By Larry Fine
SPRINGFIELD, New Jersey (Reuters) – Ryder Cup captains Davis Love III and Darren Clarke are both looking for balance on their respective teams as they move closer to assembling their squads for the matches at Hazeltine.
The Ryder Cup match play competition will be held Sept. 30-Oct. 2 in Minnesota, with Europe dominating of late with eight wins from the last 10 biennial matches.
“In our automatic qualifying positions right now we have five rookies in there, with one of them being the Masters champion,” Northern Irishman Clarke told reporters at Baltusrol on the eve of Thursday’s opening round of the PGA Championship.
European frontrunners include green jacket winner Danny Willett, his fellow Englishmen Chris Wood, Andy Sullivan and Matthew Fitzpatrick, and Spain’s Rafa Cabrera Bello.
Nine players earn automatic berths on the 12-man Europe Team by the end of August, with Clarke later naming three captain’s picks to complete the team.
“With five rookies currently in, I’ll probably be looking towards experience to balance the team,” Clarke said.
“You know, you’ve got the likes of Lee Westwood, who has been playing very well again. He’s just outside the qualification points at the moment and there are a few other seasons guys that are right there too.”
Among veterans poised to claim automatic berths were four-times major winner Rory McIlroy, British Open winner Henrik Stenson, former U.S. Open champion Justin Rose and Spanish stalwart Sergio Garcia.
Love has a different consideration, with Brooks Koepka the only rookie currently within the top 10 on the U.S. points list that will produce eight automatic berths.
Veterans now within the top eight are U.S. Open winner Dustin Johnson, former world number one Jordan Spieth, five-times major winner Phil Mickelson, double major winner Zach Johnson, J.B. Holmes, Brandt Snedeker, twice Masters champion Bubba Watson and Matt Kuchar.
“I need to pick some youthful enthusiasm or some rookies that seem to always play well,” Love told reporters in his news conference on Tuesday.
Some possibilities outside the points cut line could also include Scott Piercy and Daniel Berger.
Love said several factors would influence his four captain’s picks.
“It will be plugging holes. If you can get one guy to be a leader and one guy to … make a perfect pairing (with another team member), and one guy to fill in a blank, either veteran or rookie, I think that’s how you use them,” he said.
The captains, independently of each other, playfully sparred over who would be regarded as favorites.
“At the moment, with the teams as we stand right now, you’d have to say America would be favorites,” said Clarke.
Love tried to dodge the question. “We don’t know who the team is quite yet,” he said. “Darren will say they are the underdogs, I’m sure. They always say that.”
(Editing by Frank Pingue)