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The Ryder Cup Rosters Are Set After European Captain Luke Donald Makes Surprise Selection

Andrew Redington. Getty Images.

The Fore Play crew is in Wisconsin filming a travel series at Sand Valley today, so I don't have time for a full-fledged Monday Rap. That being said, the Ryder Cup teams are now set. I must opine.

American captain Zach Johnson made his six captain's picks last week before Europe's Luke Donald added his six this morning. It was a similar case to the U.S. picture in that five of the picks were surefire no-brainers:

—Tommy Fleetwood, who had his best season on the PGA Tour and has been a top-10 player this year by advanced metrics.
—Justin Rose, who, in the absence of the LIV-departed Sergio Garcia and Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter, will act as the elder statesman of the team.
—Sepp Straka, who finished second in the most recent major, top 10 in the FedEx Cup standings and will become the first player with a heavy Southern accent to represent Team Europe. 
—Shane Lowry, who hasn't played his best golf this year but is team-room gold and a proven major winner. 
—Ludvig Aberg, who just won the Omega European Masters and becomes the first player to ever make a Ryder Cup team without playing in a major championship.

Aberg was going to make the team even before his victory in Switzerland. Since winning the PGA Tour University's points race and getting immediate PGA Tour status, the Swede has established himself as one of the fastest rising talents in the sport, posting four top-25 finishes on the PGA Tour before cementing his spot with a T4 in the Czech Republic and the chase-down win over Matt Fitzpatrick on Sunday. Eddie Pepperell told British press that Donald had been raving about Aberg's game after watching him up-close when the two were recently paired together. Aberg is already one of the best drivers of the ball in the world, and he's the exact type of player the Europeans desperately needed to emerge after they were shellacked at Whistling Straits. If he's a world-class player, and the early signs are that he is, then Europe has a pretty damn strong 1-10 on their roster, including three of the top four players in the official world golf rankings. They'll likely lean heavily on these 10, as there's a drop-off in quality to the last two. 

Rory McIlroy
Viktor Hovland
Jon Rahm
Tommy Fleetwood
Matt Fitzpatrick
Tyrrell Hatton
Shane Lowry
Ludvig Aberg
Sepp Straka
Justin Rose

There was really only one spot up for grabs today, then. Poland's Adrian Meronk seemed the most likely to get it. He finished fifth on the European points list, ranks third in the season-long DP World Tour Race to Dubai and won the Italian Open at Marco Simone Golf Club, the Ryder Cup host venue, in May. He's also in very solid form coming off a T23 at the Open Championship and a T13 at the European Masters. 

Instead, Donald went with 22-year-old Nicolai Hojgaard. The world No. 78 has a hot hand, with top five finishes in his last two starts in Europe, and he and his twin brother Rasmus have long been identified as rising stars in the European Ryder Cup ecosystem. Still, Meronk seemed to have the edge given his win at the host venue and his steady ball striking. He has every right to feel hard-done and that he earned a spot he didn't get. Such is the nature of the Ryder Cup. There's always going to be the unlucky 13th guy. Keegan Bradley was devastated to not get a pick last week. Camerong Young isn't one to publicly share his feelings, but he also surely wasn't pleased. Now it's Meronk in that role on the European side. 

By going with Aberg and Hojgaard over Meronk, Donald is putting faith into two 22-year-olds who probably have higher long-term ceilings than Meronk does. He wants these two to be a part of many future Ryder Cups, and there's no time like the present to get their feet wet and go to battle alongside Hovland, Rahm, Fitzpatrick, and the rest of the 20-somethings who are taking an increased leadership role in this team with the absence of the 40-somethings who went to LIV. 

Europe's odds to win the Ryder Cup are all the way down to the +130 range after living in the +200s for nearly the entire two-year cycle after Whistling Straits. But with Hovland, McIlroy and Rahm leading the way, with the British trio of Fleetwood/Fitzpatrick/Hatton playing solid golf, and the emergence of Aberg, the Europeans have plenty of reason for optimism. There's also the fact that the Americans haven't won an away Ryder Cup in 30 years.