Steve Stricker made his Captain’s picks Wednesday, choosing Jordan Spieth, Xander Schauffele, Tony Finau, Daniel Berger, Harris English, and Scottie Scheffler.
Spieth, Schauffele, and Finau were presumed locks. Berger and English both had great seasons and couldn’t be passed up. The real debate came down to the final spot—where Stricker went for Scheffler.
The notable player who was snubbed was 2018 Masters champion Patrick Reed. USA Today’s For the Win writer Andy Nesbitt was not pleased with Stricker’s selection. Nesbitt went as far as to say Stricker should be booed for not picking Reed, citing Reed’s stellar Ryder Cup record and the intangibles he brings when playing for his country.
In reality, Stricker’s decision to pass on Reed seemed obvious because Reed isn’t healthy. He missed the first two playoff events and was in the hospital with double pneumonia. Not only was Reed hospitalized, but doctors told him to reach out to family members because there was a chance his condition could be life-threatening. That doesn’t sound like a situation where Reed should be playing in the Ryder Cup three weeks later.
He returned at the Tour Championship as a last minute Ryder Cup audition, but he still wasn’t healthy enough to fly and rented a van to drive from Houston to Atlanta.
The audition didn’t go particularly well as Reed finished 25th in the 30-man field and his clubhead speed was significantly lower than usual. Reed wasn’t exactly in good form even before his illness—he hasn’t posted a top-20 finish since the US Open in June.
Then there’s the issue of Reed’s personality and reputation in the team room. The last time we saw Reed in a team competition at the 2019 Presidents Cup, he was coming off a controversial ruling at Tiger Woods’ event in the Bahamas the previous week. He was constantly ridiculed by the International fans at Royal Melbourne and his caddie Kessler Karain was suspended for Sunday’s singles matches for punching a fan.
The incident at the President’s Cup is obviously not Reed’s first dust up with the rules of golf, as his best result of the season—a win at the Farmers Insurance Open in January—was mired with controversy over an embedded ball.
Reed defenders will immediately point to 2016, when Reed beat Rory Mcilroy in an epic singles match and earned the nickname Captain America. Reed’s career Ryder Cup record of 7-3-2 suggests that he can raise his level in team competition.
It’s been five long years since 2016. And his play is no longer overriding his issues in the team room, where Reed puts on the facade of being a team player, but is willing to throw teammates and captains under the bus if they don’t fit into his individual agenda.
Reed is one of the best on and around the greens, and putting is more important in the Ryder Cup than week-to-week PGA Tour events. But his subpar iron proximity likely won’t lead to the birdies the US team will hope for at Whistling Straits.
US Ryder Cup captains get a lot of backlash for playing it safe with their Captain’s picks. In one way this year’s decisions were safe—Stricker selected the players who finished 7-12 in the final standings plus Scheffler, who finished 14th. But the safer choice would’ve been to choose Reed or Webb Simpson, who’s played in three Ryder Cups and has often acted as the team pacifist charged with dealing with Reed.
This year’s US team doesn’t have nearly as much experience as in previous years as six of the 12 players are rookies. Berger, English, and Scheffler are obvious rookies, but as crazy as it sounds, Schauffele, Collin Morikawa, and Patrick Cantlay are also playing their first Ryder Cup.
The wild card in this scenario is Brooks Koepka’s wrist injury. The four-time major champion had to withdraw from the Tour Championship, and his status appears up in the air with just two weeks to go. Stricker noted that Reed was his first call when his decisions were finalized, saying that he lost sleep over not picking him.
This suggests that Reed would fill-in should Koepka need to withdraw. But Stricker would likely be better served to take another rookie to Wisconsin. Kevin Na is the hottest American player in the world right now with top-10s in four of his last six starts, including two runner-up finishes and a solo third at the Tour Championship. Sam Burns got his first win at the Valspar Championship and had eight top-10s on the year, including two of his last four starts.
Stricker has taken some risks so far, and he seems to have made the difficult decision that might save the US Ryder Cup team.