Justin Thomas. Andrew Redington
We are two months from the Rome Ryder Cup, the last major championship is behind us, the teams are shaping up, and we have officially entered the speculation zone. There are so many lingering questions, so let’s get right to it and start breaking down the most important questions in the aftermath of the Open. The Ryder Cup Radicals — Joel Beall, Luke Kerr-Dineen and Shane Ryan — are on the case.
Question 1: Assuming Brian Harman is now an automatic lock, is it a good thing or a bad thing for Zach Johnson that he’s made the team?
Joel: Great thing. One of the takeaways from 2018 was that the Americans failed to tailor their roster to a venue that called for precision and short-game dexterity. Assuming the Europeans set up Rome in a similar fashion (and early word says they will) having Harman as an automatic pick ensures the US won’t make the same mistake. And “ensures” is the operative word, because the American roster is shaping up to be an old boys network of sorts and Harman isn’t in that club. His Open win essentially takes that option out of Johnson’s hands, and the US team is better off for it.
Luke: Ultimately, it’s a good thing. But I wouldn’t call it an unequivocally good thing. Brian Harman was nails at Royal Liverpool Golf Club. He deserves his win and the good things that come with it. But the thing with Harman — I’d probably throw Wyndham Clark and Keegan Bradley in this category, too — is that we have a pretty large body of dataset which tells the story of what kind of player they are. Very good, but not elite. At least not yet. Maybe their recent success will push them into golf’s elite category. But until they do, you don’t necessarily want those guys locking up automatic spots because of good form in June and July, and push multiple major winners (like Morikawa or JT) out of the team by the time late September rolls around. In a perfect world, those guys make the team automatically, and you have the luxury of spending a captain’s pick on a form-heavy player, like Harman.
Shane: I couldn’t love it more. As the person compiling this post, and getting to read the other answers before I write, I get strength from reading the underlying desperation in the take above from “Euro Luke”. Harman has been a killer in match play his whole life, his smart use of the driver (which Luke admitted!) will play so well in Marco Simone, and he can putt like Nicklaus. This is the best thing to happen to America since the Louisiana Purchase.
Question 2: With stalwarts like Justin Thomas and Tony Finau struggling, has the situation become dire for Team USA?
Luke: Far too early for “dire.” But I think there’s a possible death spiral scenario emerging. I know this all too well, because it’s what happened to the European team in 2016 and 2021: Your best players experience a poorly timed lull in form. Other players lock up spots based on good play three months before the tournament’s first shot. Captain’s picks go to players based on their past record, with faith they’ll come good when the time comes. I’m not saying it’s going to happen. We’re too far out to that. All I’m saying is that you could see it happening.
Joel: No. There’s still runway for these guys to take-off, and if they don’t, the US team has a number of viable options for a captain’s pick. There’s an argument to be made that Finau might already be out. I think a weirder situation is, what happens if Finau defends his title at the 3M Open? He would have five wins in just over a calendar year, and yet those wins mostly came against weak fields while he hasn’t finished inside the top 25 in a major for the past two years.
Shane: I’m with you fellers, with one caveat: It is a massive, massive deal to me that Justin Thomas could either miss the team or be so bad that he can’t effectively contribute. I watched this guy carry the US in the Melbourne Presidents Cup, play like a baller in the otherwise nightmarish Paris Ryder Cup, and generally just thrive in these team events. I don’t think it’s a death sentence to lose him, but it’s bad.
Question 3: Looking at the current standings, are there any players close to automatic qualification who you’d leave off either team?
Shane: On the American side, Keegan Bradley, but he’s pretty far down now at No. 10. I just don’t see what he brings to the table that you can’t get more of, and better, from guys below him like Fowler, Burns, hell, even Denny McCarthy.
Luke: On the US side, I’d skip over Keegan Bradley unless he tears up the playoffs. Cameron Young still has some work left to do, too. He’s been turning it around, but you really want your potential rookies playing well. On the European side, I’m not as sold on Adrian Meronk as so many of my fellow Europeans seem to be. I can obviously see the appeal, but so many European fans consider him a lock for a pick. We’re placing a lot of stock in his Italian Open performances, but zoom out on his form and he tends to run very hot-and-cold. Maybe very good for match play, but not necessarily one you can bank on.
Joel: I suppose Yannik Paul, currently in fourth on the European points list (the top three qualify). Paul is outside the world top 100, and the events he’s played well in had less-than-stellar fields.
Question 4: Is there any situation in which you can envision Zach Johnson leaving Justin Thomas off the team?
Luke: Not really. Maybe if Justin Thomas doesn’t make a cut between now and the Ryder Cup, and has a few more blow up rounds. Every great player gets one benefit of the doubt pick. JT will get his in 2023.
Shane: I have to say yes. If he misses the cut at the 3M, and that’s it? No FedEx Cup playoffs? Or if he misses the cut there, then tries out the Wyndham and misses that too? It just gets harder for me to see it. But even as I say that, if Zach Johnson opted to take a flyer on him anyway, I wouldn’t be mad.
Joel: If Thomas misses the cut this week at the 3M Open, and proceeds to play and get bounced from the Wyndham as well, it would be easy for Johnson to defend leaving Thomas off the roster. But Johnson shouldn’t. At the 2019 Presidents Cup and 2021 Ryder Cup, Thomas emerged as the heart and soul of Team USA. He embraces the pressure, engages the crowd and, occasionally, enrages his opponents. He has scored a whopping 17.5 points for the Americans across two Ryder Cups and three Presidents Cup. The Americans have a match-play monster in their midst who is on the trajectory to be the best team member in United States history. To leave him at home would be a mistake.
