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The Loop

Yet another Cup controversy in Europe, only this time it's the World Cup


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November 22, 2016

MELBOURNE, Australia -- Team selections have been something of a hot-button issue on the European Tour for a few months now.

Englishman Paul Casey’s decision not to join the Wentworth-based circuit made him ineligible for the European side that went on to lose to the United States earlier this year. Scotsman Russell Knox would have qualified automatically for Hazeltine had he taken up membership of the European Tour the day before his victory in the 2015 HSBC Champions World Golf Championship rather than the day after. And just last week Rory McIlroy raised the issue again, when he came down on the side of identifying the best-12 European players regardless of whether or not they are members of their home tour.

“I think guys like Rory have a point, although one individual in particular (Paul Casey) has made his statement in maybe not the most politically correct way,” says Nicolas Colsaerts of Belgium, a Ryder Cup player at Medinah in 2012. “If he had interest in the matches, I’m sure he would have joined the European Tour. And now others are stepping up to say that maybe you don’t have to be a member to play on the team.

“I think if you are European you are European, no matter where you play. So I’d pick the best 12-players and be done with it. We didn’t have our best team at Hazeltine. But, on the other hand, the line has to be drawn somewhere. It gets complicated when you start thinking about the number of wild-cards and that sort of stuff.”

This week’s World Cup in Australia has also provoked controversy. Most notably, the late withdrawal of Masters champion Danny Willett meant that Lee Westwood - Willett’s pick as his partner - was kicked off the England team. When Chris Wood took over Willett’s spot he selected his close pal Andy Sullivan as his partner. So Westwood, through no fault of his own, was gone.

The makeup of the Scottish team has also led to some Old World angst. When Knox picked his “best friend” and former college roommate, Challenge Tour player Duncan Stewart, one or two higher-ranked Caledonians expressed some indignation. For example, when former US Amateur champion Richie Ramsay was asked for his reaction to being passed over in favour of a much lower-ranked player, his response was brief, but telling. “It’s in the rules,” was all the Aberdonian would say.

All of which doesn’t seem to be bothering Knox one little bit. Speaking at the Scottish duo’s pre-World Cup press conference at Kingston Heath in Melbourne, the Florida-based Scot was unrepentant.

“I didn’t pick Duncan because he is my best friend,” claimed the world no. 18. “I think he deserves to be here as much as anyone else. He’s had an unbelievable year. He’s earned his way onto the European Tour. And he’s won a tournament. Other than myself and Colin Montgomerie, he’s the only Scot who has won this year. Which is massive.

“So he has earned his right to be here. I did nothing wrong picking him. If people want to complain they should complain about the format of the selection criteria. I could pick anyone in the world’s top 500. Which I did. I don’t really care what other people think.”

And they say a feature of all European teams is their great camaraderie.