Medinah, Illinois (Reuters) - Perhaps it was the appearance of Michael Phelps at the opening ceremony on Thursday that inspired Davis Love III to throw his Ryder Cup rookies into the deep end.
After the 18-time Olympic gold medallist made a brief appearance on the stage, Love turned his back on conventional wisdom by adopting a sink-or-swim approach to the opening morning’s competition on Friday.
In an event where seasoned professionals have struggled to cope with the suffocating pressure, Love gambled by picking three of his four Ryder Cup rookies to tee off in the morning foursomes.
It may be golf’s version of being thrown into the lion’s den but Love said he had complete faith in his selections.
“Obviously the first tee Friday morning of the Ryder Cup is going to be a pretty exciting, loud place,” Love told a news conference.
“We wanted some guys that we felt like could handle that situation and that wanted to get out of the gate and get going.”
Love did at least keep his three rookies apart, pairing them with experienced partners, in the hope of producing a potent mix.
First-timer Brandt Snedeker, fresh from winning the season-ending Tour Championship and a $10 million bonus as the FedExCup champion, was paired with Jim Furyk in the opening match against world number one Rory McIlroy and his fellow Northern Irishman Graeme McDowell.
“We weren’t guessing who was going to be there. We were guessing what it was going to sound like, feel like, and who could handle that the best,” Love explained.
”And the more you get to know Brandt Snedeker, then the more you’ll understand why he’s going off first.
Debutant Keegan Bradley, last year’s PGA Championship winner, will join forces with Phil Mickelson against Luke Donald and Sergio Garcia in the second match, while rookie Jason Dufner will partner Zach Johnson against Lee Westwood and Francesco Molinari.
The only rookie in the 12-member U.S. team to be left out of the morning session was U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson after Love opted for some familiarity in his final pairing, reuniting Tiger Woods with Steve Stricker for a match against Ian Poulter and Justin Rose.
“They have won a lot of matches, in both international competitions. They play very well together,” Love said.
“I didn’t go back and study Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker’s record before I put them together. They wanted to play together and they have done pretty well together, so going to let them go.”
With a squad overflowing with talent, Love had the luxury of leaving out two current major winners, Webb and Masters champion Bubba Watson, as well as Dustin Johnson and Matt Kuchar.
”We had a tough decision, and it wasn’t who to send out, it was who to sit down,“ Love said. ”I had to talk to four of my guys, and somehow come up with a rational explanation of why they weren’t going to play.
“I‘m very pleased. Our guys have really pulled together this week. They have said they would do anything I asked them and they came through today, too, when we finally had to make the decision.”
Editing by Larry Fine