A mixed message in golf's Ryder Cup qualifying
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, GA. — Davis Love III wore more than one hat at Sea Island, and sometimes he couldn't switch them fast enough.
Love is the Ryder Cup captain, and he was part of the task force that decided Americans who competed in the fall start to the PGA Tour season should not get any Ryder Cup points. Love also is the tournament host of the RSM Classic, the final event of the fall.
Love's playing partner the first two rounds — not to mention his house guest for the week — was Justin Thomas. He won the CIMB Classic in Malaysia and missed the playoff by one shot at the Frys.com Open, a field that included four players from the last Ryder Cup.
Thomas remains No. 33 in the Ryder Cup standings. If points had been awarded in the fall — when several top golfers only play sparingly — he would be No. 6.
Love handed out the RSM Classic trophy to Kevin Kisner, who broke the tournament scoring record by four shots with his six-shot victory.
Kisner is on the verge of becoming a force in American golf, having built an efficient swing under John Tillery to go along with an already stout short game. He was No. 236 going into the year and — thanks to four runner-up finishes and his victory at Sea Island — he now is No. 17.
He would be No. 3 in the Ryder Cup if the fall had counted. He remains at No. 6, one spot behind Phil Mickelson.
Along with wearing different hats, Love had to change shirts to a Ryder Cup logo when he announced three more vice captains for the 2016 matches at Hazeltine. It was during that press conference that Love was asked if he was comfortable that no Ryder Cup points were awarded in the fall.
"It's tough for me to answer that question at the RSM Classic," Love said with a smile.
At least he didn't duck it.
Love must have been in an awkward spot at those task force meetings. He had to divide his loyalties to the Ryder Cup task force, to his fall tournament at Sea Island and to his tour, which saved the fall events and their combined $39.8 million in prize money. The fall events now are like all the other stand-alone PGA Tour events by awarding full FedEx Cup points and a spot in the Masters to the winner.
They just don't get Ryder Cup points, which they did in 2013.
"As a group, that was the decision that was made," Love said. "Yes, that's what I said. We didn't take minutes, luckily, but I think I said that after a lot of discussion I can always consider ... the guys when they play, I can always give them credit for it. Justin Thomas winning in Malaysia was noticed, obviously. Got him an extra pillow on his bed this week. So I will take notice of how guys are playing."
Kisner is a straight shooter with Southern drollness.
"I definitely want to be on the Ryder Cup," he said. "And to be able to play for Davis would be huge for me after winning here. Obviously, I didn't get any points here. But if I continue playing the way I am now, I hope to be on that team."
Does it even matter that points were not awarded?
Only two winners from the fall of 2013 qualified for the U.S. team — Jimmy Walker and Dustin Johnson — and they would have made it without those points. Besides, the Americans are as deep as Europe was a decade ago. They probably could field two teams of equal strength (and, given recent history, Europe would beat either one).
Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland picked up valuable Ryder Cup points from his two fall events on the PGA Tour. Just like Kisner or Thomas, he won't make the team unless he keeps playing well.
For the Americans, the message has been mixed.
Mickelson, who doesn't play in the fall, was eager to explain in March that fall tournaments should not be awarded points. He said it wouldn't be fair to give the "bottom half of the tour" what amounts to a head start over the "top guys."
Given the emergence of a new generation, does anyone know who the top guys are anymore?
Love, meanwhile, said last week that the last six months of qualification are the most important. He said in a perfect world, "I wouldn't even count much this year."
For 2015, one point was awarded for every $1,000 in the majors, with one point for every $2,000 in The Players Championship and World Golf Championships. Kisner didn't play in three of them. Thomas didn't play in five of them.
Mickelson received twice as many points for his runner-up finish in April at the Masters than Kisner for his runner-up finish in a World Golf Championship in November.
Not to worry. It will sort itself out in the end.
The good news? At least we know who the vice captains will be.
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