Hot Chris Riley solves problem for Hal Sutton
In a matter of minutes, Chris Riley made all of the stress and all those fitful nights worth it for Hal Sutton.
On Sunday night after Riley had played his way onto the Ryder Cup team with a tie for fourth in the PGA Championship, Sutton called the San Diego native on his cell phone to congratulate him.
"I hung up the phone," Sutton said, "called my wife and told her, 'You know what, this young man is the most excited he's ever been in his life. It was fun to see somebody so excited about something.' "
Riley was likely still flying yesterday when he played a previously scheduled pro-am in Chicago before heading to this week's WGC-NEC Invitational at Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio.
Despite a three-putt bogey on the last hole Sunday that prevented him from getting into the three-way playoff won by Vijay Singh, Riley played himself onto the team. He shot 7-under for the week and got into a tie with Ernie Els for fourth place – Riley's second-best finish in a major after his solo third in the 2002 PGA.
Riley would still have missed the team had Justin Leonard won the playoff, and Sutton confirmed yesterday that he was not seriously considering Riley as a captain's pick – primarily because the one-time tournament winner hadn't posted a top-10 finish since February.
"He's such a great putter; I'm thankful Chris played his way onto the team," Sutton said. "One of the things that caused me not to have him first and foremost in my mind is the way he had played over the last two months, and then on top of this, the (upcoming) birth of his child. I have four small children of my own, and that's a big event in a man's life. So that was my mindset on Chris."
Michelle Riley's pregnancy is still an issue because she is due to deliver their first child the day the Ryder Cup begins. But Chris Riley said Sunday that Michelle has told him they will work it out so he can play.
Sutton didn't even ask him about it in their conversation Sunday.
"I wasn't about to throw water on his feelings," Sutton said. "He was so overjoyed with the fact he made the team. I guess we'll have a conversation about that."
Sutton said that if Riley were unable to compete, he would be required to replace him with the No. 11 player on the Ryder Cup points list, Steve Flesch.
Although Riley, 30, will be playing in his first Ryder Cup, he definitely fits Sutton's profile for the kind of player he wanted on the team at Oakland Hills, a tight, ball-strikers' course that has only three par-5 holes. Riley is an accurate, mid-length hitter who is renowned as one of the game's top short-game players.
"Oakland Hills is not the monster it used to be," Sutton said. "And Jackie Burke had an interesting comment whenever I called him yesterday. He said, 'Hey, Hal, they only give away trophies on the greens. They don't give them away on the fairway or on the tee.' He said, 'Let's look to the good putters.' "
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