While most players qualify for the Ryder Cup by accumulating points on their respective tours or via the official world ranking, the final spots are selected by the captain. These captains' picks receive the most scrutiny from media and golf fans.
U.S. captains haven’t done a poor job. They began making picks to augment the qualifiers in 1989 and the all-time record of those selections is 47-44-20. Europe, which started selecting wildcards in 1979, has a record of 65-67-13.
But Europe has dominated the Ryder Cup for the last 20 years, winning 8 of 10. There are obvious reasons: Europe has enjoyed world class golfers who are seasoned, gritty competitors that thrive in match play. The captains have also played a significant role in the team’s success. In those last 10 Ryder Cups, the European wildcard selections (or captain’s picks) compiled a record of 39-28-12. Their American counterparts had a 36-35-19 mark in the same span.
In the five Ryder Cups held from 2004 to 2012, Europe’s captains were on point. Their wildcard selections recorded a 25-11-7 mark as Europe won four of the five matches.
Altogether since 1995 when Europe’s dominance began, its wildcards produced 45 points (out of a possible 79). U.S. produced 45.5 (out of 90)* - see below for information on history of the captain’s picks / wildcard selections for each side
Which captains fared the best? Let’s take a closer look:
Captains who made the most successful picks
2006 - Ian Woosnam, Europe (6-0-2)
The Welshman, who played on every European team from 1983 to 1997, seized his chance to lead the side. He selected stalwarts Lee Westwood and Darren Clarke (above). They rewarded his faith by roaring through the matches undefeated, 6-0-2, at the K Club in Ireland as Europe rolled to a 18.5 - 9.5 rout. It remains the best performance by two wildcards on either side.
Woosnam sent his wildcards out together on Friday and Saturday in the morning four-balls and they delivered a pair of victories, taking down world No. 1 Tiger Woods and Jim Furyk on Friday and World No. 2 Phil Mickelson and Chris DiMarco on Saturday.
It was an emotional week for Clarke, whose wife, Heather, had succumbed to breast cancer a month earlier.
1993 - Tom Watson, U.S. (5-2-1)
Watson, who played on the 1989 squad that battled Europe to a tie, led the Americans back to the Belfry with two fiery veterans in tow. Their experience was invaluable. Raymond Floyd - at 51 the oldest team member in history and captain of the ‘89 squad - posted a 3-1-0 mark while Lanny Wadkins (above), who was competing in his eighth and final Ryder Cup went 2-1-1.
The U.S. trailed by one point entering Sunday’s singles, but Floyd never flinched. Although he was 23 years older than Spain’s Jose Maria Olazabal he defeated him 2-up to clinch the Cup. Wadkins, playing in the anchor match, halved with Sam Torrance after it was clear the Cup was coming back across the Atlantic.
2004 - Bernhard Langer, Europe (5-2-1)
In yet another European rout, 10-time Ryder Cup team member Bernhard Langer made the right call, going with steady fairway finders Colin Montgomerie and Luke Donald at rough laden Oakland Hills CC in Michigan. One could argue it hardly mattered as the U.S. gave in early in an 18.5 - 9.5 blowout that remains the Americans worst defeat on home soil.
Monty went 3-1-0 and sank the clinching putt. Donald was 2-1-1 in his Ryder Cup debut.
2012 - Jose Maria Olazabal, Europe (5-3-0)
The Ryder Cup is a team event. But in these matches at Medinah outside Chicago, one golfer turned the momentum toward his team just as their chances seemed slim. That was England’s Ian Poulter of course, who made every clutch putt in a Saturday rally that enabled Europe to slice the deficit from 10-4 to 10-6 entering Sunday.
He needed a pick from Captain Olazabal just to make the 12-man team.
In singles, Poulter fought hard on the back nine to defeat U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson 1-up. It triggered an amazing comeback, which tied the Americans effort at Brookline in 1999. Poulter finished 4-0-0, giving him the best record of any wildcard in Ryder Cup history. American captain Davis Love III’s pick Dustin Johnson was 3-0-0 at Medinah.
Did you know?
*- From 1979-1987 only Europe had wildcards - two in 1979 and 1981, none in 1983, three in 1985 and 1987.
From 1989 - 1993, U.S. had two selections and Europe had three wildcards. (European Tour Order of Merit used, more of their top players (Faldo, Olazabal) were playing U.S. PGA Tour fulltime).
From 1995-2006 each side had two picks / wildcards.
From 2008 - 2012, U.S. had four picks; Europe had two in 2008, three in 2010 and two in 2012
Both sides had three picks in 2014.
This year, U.S. has four and Europe has three.
WATCH BELOW: Davis Love III on the role his vice-captains will play