Selecting the entire Ryder Cup team

Little excited, Patrick?

Little excited, Patrick?

One thing has become obvious over the past few weeks as it relates to the Ryder Cup captain’s picks for Davis Love III and Darren Clarke: they don’t really have it easy. In Clarke’s case, he had the good kind of problem where a bunch of players were playing well for his three final slots and he had to make a tough call, while Love seems to be dealing with the opposite. His four picks, three of which he made on Monday with one more coming after the Tour Championship, are coming from a pool of players who have underwhelmed for the vast majority of 2016.

The selection process hasn’t really changed much over the years. Both captains each get the majority of their rosters handed to them with them getting to decide the last few spots, but they are given a little bit of leeway. Paul Azinger bumped the number of picks from two to four in 2008, and Tom Watson changed the number of picks in 2014 from four to three saying that he would have preferred the entire team to qualify on merit. While there’s probably no right or wrong answer on that front, one thing that is incredibly obvious is that the qualification system is rather arbitrary and doesn’t always produce the best possible roster of twelve players.

I never really quite understood why Watson, or any captain, would ever want less control over their roster. With how much this event means to both teams and their supporters, I’d want to be 100% confident in the twelve players that I put out on the course if I were the captain and the only way to do that would be to remove the qualification system entirely and go with all captain’s picks. Think about Team USA Basketball that just competed in the Olympics. Would Coach K be cool with someone telling him that 75% of his team was going to be decided by how much money they made that year? Even if it was decided by a stat like PER, it’d be ridiculous. This wouldn’t fly in any other sport, so why should it in golf?

This is the other thing. I’ve talked about this a lot in the past, but match play is incredibly volatile and what you find when you look at the vast majority of individual match play records once you get to a decent enough sample size, is that most players come in at around a 50% winning percentage. This is because the players at the highest level are all so good, that the difference between them over an 18 hole match is non-existent. Remember back in 2013 at the WGC-Match Play when two number one seeds (Rory and Tiger) got bounced in the first round by two sixteen seeds (Lowry and Howell)? It happens, and with no real difference between the players over that small of a sample, don’t you want your guys out there at all times? The guys you have the most faith in? I know I would, so I wanted to put together what I would do if I were in charge of all twelve players on Team Europe and USA.

For this exercise, I’m still keeping the other real world scenarios in play, which means that players like Ian Poulter and Tiger who are hurt, are not going to be eligible and neither is Paul Casey who is not a member of the European Tour. All three would have made it for me if things were different, but I wanted to keep this as close to the real scenario as possible.

Team Europe

Current Team Europe Sarson’s Twelve
Rory McIlroy Rory McIlroy
Henrik Stenson Henrik Stenson
Justin Rose Justin Rose
Sergio Garcia Sergio Garcia
Danny Willett Danny Willett
Matthew Fitzpatrick Matthew Fitzpatrick
Andy Sullivan Andy Sullivan
Rafa Cabrera-Bello Chris Wood
Chris Wood Thomas Pieters
Thomas Pieters Lee Westwood
Martin Kaymer Russell Knox
Lee Westwood Shane Lowry

So, I only ended up swapping two players out here, moving out Cabrera-Bello and Kaymer for Knox and Lowry. Knox not being on the team is really something that I think is going to come back to haunt Clarke, but I understand why he went the way he did with Pieters. Kaymer and Westwood are meant to provide leadership and a veteran presence, but man, Knox is so much better than them right now and it feels like the Europeans are missing a major asset, in addition to not having Casey. Knox is the 7th ranked European in the world, and 19th overall. There’s no doubt that he belongs on this team.

Lowry didn’t have a great year either, but as I’ve said in my forecasting posts, he’s got the right kind of attitude and bulldog mentality that I think this team is missing, especially with Poulter’s absence. He’s a fantastic driver of the golf ball, and his hands around the green are as good anyone’s in the game. This is in stark contrast to Kaymer and Cabrera-Bello, who have serious issues around the greens and not to get all Johnny Miller on everyone, but you can definitely see some nervy chips coming from these two playing a factor at some point at Hazeltine. I don’t doubt that Kaymer’s experience can be an asset to the team and his game has seen some improvement this year, but I just feel like Lowry would be more useful in this spot.

Team USA

Current Team USA Sarson’s Twelve
Dustin Johnson Dustin Johnson
Jordan Spieth Jordan Spieth
Phil Mickelson Phil Mickelson
Patrick Reed Patrick Reed
Jimmy Walker Jimmy Walker
Brooks Koepka Brooks Koepka
Brandt Snedeker Rickie Fowler
Zach Johnson Matt Kuchar
Rickie Fowler Bubba Watson
J.B. Holmes Kevin Na
Matt Kuchar Daniel Berger
??? Justin Thomas

In this case, if I were in charge of Team USA and was picking the whole roster, I’d have at least three different players in my twelve. It could be four based on who Love takes with his final pick at the Tour Championship, but I’d be willing to bet right now that the final selection ends up coming from the Watson/Berger/Thomas group unless something crazy happens. Crazy like Bryson DeChambeau running the table on the Tour, and even then, it’s probably not enough. In this scenario, I’ve given the boot to Brandt Snedeker, Zach Johnson, J.B. Holmes and the mystery man for Bubba Watson, Kevin Na, Daniel Berger and Justin Thomas.

Bubba essentially takes the spot of Holmes because they essentially play the exact same game, but Bubba’s just a better player from tee to green. Neither player is likely expected to make a ton of putts out there, so I’d rather have the player who’s going to get me closest to the hole and go from there. The tough thing in this instance is that Love had intimated in not so many words that the captain’s picks were done a lot out of personality, which seems to be a shot at Bubba considering that he’s the 7th ranked player in the world and clearly has more talent than just about anyone on the current roster. I’m not in the team room, so I can’t judge that fit and if he’d be a negative, but from the outside looking in, I feel like he’s a guy who just needs to be there.

Snedeker and Johnson aren’t really an issue, but it’s also difficult to look at what they’ve done this year and say that they’ve absolutely earned a spot on the roster. Stylistically, Hazeltine isn’t really the best fit for them either as it is quite long and neither of them hit it very long or very straight off the tee. I’ve already talked endlessly about why Na would be a good fit, as it’s something I’ve been pitching since Tom Watson was making his selections for Gleneagles, but perhaps the one thing that I haven’t talked enough about is the simple idea of getting someone new on the roster. This is also part of the theory behind getting Berger and Thomas on the team, but there’s no doubt that all three of them have the capacity to go low and in the case of Thomas, you know that he desperately wants to be on this team. It’s very easy to see how he could be a spark just like Patrick Reed was two years ago. He’s made for this event, and if you shelter him correctly with the right partner and in the right matches, he could be a tremendous asset to the team.

Overall, not a whole lot changed, but I really do think that both rosters ended up being at least a little bit better. Even if Clarke and Love wouldn’t have made any changes to the teams based on the qualifiers, I’d like to think that they’d want to have more control and the best way to do that is to remove the qualification system entirely.

Sarson’s Europe Sarson’s USA
Rory McIlroy Dustin Johnson
Henrik Stenson Jordan Spieth
Justin Rose Phil Mickelson
Sergio Garcia Patrick Reed
Danny Willett Jimmy Walker
Matthew Fitzpatrick Brooks Koepka
Andy Sullivan Rickie Fowler
Chris Wood Matt Kuchar
Thomas Pieters Bubba Watson
Lee Westwood Kevin Na
Russell Knox Daniel Berger
Shane Lowry Justin Thomas

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