The shock news on Monday was that Ryder Cup veteran Davis Love III would not be part of the US team for the first time since 1991, and captain Tom Lehman (pictured) faced the media shortly after announcing the selection of Stewart Cink and Scott Verplank to explain the reasons behind the selection of those two players as his wildcard picks.
Verplank became the first uncapped American to receive a wildcard vote at The Belfry in 2002, and Lehman decided to choose him again this time round – despite the 42 year-old Texan only finishing in 20th place on the US qualification list. Cink’s selection was less of a surprise after he finished in 12th place in the standings and showed a good level of consistency over the last few months. He was also a wildcard pick last time around in 2004.
Love’s lack of form since February seems to have sealed his fate, despite him lying just one stroke off the lead at the halfway stage of last week’s final Major of the season, the USPGA Championship. He could not sustain his form, however, closing with rounds of 73 and 76 to eventually finish in a tie for 34th place. He has not finished in the top ten of a strokeplay event at all in 2006.
“I slept for about two hours last night,” Lehman said on Monday after his announcement.
“It’s been a difficult decision for me to make and it’s tough to call people you respect as players and tell them that they’re not going to make the team. It’s been emotional for me as I’ve been on the side of the coin where I haven’t been picked,” he said, referring to his 11th placed finish in the 2002 standings when he was overlooked by US captain Curtis Strange.
“I believe the two make my team very complete. Stewart Cink has played steady golf for his entire career and is a very tough competitor. He’s played well all summer and I had to take that into account. Scott is also a very tough competitor and he can really chip and putt – something that I have consistently said will be crucial in the Ryder Cup.”
Both men have experience of representing their countries in both the Ryder Cup and the President’s Cup and were clearly honoured at hearing the news that they had been selected.
“I didn’t sleep very well last night and basically went to bed with my cell phone under my pillow,” said Verplank.
“I am so pumped up and I can’t wait. I love to play for the United States and I am really looking forward to playing for Tom. When Tom got passed over himself in 2002 I was one of the picks. I know how much that hurt him. I’ve been on both sides of the coin and this one is much better.”
While Lehman’s choices have received a mixed reception in the USA, his European counterpart Ian Woosnam was quick to defend him and stated that the excitement level has moved up a notch now that the US team has been finalised.
“Stewart Cink was on most people’s minds following the excellent season he has enjoyed and the fact that he has played on the last two Ryder Cup teams,” Woosnam said.
“Scott Verplank brings 20 years of experience as a USPGA Tour pro to the team. Both have played Ryder Cup golf and President’s Cup golf for their country and will therefore bring lots of international experience over to Ireland. Now we can get on with qualifying and finalising our own team, and we are looking forward to the match ahead of us.”
The US team contains four rookies and three players who have appeared only once in Ryder Cups, but it also contains the top three players in the world – Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Jim Furyk. The European team will be announced following the BMW International in Munich on September 3rd, with the tournament itself taking place at the K Club in Ireland from September 22-24.