Bam. There ya have it. Add these 6 to Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Brooks Koepka, Patrick Cantlay, Collin Morikawa, and Bryson DeChambeau who each qualified for the team by way of points and you've got yourself a potent US squad to take back the Ryder Cup on US soil.
5 of today's 6 Captain's picks were mere formalities going into today. Xander is the 5th ranked player in the world and recently won a gold medal on an international stage. Kinda shocking that he didn't qualify on points. You could say the same about Jordan Spieth. He may have teetered off at the end but you can count on one hand the players worldwide who have played better since his re-emergence at Scottsdale earlier this year. Tony Finau is a birdie machine and one of the few bright spots from the 2018 team in Paris. Harris English had a career year where he won twice (both in a match play style playoff I might add). Daniel Berger has won multiple times since the COVID restart and has only missed one cut since his win at Pebble Beach in February.
Which left that 12th and final spot up for grabs amongst the likes of Ryder Cup veteran Patrick Reed, Scottie Scheffler, Sam Burns, and Kevin Na as the 4 likeliest candidates for that final pick. These were the 4 that truly warranted consideration and I feel confident Strick believed the same.
The headline grabber is Reed's omission from the team. While the guy has had some great Ryder Cup success in the past, he and his camp also damn near threw everybody under the bus in 2018 in Paris. It was far from out of character for him either. His pattern of dickheadery was enough to at least put him on the potential chopping block if he didn't follow up that win at Torrey Pines in February up with some consistent play. Ultimately he didn't. His play this summer just wasn't good enough to keep him safe, and him ending up in the hospital with double pneumonia was enough to push him onto the wrong side of the cut. Him rolling out of bed to play the Tour Championship was probably more of an effort to make this team than anything, and he really didn't do anything at East Lake to change this outcome.
Kevin Na came on strong with some great play in the playoffs, but his play simply wasn't good enough for long enough. His biggest asset was his ability to get up-and-down from damn near anywhere but he just doesn't make enough birdies. If Strick was to go off the grid with somebody, this was probably the guy but the fact of the matter is that a hot 4-week run wasn't enough to mask a summer riddled with MC's and WD's.
Sam Burns is a guy I probably would have been just as pleased with as Scheffler. He's had a breakout year that's elevated him into the Top 25 in the world. More importantly, he piles up birdies by the handful. His 25.33% birdie percentage was 4th on the entire Tour this season. He also led tournaments more than anybody all season.
That fact can be looked at as a negative just as easily as a positive. He led that many rounds but only came away with one win. One could question his ability to finish and play under pressure when you look at it that way. Maybe Strick did. But ultimately I wouldn't have been upset one bit if Burns had been the guy.
The guy is Scottie Scheffler though. And for good reason. The guy is a birdie-maker just like Burns is. 24.89% birdie percentage was good enough for 7th on Tour (Reed was 37th and Na was 40th, btw). His runner-up performance at the WGC Match Play earlier this year had to play a big factor too. He clapped match play dynamo Ian Poulter 5&4 and took down world #1 Jon Rahm on his road to the final. Beating those two Europeans has gotta count for something.
But most importantly, Whistling Straits is a phenomenal course fit for Scottie Scheffler, more so than any of these other 3 candidates. The last time we saw Whistling Straits was the 2015 PGA Championship. When I think of that tournament, I think about Jason Day at the peak of his powers, bombing the ball all over that place. That course favors bombers as much as any and the stats backed that up.
A lot has been made of how the Europeans stomped us 17.5 to 10.5 in Paris back in 2018 and how the US needed to do things "differently" when picking this year's team. For whatever reason, "differently" was perceived to mean "oh, they need to go get some guys who thrive at match play and putt well". Well that's not what the Europeans did in Paris. Le Golf National is a target golf course that favors ball-strikers and not bombers. I'm sure they picked that course in the first place because of that fact. They had a home course advantage and they played into that when they picked their team. The stars of that team were Tommy Fleetwood and Francesco Molinari, both of whom are notorious weapons with irons and wedges in hand. They thrived because the course fit them, not so much the format.
Stricker would be chasing the wrong strategy if he picked somebody like Kevin Na or even worse - some other Kevin. The Americans already have an inherent course advantage given their style of play. The likes of DeChambeau, DJ, Koepka, and Finau are going to thrive on this course with their length, and Scheffler just adds to the mix here. The European team will be announced after Sunday's BMW PGA Championship on the European Tour, but no matter who they pick they won't have the firepower to match that type of length. The Europeans played to their strengths in Paris and we need to do the same in Wisconsin.
Thrilled Stricker went this direction with it and I think it's going to play dividends. At the end of the day, it's still on those 12 guys' shoulders to go out and get the job done. I'll be right here in my red, white, and blue rooting them on the whole way. Can't wait.