Make Your Case: U.S. Ryder Cup Candidates
After an exciting conclusion to the qualifying period, U.S. Captain Steve Stricker now knows the names of half the players he’ll take with him to Whistling Straits. Now, it’s up to him to round out the roster.
Stricker will make six Captain’s picks on Sept. 8, meaning that he’ll be able to factor in notable performances this week at the Tour Championship. Some of the candidates feel like they can already book their travel to Wisconsin, while others seem a bit riskier as Stricker looks to lead the Americans to just their third win in the biennial matches since 2000.
Here’s a look at some of the factors involved with the top 12 candidates based on the final points standings, with just one week left to sway the skipper:
Tony Finau (7th in Ryder Cup points)
Pro: Finau picked a great time to break his five-year victory drought, topping Cameron Smith in a playoff at The Northern Trust, but got bumped at the buzzer as Patrick Cantlay snagged the final automatic qualifying spot from him with a BMW Championship win. Finau has all the attributes you’d want: long off the tee, makes birdies in bunches, has a strong record at Whistling Straits and played well in his Ryder Cup debut three years ago.
Con: None. The popularity of Finau’s win speaks volumes to how well he’s received on Tour – and how well he would be received in the team room. There doesn’t seem to be a scenario where Stricker would make six picks but wouldn’t include the guy who came within an inch of qualifying automatically.
Xander Schauffele (8th in Ryder Cup points)
Pro: He’s a top-5 player in the world who saves some of his best for the biggest stages, as evidenced by six top-10 finishes in the majors since the last Ryder Cup. Schauffele also has an Olympic gold medal at home, despite the fact that he didn’t receive any Ryder Cup qualifying credit for his performance in Tokyo.
Con: As with Finau, let’s not overthink things. Schauffele has all the looks of a versatile match-play partner and beat some of the best in the world in memorable fashion just a few weeks ago. He appeared in line to qualify automatically as recently as two weeks ago, and he’ll still be on the team despite standout performances from Finau and Cantlay in the interim.
Jordan Spieth (9th in Ryder Cup points)
Pro: Just fire up some YouTube footage from the 2014 Ryder Cup (or ’16 or ’18, for that matter) to be reminded of Spieth’s heroics. While his game fell off a cliff in the months following Le Golf National, he has rediscovered his form in a big way this year while returning to the winner’s circle and nearly bagging a fourth major. He’s a high-ceiling player who few Europeans will want to face in a match-play setting.
Con: The only way Spieth isn’t on this team is if he gets lost on the way to the airport.
Harris English (10th in Ryder Cup points)
Pro: He has won twice this year, which no one else on this particular list can claim. He nearly grabbed a third trophy a few weeks ago in Memphis, is ranked 11th in the world and is in the midst of the best year of his career at age 32. He’s also 10th this season on Tour in Strokes Gained: Putting, which could prove helpful at Whistling Straits.
Con: This is where it starts to get interesting. English feels pretty safe, but perhaps not as safe as he seemed a month ago. He would add to the (growing) list of potential rookies for Stricker, and unlike some of the other candidates here he doesn’t have any Presidents Cup experience to point to. His playoff results to date have been solid but not spectacular.
Patrick Reed (11th in Ryder Cup points)
Pro: They’re still talking about Reed’s singles match with Rory McIlroy from the 2016 Ryder Cup, the high point of what has become a highlight reel of moments where he brings some of his best play to the most patriotic of stages. Reed won earlier this year at Torrey Pines, has plenty of firepower for Whistling Straits and showed at Hazeltine just how much he can raise his performance level for a home Ryder Cup.
Con: Reed is probably the biggest question mark on this list. He has withdrawn from three straight events, first battling an ankle injury and then hospitalized with bilateral pneumonia. It’s fair to wonder what the state of his health might be in just a few weeks’ time. Reed barely qualified for the Tour Championship despite missing the first two playoff events, but it remains to be seen if he’ll tee it up. His last two team appearances (2018 Ryder Cup, 2019 Presidents Cup) were also acrimonious at best.
