Sept. 21-26, 2021 Whistling Straits, Kohler, WI

The Ryder Cup is on the horizon as the 43rd playing of the matches at Whistling Straits are now less than four weeks away. Although the excitement is palpable there are still many things left to decide before teams from both the United States and Europe are finalized.

U.S. captain Steve Stricker already knows the names of five men on his team. A sixth will be added in mere days. European captain Padraig Harrington’s team is taking shape, although nothing has yet been written in stone.

With that in mind, here are six storylines to watch as we creep closer to the Ryder Cup:

Who's already in for the U.S.?

Five of the six automatic qualifiers are solidified. They are, in order of Ryder Cup standings, Collin Morikawa, Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau, Brooks Koepka and Justin Thomas. The last three officially made Team USA following THE NORTHERN TRUST on Monday at Liberty National.

Morikawa and Johnson qualified weeks ago, and it was only a matter of time before the next three joined them.

There are interesting storylines in each of the five men.

Morikawa is a rookie and has come storming onto the world golf stage over the past two years. He’s also someone who everyone will want to play with because of his demeanor and laser-like iron play. Johnson has played on four previous Ryder Cup teams, but the Americans have only won one of those four. His record hasn’t been up to his lofty standards either and he’s struggled over the years in foursomes play. DeChambeau was winless in his only previous Ryder Cup appearance in 2018 but is a much different player now than he was back then in Paris. Koepka has played in just two Ryder Cups but has a winning record (4-3-1) and will be leaned on heavily by Captain Stricker. And Thomas has been an absolute stalwart in the three U.S. team competitions that he’s played in previously. There is no doubt he’ll play a major role in the outcome for the Americans.

Hovland to become first Norwegian in Ryder Cup

Although not yet official, it’s a virtual certainty that Viktor Hovland will be on the European team, making the 23-year-old the first man from Norway to play in the Ryder Cup.

Hovland had made his mark quickly in professional golf, winning three times. He’s also turned heads in Europe, already having Rory McIlroy raise his hand to show Hovland the ropes at his maiden Ryder Cup. In fact, Hovland, ranked No. 15 in the world, is the third-highest ranked European, just one position ahead of McIlroy.

“If he was trying to choose a partner, I’d put my hand up and like to guide him around,” McIlroy said at The Open at Royal St. George’s. “Viktor is going to be an instrumental player for the European team for a long time to come. Having someone like him on the European team can only help.”

Hovland is fine with that notion. As long as 16 months ago, well before he was on the radar for Team Europe, Hovland was already anticipating what it would be like to become the first player from his country to play in the Ryder Cup.

“I’m really a big fan of match play and I would say I’ve played some of my best golf in matches,” said Hovland, the 2018 U.S. Amateur champion. “So, hopefully, I can get in there and do well.”

The race for the final automatic U.S. Team qualifier

Six players are mathematically alive for the sixth and final automatic spot here in the last week to qualify at the BMW Championship. The man who stands in the sixth spot by Sunday evening will be on the team.

Tony Finau vaulted six spots Monday with his victory in New Jersey, moving from 12th in the Rankings, all the way up to sixth. But he is only mere points (28 to be exact) ahead of Olympic gold medalist Xander Schauffele, with both followed closely by Jordan Spieth.

While others down the list can move into the sixth spot, smart money says that it’ll come from one of these three men. Of course, poor play by them, coupled with a victory from someone farther down the list could shake things up a bit.

World Points race going to the wire

Europe takes four players of the European Ryder Cup points list and five off the World Points list. Those nine players will earn automatic selections on September 12, and then Captain Harrington will make three picks that same day to round out his team.

Hovland, Paul Casey, Matt Fitzpatrick and Lee Westwood occupy the first four spots on the World Points list. Shane Lowry is in the fifth spot, but there are several names on his heels looking to qualify automatically.

France’s Victor Perez and Scotland’s Robert MacIntyre are next in line, both vying to play in their first Ryder Cup. Then, on the opposite side of the spectrum, is Ian Poulter, who is just behind MacIntyre, but is trying to find his way onto his seventh Ryder Cup. Poulter holds a career 14-6-2 record and has been on the winning side five of the six previous times.

U.S. Captain’s picks - who will they be?

Captain’s picks are always interesting. They should be even more interesting this year because Stricker has six of them.

With that in mind, what once looked like an ocean of names who could be considered for the coveted picks, has now become a much smaller pool.

In order from Nos. 7-12 are Schauffele, Spieth, Harris English, Patrick Reed, Patrick Cantlay and Daniel Berger. Webb Simpson and Scottie Scheffler are Nos. 13 and 14, respectively.

Here’s the easy part. Every single man on the list above is ranked inside the top 21 in the Official World Golf Ranking. It’s not like there are any bad choices.

Spieth and Schauffele are likely in even if they don’t move to the sixth automatic qualifier spot. You’d think English would be too. And it’d be hard to justify leaving Cantlay and Berger off the squad.

Stricker isn’t known as someone who is likely to go crazy outside the box with his selections. The only possible curveball here is with Reed, who has had an issue with his left ankle and was just hospitalized with bilateral interstitial pneumonia. Those are two serious issues for someone only a few weeks away from the Ryder Cup, although he does boast a 7-3-2 career record.

If Stricker opts to pass Reed, that would bring Simpson or Scheffler into the picture.

Rahm continues to impress

Jon Rahm is the undisputed No. 1 player on the planet. He won the U.S. Open earlier this summer, he’s seemingly in contention every week on the PGA Tour, his record this season is out-of-this-world good and he’s the favorite to win the Tour’s Player of the Year.

He also, at 26 years old, is going to be playing in only his second Ryder Cup for Europe, and first on American soil. Quite simply, Rahm is going to have to play a huge role for Europe to have a chance to win late on Sunday during the singles matches.

There’s no reason to believe he won’t answer the bell. Rahm has held up under the pressure at nearly every stop along his journey to the top of the world rankings. One of the places he produced big under fire was three years ago at the Ryder Cup outside Paris where most eyeballs on site at the course were on his singles match.

Rahm had not played up to his standards the previous two days and was 0-2 heading into Sunday singles. He had only played in four-ball matches and sat out both foursomes sessions. Then the Sunday singles pairings came out late Saturday and he was slotted to square off against his childhood idol Tiger Woods. He was so amped up and found a way to harness that adrenaline enough to beat Woods on the 17th hole.

“To beat Tiger, one of the greatest, if not the greatest, on Sunday, with a pivotal point. I was so aware of it. It’s the best feeling of my life,” Rahm said after his 2-and-1 victory over Woods.

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