Whistling Wild Cards: Wyndham Championship
In less than two months, U.S. Ryder Cup captain Steve Stricker will lead a group of 12 players into a high-stakes atmosphere at Whistling Straits. Currently only one of those 12 spots (Collin Morikawa) is officially spoken for, although the automatic qualifiers are starting to take shape. But half of Stricker’s roster won’t earn an auto bid – instead they’ll rely on a call from the captain telling them to suit up for Wisconsin.
Three weeks remain in the points race, with the six-pack of Captain’s picks coming after next month’s Tour Championship. But as the chase to make the team heats up, there are a number of players with Ryder Cup aspirations: potential rookies, seasoned veterans, match-play maestros and everything in between.
Here’s a look at some of the notable players outside the current top 15 who could make a move up the standings at the Wyndham Championship. All four would be potential rookies at Whistling Straits, but a strong run beginning this week in North Carolina might just be enough to get Stricker to take a chance by adding them to his 12-man squad:
Current points position: 20th
Analysis: A T-8 finish at last week’s WGC came at just the right time. Zalatoris appeared in great position to make his Ryder Cup debut earlier this spring, when he was contending nearly every time he teed it up, while finishing second in his Masters debut. But he hit a bit of a lean stretch over the summer, withdrawing from The Open last month because of an injury. He showed no lingering issues in Memphis, earning his first top-10 finish since the PGA Championship, and now will look to become the latest Demon Deacon standout to thrive at Sedgefield. His candidacy comes with an interesting caveat: because he’s a special temporary member on Tour, he’s not currently eligible for the playoffs unless he wins at Wyndham. It could mean a forced break at the exact wrong time and leave Zalatoris waiting to make his Ryder Cup debut in Italy in 2023.
Current points position: 23rd
Analysis: Kisner missed out on a chance to make some noise last week in Memphis, where he beat only two players in the 65-man field. But the match-play savant does have some team experience, having played well for the U.S. in the 2017 Presidents Cup, and his credentials include a WGC Match Play title in 2019. Kisner finished T-3 at Wyndham last year, his third top-10 finish at this event since 2014. The cozy confines and tricky greens of Sedgefield are clearly to his liking, and what Kisner lacks in Ryder Cup experience he would more than make up for in swagger. Whether that’s enough to merit a pick could come down to how he plays over the next three pivotal weeks.
Current points position: 24th
Analysis: Harman finished T-3 at THE PLAYERS in March and basically hasn’t looked back. In 11 starts since TPC Sawgrass he has cracked the top 20 nine times, including a run to the quarterfinals of the WGC Match Play bracket and a T-12 finish at the Masters. Harman hasn’t been in a U.S. team room as a pro, but his amateur career did include a U.S. Junior Amateur title as well as a pair of Walker Cup appearances, and he has developed a reputation as a relentless match-play opponent. Harman has only made three of eight Wyndham cuts but twice he’s made the most of the weekend, finishing T-3 in 2013 and T-6 in 2019. Should the southpaw get back into contention again this week he could garner some attention for a possible pick as a “fresh blood” option who could help buck the recent trends for the American side.
Current points position: 25th
Analysis: Speaking of fresh blood, Wolff was still in diapers when the U.S. team pulled off its improbable comeback at Brookline in 1999. He has struggled through long stretches this year, withdrawing from multiple tournaments including the PGA Championship in part to focus on his mental health, but did finish T-17 last week in Memphis. The highs of his game are undeniable, including a win as a 20-year-old at the 3M Open and a runner-up finish at last year’s U.S. Open when he held the 54-hole lead. He added a playoff loss in Las Vegas in his next start after Winged Foot, at one point reaching as high as 12th in the world. He’s nowhere near that lofty precipice now, and he certainly seems like a high-variance option. But Wolff could also be a player who feeds off the energy of the home crowd, and clearly his game can reach a world-class level when he’s in form.