43rd Ryder Cup: How we got here
This is a Ryder Cup three years in the making. An unprecedented pandemic delay pushed the festivities back an entire year, while also changing the composition of both teams that will face off this week at Whistling Straits.
From the delay particulars to the players who most took advantage of an extra year of qualification, let’s take a look at how we arrived at a Ryder Cup unlike any other.
One year delay
The Coronavirus pandemic pushed the playing of the 2020 Ryder Cup back 12 months, from September 2020 to September 2021. The year-long postponement put three years between the most recent meeting of the Americans and Europeans, who last squared off outside Paris at Le Golf National in 2018. The 43rd playing of the Ryder Cup was officially rescheduled in July 2020, when the announcement was made by the PGA of America. The possibility of staging a Ryder Cup in the midst of a pandemic without fans, who are largely viewed as the 13th man in the competition, seemed unfathomable to players and spectators alike. It’s a prospect that won’t come to fruition this week, as roughly 40,000 fans will be allowed on-site at Whistling Straits during the three-day event.
Changes to qualifying
Players were given an additional year in which to qualify for the Ryder Cup because of the rescheduling. The delay, however, also presented a challenge to both U.S. Ryder Cup Captain Steve Stricker and European Ryder Cup Captain Padraig Harrington, who then had to grapple with how best to build their teams.
For the U.S. Team, the number of automatic qualifiers was reduced from eight to six. The automatic qualifiers were finalized upon completion of the PGA Tour’s BMW Championship last month, a deadline that was a year later than originally planned. Captain Stricker made his six picks earlier this month after the Tour Championship, which was an increase from four picks afforded to U.S. Captain Jim Furyk in 2018.
For the European Team, the qualifying process was frozen from the onset of the pandemic until January 2021. The freeze kept the qualifying period nearly the same as it would have been had the Team been finalized in 2020, with the additional two months of January and February now included. The team was finalized earlier this month upon completion of the European Tour’s BMW PGA Championship. The qualifying criteria remained the same, with four players earning a spot on the Team via the European Points List. Five players qualified via the World Points List and Captain Harrington made three wildcard picks to round out his team.
Team that benefited most (on paper) from the extra year
When comparing the Official World Golf Rankings as of August 2020, when the U.S. Team was to have originally been finalized, to the rankings in August 2021 when the new qualifying period ended, the Americans far surpassed the Europeans in taking advantage of the year-long extension. Eight of the 12 players on the U.S. side improved their OWGR position as compared to the Europeans, who saw just five of their members improve their standing over the last year. The Americans’ average world ranking, at the time the automatic qualifiers were finalized, was 8.83 compared to 29.66 for the Europeans.
Players that benefited most from the extra year
Across both the U.S. and European Ryder Cup Teams, Jordan Spieth made the biggest leap year over year in order to earn a spot at the 43rd Ryder Cup. Had the team been finalized in August 2020, Spieth would have been an unlikely captain’s pick at 66th in the world rankings. One year later, however, Spieth’s situation dramatically improved with eight top-10s and his first win on the PGA Tour since 2017. He climbed to No. 14 in the world rankings and earned one of Captain Stricker’s six picks with relative ease. Spieth has three previous appearances for the U.S. Team, compiling a personal record of 7-5-2.
Harris English also took advantage of the 12-month qualifying extension to play his way onto his first U.S. Ryder Cup Team. English recorded six top-10s and two victories over the last year to jump from 53rd to 11th in the world rankings between August 2020 and August 2021. Like Spieth, he also earned one of Captain Sticker’s six picks as he sat at No. 10 in the U.S. Ryder Cup point standings.
On the European side, Viktor Hovland made the biggest improvement year over year to qualify for his first Ryder Cup. Hovland won on the PGA Tour in December, picked up his first win on the European Tour in June and recorded six other top-5 finishes this year. Between August 2020 and August 2021, Hovland jumped from No. 31 to No. 15 in the world, an ascent that helped him earn one of the five qualifying spots via the World Points List.