#360debate: Should Pieters get Ryder Cup nod?

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Pieters is a frontrunner for one of the remaining Ryder Cup spots.

Thomas Pieters birdied the last three holes to claim a one-shot victory in the Made in Denmark event in Farso on Sunday.

The Belgian’s excellence gives European Ryder Cup captain Darren Clarke a headache, with the Northern Irishman to name his wildcard picks by Tuesday.

Pieters carded a six-under-par 65 to take his third European Tour title on 17 under par overall.

Do you think Pieters merits a spot in the side? Have your say, get in touch on social media – use #360fans on Twitter and Facebook.

Sport360’s James Piercy and Joy Chakravarty debate.

James Piercy, Deputy Editor, says YES

The cliche, ‘driving for show, putting for dough’ was flipped on its head by Thomas Pieters as it was his performance on the greens which displayed one of many reasons he should be Darren Clarke’s final captain’s pick.

With Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer near-certainties to travel to Hazeltine, the Belgian has done everything he can to earn the third wildcard position.

The four-footer he sank on the 18th to win the Made in Denmark was not a particularly remarkable putt visually, nor especially tough in a technical sense. But it was the context behind it which reveals so much about Pieters’ temperament.

Because, rightly or wrongly, the thought process that must have been going round in his head: hole this and I’m in.

Clarke’s not going to select a man on one shot but given what was theoretically riding on it, it could be the tipping point.

The Made in Denmark, though, is not an isolated success as Pieters has three straight top 10s, with his second place at the Czech Masters and fourth in the Olympics. In those 12 rounds he’s been over par just once – a freakish 77 in the third round in Rio – with a brilliant average score of 68.

These are numbers that will be catching Clarke’s eye maybe more so than the 18th in Farso. Pieters’ desire to make the team also saw him fly back from Rio to compete in back-to-back tournaments. A dedication that will do his chances no harm.

By accident or design, Pieters was able to play alongside Clarke for the opening two rounds in Denmark. His 10-birdie 62 must have left the captain impressed while the Ulsterman was in position to get a perfect grasp of his character.

The case against Pieters essentially forms around his results in America – his best being a 76th at the Arnold Palmer Invitational – and that he’s another rookie in a team with five first-time players already confirmed. But with just two appearances as a professional in America, it’s difficult to level that against him.

While the issue of inexperience will form the basis for most of the reasons why Europe won’t win but as golf commentator Ken Brown noted: “Going with form has produced more points than going with experience.”

Joy Chakravarty, Regional Editor, says NO

During the 2015 Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf, I was so impressed with Thomas Pieters’ ball-striking at the practice range, I picked him up as my dark horse. The tall Belgian did not disappoint, securing the best finish of his short career until then, tied fourth and just three shots behind champion Gary Stal.

To have risen to world No54 in less than two years – in fact, he is expected to move inside the top-40 after his win – and to be contending for a place in the Ryder Cup, it’s been a remarkable rise for the big-hitting Pieters.

Of course, he is also displaying great form recently. He finished fourth in the Olympics, followed by second in Czech Masters and the win in Denmark, where he would have surely wowed his playing partner in the first two rounds, European captain Darren Clarke.

The question then, is whether he has done enough to warrant a place in Clarke’s team that will travel to Hazeltine in the last week of September?

Pieters would have been a lock, if not for the fact that out of the nine players who have qualified automatically for the team, five are Ryder Cup rookies.

The widely-held belief is that Clarke will opt for Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer because of their experience, and then decide on his third wildcard on the basis of recent form.

If that is the case, it is a straight fight between Pieters and Russell Knox, who would have easily made it to the team if his biggest win last year – at the WGC-HSBC Champions – had come as a European Tour member.

The Scotsman has much more going for him than Pieters. Knox has based himself in the US for the past seven years and is extremely comfortable with the courses and crowd. He is ranked 20th in the world, and his recent form is not bad, having won the Travelers Championship a few weeks ago.

It would have been ideal for Clarke to pick his three wildcards on the basis of form. That would have taken Westwood out of the equation.

But given the unique pressure of Ryder Cup, six rookies with six experienced players is the best balance.

And with that in mind, Pieters may have to wait for two more years.

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Joy of Golf: Olympic success will see leading golfers in Tokyo

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Olympic champion: Justin Rose.

How is this for a bold prediction – made four years in advance? When the competition returns in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, we will have the cream of men’s golf taking part.