Question 5: What about Brooks Koepka? He’s currently fourth in the standings, but could easily be surpassed in the top six over the course of the rest of the season. If he’s not an automatic qualifier, is there a world in which he’s left off?
Joel: Nah, he’s on, and he should be on. Winning the PGA and finishing second at the Masters and looking like the Koepka of old is hard to ignore. Besides, the PGA of America remains in an antitrust investigation by the Department of Justice, and leaving Brooks off only gives that investigation more ammo.
Luke: I would’ve said maybe before last week, right up until the moment I heard Zach Johnson showering praise on Brooks Koepka following his second round:
“The players I look at, not only do they welcome [playing under pressure], they relish it, train for it, savour it, they’re almost more comfortable in it. The extreme example is obviously Tiger Woods. But a guy like Brooks [Koepka], it seems to me when the gravity is at its strongest, he seems to bring out the best.”
Yeah, he’s in.
Shane: I’m Luke-pilled on this one. That quote says so much. I also just think certain decisions like leaving Brooks out can become wayyyy too big a story and morph into a distraction. Clearly, the only reason you would leave the guy out is because he went to LIV. The only thing I’ll say is that it also invites a bit of an asterisk, because Johnson has a card Luke Donald can’t play in taking a strong LIV player. The imbalance there is a shame.
Question 6: A European didn’t win at Royal Liverpool, but they were all over the top of the leaderboard, and generally better than their American counterparts. Is it a sign of things to come in Italy, or just statistical noise?
Luke: I do think, generally, we’re entering the ‘complacency’ portion of the US Ryder Cup boom-bust cycle. No, the European team isn’t as strong on paper (it rarely is). Yes, the European team is stronger than many US fans say it is. A guy like Sepp Straka is a perfect example of both of those things. He has more wins this season than Xander Schauffle, and more major top 10s than Patrick Cantlay.
Shane: This one particular tournament is noise, but in general the emergence of a sort of core European group that isn’t just Rory and Rahm is good news. There was a time shortly after Whistling Straits when, with all the older Euros aging out, it seemed like the Americans would be in a position to stomp them. That doesn’t seem to be on the table anymore.
Joel: Going to push back on this slightly; not only did Harman win, but Cam Young finished T-8 and Max Homa T-10. The Europeans had four guys in the top 10, although no one came close to contending. But even allowing that more Europeans were seemingly in the weekend mix, no, what happened at Royal Liverpool isn’t a sign of things to come, especially since Marco Simone isn’t a links course.
Question 7: Other than Harman and Sepp Straka, which player or players gained the most from their showing at the Open Championship?
Joel: Homa and Young. Harman’s win pushed Homa off the automatic qualification list, but Homa’s performance essentially made him a lock as a captain’s pick should he need it. Young was very much on the bubble — and arguably outside of it — until the past month, but a good showing at Hoylake locked up his spot too.
Shane: Joel said it perfectly. Can’t overstate how big this was for both guys, and how nice it is for ZJ to have more of a solid basis for picking them. It’s actually sort of hard to pick a Euro here who wasn’t already pretty secure.
Luke: Cam Young. A few weeks ago we were talking about Young not showing the same kind of form he boasted last season. He got into contention at the John Deere, then again at the Open Championship. In two starts he’s gone from needing to show us something to trending way up. He’ll probably make the team because of it.
Question 8: Who has the harder job with captain’s picks right now between Johnson and Luke Donald?
Luke: Zach Johnson. I’m sure Luke Donald would love to have some of his options, but he’s walking a tightrope with some big calls to make, and some important personalities to mesh. The European Team, largely, picks itself.
Joel: There’s not many formidable candidates for Donald’s six choices, and though we’re always guilty of Monday morning quarterbacking picks after the tournament is over, the former World No. 1 likely won’t get dragged for any of his selections unless one is egregious. In that prism, the pressure is on Johnson, because there are a few ways he can go with his picks, meaning a higher possibility of messing them up.
Shane: I’ll push back just a little because it seems to me the American picks are pretty cut-and-dry, give or take a continued JT implosion over the next two weeks.
Question 9: Who are your six captain’s picks on the American team?
Shane: Homa, Young, Spieth, Morikawa, Fowler, JT. Pretty simple, though there’s a lot of room for playoff movement here.
Joel: Spieth, Morikawa, Fowler, Thomas, Homa, Young. Finau would need to win a playoff event to grab a spot over Thomas or Fowler. A playoff win for Bradley would also do the trick.
Luke: Homa, Young, Spike, Morikawa, Fowler, Thomas.
Note: The radicals agree!!
Question 10: And what about the European team?
Shane: Meronk (word is they loved him at the Hero Cup), Perez (ditto, and nobody’s talking about him), Fitzpatrick, Straka, Lowry, Power. If anyone really fades, Rose. Look out for Matt Wallace if he can do something great in the closing stretch here.
Luke: Fitzpatrick, Straka, Lowry, Rose, Meronk, Power (with the caveat that he’s got to show something before the Ryder Cup, and hope Luvig Aberg doesn’t).
Joel: Fitzpatrick, Straka, Lowry, Rose, Meronk, Rasmus Hojgaard. Donald really likes Aberg, but think Aberg would need a win over the next month to make it.