On paper, the United States is the favorite to continue its dominance in the Presidents Cup this week. Some analysts have even boldly predicated a rout by the home team. It’s not a shock, as the USA may have one of the most loaded rosters in recent team competition history.
The average world ranking of the U.S. team is 15.5, with the most decorated veteran, Phil Mickelson, the highest ranked player at 30. Conversely, the International team has just five players ranked higher than Mickelson and only two who are ranked higher than the U.S. average. (The highest, Hideki Matsuyama, we should add, may be playing the worst of all 24 heading to New Jersey.)
It’s a good rallying cry for the International Team room, and provides some pressure for the U.S., but with the matches looming later this week, the biggest storyline will be how Steve Stricker manages his team.
With five rookies and some tantalizing potential pairings, here is what to keep an eye on:
Who gets Jordan Spieth?
You can’t break up the power coupling with Patrick Reed can you? This will be THE story approaching 1:00 p.m. Wednesday, when the captains select the pairings for Foursomes. Spieth and Justin Thomas are international teammates for the first time since the 2010 Junior Ryder Cup. Their skills would mix great in Foursomes, but Spieth-Reed has become an invaluable commodity. There was also some chatter early in the FedEx Cup Playoffs about a pairing with Dustin Johnson, which is a combination that builds the world’s most dangerous golfing duo.
Has Team USA become too close to have pods?
The philosophy that made Captain Paul Azinger a genius at the 2008 Ryder Cup has been employed in various fashions to provide continuity in preparation and partnerships at subsequent team events. With the young crop of players now ascending to this moment, have the personalities gelled enough to scrap the system?
There are some natural fits (Brooks Koepka and Dustin Johnson) and some interesting individuals (Kevin Chappell, Kevin Kisner), so it will be fascinating to see how Captain Stricker elects to build team unity.
What is Phil Mickelson’s role?
Lefty was always going to make the team. They need his experience. They need his clutch-ness. They need his gravitas. They also have enough talent to cover any sloppy days. Where is he used?
Do you pair Phil with a rookie like Daniel Berger in his first match to help balance the emotions, or do you connect him with Rickie Fowler to try and catch lightning in a bottle? Almost all pairings will make sense, but any pairing with Phil will tell a larger story.
There will only be second guessing if the U.S. loses on Sunday. While it doesn’t seem likely, Stricker’s position is unenviable. He has a treasure chest of talent and no perfect path to use it. His job is far more difficult now than it was assembling the team in the first place.