U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A!
The simple definition of insanity is doing the same thing repeatedly the same way and expecting different results.
Here's the thing, U.S. Ryder Cup captain Paul Azinger knew that changes had to be made if the United States was going to be a force again in the biennial competition. Azinger wanted and got changes in the points system, the format and, perhaps most important, his ability to make four wild card picks instead of the traditional two.
Azinger got all that he publicly asked for and earlier this week announced his four wild card selections to go along with the eight men who qualified for the team and will represent the United States against Europe, Sept. 19-2,1 at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville.
The American qualifiers include, in order; Phil Mickelson, Stewart Cink, Kenny Perry, Jim Furyk, Anthony Kim, Justin Leonard, Ben Curtis and Boo Weekly.
Azinger then added Wisconsin native Steve Stricker, Hunter Mahan, JB Holmes and Chad Campbell.
At first glance, especially with the glaring omission of the world's No. 1 player, injured Tiger Woods, the U,S, is not fielding the most intimidating line-up on the planet. But, the sum of these individual parts is what makes this team more intriguing than most of the recent incarnations.
For starters, Tiger won't be around to help. Golf is an individual game by its very nature and pairing up the best player in the game is no easy task. There is a reason why Tiger's singles record at 3-1-1 is far better than either his four balls (4-6-0) or foursome (3-6-1) mark at the Ryder Cup. It's simple math: in singles, you only have to take care of your own business and there is no one better at that in the game than Tiger Woods.
With Tiger recovering from knee surgery, the American team can posture itself as the "underdog," although this team may be one of the deepest in recent history and is talented across the board.
Phil Mickelson -- Has played on five U,S, teams and has played in 20 total matches with a 9-8-3 mark overall. With Tiger out, he is the alpha male in this group and without winning a major championship in '08, being on and leading a winning Ryder Cup team is paramount for the lefty.
Stewart Cink -- Has played on three U.S. teams and 12 total matches with an overall mark of 3-5-4. Is undefeated in Four Ball competition for his career (1-0-3) and don't think for a moment that Captain Azinger hasn't noticed that stat.
Jim Furyk -- His overall career mark in four Ryder Cup appearances is a Tiger-like 4-9-2 with an equally Striped-like 3-0-1 in singles. The Pittsburgh native has notched only one point in five foursome matches (1-4-0) and only a half-point in six Four Ball matches (0-5-1). If the American team is to prevail, they need more team points early on from Furyk and whoever his partners are.
Anthony Kim -- This is his first experience at the Ryder Cup and it couldn't come at a better time or at a better place. "AK" has never lacked confidence, has all the game needed to be one of the next great players on the world stage and has a Captain in Azinger that will make sure he not only gets into matches early on, but gets his groove on as well. No scars, but no action either, yet. Could be a coming out party and pave the way for Major things.
Justin Leonard -- Know more for holing "The Putt" that set off the celebration at Brookline in 1999. In two career appearances in the Ryder Cup ('97-'99) has yet to win a full point in any format (0-3-5 overall). Still, not the same player he was in the 90's and has played exceptionally well as of late, making the team on points comfortably.
Ben Curtis -- A first-timer at age 31, he has demonstrated the game necessary to compete successfully at a Ryder Cup. Isn't monster long but has one of the best short games on tour. Has played big at the big events and could be the perfect compliment to several of the players in either Foursomes or Four Balls. Could be the sleeper hit of the cup.
Boo Weekley -- Was the last to get in on points. Is streaky, but has an "aw, shucks" attitude that belies a competitive fire. Not a natural putter, but an awesome ball striker who, when he gets it going, can go really low. Will have the partisan fans on his side all week long and can ride the wave.
JB Holmes -- One of Azinger's four wild-card selections. Finished 17th in points, but the native Kentuckian was not selected for his prodigious length alone. JB won't pull the trigger until he's good and ready and that bit of gamesmanship, combined with the fact that he's going to be longer than most everyone on either side, is enough to drive the opposition crazy. Has an all-around game but is a streaky player, still he'll have moments that merit highlight material.
Hunter Mahan -- One of Azinger's four wild-card selections. Finished 12th in points. More recently notable for his words rather than his action on the golf course. Quoted as saying some things in print about the Ryder Cup and has made amends to all parties involved. It matters most what you do after you make a mistake. Mahan did all the right things, right away. Has an impressive all-around game that should shine in this spotlight. Smart now to just his clubs do the talking.
Chad Campbell -- One of Azinger's four wild-card selections. Finished 20th in points. Some might wonder "why" while others will note that Campbell's all around game from tee to green is exactly what this team needs. There is stability in his performance throughout '08 that shows he answers the bell most every time and in a competition like the Ryder Cup that is invaluable to Captain Azinger. Offers several options for playing partners.
Steve Stricker -- One of Azinger's four wild-card selections. Finished ninth in points. In any other year, Stricker would have been on the team, safely inside the top 10. With the scoring system changed and the four-wild card picks, Stricker had to ride out the season before getting "the call". One of the game's best putters, he is an ideal playing partner that offers different options to Azinger and is someone who is never out of a match because of his flat stick.
To make the long story short, this team has the potential to be one of the best that the United States has fielded in some time. It has over the top performers in several statistical categories alongside solid, consistent performers.
It won't be easy, but I'm calling it a one-point U.S. win. And if not, then Captain Azinger has just added a new definition to insanity by changing most everything and yet still getting the same result.