While feeling the summer sweat roll down our collective backs, let’s take a quick inventory on where the men’s professional game stands now that the major championships are complete.
Think of it this way: We still have the Olympics, a World Golf Championship event, the FedEx Cup playoffs and the Ryder Cup to be played.
In other words, if the season were a big dinner, it’s getting close to the time to break out the good bourbon and a cigar:
Now that the men’s Olympic golf competition is here, what do we expect?
Despite the absence of so many top players, the Olympic tournament will be like most other events – once the competition begins the focus is on who’s playing rather than who is not playing.
Sure, it would be better if Jon Rahm, Bryson DeChambeau, Dustin Johnson and the others were competing but let’s celebrate who is there.
Uncle Sam looks good with Justin Thomas, Xander Schauffele, Collin Morikawa and Patrick Reed. At least one of them comes home with a medal.
Yeah, I know, that’s really bold. To be more specific, I’m picking Morikawa to win the gold medal and, based on how he played in the Open Championship, I may be picking him to win pretty much everything else for the foreseeable future.
Beyond Morikawa, let’s go with Viktor Hovland on the medal stand. Imagine what that would do for Norwegian golf.
So who is the third medalist?
Too bad Louis Oosthuizen isn’t playing.
I’m going with a long shot – Sweden’s Alex Norén.
Let’s look at it from a different perspective. Who would be the most compelling medal winners beyond the obvious?
For Sungjae Im and Si Woo Kim, there is more than a medal and national pride at stake. The South Koreans are required to do two years of military service but they can avoid that if they win an Olympic medal. That’s why both skipped the Open Championship, wanting to be sure they are fully prepared for the opportunity that awaits outside Tokyo.
It doesn’t matter that both of them have won on the PGA Tour. Sang Moon Bae can tell them all about that, having been forced to step away from a successful tour career to serve his two years.
Imagine what it would mean if Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama could wear a gold medal with his green jacket. And imagine the pressure of trying to make it happen in his home country.
Once the Olympics are over, there’s a World Golf Championship event in Memphis, the Barracuda Championship and the Wyndham Championship before the FedEx Cup playoffs begin. How important are those two weeks?
They are important at different ends of the spectrum. For the top 50 players in the world rankings, the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Championship offers the opportunity to roll into the playoffs on a high.
The more interesting angle is where players are trying to secure their playoff spots and, in many cases, their playing status for next season.
At the moment, Rickie Fowler sits at No. 125 which means he has no wiggle room if he wants to make the FedEx Cup playoffs. It also means he’s probably going to be busy since he’s not in the field in Memphis. A few years ago Fowler played the Wyndham Championship to improve his Ryder Cup résumé and he’s likely to be back again for a different reason.
Charles Howell III, Tommy Fleetwood, Justin Rose and Camilo Villegas are some of the familiar names who need a fast finish to get to the playoffs.
What about the U.S. Ryder Cup team? Has American captain Steve Stricker’s job gotten easier or tougher as the countdown continues?
There will be six automatic Team USA qualifiers after the BMW Championship one month from now and Stricker will be left with six players of his choosing.
Allowing Stricker to choose half of his team seemed like a good idea at the time but as that moment gets closer it seems fewer picks would be the easier alternative. Eleven automatics and one pick.
That’s not how it works though.
Morikawa, Johnson, DeChambeau, Brooks Koepka, Thomas and Schauffele occupy the six qualifying spots at the moment and they’re on the team regardless. Same goes for No. 7 Jordan Spieth and probably Reed, currently No. 8.
From there, the list is Harris English, Patrick Cantlay, Daniel Berger and Tony Finau.
Not all of them are going to be on Stricker’s team is my guess.
The next three players on the points list are Webb Simpson, Scottie Scheffler and Jason Kokrak.
Simpson has been one of the best American players in the last two Ryder Cups and if he finds some form he seems a logical pick if he doesn’t qualify. Plus he offered to play with Reed in the Presidents Cup and would do it again at Whistling Straits.
Cantlay missed the cut in the Players, the Masters and the U.S. Open which doesn’t help his cause and Finau has been consistent but not dynamic this year.
Scheffler is intriguing but that would be a big step to add a guy who hasn’t yet won on the PGA Tour. He did finish in the top 20 of every major this year, however.
What about Phil Mickelson on the Ryder Cup team?
Well, his win at the PGA Championship looks even more remarkable now than it did when it happened.
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