Ryder Cup 2021: Breaking down potential United States captain’s picks before Steve Stricker’s decision

Written by on September 7, 2021

The United States Ryder Cup team will likely be finalized on Wednesday morning with just over two weeks remaining until the first tee shots are hit at the 43rd Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits. The top six are already locked in, but the other six are still hanging in the balance until U.S. captain Steve Stricker makes his selections.

There have been some rumblings about the potential for a COVID-19 replacement to be named for both sides. We’ll call this the Rahm Rule. It would be to protect the Ryder Cup teams from what happened to Jon Rahm at the Memorial earlier this year when he had to withdraw after Round 3 due to a positive COVID-19 test. It is not a sure thing this will happen, but it could.

Also, with Brooks Koepka’s health seemingly up in the air — he struck a tree root during his final nine holes at the Tour Championship, hurt his wrist and withdrew — I wouldn’t be surprised either way regarding his status for the team.

There are still some variables to completing this team, but for all intents and purposes, we’ll know the final 12 United States golfers on Wednesday morning. So with Collin Morikawa, Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Bryson DeChambeau, Patrick Cantlay and Koepka already locked in, who will Stricker pick to join them for what should be an unbelievable Ryder Cup at the end of September

Here are the candidates ranked by how likely it is that they get picked.

Jordan Spieth (9th in final Ryder Cup rankings): This one is simple, and Spieth said it best last week at the Tour Championship when he was asked if he thought he would be a captain’s pick: “I feel like Justin might withdraw from the team if he doesn’t pick me, so I feel pretty good about it.” Odds: 100%

Xander Schauffele (8th): There is no justification outside of vandalizing a teammate’s home over the last week for Schauffele to not be on this squad. I probably could have included Spieth, Schauffele and Tony Finau as locks along with the top six above. Odds: 100%

Tony Finau (7th): Again, it would be one of the stories of the year for Finau to not play at Whistling Straits. The course is perfect for him, he had success in Paris, and he’s well-liked among teammates. Lock city. Odds: 100%

Harris English (10th): This is where it starts to get a bit shaky. I certainly believe English will be on the team, but you could talk yourself out of it a couple ways. He didn’t have a great playoff run (no top 10s), and he was not all that great at the major championships this year (T21, T64, 3rd, T46). Neither of these will be enough to keep him away, and I’m genuinely excited for him to play his first Ryder Cup, but he’s not a 100% lock like the three above him. Odds: 99%

Daniel Berger (12th): You know how everybody seems to be riding for Kevin Kisner and Kevin Na right now because they’re “gamers” and “fearless” and all these other qualities we love to apply to these matches? That’s Berger but with more tools from tee to green. He’s lost strokes to the field in just three rounds since the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines started, and he’ll stand up to anybody

“I think I’m really good friends with just about everybody that’s in the top 15 on that list, and I feel like I can play with anybody,” said Berger on Sunday. “My game kind of suits all different kind of courses: short, long. I think I drive the ball really well. I putt really well. I chip really well. … When you look at my overall golf game, there’s not really any areas that I have a weakness in. I think that’s always a nice thing to have on the team.

“I’m low key and very chill and I’m good friends with everybody on the team. I don’t think anyone dislikes me on the team, and I just think it’s nice to have some young guys in there. Obviously, there’s a lot of young guys that have made the team this year that are potentially going to be picked, but I think we’re starting to come into the Ryder Cup where young is OK.” Odds: 80%

Scottie Scheffler (14th): This is where it gets tricky. On paper, Scheffler is probably the best choice. He performed the best of anyone left at the majors this year (four top 20s and three top 10s) and is the second-best course fit of anyone left on the list. It helps that he’s a young, budding star. Guys with that profile have a nice history at this event. He seems to be the guy most people behind the scenes think will most likely be the pick, although that could obviously change before Wednesday. Odds: 40%

Webb Simpson (13th): The case for Simpson is one of continuity, leadership and maturity. He doesn’t have the raw power possessed by Scheffler to take on Whistling Straits, but he’s fabulous in the team room, can (and will) play with anybody and was kind of nasty at the 2018 Ryder Cup (specifically downing Justin Rose on Sunday in Paris). This would be viewed as the safe, “let’s just run it back on a course that suits us better” choice. Odds: 40%

Patrick Reed (11th): Reed is the toughest to nail down here. He missed a month with an ankle injury as well as pneumonia (that seems like it was actually COVID-19). His historical Ryder Cup record is undeniable, but so is the reality that he dragged the rest of his teammates on his way out of Paris (and he’s also 2-5-0 in his last two team events). For the sake of a galvanize team, I don’t think Stricker should take him, but the pressure of being criticized for another loss while leaving Captain America at home will be strong. Odds: 20%

Sam Burns (16th): Burns is compelling as a young future star, but I don’t think you can take him over Scheffler unless you really believe he’s a much bigger gamer than Scheffler. That said, Scheffler has better numbers across the board despite not winning like Burns. If the category you’re choosing from is “young stud whose game matches Whistling well and could provide a great spark as a newcomer on this team” then everything points to Scheffler, unless, like I noted earlier, you just see a level of competitiveness in Burns that Scheffler doesn’t have. Odds: 10%

Kevin Na (19th): There is momentum for Na, certainly, as he’s finished in the top two in three of his last six events, including a T1 finish at the Tour Championship (irrespective of starting position). He also finished T12 at the Masters this year and is sixth in strokes gained in the last three months of all eligible American and European players. But boy is he a bad fit for this golf course. He’s outside the top 150 in driving distance this season, and Whistling Straits disproportionately rewards driving distance. It’s fun to think about him driving Rahm and Rory McIlroy mad with his walked-in putt antics, and maybe that’s the direction Stricker goes, but his statistical profile does not match up very well with what the U.S. is trying to do. Odds: 10%

Kevin Kisner (18th): Basically all of the same stuff as Na, but Kisner did not make it to the Tour Championship. He only has three top-10 finishes this year and followed his win at the Wyndham Championship with a MC-T66 showing in the playoff. I don’t think you can put him on the team based on, essentially, one good week at the Wyndham a month ago. Odds: 5%

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