Two weeks from Friday, the first tee balls will be struck in the 43rd Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits. Steve Stricker is already there.
The U.S. captain was on site at this year’s host venue on Wednesday as he rounded out his 12-man roster with six captain’s picks: Tony Finau, Xander Schauffele, Jordan Spieth, Harris English, Daniel Berger and Scottie Scheffler.
“Just the way these guys play the game, they’re all very impressive in their own right,” Stricker said. “We knew a couple of these guys were going to b picks early on, just from the way they’ve been playing. Guys that finished seventh or eighth on the [points] list, we knew they were going to be picks, so I even leaned on them to kind of round out the team. … Ultimately, it’s my decision, that lays with me, but I want all the information I can possibly get to make those decisions, and we did, we used it all.”
The six picks join automatic qualifiers Collin Morikawa, Bryson DeChambeau, Justin Thomas, Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka and recent FedExCup champion Patrick Cantlay.
“I’m truly excited about how this team is made up and composed of a good mix of young guys and veterans and the type of players who fit this course perfectly,” Stricker said.
Finau, Schauffele and Spieth had been considered locks to receive picks since missing out on qualifying following the BMW Championship two weeks ago. Finau, who went 2-1 in his Ryder Cup debut in 2018, won The Northern Trust last month before being bumped out of the sixth and final automatic spot by Cantlay, who won each of the last two playoff events. Schauffele will be a rookie, though his Olympic gold medal victory shows he’s in form. Spieth, a three-time Ryder Cupper with a 7-2-2 record not including his 0-3 singles mark, experienced a resurgence this year, winning the Valero Texas Open, finishing runner-up at The Open and climbing back to No. 14 in the world.
“If it were last year I may not have made the team, so in a weird way I feel kind of fortunate that this goal was set at the beginning of this year for me,” said Spieth, who was runner-up at the 2015 PGA at Whistling Straits. “It was kind of a lofty one, I had to make up a lot of ground … just very happy that Captain Strick has put his trust in me.”
English, twice a winner this year, makes his first cup team as a pro, as does Scheffler, the reigning Rookie of the Year, while Berger will also be a Ryder Cup rookie, though he represented the U.S. at the 2017 Presidents Cup, where he went 2-1 but also sat two sessions.
“Rookies fare very well in this type of format, and we’re excited to have these rookies,” said Stricker, noting that U.S. rookies are 40-29-17 in Ryder Cups since 2008. He later added of his six rookies this year: “They bring in an excitement level that’s unmatched, I think. They’re eager, they’re willing to learn, they just want to have that opportunity and they’ll do anything for that opportunity.”
Reed was the biggest question mark after missing the first two playoff events while battling double pneumonia, which caused him to be hospitalized. Reed tied for 17th in his return at East Lake, but he apparently didn’t show Stricker enough to be selected. Reed is 7-3-2, and a perfect 3-0 in singles, in three Ryder Cup appearances.
However, Reed is a combined 2-5 in his last two team appearances, at the 2019 Presidents Cup and 2018 Ryder Cup, and was also embroiled in controversy at both events. After the Americans’ loss in Paris, Reed called out captain Jim Furyk, as well as teammates Tiger Woods and Jordan Spieth, in a New York Times interview. A year later in Australia, his rules violation at the Hero World Challenge the week prior followed him to Royal Melbourne, where his caddie, Kessler Karain, was suspended from the singles session after an altercation with a fan the previous day.
“That was a very, very difficult call, kind of lost sleep over that one,” Stricker said. “[Reed] is a tremendous competitor, he brings a lot to match-play golf. His record here at the Ryder Cup is pretty darn good. … But I think just the uncertainty of his health and really the lack of play that led to our decision down the stretch.”
Reed’s call was the first made by Stricker, who said he called “five or six” players in addition to Reed to inform them that they weren’t picked.
“I just knew that it was gonna be hard, but he took like a true champion and I apologized many times to him,” Stricker said of Reed. “Just wanted to make sure he knew that it was a very difficult decision.”
Aside from Reed’s exclusion, Sam Burns, Kevin Na, Jason Kokrak and Billy Horschel will all have to wait to make their Ryder Cup debuts. Veterans Webb Simpson, Kevin Kisner and Phil Mickelson were also not picked. Mickelson had been a part of every Ryder Cup since his debut in 1995.
“I feel like they deserved hearing it from me,” Stricker said. “… To tell them that they’re not part of something that they are dreaming to be a part of was pretty difficult.”
But could there be a seventh pick? Could Reed, or someone else, still have a chance to make the team? With Koepka’s recent right wrist injury, which forced him to withdraw during Saturday’s third round of the Tour Championship, it’s possible one of the players who was passed over Wednesday could, in fact, get the call.
“Yeah, we’ve talked about if we have to replace Brooks, but we’re not there yet,” Stricker said. “We’re focused on these 12 guys and moving forward with these 12 guys, and we’ll deal with that situation if it were to happen.”