Tom Lehman went with two veterans to round out the 2006 Ryder Cup team. No, we're not talking about Fred Couples and Davis Love. While not the flashiest players, Stewart Cink and Scott Verplank gave Lehman what he was looking for - consistent, solid golfers with above average short games.
Were there better options? Should Lehman have considered someone else? That's what I'll look at this week in The Numbers Game.
We'll look at this player by player and give them their full due. Verplank was the larger stretch pick of the two. He was 20th in Ryder Cup standings. Eleven other golfers were ahead of him including Davis Love, Fred Couples, and the captain himself, Tom Lehman.
Verplank is a great player. I know he only has four wins, but I'm 100% behind Lehman's pick of Verplank. Looking at his stats, he doesn't hit it a long way, but he keeps the ball in play (4th in driving accuracy) and limits mistakes. This accomplishes two things. One, as a partner with Verplank, it is a bit relaxing. He's a low-key guy that won't surprise you at all. On an alternate-shot, you'll be playing from the fairway a lot and if you screw up, he's 6th in scrambling, so chances are good that your team can recover.
On the other side, the steady play of Verplank can be a bit demoralizing. He won't give the other side many openings. Also, Verplank actually is 10th in birdie conversion percentage so it isn't like he'll make nothing but pars. You want guys that are going to throw in a bunch of birdies and win some holes.
One last stat that I found interesting about Verplank is scoring average. He's ranked higher than the following Ryder Cup members: Chad Campbell, Chris DiMarco, Vaughn Taylor, J.J. Henry, Zach Johnson, and Brett Wetterich.
Verplank is even a shade better than Geoff Ovilvy… in scoring average of course. Maybe great is a strong word to describe Verplank, but to be picked out of all other American golfers to represent our country is a pretty strong indication of his skill.
I don't want to be that person that agrees with everyone else, but I liked the Verplank pick and I like the Cink pick as well. Both of their games are similar and they have had similar results as well.
Cink has been a consistent (there's that word again) performer. He's finished in the top 10 six times this year out of 21 tournaments. In more than half those tournaments, he's been in the top 25. Only four times has Cink not made the cut. I thought that one more top ten would be added last week at the PGA Championship. After a good start it looked that way, but it was not meant to be.
Most pundits thought Cink would be on the team regardless because of Lehman's insistence that he needed guys that had good short games. Cink has finished in the top five in putting average numerous times, topping the list in 2004, just ahead of Tiger Woods. Not only does his putting match up well with Verplank, but he scrambles as well too… currently 18th on Tour.
Cink also, like Verplank, scores better than you think. He's ninth on the scoring average list at 69.82. He's better this year than the likes of Appleby, Els, Toms, and Weir. You just wouldn't expect to see his name up there but it just shows you that while Cink isn't winning a lot of tournaments, he's not going to shoot himself in the foot. He stays in there and ends up giving himself a chance in the end. That is a lot more than can be said about some other players Lehman was considering.
Davis Love III & Fred Couples
I don't think that the Ryder Cup was too important to Fred. Of course that might because nothing looks that important to Couples with his laid-back demeanor. Love, on the other hand, was probably stung by missing out.
Love has always been one of my favorite golfers. I love watching his swing and have followed his career for years. I get frustrated watching him though. It's like a train wreck. Spectacular on one hand, but it always ends horribly. This was never more evident than at the Players Championship this year.
Davis started out with a blistering 65. I thought to myself, "Finally. After a good showing at the match play championship, he's ready to get back into the winner's circle." Well, it only took 24 hours to go from one end of the spectrum to the other. He followed the 65 up with an 83 to miss the cut. He only came close to a top 10 two other times this year.
Davis Love III is anything but the consistent golfer Lehman is looking for.
Love is 100th in scoring average. If you are picking the Ryder cup team, do you pick a guy that is 9th (Cink) 19th (Verplank) or 100th? Davis may have the experience, but right now his game is not in the best shape right now and Lehman realized it.
You started hearing Couples' name bantered about after his third-place finish at the Masters this year. It was interesting for a while to speculate Fred being on the team, but his game has fizzled out since then. He's missed four of seven cuts including the last two majors. Couples' stats are even worse when you look at them. He's not very accurate off the tee and his putting has been horendous this year.
I'm as sentimental as they come, but Couples had no business going to the K-Club unless it was as an assitant or a spectator.
Close, but No Cigar
I know Love and Couples were the guys that people thought might have a chance, but the only other players outside of Cink and Verplank that I thought had a chance were Lucas Glover and Arron Oberholser.
Glover is a very steady golfer. Statistically, he does a lot of things well. In all of the major areas Lucas was well in the top half - 80th or better. His total driving and ball striking were both in the top 20. If there was one area that hurt him, it was scrambling. So what killed his chance?
My guess is that he, like Couples, fizzled out after starting strong. All six of Glover's top 10s were before early May. Down the stretch, when he needed it the most, Lucas couldn't get the necesssary points to make his way onto the team. I bet Lehman was hoping he'd earn his way on. I would feel better about Glover than Ryder Cup team member Brett Wetterich, but it wasn't meant to be.
Oberholser has also had a good year as well getting an early victory at Pebble. I really expected him to take a spot on the team after watching him some this year. He wasn't missing any cuts and was finishing close to the top 10 numerous times… five times he finished 13th-17th. Arron just couldn't quite put the finishing touch on what would have been a great year. If he hadn't been injured, who knows what would have happened.
The Only Choice
Lehman made the right picks. Verplank and Cink give Tom exactly what the team needed. He has two steady veterans that can be the fulcrum of an imbalanced team. Top-heavy with stars and weak at the bottom with rookies.
With those four rookies it was important not to add a 5th or 6th in Glover or Oberholser. Also, Lehman couldn't know what player would show up if he brought Love or Couples. Verplank and Cink were not only an easy choice, they were the only choice.