Only Stricker is sure bet for a U.S. Ryder Cup captain’s pick

The first phase to determine who will be playing in next month’s Ryder Cup matches at Medinah is over.

Point standings, accumulated over two years, determined the eight automatic berths on the U.S. team after Sunday’s PGA Championship was completed and those earning berths 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 means Love can analyze play in three tournaments, two of them part of the pressurized FedEx Cup playoffs, before filling out his roster for the Sept. 25-30 spectacular at Medinah.

Love will be looking for experienced, as well as hot, players for his four selections. 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.

Though he wouldn’t say it at a Monday press conference Love is sure to name Steve Stricker to the team. He was 10th on the point list but is Woods’ preferred partner. Hunter Mahan, one spot in front of Stricker and a two-time winner this season, 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 this week’s Wyndham Championship and the first two FedEx playoff events – The Barclays and Deutsche Bank Championship – critical in Love’s view. He’ll make his picks on the Monday of the third FedEx tourney, the BMW Championship. It’ll be held at Crooked Stick, in Indianapolis, this year after having a home at Cog Hill, in Lemont. The Western Golf Assn. wanted to move its PGA Tour stop out of Chicago this year to avoid oversaturation with the Ryder Cup.

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 exiting young star Ricky Fowler and Dustin Johnson would be 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.

The European team is chosen differently, with captain Jose Maria Olazabal making only two captain’s picks, both on Aug. 27 – the day after the Johnnie Walker Championship concludes in Scotland. Ten members of the European team are chosen off a point standings than concludes after the Johnnie Walker event.

Big week for NU

Northwestern’s golf programs had an impact far beyond the college level last weekend.

Two NU alums Chris Wilson (2007) and Scott Harrington (2003) went to a playoff to determine the title in the Tour’s Price Cutter Charity Classic in Springfield, Mo., Wilson winning. Illinois’ Luke Guthrie tied for 10th in that event, the sixth time in as many pro starts on the PGA and circuits that he’s finished in the top 20.

An NU sophomore Nicole Zhang reached the semifinals in the U.S. Women’s Amateur. That’s the best finish by a Wildcat in either the men’s or women’s U.S. Ams since Dillon Dougherty was runner-up in 2004. (Luke Donald’s best in the U.S. Am was a semifinal finish).

Here and there

Those lucky enough to secure Ryder Cup tickets should probably have them by now. They were mailed on Friday (AUG 10)…..The third and final Illinois qualifier for next month’s U.S. Mid-Amateur at Conway Farms, in Lake Forest, is today (AUG 15) at Piper Glen, in Springfield….The Illinois PGA Pro-Senior tournament is today at Elgin Country Club and the Schaumberg Classic is Monday – the last tuneup for the Aug. 27-29 IPGA Championship at Stonewall Orchard, in Grayslake….A qualifier for the Illinois State Senior Amateur will be held on Tuesday (AUG 21) at The Links at Carillon, in Plainfield….The Midwest Shelter Golf Fundraiser has been scheduled for Aug. 26 at Klein Creek in Winfield.