After all the months of negative publicity it received in the build-up towards the re-entry in the Olympic fold, there were nothing but rave reviews when action finally unfolded at the Olympics Golf Course.

The final-round battle between Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson, eventually decided in favour of the Englishman on the final hole, may not have been in the same class as the one between Stenson and Phil Mickelson at the Open Championship in Royal Troon a month ago, but it was intense enough to warm the cockles of every heart involved with the re-introduction.

Matt Kuchar played his part with a brilliant Sunday charge. A sold-out crowd of nearly 12,000 people watched the proceedings over the weekend rounds and the TV ratings were pretty good as well. There should be no doubt that golf needs the Olympics.

India’s Jeev Milkha Singh made a valid point when he said that even if the governments in countries like India, China and Russia started a programme where they aimed to develop a group of four to six talented but underprivileged junior golfers into medal potential by taking care of their coaching, equipment and travel, it would serve the purpose of growing the game.

The Zika virus was a real threat when players like Rory McIlroy and Jason Day made their decision to pull out. And if crowded schedule was an issue, the International Golf Federation would have learned from the Rio experience to make suitable changes in 2020.

The women’s competition started on Wednesday, and given how good the response has been from the top ladies, it is sure to be a success.

Allenby at it again

The curious case of Robert Allenby keeps getting more curious. The Australian is finding bizarre ways to be in the news, and the latest was an arrest at an Illinois casino for disorderly conduct and trespass.

Seems like he missed the cut at the John Deere Classic and got into trouble after a night of gambling and drinking.

The golfer has denied all this, but the police at Rock Island have said the golfer needed to post a bail of $1,500 after being put behind bars.

Last year, Allenby was involved in a major controversy when he claimed he was kidnapped, manhandled and robbed in Hawaii while playing the Sony Open.

Clearly, the 45-year-old needs help. His game has completely deserted him, and he seems to be courting trouble both on and off the course. He has made just two cuts in his last 24 starts, dating back to September last year and slipped to 1257th in the world rankings. That’s a remarkable drop from a career high of No. 12 back in 2010.

Remembering McAvoy

Tuesday was the 20th anniversary of the release of the iconic movie Tin Cup.

The Kevin Costner and Rene Russo starrer is perhaps the second most popular golf movie made after Caddyshack. Several parallels have been drawn with many players and the Hollywood script, but so far, the closest anyone ever came to replicating Roy McAvoy’s five balls into the water routine is John Daly.

During the 1998 Bay Hill Invitational, he outdid Costner’s character – although, he was not in contention and it certainly wasn’t the US Open – by hitting six balls into the water trying to reach the green 270 yards away.

Daly finally ended up with a score of 18 on that hole. McAvoy, on the other hand, holed out his 12th shot playing the last ball in his bag.

Well, Allenby also has something common with Tin Cup. He is one of the few PGA Tour players to have fired his caddie in the middle of the round – a fate which befell McAvoy while carrying the bag of David Simms (played by Don Johnson).

Quote of the Week

“That is the beauty of this event. If you’re in third, you’re actually going to be leaving with something. If you’re third at a major, yeah, you get world ranking points and a nice prize cheque. But I would definitely trade a third in a major for a third at the Olympics.” – Henrik Stenson at the start of the Olympic competition when asked to compare the Games with majors. The Swede eventually finished second.

Stat of the Week

Nine – out of top-10 ranked women players in the world are competing at this week’s Olympic golf competition. It could not be a perfect 10 because world No. 10 Ha Na Jang did not qualify as she was the fifth Korean player in the top-15 of women’s rankings.

A maximum of four players from one country are allowed to compete in Rio provided they are ranked inside the top-15. The USA will have three representatives in the field.

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Joy of Golf: Enjoy Furyk's low score rather than picking it apart

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Lowest PGA Tour scorer: Jim Furyk.

On Sunday of the Travelers Championship, Jim Furyk set the scoring bar on the PGA Tour by going where no man had ever been before – a 58.

It’s not that unique a number in golf because it has been achieved before. Ryo Ishikawa also shot a 12-under par 58, also on a Sunday, to win The Crowns on the Japan Golf Tour in 2010, while Jason Bohn and Stephan Jaegar matched his effort on the Canadian and the Web.com Tour respectively.

