In Pictures: US Ryder Cup team
While US Ryder Cup captain Corey Pavin wasn't exactly spoiled for choice, his decision to gamble on the raw talent of 21-year-old PGA Tour rookie Rickie Fowler at Celtic Manor is fascinating.
Behind a boundless passion for his country's cause at the Ryder Cup, Pavin is a shrewd strategist, not the sort one would expect to act on a whim.
Yet, clearly, he's made an exception in Fowler's case — and, in fairness, the kid is an exceptional player.
Though Pavin's picks — Fowler, Tiger Woods, Stewart Cink and Zach Johnson — are nowhere near as controversial as those of European captain Colin Montgomerie, the selection of Fowler is still a courageous move and represents a splendid leap of faith.
In choosing Fowler ahead of Valhalla heroes JB Holmes and Anthony Kim — admittedly struggling for form after this year's operation on this thumb — or doughty Ryder Cup veteran Justin Leonard, Pavin has enriched the air of adventure surrounding the upcoming match at Celtic Manor.
Just compare the youngster's professional pedigree with that of Woods. While Tiger's 71 PGA Tour victories include 14 Major titles, Fowler has yet to win in less than 12 months as a professional.
With a handful of impressive top-10 finishes in the US this season, the Californian is viewed as Rory McIlroy's leading rival for the PGA Tour Rookie of the Year Award in 2010.
And even though Fowler's form dipped in the wake of his impressive runner-up finish behind Justin Rose at The Memorial in June, the respect he commands on Tour was heavily underscored at the PGA Championship when Phil Mickelson strongly recommended him for a Ryder Cup pick.
Explaining why he was happy to give Fowler the nod yesterday, Pavin said: “There's a lot of people in the mix but I've said it before and it's absolutely true — it just came down to feelings.
“I have a gut feeling about Rickie. He has a good Walker Cup record, he's 7&1,” added Pavin (pictured), referring to the star role Fowler played in the American amateur team's victories over Great Britain and Ireland at Royal County Down in 2007 and Merion last year.
The Walker and Ryder Cups are vastly different in scale yet Pavin has few doubts about Fowler's ability to handle the pressure at Celtic Manor, especially if the weather turns savage in South Wales.
“Rickie is a very cool customer and I have no doubt that he'll be well able to handle that pressure,” added the captain.
“We have a good mix of youth and experience in the team,” Pavin went on. “I can just as easily see two young players going out there together. I've no problem putting experienced people together as well. I'm very pleased with the flexibility in my side.”
An obvious partner for Fowler would be close buddy on Tour, Bubba Watson, while the pairing of Johnson with his mentor Mickelson has a nice ring to it.
Last year's British Open-winner Cink, a veteran of the past four Ryder Cups and a captain's pick for three of them, is a rock solid choice by Pavin, as is 2007 US Masters champ Johnson, who brings good recent form, including a victory at Colonial this summer, to his second Ryder Cup.
Now his game is at last coming together after 10 months of mayhem in his private life, Tiger's selection was inevitable.
“It's great to be part of this team,” said Woods. “I'm honoured to be selected. I'm looking forward having a great time with the team and hopefully bringing the cup back.”