandt Snedeker, Bo Van Pelt, Robert Garrigus and Bill Haas will be considered.

The European team was chosen differently, with captain Jose Maria Olazabal making only two captain’s picks on Aug. 27 – the day after the Johnnie Walker Championship concluded at Gleneagles in Scotland. That’s a highlight event on the European PGA Tour.

Ten members of the European team were chosen off point standings that were finalized after the Johnnie Walker event. Olazabal made his picks too late for the printing of this report, but the heart of the team figured to be PGA champion Rory McIlroy, former world No. 1s Luke Donald and Martin Kaymer, and past U.S. Open winner Graham McDowell.

One player who will likely make the team, Lee Westwood, will be particularly worth following. Westwood missed the cut at the PGA Championship and took the unusual step of firing his coach, Pete Cowens, and temporary caddie, Mike Waite, the day after the last major championship of the season ended.

So, one of Europe’s steadiest players may go into the Ryder Cup with his game shaky, no swing coach and a relatively new caddie. Mike Kerr took over Westwood’s bag after Waite’s firing, and Waite himself was a fill-in for Billy Foster. Foster was Westwood’s regular bag-toter until he injured his knee. He’ll be sidelined for the rest of the year.