When the pairings came out for this week’s PGA Championship, it looked as if the fix was in.
U.S. Ryder Cup captain Jim Furyk is grouped with two of the game’s rising stars, Xander Schauffele and Tony Finau, on Thursday and Friday. Those two happen to be on the bubble for the eight automatic qualifiers determined after this week’s play. The four remaining slots will be captain’s selections for the event held next month in Paris.
Schauffele is currently 11th and Finau 13th in the standings. Even if they can’t produce a big finish in the PGA that would move them into the top eight, this is their up-close chance to impress Furyk for a captain’s pick.
With Ryder Cup veterans Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson likely to be two of those choices, there are essentially two spots open.
“I did not ask for it,” Furyk insisted Wednesday of the grouping.
He said he texted Schauffele and joked, “Guess you got the bad end of the pairing.” Schauffele responded with an emoji smiley face.
“Both great guys,” Furyk said. “I think it’s a great pairing for me. It probably isn’t a great pairing for them.”
Furyk recalled that when he was grinding to qualify for the Ryder Cup in 2016, he was paired with then-captain Davis Love III in the Quicken Loans National.
“I put a lot of pressure on myself,” Furyk said. “So I know what they’re going through. I hope that it doesn’t faze them. I want them to enjoy the PGA Championship and worry about winning a major championship.”
Furyk fared decently with Love at the National, shooting 73-68 and eventually tying for 21st. He ultimately didn’t make the team, however, after playing for the U.S. on nine previous occasions.
The top eight going into the week are Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka, Justin Thomas, Patrick Reed, Bubba Watson, Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler and Webb Simpson.
The next five are Bryson DeChambeau, Mickelson, Schauffele, Matt Kuchar and Finau. Woods is 20th.
The fiery DeChambeau, winner of this year’s Memorial, would seem to be a solid pick, and then Furyk would have to choose between the younger blood of Schauffele and Finau, or a popular veteran such as Kuchar.
Schauffele, 24, is ranked 19th in the world and has five top-10 finishes, including two in majors this year. Finau, 28, is ranked 29th and has eight top-10 finishes, including three in majors.
Wizard of golf?
Perhaps the most beloved athlete on the grounds at Bellerive this week won’t be holding a golf club, though he wishes he could.
Smith, 62, who didn’t take up golf until after his playing career, is president of the PGA Gateway Chapter’s PGA Reach program, which introduces golf to kids in St. Louis’ inner city. Part of the proceeds from the tournament will go to Reach.
Smith recounted growing up in south Los Angeles and not being given the opportunity to try golf.
In the Reach program, Smith said, “We thought that if we could combine golf and get kids interested in it, then we could keep them in the classroom a little longer and hopefully build better citizens.”