GLENEAGLES, Scotland — Two things make Bubba Watson think that he and Webb Simpson make a good twosome on the golf course.
The first is the Bible.
“We go to Bible study together and believe in the Bible together,” he said. “We can talk about different things and things we believe in.”
Also, Watson quickly adds, “We both hit it long off the tee, and straight.”
Pairings have been a frequent topic of discussion at the 2014 Ryder Cup this week if only because the biennial event transforms a highly individual sport into a cooperative effort.
The captains of the U.S. and European squads must consider playing styles and personalities when devising their much-anticipated lineups.
Gamesmanship enters into the equation, with players remaining coy in the interview room and reporters speculating based on practice session groups.
“Chemistry is extremely important,” Jim Furyk said. “How the pairings are put together and how those personalities and how those styles match up with each other.”
Two-man events dominate the Ryder Cup format, determining most of the scoring before the competition reaches its dramatic conclusion with Sunday singles.
In foursomes, teammates alternate hitting the same ball. In fourballs, everyone plays his own ball but the single lowest-scoring golfer decides which duo wins each hole.
Fast players are theoretically better off with partners who favor a similar pace. The strategy becomes trickier when it comes to mixing long hitters with short-game specialists and loud guys with quieter types.
Paul Azinger took pairing to a new level at the 2008 Ryder Cup, where he introduced his now famous “pod” system. The former captain arranged his players in groups of four.
Phil Mickelson and Hunter Mahan led the “aggressive” pod. There were also “steady” and “redneck” pods, the latter featuring Boo Weekly and J.B. Holmes.
At Gleneagles, U.S. captain Tom Watson sees the job as more of an art form than a science, especially because the best-laid plans can change over the course of three days.
“I equate it to baseball,” he said. “If a manager has a good team on the field and they have got a lead, they are going to stick with those players. If the manager is behind and he feels a new player can come in there and maybe turn the tide, that’s what a manager does.”
Such nuances are equally important to European captain Paul McGinley, who will be watching closely to adjust what he calls his “skeleton plan.”
“You see some guys coming into form, some guys coming out of form,” he said. “Some guys may be more tired than you think, and there has to be room for maneuverability.”
The Europeans have already dealt with a pairing issue in regard to Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell, longtime friends from Northern Ireland and partners in previous team events.
McIlroy is suing his former agent, Horizon Sports Management, which also represents McDowell. The suit alleges that Horizon gave preferential treatment to McDowell and, as part of the discovery process, McIlroy has asked to view all contracts between his friend and the agency.
The players have insisted their relationship remains strong, but McDowell seems reticent about playing with McIlroy for another reason. It has to do with McIlroy’s recent ascension to No. 1 in the world.
“He would now be the leader of the two of us,” McDowell said. “Perhaps I’m the kind of guy who needs that leadership role a little bit, who needs to feel like he is at least on a level with the guy he’s playing with.”
For the Americans, most of the pairing talk has centered on Mickelson and Keegan Bradley, who became fan favorites as they hollered and fist-pumped their way through the Ryder Cup at Medinah two years ago.
Watson likes the way the players trade verbal jabs on the course, keeping each other loose. Bradley likes the way Mickelson gets him out of trouble.
“I know Phil can get up and down from anywhere,” he said. “So if I hit a bad shot, he can wedge it or chip it and do whatever he does.”
If this week’s practice sessions are any indication, several pairings appear to be taking shape.
On the European squad, McDowell has hinted that he might play beside Victor Dubuisson of France. They went out on the course together Wednesday.
For the Americans, it seems likely that Watson and Simpson will team up. And Mickelson expects to reunite with Bradley, saying: “I don’t think I’m letting go of any secrets here.”
Watson and McGinley can watch one more practice Thursday before submitting their lineups for the start of competition Friday morning.
The captains will compare notes with assistants and take feedback from the team. They face a difficult decision at a competition involving two dozen of the top golfers in the world.
Even the players seem a little curious.
“The pairings are not so obvious,” McDowell said, adding: “The captain has a little bit of work to do.”