Breaking down Steve Stricker's possible captain's picks for Ryder Cup
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Breaking down Steve Stricker’s possible captain’s picks for Ryder Cup



The first half of the US Ryder Cup team is set after Patrick Cantlay won the BMW Championship Sunday. Cantlay grabbed the sixth and final automatic qualifying spot with the win. Collin Morikawa topped the standings after winning two majors this season, and will be joined on the team by Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau, Brooks Koepka, Justin Thomas, and Cantlay.

The rest of the team is up for debate, as six more players will be selected following the Tour Championship this week. Some players are being acknowledged as locks to make it to Whistling Straits, but there is some debate as we get towards the 11th and 12th spots.

Locks

Tony Finau (7th in standings)

Ryder Cup appearances: 2018

Ryder Cup record: 2-1-0

Finau finally got his second PGA Tour win at The Northern Trust and it looks like he is ready to turn his immense talent into results. We all knew this was coming, but it seems to have finally arrived. His distance fits right in with the rest of the US team at a course that should set up well for long hitters.

Xander Schauffele (8th in standings)

Ryder Cup appearances: Rookie

Ryder Cup record: 0-0-0

It’s hard to believe because he’s been one of the world’s best players since his rookie of the year season in 2017, but Schauffele hasn’t played in a Ryder Cup. He’s played well in majors in the past and made a huge breakthrough by winning the gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics last month.

Jordan Spieth (9th in standings)

Ryder Cup appearances: 2014, 2016, 2018

Ryder Cup record: 7-5-2

Spieth’s record in Ryder Cup’s is a bit deceiving—he is 0-3 in singles—but he has been a huge part of the last three American teams. The 25-year old struggled the past couple years, but has gotten his game back this season, winning the Valero Texas Open and finishing second at The Open Championship. He is a three-time major champion, and I don’t see him being left off an American team any time soon.

Deserving players

Harris English (10th in standings)

Ryder Cup appearances: Rookie

Ryder Cup record: 0-0-0

English isn’t a big name like those above him, but his results this season have shown he deserves a spot on this team. English hadn’t won in seven years before breaking the drought at Kapalua. He added another victory at the Travelers Championship and nearly won a third at the WGC in Memphis before struggling on the back nine. He has eight top-10 finishes this season and has played well in majors, finishing in the top-5 in the last two US Opens.

Daniel Berger (12th in standings)

Ryder Cup appearances: Rookie

Ryder Cup record: 0-0-0

Berger doesn’t immediately jump to the top of your mind when you think about the best American players in the world, but he has consistently been one of the world’s best the past two years. Berger won at Pebble Beach in February, finished T3 at the Byron Nelson, and notched top-10 finishes at the US Open and The Open Championship. He is one of the best iron players in the world—he’s ranked fourth in Strokes Gained: Approach this season—and ranks 16th in Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green. He is one of the most underrated players on the PGA Tour.

Tough Decisions

Patrick Reed (11th in standings)

Ryder Cup appearances: 2014, 2016, 2018

Ryder Cup record: 7-3-2

“Captain America” is a wild card this year. He is far from a lock even if he was healthy, but Reed missed the first two playoff events and was in the hospital with double pneumonia. He also missed the Olympics after testing positive for COVID. He isn’t in great form with no top-10 finishes since a T5 at the Memorial. Putting is always important in a Ryder Cup, and Reed is one of the best, ranking fifth in Strokes Gained: Putting. He will return at this week’s Tour Championship, but his health remains a question mark. This will be perhaps the toughest decision for Stricker.

Scottie Scheffler (14th in standings)

Ryder Cup appearances: Rookie

Ryder Cup record: 0-0-0

Scheffler has yet to notch his first win on Tour, but he has consistently played well in big events. He has shown match play prowess—he finished second at the WGC Match Play earlier this year—and has played well in majors. Scheffler finished T18 at the Masters, T8 at the PGA Championship, T7 at the US Open, and T8 at The Open. He’s saved his best for the biggest events, so he shouldn’t be overwhelmed by the moment at Whistling Straits.

Webb Simpson (13th in standings)

Ryder Cup appearances: 2012, 2014, 2018

Ryder Cup record: 4-4-1

Especially if Reed isn’t healthy, Simpson would be the pick if Stricker is looking for veteran leadership. It’s been a down year for Simpson with just six top-10 finishes and his best finish was a T4 at the Sony Open. Other than the Wyndham Championship at Sedgefield which should be renamed for Simpson at this point, his results haven’t been particularly noteworthy. Simpson has been one of the best putters on Tour this season, but he’s struggled off the tee and ranks 136th in driving distance. Simpson would be considered the safe choice, but there are players who offer more upside and shouldn’t be overwhelmed.

Longshots

Jason Kokrak

Ryder Cup appearances: Rookie

Ryder Cup record: 0-0-0

Kokrak broke through for his first two PGA Tour wins this season, but his game has fallen off since. Outside of the two wins, Kokrak has just three other top-10s. He is a bomber and has putted well this season, but he hasn’t shown enough form to be a legitimate consideration for a deep US squad.

Sam Burns

Ryder Cup appearances: Rookie

Ryder Cup record: 0-0-0

Burns got hot this spring, finishing T4 at the Zurich, earning his first win at the Valspar Championship, then finishing second at the Byron Nelson next week. He’s also been in good form as of late, finishing T2 in Memphis, T21 at The Northern Trust, and eighth at the BMW Championship. He’s a young player on the rise and should be a part of these teams in the future, but he will need to wait.

Kevin Kisner

Ryder Cup appearances: Rookie

Ryder Cup record: 0-0-0

Kisner is a match play stalwart and won the Wyndham Championship three weeks ago to briefly enter the Captain’s Pick discussion, but he couldn’t build on the win, missing the cut and finishing T66 at the first two playoff events.

Phil Mickelson

Ryder Cup appearances: 1995, 1997, 1999, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2008, 2010, 2012, 2014, 2016, 2018

Ryder Cup record: 18-22-7

 

Yes, Phil Mickelson won the PGA Championship. He had a magical week and made golf history. He also has just one top-60 finish since his win at Kiawah. His best finish was a T17 at the WGC FedEx St. Jude Invitational. He’s been on 12 consecutive Ryder Cup teams, but his record is less than stellar. If he was the best Ryder Cup player of all-time, he could be in the conversation. But 2021 Phil Mickelson doesn’t deserve a spot on a deep American team. He should be at Whistling Straits, but it should be as a Vice Captain.

 

About the author

Peter Santo

Peter Santo

Peter Santo is a golf writer and a graduate of Emerson College. He previously covered all sports for The Boston Globe, Associated Press, and The Washington Times.

When not writing about or playing golf, he can often be found listening to or creating country music.

He can be reached by email at petersanto1129@gmail.com

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