And even though the American media failed to recognise Ishikawa’s effort, it must be pointed out that the course set-up in Japan Golf Tour, on an average, is much tougher than on the PGA Tour. The Canadian and the Web.com Tour are developmental tours.

But let’s face it, after 59 was shot six times on the PGA Tour, 58 was the Holy Grail. And for Furyk to get to that mark is an astonishing fact, given he is one of the six men who have shot a 59 before.

There is a debate going on about whether the 59s of David Duval, Chip Beck and Al Gieberger were greater than Furyk’s 58. The first three gentlemen in the 59 Club were playing on par-72 courses, thus needing to shoot 13-under par to reach their 59s, while Furyk was 12-under par for 58 on the par-70 TPC River Highlands course.

I personally think the par for the course does not matter. My argument is this – if it is a par-72 course, it will have four par-5 holes, which are much easier for tour pros to make birdies on, compared to par- 4s and par-3s.

Most par-70 courses have only two par-5s, as was the case with TPC River Highlands. Astonishingly, Furyk did not make a birdie on either of the two par-5s en route to 58.

And then there are some who contend that Furyk’s 59 was a bigger achievement than his 58, because he beat the field by more shots during his 2013 round at the 2013 BMW Championship.

At Conway Farms, he beat the average score of the field by 11.61 shots, while last Sunday, he was ‘only’ 10.8 shots better than the field. The best sub-60 score by this yardstick would be Duval’s, who was 12.6 shots better than the field.

This is a much better argument, but it does not take into consideration many things, like the weather. The 59 at the BMW Championship was played earlier in the round and the wind may have picked up later.

A few critics have pointed out that Furyk’s effort came when he had no pressure. He was never in contention and things would have been a lot different if he was playing in the last couple of groups.

Honestly, I see no reason why there should be any comparison. Breaking the 60 barrier is as tough as winning majors, if not tougher. After all, we have far more major winners than players who have scored in the 50s.

Many top stars, including Tiger Woods haven’t even come close to sniffing a 59 in tournament conditions.

Another issue is the spate of low scores we are experiencing lately. Furyk’s 58 came a week after Jaeger posted a similar number at the Ellie Mae Classic on the Web.com Tour.

In the majors, a round of 63 was unthinkable until Johnny Miller achieved it in the 1973 US Open at Oakmont. From then to the 2016 Masters, 25 players managed to match that score in 151 major championships. Remarkably, four 63s have come in the last three majors – Hiroshi Iwata at the US Open, Henrik Stenson and Phil Mickelson at the Open Championship and Robert Streb in the PGA Championship.

Furyk also neither has the classic swing nor the length off the tee many fans believe is key to low scoring, and yet, he’s breached 60 twice.

Furyk’s homemade swing is one of the most unorthodox on the PGA Tour, once described by David Feherty as an “octopus falling out of a tree”. And he is 182nd in the list of driving distance, a whopping 45 yards behind leader Dustin Johnson’s average drives of 313.9 yards.

The end of Nike Golf

The equipment industry received a massive jolt last week when Nike Golf announced they are shutting down their equipment business. It was a surprise, especially considering they have players like Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods as part of their superstar roster, and even as early as this year, they signed up several young and upcoming stars, including Brooks Koepka.

Many theories exist as to why their business was hurting. Some believe Nike was responsible for ruining the endorsement market by paying outrageous amounts to top stars. But while Woods was still able to make those numbers look good by return on investment, once he started to struggle, so did Nike Golf.

Market leader: Nike banked on Tiger Woods.

Market leader: Nike banked on Tiger Woods.

The other reason is while Nike did amazing things in America, they hardly did anything of note in Asia, which is now the place to be and the only market that is growing at a pace that matters. They did sign up China’s Li Haotong, but ignored Indians, Thais and other Asians.

And finally, they also never came out with any club, especially fast-selling items like drivers and putters, that became iconic.

The success of established players in the business like Callaway, PING and TaylorMade is partly because of the fact how good and successful their new driver launches have been.

Quote of the Week

“The 59 was a great accomplishment. I’m a little flabbergasted that I had the opportunity to break 60 again and was able to do so and to do it with a 58. It’s amazing. I guess I look at it is it’s one day versus a career, but it’s also one day that no one else on the PGA Tour has ever done”. – Jim Furyk, when asked to compare his US Open and 17 PGA Tour wins against the 59 and the 58 he shot.

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