When we presented our Ryder Cup predictions in April, the United States was the easy team to pick.
We assumed that no LIV golfers would qualify, let alone a Captain’s Choice. There was a crew of promising 20-something studs looking foolproof this fall. There were really no outside contenders to get rid of a well-known name.
Oh boy, things have changed. Brooks Koepka won the PGA Championship, essentially guaranteeing him a sixth-place finish and an automatic qualification. Then the PGA Tour and the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia formed and proposed a joint venture, likely ending any notion of LIV golfers being disdained by Captain Zack Johnson.
Then Windham Clark became one of the best golfers in the world, winning the US Open, the Wells Fargo High School Championship and placing himself second in the Ryder Cup standings. He’s played so well in 2023 that he’ll be the captain’s pick even if his LACC win doesn’t decide that.
Then you throw in some of those rising stars who fall on hard times. Not one or two of the biggest names in golf will be on this year’s American Ryder Cup Team in Rome. We have tough decisions to make, so let’s anticipate this fall’s slate.
As the remaining months go by, we make this projection based on what we’re going to do, not just what we expect to happen.
No need to waste time. Scheffler is the world No. 1 seed and has had one of the greatest seasons of the past decade, with six consecutive top-five seasons (two in the majors) and 18 consecutive top-20 finishes, including career-high victories at the Players Championship and Phoenix Open. This is vicious stuff, and Scheffler can boast of going 2-0-1 two years ago in the Ryder Cup and making a name for himself when he knocked out John Ramm. He is the best dog in American golf.
Let’s tie these two together as they have proven they are possibly the best team in the world. They cut 6-3 together between the last two President’s Cups and Whistling Straits. They won the 2022 Zurich Classic as a team, and both consistently sit in the top five golfers in the world, according to DataGolf. Nobody is wrong to criticize Schauffele or Cantlay for not winning bigger events. It’s a real concern, especially after Schavelli collapsed at the LACC weekend. But there’s no denying that these two are among the hottest and most consistent players of the moment.
Listen, there are golfers out there who play better than Spieth. definitely. He fell to 18th in DataGolf and 8th in the Ryder Cup standings. But Spieth is on this team. Do not be silly. He has four Ryder Cup matches in his bag and is one of the clear leaders of the US national team. Sure, Spieth is inconsistent, but it’s not like he’s bad. He has a career-high four top-10s this season and finished T4 at the Masters. Add in his Ryder Cup record of 8-7-3, and there he is.
Firmly but shaky nonetheless
The 26-year-old champ has not had his best season. He’s fallen to No. 20 in the Official World Golf Rankings and hasn’t played like an elite golfer since the fall of 2021. But he opened his Ryder Cup career with a 3-0-1 performance at Whistling Straits and – unscientific way of saying it – is just one of the guys. There is no denying that he is one of the best ball-kickers in the game, and he has played oddly enough in the senior teams this season, moving up to T10, T26 and T14. He wasn’t convincing, but there’s no world in which he wasn’t chosen.
Say what you will, but Finau has taken four wins in the most recent calendar year. He’s missed one cut all season, and can boast of having two Ryder Trophies under his belt. He makes the team. One thing to watch, though: Finau fell off a cliff, taking negative hits in seven of his last eight events. Those seven events coincide with Finau ending a streak of 10 consecutive top-25 finishes, with only one event since.
In April, Fowler was the final selection, feeling it was too risky to put him there. Now, Fowler has practically set his candidacy in stone. He has gone from being the most advanced and under-the-radar player this season to a consistent force. He has 12 top-20 finishes in 2023 and set a US Open scoring record with an opening round 62 in the LACC before a T5 finish. It has jumped to 10th place in DataGolf. So when you combine the fact that Fowler is one of the most likable characters in golf and plays better than half of the team anyway, it’s hard to see him missing out.
This has not been a good year for Justin Thomas. He missed cuts in both Augusta and the LACC and only finished T65 in the PGA Championship, and his round 81 second at the US Open felt like a low point. He hasn’t felt like he’s found his game since his epic 2022 big win at Southern Hills. Thomas remains one of the biggest stars of Team USA. He has gone 6-2-1 in two Ryder Cup tournaments, the best record of any American golfer playing in at least two. Thomas has to reach full disaster mode in order to be removed from a team, which he just isn’t there.
The obvious changes
Directed by: Sahit Thigala, Cameron Young
In: Brooks Koepka, Wyndham Clark
What a change for Koepka in the past few months. It’s easy to forget that before the season, no one thought the Levi’s golfer would realistically win a major championship anytime soon. The general assumption was that LIV golfers would not earn captain’s picks. Then Koepka got healthy and found his game, thriving in Augusta for a disappointing T2 before winning his fifth major a month later at Oak Hill. Koepka would automatically qualify anyway, but after the PGA Tour-PIF team it seems Koepka’s LIV decision won’t affect him anyway. It’s fair to say that Kupka has returned to his place as one of the two or three best American players.
And Clark took over. He’s No. 2 in points, so he’s on the team regardless, but none of this is disappointing. Clark is an undeniable golfer of the moment, playing far better and more consistently than anyone on the US team outside of Scheffler, Cantlay and Schavel.
Meanwhile, Young and Thigala’s meteoric rise in 2022 didn’t pan out in time for the Ryder Cup. There is still time to change this, but Young has gone T51, T59, CUT, CUT, T57, T32 and T60 since Augusta. There is no sign of him turning things around soon, and the other candidates simply have more cache.
Likewise, Theegala was a rising pick in April, dropping out of the top 10 in Augusta and having a nice spring. But he hasn’t finished in the top 30 since April and, aside from a drastic turnaround, is several points back from contention for a place.
In: Dustin Johnson, Sam Burns
Exit: Max Homa
this is difficult. Really, really hard. Both Burns and Huma looked destined to be rising stars in the past couple of years, making the leap to become Ryder Cup players for the foreseeable future. Instead, some things happened. Burns and Homa took small steps back, and both continued major championship problems. Neither of them competed for one or even finished in the top ten.
Then, the PIF news happened, which meant Koepka and Johnson were back in the mix. Koepka is a no-brainer, but who would you leave between Burns, Homa, and DJ? I have my doubts about Johnson. We all do. But at the end of the day, he’s coming off perhaps the most dominant Ryder Cup ever, going 5-0 at Whistling Streets. He leads the USA with 12 career victories in five matches, his game is back in shape, he wins the Tulsa LIV event and goes into the top 10 in the LACC.
So Huma vs. Burns. Homma went 4-0 in the Presidents Cup while Burns was 0-3-2, but Burns also won Tournament Play in Austin in March. It may help to nominate Burns that Scheffler – the top star – is his best friend and he might pay for it, but let’s not pretend Huma isn’t one of the most likable golfers among the pros either.
I choose Burns. With Fowler, Johnson, and Koepka suddenly on the team again, it’s a pretty veteran bunch. Give me the 26-year-old preference to gain experience to survive years.
(Top photo by Justin Thomas: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)