When we made Ryder Cup predictions in April, the USA was the easy team to pick.
We assumed no LIV golfers would qualify, let alone get a captain’s pick. There was a crew of no-brainer, up-and-coming studs in their 20s seemingly guaranteed selections this fall. And there weren’t really any outside candidates in the mix to dethrone an established name.
Oh boy, have things changed. Brooks Koepka won the PGA Championship, essentially guaranteeing him a top-six finish and automatic qualification. Then the PGA Tour and Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund came up and proposed a joint venture, probably putting to rest any notion that LIV golfers were being scorned by Captain Zach Johnson.
After that, Wyndham Clark became one of the best golfers in the world, winning a US Open, the elevated Wells Fargo Championship and placing No. 2 in the Ryder Cup standings. He has played so well in 2023 that he would be the captain’s choice, although his win in the LACC didn’t seal it.
Then you throw in some of the rising stars who fall on hard times. One or two of the biggest names in golf will not be on this year’s US Ryder Cup team in Rome. We have tough decisions to make, so let’s project this fall’s list.
With months to go, we make this projection based on what we would do, not solely what we expect to happen.
The established guarantees
No need to waste time. Scheffler is the world No. 1 and is having one of the best seasons of the last decade, with six consecutive top-five finishes (two in majors) and 18 consecutive top-20s, including elevated victories at The Players Championship and the Phoenix Open. This is ungodly stuff, and Scheffler boasts going 2-0-1 two years ago at the Ryder Cup and making a name for himself when he took down Jon Rahm. He is the top dog in American golf.
Let’s put these two together because they have established themselves as perhaps the best team in the world. They have gone a combined 6-3 between the last two Presidents Cups and Whistling Straits. They won the 2022 Zurich Classic as a team, and both consistently sit among the top five golfers in the world, according to DataGolf. No one is wrong to criticize Schauffele or Cantlay for not winning major events. That’s a real concern, especially after Schauffele’s weekend collapse at LACC. But there’s no doubt these two are among the steadier, more consistent players right now.
Look, there are golfers who play better than Spieth. Absolutely. He has dropped to No. 18 on DataGolf and No. 8 in the Ryder Cup standings. But Spieth is on this team. Don’t be stupid. He has four Ryder Cup appearances under his belt and is one of the clear leaders of the American team. Spieth is certainly inconsistent, but it’s not like he’s been bad. He has top-10 finishes in four elevated events this season and finished T4 at the Masters. Add in his 8-7-3 Ryder Cup record and he’s in.
Stuck in but shaking nonetheless
The 26-year-old two-time major champion has not had his best season. He’s fallen to No. 20 in the Official World Golf Rankings and hasn’t played as a consistently elite golfer since the fall of 2021. But he opened his Ryder Cup career with a 3-0-1 performance at Whistling Straits and — to put it unscientifically it – is just one of the guys. No one is denying that he is one of the best ball strikers in the game, and oddly enough, he has played better in the majors this season, going T10, T26 and T14. He has not been convincing, but there is no world where he is not elected.
Say what you will, but Finau has four wins in the last calendar year. He has missed a cut all season and boasts two Ryder Cups under his belt. He is on the team. One thing to watch, though: Finau’s putting has fallen off a cliff, with negative strokes gained by putting in seven of his last eight events. Those seven events coincide with Finau ending his absurd run of 10 straight top-25 finishes, with just one since.
In April, Fowler was the last pick and it felt like a huge risk to put him there. Now Fowler has practically set his candidacy in stone. He went from being the sneaky, under-the-radar most improved player this season to a consistent force. He has 12 top-20 finishes in 2023 and set the US Open scoring record with an opening-round 62 at LACC before finishing T5. He has jumped all the way to No. 10 on DataGolf. So when you combine the fact that Fowler is one of the most beloved figures in golf and yet plays better than half the team, it’s hard to see him missing out.
It hasn’t been a good year for Justin Thomas. He missed cuts at both Augusta and the LACC and finished just T65 at the PGA Championship, and his round 2 81 at the US Open felt like a low point. It hasn’t felt like he’s found his game since his epic 2022 major win at Southern Hills. Still, Thomas is one of the biggest stars on the American team. He is 6-2-1 in his two Ryder Cups, the best record of any American golfer to play in at least two. It would take full disaster mode for Thomas to be left out by a team, and he’s not there.
The clear changes
Out: Sahith Theegala, Cameron Young
In: Brooks Koepka, Wyndham Clark
What a change for Koepka the past few months. It’s easy to forget that before the season, no one thought a LIV golfer would realistically win a major anytime soon. And the general assumption was that LIV golfers would not earn the captain’s pick. Then Koepka recovered and found his game, thriving at Augusta to a frustrating T2 before winning his fifth major a month later at Oak Hill. Koepka will automatically qualify anyway, but after the PGA Tour-PIF team, it looks like Koepka’s LIV decision wouldn’t affect him anyway. It’s fair to say that Koepka has returned to his place as one of the top two or three American players.
And Clark has the upper hand. He’s No. 2 in points, so he’s on the team regardless, but none of this is fluky. Clark is an undisputed top-10 golfer at the moment, playing better and much more consistently than pretty much anyone on the American team outside of Scheffler, Cantlay and Schauffele.
Meanwhile, Young and Theegala have not reached their 2022 rapid rises in time for the Ryder Cup. There’s still plenty of time to change this, but Young has gone T51, T59, CUT, CUT, T57, T32, T60 since Augusta. There are no signs of him turning things around anytime soon, and the other candidates simply have more cache.
Similarly, Theegala was an upside pick in April, coming off an Augusta top-10 and a good spring. But he hasn’t finished in the top 30 since April and, barring a drastic turnaround, is several places away from contending for a spot.
The final decisions
In: Dustin Johnson, Sam Burns
Out: Max Homa
This is hard. Really, really hard. Burns and Homa both looked to be the rising stars of the past two years, making the jump to becoming Ryder Cup golfers for the foreseeable future. Instead, a few things happened. Burns and Homa have taken small steps back and both have continued their major championship struggles. None of them have fought for one or finished in the top 10.
Then the PIF news happened, meaning Koepka and Johnson are back in the mix. Koepka is a no-brainer, but who do you leave out among Burns, Homa and DJ? I have my doubts about Johnson. We all do. But at the end of the day, he is perhaps the most dominant Ryder Cup performer of all time, going 5-0 at Whistling Straits. He leads the USA with 12 career wins across five appearances, and his game is back in good shape, winning at the Tulsa LIV event and finishing in the top-10 in the LACC.
So Homa versus Burns. Homa went 4-0 at the Presidents Cup while Burns was 0-3-2, but Burns also won the elevated match tournament in Austin in March. It might help Burns’ candidacy that Scheffler — the top star — is his best friend and can push for him, but let’s not pretend Homa isn’t one of the most beloved golfers among the pros, either.
I choose Burns. With Fowler, Johnson and Koepka suddenly back on the team, it’s quite a veteran group. Give me the tall 26 year old to make the experience last for years.
(Top photo by Justin Thomas: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)