The charge for United States Ryder Cup captain Steve Stricker was a simple but excruciatingly overanalyzed one:
Find the six best players to join the six automatic qualifiers to try and do what may be more difficult than scoring an invitation to join Augusta National:
Win the Ryder Cup.
Stricker got it right.
The six names he called – Jordan Spieth, Xander Schauffele, Tony Finau, Daniel Berger, Harris English and Scottie Scheffler – were the right names to call this time.
Should the Americans lose at Whistling Straits in two weeks – the Europeans have won nine of the last 12 Ryder Cups – Stricker will be chastised for having done the wrong thing because it’s always someone’s fault, usually (and typically unfairly) the captain’s fault.
If the Americans lose again, it won’t be because Stricker did not pick Patrick Reed or Kevin Na or Kevin Kisner.
It will be because the Europeans played better again.
When it came time to fill out the American roster, Stricker knew who he wanted. That’s what a captain is supposed to do – commit to players and a plan that will work at big, brawny Whistling Straits.
“These six guys we picked we feel fit Whistling Straits to a tee,” Stricker said.
“I didn’t want to leave it up to the last couple of events. It was more about a body of work.” – Steve Stricker
Obviously, Stricker received a ton of input from his vice captains and from the six players who had already qualified. And had Stricker dared to dip into social media, there was no shortage of hot takes explaining why he’d be crazy not to pick whomever.
For all the cogitating about who was playing the best during the playoffs, Stricker leaned not so much on recency bias but on who has shown the most over the past year or so.
“I didn’t want to leave it up to the last couple of events. It was more about a body of work,” Stricker said.
Want to quibble with Scheffler being a pick, which many will because he’s still never won a PGA Tour event?
Stricker watched him take down Ian Poulter, Jon Rahm and Jason Day in the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play in the spring. That – and the fact Scheffler has a knack for making birdies and finished in the top 10 in the year’s last three majors – stayed with Stricker.
Webb Simpson? He’s been just a tick off this year.
Kevin Kisner? He needed to do more than win the Wyndham.
Sure, Kevin Na can putt the eyes out of it, but he finished 19th in Ryder Cup points and he’s short by modern standards. Whistling Straits isn’t built for short hitters. Yes, Na would bring passion but so will everyone else in his own way.
Reed is all about passion, but he didn’t have a top-20 finish in his last seven starts and he’s coming off a life-threatening bout with bilateral pneumonia. Stricker said it was hard to leave off a guy with a 7-3-2 Ryder Cup record and it should have been.
Did Reed’s unfortunate reaction after the 2018 Ryder Cup and his controversial reputation factor into the decision? Perhaps. This was about who gives the American side the best chance to win. Stricker decided it was someone else.
Knowing what the Ryder Cup means to Reed, he was the first guy Stricker called when he reached his decision about who is in and who is out.
“I apologized many times to him,” Stricker said. “I wanted him to know it was a very difficult decision. He handled it like a champion. He took it well.”
Given some uncertainty regarding Brooks Koepka’s wrist – which he aggravated at the Tour Championship by hitting a root – Stricker has not put a 13th player on alert to be ready. That could change but that is not the expectation.
It’s an American team with six first-time Ryder Cup players. That undercuts the notion that the buddy system rules when it comes to picking the U.S. team. It’s also the number of rookies on Paul Azinger’s victorious 2008 American team.
Three years ago European captain Thomas Bjørn had five first-timers and routed the Americans.
“We don’t really feel like they’re rookies,” Stricker said of Collin Morikawa, Patrick Cantlay, Schauffle, English, Berger and Scheffler.
It’s a young American team, so young that Stricker joked that English is one of the old guys at 32. Only 37-year old Dustin Johnson has more years on him.
Stricker has the advantage of built-in pairings. Spieth and Justin Thomas should be locked into the lineup, having gone 3-1 together in Paris.
Schauffele and Cantlay are tight and their games fit like coffee and cream. Johnson has played with nine different players in Ryder and Presidents Cup and putting him with DeChambeau in four-ball matches would be a formidable duo.
Those discussions began a while back and will continue through this weekend when every member of the U.S. team will be at Whistling Straits to begin their serious prep work.
“My message from Day One has been to try and out-prepare the European team,” Stricker said.
The American captain has gotten it right so far.
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