(Reuters) - The naming of Davis Love III as captain of the 2016 U.S. Ryder Cup team was well received by his peers but it may be a tougher sell to fans who still have nightmares over the epic collapse he oversaw at Medinah in 2012.
Despite other candidates without a blemish the size of Love’s on their resumes, the man who captained the worst U.S. finishing-day flop in Ryder Cup history was given a chance to atone for the devastating defeat.
Besides bringing back bad memories for U.S. fans, Love’s hiring even raised the eyebrow of world number one Rory McIlroy, a member of the winning European side at Medinah.
“It came as a big shock when they announced yesterday Davis was going to be the next U.S. captain,” McIlroy said on Wednesday.
Others championed to lead the Americans at Hazeltine outside Minneapolis included Paul Azinger, who in 2008 was the last U.S. captain to win the Cup, and three-time Presidents Cup-winning captain Fred Couples.
In 2012, it was the “Miracle at Medinah” or “Meltdown at Medinah” depending on one’s perspective of the 14 1/2 to 13 1/2 comeback win by Europe, winners of eight of the last 10.
Love created a strong team atmosphere in the event outside Chicago and had his men poised to win entering Sunday’s singles with a massive 10-6 lead. But he watched helplessly as Europe took a shocking 8 1/2 points from the 12 singles matches.
Critics pointed to two Love miscues in the competition.
Love was criticized for letting Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley sit out Saturday afternoon’s matches at the request of a tiring Mickelson after they had won their first three together.
Bradley’s father confided to Reuters the day after the Cup that his son had been champing at the bit to get back out on Saturday, even without Mickelson.
Love had other options, including pairing Bradley with Tiger Woods, whose partner Steve Stricker was struggling. Woods and Stricker lost to Sergio Garcia and Luke Donald 1-up.
He also started Stricker in the 11th spot in Sunday singles, and the Cup came down to the end game.
Stricker, who could have been sacrificed early when Europe figured to use their best players to make up ground, lost 1-up to Martin Kaymer in the Cup-clincher and finished the event 0-4.
Love was on the 11-man task force that installed a new system and decided the next captain after being routed by Europe at Gleneagles last year.
Azinger removed himself as an option for captain, citing personal and business reasons.
Couples, 3-0 as Presidents Cup captain in a Match Play format against the International Team, was passed over in favor of his old friend.
“If it wasn’t Davis, I might have a different attitude towards this,” Couples told Golf Channel. “But he’s been my friend for 30 years and I‘m very happy for him.”
Some believe the PGA of America, the U.S. overseer of the Ryder Cup, preferred Love to Couples, who does not enjoy all the ceremonial duties orchestrated by the PGA.
“I think Freddie would have made a great captain,” New Zealander Frank Nobilo, a former Presidents Cup player and assistant captain, told Reuters in a telephone interview.
“Freddie captains the way he plays,” he added. “Let’s just go and play.”
While the United States now hope to emulate the European approach with their new system, they have ghosts to exorcise and a recent generation mired in losing.
Tom Lehman, the losing captain of the 2006 team, will be one of Love’s assistants in 2016, and Stricker is also expected to be named an assistant.
Love won called a good choice on both sides of the Atlantic, though one European Cup veteran wondered about Couples.
“I am more surprised they keep overlooking Freddie Couples given the fact he’s been so successful in winning the last three Presidents Cups for the States,” said Briton Lee Westwood.
Added Golf Channel commentator Nobilo: “Nothing against Davis Love but nobody’s given me a reason on why they didn’t go with Fred Couples.”
Written by Larry Fine in New York; Editing by Frank Pingue