MILWAUKEE With five rookies playing their way onto the 2004 team, U.S. Ryder Cup captain Hal Sutton opted for experience when he announced his two at-large selections yesterday morning.
Jay Haas, who will become the second-oldest player in the history of the matches, and Stewart Cink emerged from what Sutton said was a five-player short list.
My job was to find the guys who I thought were playing their very best when we made the decision, Sutton said. These two played the best the last couple months. They are seasoned, quality players.
There were many deserving players and only two spots. That s the dark side of being the captain. It s what made this so hard.
Haas, who has played in two previous Ryder Cups, and Cink, who was on the 2002 U.S. team, complete a 12-man team that will square off against the Europeans Sept. 17-19 at Oakland Hills Country Club near Detroit.
The other 10 members of the team were selected by a points system that ran from January of 2002 through the conclusion of Sunday s PGA Championship at Whistling Straits in Haven, Wis.
They are, in order from top to bottom: Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Davis Love III, Jim Furyk, Kenny Perry, David Toms, Chad Campbell, Chris DiMarco, Fred Funk and Chris Riley.
In addition to their experience, Sutton said Haas and Cink had impressed him with their iron play and putting.
Neither are prolific long hitters, but Oakland Hills isn t the monster it used to be, Sutton said. I ve played there quite a bit the last couple years so that I was sure I could determine what was important. You have to hit fairways, you have to hit good iron shots below the hole, and you have to putt well. These two guys satisfy those needs.
Sutton would not say which other players were on his short list of five, but his responses to questions from the media made it pretty clear that Scott Verplank, who aggravated a foot injury this past weekend, and Jerry Kelly were among them.
When asked if Kelly had played his way off the team with a poor performance in the PGA, Sutton said: It had a bearing. Justin Leonard is the other side of that coin. He played a great PGA, but I couldn t pick him on the basis of one event. This was all determined over time.
Haas will be 50 years, 9 months and 15 days old on the opening day of the Ryder Cup matches. Raymond Floyd was the oldest player in the history of the matches when he competed for the U.S. side in 1993 at age 51 years and 20 days.
I wanted to play my way on and I almost accomplished that, Haas said. Maybe some people are surprised I was in the mix at my age, but it s an accomplishment I m very proud of.
Haas fell out of the top 10 on the points list this past weekend and finished 12th on the list. Cink was 14th.
I think Hal did a great job of being intentionally vague over what he was thinking, Cink said. He wanted everybody to qualify, and that put the onus on us. I knew I was in the mix based on the way I played the last four or five tournaments, but I never assumed anything. I can t remember ever being this flattered in my life.
Cink finished tied for 17th at 3-under in the PGA, his fifth top-20 finish in as many tournaments to go along with a win earlier this year in the MCI Heritage at Hilton Head, S.C. Haas finished the PGA at even par, fading with a final-round 77 into a tie for 37th. He has six top-10 finishes in PGA Tour play this year.
Haas has a 3-4-1 overall record in two previous Ryder Cups (1983, 95), and Cink was 1-2 in 2002.
When asked if those histories were good enough, Sutton said: You know, we didn t have many guys to pick from with any Ryder Cup records. Jay s done fine and Stewart was 4-0 in the Presidents Cup , so I m comfortable with them.
When the PGA of America approached me about being captain, I asked them what they wanted. They didn t say anything about making popular choices or being politically correct. They said they wanted to win. I picked two guys I can win with. I ve made the decision, I stand by it, and now we go forward.
Contact Dave Hackenberg at:firstname.lastname@example.org 419-724-6389