Ryder Cup 2018: Way-too-early predictions for the American team
The 2016 Ryder Cup just ended, so what better time to predict the make-up of the 2018 American team in Paris than now, right?
Just kidding... sort of.
Here are my "way-too-early predictions for the 2018 American Ryder Cup team":
Captain: Jim Furyk
With the Ryder Cup Committee that was put together after the 2014 American disaster at Gleneagles, it was said that all Ryder Cup USA assistant captains going forward would either be past captains or future captains (we're still not sure what that means for Bubba Watson).
Using that logic, it would sure seem as though Furyk would have to be the front-runner to be at the helm for the Americans in Paris. Along with serving as an assistant under Davis Love III at Hazeltine, Furyk — the 2001 U.S. Open champion —has also competed in nine Ryder Cups.
He competed in every Ryder Cup from 1997-2014 and may have made the 2016 team on points were it not for an injury that forced him to miss a lot of key time.
Furyk, who will be 48 in 2018, should make a fine captain. He's been incredibly consistent throughout his career, so he'll likely be playing a lot on the regular Tour amongst the younger players that will make up his team. The players will love that and — as if that weren't enough — Furyk is one of the most well-respected guys out there.
Assistant Captains: Davis Love III, Tiger Woods, Steve Stricker and David Toms
On Love: Makes sense because he's been a captain twice before and led the U.S. to its latest victory and first since 2008.
On Woods: Assuming he won't be playing, this fits the "he'll be a future captain" criteria. Plus, players had nothing but great things to say about Tiger's first turn as an assistant at Hazeltine... and it looked like Tiger enjoyed it too.
On Stricker: The 2020 Ryder Cup will be at Whistling Straits in his home state of Wisconsin. Is there any chance that Stricker doesn't get the nod there? It would be out of character to have a major-less Ryder Cup USA Captain, but Stricker has accomplished pretty much everything else in golf. Not to mention, he'll have somewhat of an audition as a captain in international competition, leading the U.S. in the 2017 Presidents Cup. Assuming that goes well — the U.S. has won nine of the 11 played, while losing one and tying the other — it's hard to imagine Stricker wouldn't be the favorite for 2020. Therefore, 2018 would be his final year of Ryder Cup USA assistant captain grooming.
On Toms: OK. This one is kind of a wildcard. For a longtime, Toms' name was in the mix as a potential future Ryder Cup USA Captain and then — for one reason or another — it suddenly wasn't anymore. Should he be an assistant in 2018, I think it again opens the door for a future captainship. The 2001 PGA Champion has played on three Ryder Cup teams.
The top-8 qualifiers on points (assuming the process remains the same with eight automatics and four Captain's Picks):
1. Dustin Johnson
As of right now, he has one major championship win (the 2016 U.S. Open at Oakmont). I expect him to have added to that total by the time we hit the 2018 Ryder Cup. There's also a very good chance that he could be the No. 1 player in the world at that point. Johnson went 2-2-0 at Hazeltine. Not out of this world, but fine. He got his team points, which is all that matters.
2. Jordan Spieth
Like Johnson, I think there's a good chance Spieth adds to his major total by the time we get to the 2018 Ryder Cup. Spieth paired with Patrick Reed in a Ryder Cup — as we've seen — is an incredible duo for the Americans (as dominant as the Euro tandem of Seve Ballesteros/Jose Maria Olazabal? Only time will tell). Spieth is the young leader of the American team and by 2018, he'll be a more vocal leader too. He's earned it.
3. Patrick Reed
Remember when we all laughed at Reed's assertion a few years back that he considered himself "a top-5 player in the world?" Yeah, well if he can play tournament golf anything like he did at Hazeltine (3-1-1), chances are he'll be a top-3 player by the time Paris rolls around. There's that and the fact that he's established himself as an automatic Captain's Pick if not an automatic qualifier on points.
4. Brooks Koepka
Koepka went 3-1-0 in his debut at Hazeltine. It may have been his coming out party as he thrived on the grandest stage in golf. The confidence he took out of that week should prove incredibly beneficial on the PGA Tour over the next couple of years. Having had a taste of the Ryder Cup, there's no doubt Koepka wants to make himself a regular in the bienniel event.
5. Tony Finau
Finau has shown glimpses of brilliance and we're all just waiting for the big breakthrough — no disrespect to his victory in the 2016 Puerto Rico Open. It's coming in the next two years in both regular events and the majors. He is too much of a talent for it not to. If Koepka, Johnson and Finau were all on the same squad, you're talking lots and lots of fire power. Those guys hit it forever.
6. Justin Thomas
It was a bit of a bummer — certainly for Thomas himself — that he missed out on the 2016 Ryder Cup USA team as a Captain's Pick. His name was mentioned so many times over the season as a potential team member and he was even invited to Hazeltine the week before to practice with the guys. If anything, that likely served as serious motivation. Thomas is one of the brightest young talents in the game today. He's got one victory to his name so far, but feels like one of those rare players who has another gear. It's time to move to that gear. While I don't ever expect to see a Spieth/Reed pairing broken up, Thomas and Spieth could pair well together. They've been buddies since their junior golf days, which really isn't all that long ago.
7. Brandt Snedeker
A perfect 3-0-0 at Hazeltine, Snedeker is just the kind of player you need in a Ryder Cup — he can roll the rock. Plus, did you see how fired up he was in Chaska? It was like watching a different Brandt Snedeker, who proved a great companion to Koepka in foursomes.
8. Phil Mickelson
OK. So Lefty wasn't in the Captain or the Assistant Captains talk. That's because at age 48, he's going to be an automatic qualifier for his record 12th consecutive Ryder Cup. He's already said so too. In each of his previous 11 Ryder Cup appearances, Mickelson has never once relied on a Captain's Pick. Instead, he's taken care of his business. I expect him to do that one more time as a player. For 2020 at Whistling Straits, he can begin the grooming process for his inevitable 2024 captaincy at Bethpage Black (then again, is this a guy who really needs grooming?). Mickelson has been on three winning Ryder Cup USA teams, but all of those have been domestic Ryder Cups. A win in Europe would be a fantastic way to go out.
Captain's Picks: Daniel Berger, Jimmy Walker, Ryan Moore, Rickie Fowler
On Berger: Came close in 2016. May have made the team on points were it not for injuries that kept him out during a key stretch. He's young and motivated.
On Walker: The 2016 PGA Champion has been so good these last few years and — even when he hadn't been great for much of 2016, he went and won the season's last major. A great putter of the ball and a big hitter off the tee. His previous Ryder Cup experience is a plus too.
On Moore: He's the guy who came in at the very last minute at Hazeltine and then went on to clinch the deciding point in the American victory. He was 2-1-0 in his three matches that week and — it seemed — really came out of his shell with teammates. He had always previously been a guy who liked to do his own thing, a characteristic that may have cost him a spot on previous Ryder Cup teams. That won't be the case anymore.
On Fowler: It might be surprising not to see him make the 2018 team on points, but — as has been the case a couple of times in Ryder Cups — he's a hard guy for a Captain to overlook. He's so easy to pair up, so easy going and so popular amongst his pairs.
There you have it — the 2018 American Ryder Cup team.
Boy, that was easy.