Hlas column: Love and respect: U.S. captain tabs Zach Johnson for Friday morning Ryder Cup play

Johnson and Jason Dufner face Lee Westwood/Francesco Molinari at 7:50 on Friday morning

Players are introduced during the opening ceremony at the Ryder Cup PGA golf tournament Thursday, Sept. 27, 2012, at the Medinah Country Club in Medinah, Ill. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
Players are introduced during the opening ceremony at the Ryder Cup PGA golf tournament Thursday, Sept. 27, 2012, at the Medinah Country Club in Medinah, Ill. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

MEDINAH, Ill. — While the reigning Masters and U.S. Open champions sit out of the Ryder Cup competition Friday morning, Zach Johnson will play.

Team USA captain Davis Love III wanted players who like to get out of the gate fast to form his first two groups of doubles in Friday’s foursomes (alternate-shot) competition. So his first pair is Jim Furyk and Brandt Snedeker, followed by Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley.

Then, Love said, he chose “some pretty cool customers at the end that can handle whatever happens in the last two matches.”

That’s Johnson and Jason Dufner in the third match, Steve Stricker and Tiger Woods in the fourth.

Johnson and Dufner will play against Lee Westwood and Francesco Molinari. Their tee time is 7:50 a.m.

Englishman Westwood is an old hand at this, with a 16-11-6 Ryder Cup record. Molinari is 0-2-1.

Whether Johnson will play in one of the four Friday afternoon fourballs matches will be determined after Love announces the pairings following the morning session. Love made it clear 2012 Masters champ Bubba Watson, 2012 U.S. Open winner Webb Simpson, Dustin Johnson and Matt Kuchar will probably play in the afternoon, so four of the eight morning players will likely be withheld from afternoon play.

That probably won’t include Mickelson, Woods, or Woods’ preferred playing partner, Stricker.

Yet, you could argue Zach Johnson has the best Ryder Cup record of anyone on Team USA.

It wouldn’t be a meaningful argument to the Cedar Rapids native or anyone else, because his record is 3-3-1 and he has been on the losing team in both of his Ryder Cup appearances.

And really, how much better is 3-3-1 compared to Woods’ 13-14-2?

But Johnson’s matches were all contested overseas, as a U.S. team member in 2006 in Ireland and 2010 in Wales. The 8-15-4 mark of Furyk and the 11-17-6 of Mickelson were accumulated almost as much on American soil as not.

Only Stricker (3-3-1, with one of his previous two Cups in the U.S.) and Kuchar (1-1-2, a Johnson teammate in Wales two years ago) don’t have losing records of the eight Americans with experience in this event. The other four players, including Dufner, are Ryder rookies.

Today, Johnson and the other U.S. players will all try to better those ledgers and try to help their team regain the Cup. Team Europe is the defending champion, and has won four of the last five times and six of the last eight.

Johnson has practiced with Dufner for three straight days here. Before this week, Dufner stated he wanted to have Johnson as his partner.

“Our games are pretty similar,” Johnson said in a press conference here Tuesday.

“I’d love to play with Duf if it happens.”

Dufner got to know Johnson especially well in May, when Johnson outdueled playing-partner Dufner in the final round of May’s Crowne Plaza Invitational to win the PGA Tour’s Fort Worth tourney. That denied Dufner a third win in a five-week period.

As a Ryder Cup rookie myself, I got a quick realization of something here Thursday. Which is, this is probably going to be the loudest golf event a person can attend.

The fans cheered lustily for U.S. players as they reached the first tee in their practice rounds, and broke into several “USA! USA! USA!” chants. One can only guess how amped the gallery will be once those shots count.

“I’ve had some pretty cool, unique experiences on those first-tee boxes over the years,” Johnson said, “specifically, the two Ryder Cups across the pond.

“I expect this one to probably trump those just because it’s my home nation.”

And if Thursday’s gallery was any indication, Johnson will probably have as many friends and family members present as any other player here. He and Wisconsin’s Stricker are the only native Midwesterners in this international affair.

Together, they have won the last four John Deere Classics. This weekend, they seek a bigger golf prize in Illinois.


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