For fans of the game within the game, the machinations leading to the Ryder Cup in just five weeks form an intriguing subplot that virtually is guaranteed to add a layer of intensity to The Barclays FedExCup playoff opener that began Thursday at Bethpage Black.
The evidence was underlined by the first-round performance of Americans Patrick Reed, who shot a 5-under 66 to tie for the lead with Scotland’s Martin Laird, and Rickie Fowler and J.B. Holmes, who were in a four-way tie for third a stroke back at 67.
Reed currently sits in eighth place in Ryder Cup points, which is the final automatic qualifying berth that closes after this tournament, just one spot ahead of Holmes. Fowler is 12th, an uncomfortable spot that depends on the final four choices of U.S. captain Davis Love for the 12-man team.
“Of course it’s on my mind,” Reed said of the Ryder Cup after closing his round with a 5-under 31 on the front nine after starting on the back. “But at the end of the day, it’s trying to get better and play this tournament because, if I play well, that means the other guys have to play even better to catch me. If I give myself a chance to win a golf tournament, it takes care of itself.”
Fowler, who returned from the Olympics and played last week at the Wyndham Championship, shooting four sub-70 rounds, admitted making the Ryder Cup team is “100 percent” on his mind. “That was the whole reason for playing last week, trying to get more points,” Fowler said.
“You’d be lying if you’re saying there’s not more (pressure). Yeah, I’m thinking about it . . . I don’t mind it. I’ve always liked being put up against the wall in a corner and having that on me. I need to either earn my way onto the team or at least prove that I should be there.”
Holmes also reacted well to the pressure with an opening 67 that was the best round of the afternoon pairings under increasingly windy conditions. Starting at No. 18, which was his ninth hole of the day, Holmes birdied four of his final 10 holes.
Although he admitted a Ryder Cup berth has been a major goal all year, Holmes is doing his best to downplay the pressure. Speaking of the other Americans on the bubble, Holmes said, “If I watch what they are doing or look at everything else, you just add pressure on yourself that there’s no need. I’m doing the best I can, and hopefully at the end of the week, that will be good enough.”
The majority of players either aren’t eligible for the Ryder Cup or are out of the running. Their motivation is advancing in the lucrative four-event playoffs, or in the case of world No. 1 Jason Day, who is tied for seventh at 68, staging a finishing kick for player of the year honors.
Day pronounced himself rusty after a three-week layoff and described the Black Course as a “behemoth, U.S. Open-style track” that will push the world’s best players to their physical and mental limits. Pointing to his head, Day said, “It’s the guy that manages up here the best (who) is going to win.”
In other words, Bethpage Black represents an ideal test of mettle for Ryder Cup candidates, and eight years hence in 2024, the iconic New York public course will host the Ryder Cup. Asked to project how that might go, the notoriously fiery Reed, who played well two years ago in his rookie Ryder Cup appearance at Gleneagles in Scotland, shook his head and said, “It’s going to be nuts. If it’s anything like it was overseas, it’s going to be crazy.”