Daniel Berger (12th in Ryder Cup points)
Pro: Berger won earlier this year at Pebble Beach and recently cobbled together a trio of top-10 finishes in some big events. He played well in the 2017 Presidents Cup, his lone U.S. appearance, and is a solid ball-striker: fifth this season in SG: Approach, seventh in Greens in Regulation.
Con: Like English, Berger is trying to grab a pick to make his debut appearance – but there now seems to be fewer picks available than there were just a few weeks ago. If the captain has some specific matchups in mind, or if he’s looking to add some veteran presence to a team room that will already have at least five rookies, he may get left out.
Webb Simpson (13th in Ryder Cup points)
Pro: Speaking of veteran presence, Simpson has three Ryder Cups under his belt. He could serve as a calming and versatile presence, one who could help bridge some gaps between a number of high-octane personalities. He’s also one of the few contenders on this list who knows what it feels like to play in a home Ryder Cup.
Con: While he was a top-10 player for much of last year, that form has faded significantly of late. Simpson only has one top-10 finish since April, and despite a 66-66 weekend at the BMW he didn’t come close to qualifying for the Tour Championship. There are several available options boasting more recent form.
Scottie Scheffler (14th in Ryder Cup points)
Pro: Scheffler would be a data pick. There are a multitude of Strokes Gained stats that show his addition would have merit, and he flashed his match-play moxie with a runner-up finish at the WGC-Match Play in March. Scheffler shot a 59 last year and has saved some of his best for the big stages, including finishes of T-8 or better in each of the last three majors this year.
Con: Scheffler is still waiting on his first PGA Tour victory, and if selected he would become the first player since Rickie Fowler in 2010 to make a U.S. Ryder Cup team before lifting a trophy on Tour. He’s also lacking a signature moment despite a number of high finishes this year.
Jason Kokrak (15th in Ryder Cup points)
Pro: Kokrak is having the best year of his career at the right time. Twice a winner on Tour this season, he notably outlasted Spieth to win at Colonial and comfortably made the Tour Championship. He’s long off the tee, makes plenty of birdies and has transformed his putter over the last two years.
Con: The form since that win at Colonial has evaporated. Kokrak hasn’t cracked the top 10 since May, including a pair of untimely missed cuts at Wyndham and The Northern Trust. His major pedigree also doesn’t back up the notion that he would rise to the occasion, as he has never finished better than T-17 in 18 career major starts.
Sam Burns (16th in Ryder Cup points)
Pro: Burns won earlier this year at Innisbrook but is really coming on strong, losing a WGC playoff in Memphis and finishing solo eighth at the BMW. He boasts the confidence of youth in addition to a well-rounded game, as he ranks 10th on Tour this season in SG: Total. Burns is also a strong putter who has shown in recent weeks his penchant for birdies in bunches, ranking T-3 in birdie average this season.
Con: Burns wasn’t really on the radar until a few weeks ago. Is his subsequent form really enough to push him past some more experienced players ahead of him on points in the eyes of Stricker? He feels like a player who could particularly benefit from a big week in Atlanta.
Billy Horschel (17th in Ryder Cup points)
Pro: The reason these picks are still up for grabs can be traced back to Horschel, whose run to the FedEx Cup in 2014 came after the Ryder Cup team had been finalized. He’s a fiery player who has been open about his desire to represent the U.S., and his match play bona fides were secured this spring when he beat Scheffler for the WGC-Match Play title.
Con: Horschel hasn’t done much since that triumph in Austin, finishing no better than T-17 in 11 worldwide starts. He barely snuck into the 30-man Tour Championship field, which means another stirring East Lake performance is still a possibility. But right now it feels like he’ll need it to have a chance.
Kevin Kisner (18th in Ryder Cup points)
Pro: Kisner has the swagger and confidence that you want on a team, and he showed four years ago at Liberty National what he can do in a team environment. His candidacy received an 11th-hour boost with his playoff win at the Wyndham Championship, and he’s among the guys you would most trust with a 10-foot putt that matters.
Con: His follow-up since that win at Sedgefield has been disastrous: while facing 189 players over the last two weeks in the playoffs, he has beaten exactly two of them. Kisner also seems like a poor fit for Whistling Straits, given its length and the fact that he’s 169th on Tour in driving distance.