MEDINAH, Ill. -- Tom Lehman sorted through numbers on a
chart and the feeling in his gut, trying to decide which two
players would help the United States end recent European
dominance in the Ryder Cup.
He simply wanted the best, and picked up some experience along
Lehman chose Stewart Cink and Scott Verplank as his two
captain's picks Monday morning, leaving Davis Love III at home for
the first time since 1993 and raising questions about how much
winning really mattered in the selection process.
"I think what I'm wanting more than anything is a team that is
just tough -- strong guys that will never give up," Lehman said.
"And it came down where Scott Verplank and Stewart Cink made their
decision for me."
Cink, 33, was one of the few wild-card selections who showed
signs of life over the last few months, with three finishes in the
top five to climb to No. 12 in the standings. He also was a
captain's pick two years ago and will be playing the Ryder Cup for
the third time.
The 42-year-old Verplank was a mild surprise.
He was a leading candidate to be a pick coming into the PGA
Championship because of his accuracy off the tee and his putting,
two key elements in match play. But he missed the cut after making
two double bogeys on the final three holes at Medinah. Verplank,
the first player to make his Ryder Cup debut as a captain's pick in
2002, finished 20th in the standings.
"I'm so pumped," Verplank said. "I don't know how you can
have a better event than the Ryder Cup. I told Tom I was put on
this earth to play in things like this."
The last four have never played in the Ryder Cup, and Taylor has
never competed in any form of match play.
The Ryder Cup is Sept. 22-24 at The K Club in Ireland. Europe
has captured the cup seven of the last 10 times, including an
18½-9½ victory two years ago in Oakland Hills.
Europe's team will not be determined until after the BMW
International Open on Sept. 3 in Germany.
"Clearly, Tom's decision to go with experience provides the
United States with balance, considering that there are four rookies
in their team," European captain Ian Woosnam said. "Both have
played Ryder Cup, World Cup and Presidents Cup golf for their
country, and therefore will bring a lot of international experience
This U.S. team has seven players who have won PGA Tour events
this year, up from five players in 2004. Part of that was due to a
revamped points system that emphasized how a player fared in the
year of the matches, with a bonus for winning and quadruple points
in the majors.
What made Lehman's picks intriguing is that Cink hasn't won in
two years, while Verplank hasn't won in five.
Then again, Lehman's options were limited.
Of the players who finished between Nos. 11 and 25 in the final
standings, only four players had won this year -- John Rollins (11)
at the B.C. Open, Tim Herron (17) at Colonial; Arron Oberholser
(22) at Pebble Beach; and Dean Wilson (23) at the International.
"There's not a lot of guys doing a lot of winning, period,"
Lehman said. "If I were only going to pick guys who have won, it
would be a pretty small list. It's just kind of the nature of the
international world of the PGA Tour right now."
With so many international players in America, Lehman kept a
separate list to show how Americans only fared in PGA Tour events.
For example, Jonathan Byrd tied for 20th at the PGA Championship.
Counting only Americans at Medinah, he would have been 10th.
On that unofficial list, Lehman said Cink would have been sixth
in the standings, and Verplank would have finished ninth.
"Winning is important," Lehman said. "But every bit as
important is when you're in the hunt, how do you perform? And I
think these guys performed well under the pressure."
Lehman had said all week that the four rookies who earned spots
on his team wouldn't make him look exclusively at experience.
"Having that kind of experience played into my thinking," he
said. "But I wasn't married to it. I was married to picking the
two guys who I thought were going to make our team the best team,
and those are the guys I picked."
Studying his options through the evening Sunday after the PGA
Championship, he narrowed his choices to six players -- Cink,
Verplank, Love, Lucas Glover, Steve Stricker and vice captain Corey
Pavin, who won at Milwaukee last month for his first victory in 10
Glover was the toughest call. He was 14th in the standings, but
after opening with a 66 at Medinah, followed with rounds of 77-74
and closed with a 72 to tie for 46th.
"There's times in your life when you have this gut feeling
about somebody, and you can't exactly put your finger on what it is
and why," Lehman said. "At the end of the day ... not having
played that well over the last three months, I could not quite pull
the trigger on him."
Love has played on every Ryder Cup team since 1993, the longest
streak of any American. But he has not cracked the top 10 since he
lost in the finals to Geoff Ogilvy in the Accenture Match Play
Championship. And needing an eighth-place finish at Medinah to earn
his spot on the team, he shot 73-76 on the weekend.
"Davis hasn't played well, plain and simple," Lehman said.
"He's been injured. He's still slightly injured. With all the
experience he has and all he has accomplished, I still want to have
guys playing well."