The US Ryder Cup team is halfway set and the top six automatic qualifiers have been decided on Sunday.
Now captain Zach Johnson has the difficult task of selecting the final six members of the squad to compete against Europe in Italy next month.
Scottie Scheffler, Wyndham Clark, Jupiter’s Patrick Cantlay, Brian Harman, Max Homa and Xander Schauffele finished in the top six of the Ryder Cup standings, guaranteeing a spot on the team. Johnson, with input from his vice-captains and the six automatic qualifiers, will announce the remaining six players on August 29.
“It’s going to be tough. There’s an ample stable of American studs to choose from,” Johnson said on GOLF’S Subpar podcast. “I am convinced that we can take a number of different tandems and scenarios with us and get a great result.”
Johnson has a strong list of candidates beyond the next six for the position, which he is not obligated to choose. Two years ago, captain Steve Stricker took the next four in the standings (Tony Finau, Schauffele, Jordan Spieth, Harris English) along with No. 12 Daniel Berger and No. 14 Scheffler, leapfrogging No. 11 Patrick Reed and No. 13 Webb Simpson.
“I don’t have to take the top 12 American players because it’s hard to pick,” Johnson said. “I’ve got to take the 12 best players that make up the best team. It’s going to be up to me.”
Two who should be locks to make the team: No. 7 Brooks Koepka and No. 8 Spieth.
Beyond that, Nos. 9-16 in the Ryder Cup standings are: Cameron Young, Collin Morikawa, Keegan Bradley, Sam Burns, Rickie Fowler, Denny McCarthy, Justin Thomas and Lucas Glover.
Young, Bradley, Fowler, McCarthy and Thomas are from Palm Beach County.
Among the top contenders, only Thomas did not qualify for the 2023 FedEx Cup Playoffs. Koepka is not eligible because he plays on the LIV tour. Spieth, Morikawa, Bradley, Burns, Fowler and Glover advanced to this week’s Tour Championship.
Going back to 2010, the captain has selected a player ranked higher than No.15 twice, both being No.20; Ryan Moore in 2016 and Fowler in 2010.
Koepka, LIV dilemma
The focus will be on Koepka, who dropped out of the top six on Sunday. He was No. 2 after winning the PGA Championship in May. Koepka was also runner-up at the Masters, finishing 29,124 points behind Schauffele. By comparison, the margin between Koepka and Spieth was more than 1,232 points.
Koepka has a 6-5-1 record in three previous Ryder Cups, 2-0-1 in Sunday singles.
But Koepka was limited to the four majors when it came to earning Ryder Cup points due to his decision to join LIV in 2022. The other two Americans to win a major, Clark (US Open) and Harman (British Open) are second and third in the Ryder Cup standings, behind Scheffler.
And the best they did in their other majors appearances: Clark a T33 in the British Open, Harman a T43 in the US Open.
Spieth has played in four Ryder Cups with a combined record of 8-7-1. The others are a mix of veterans and four who have never played in a Ryder Cup – Young, Burns, McCarthy, Glover.
However, no one is hotter than Glover, who has finished in the top 6 in five of his last seven PGA Tour starts, including back-to-back wins this month at the Wyndham Championship and the St. Jude Championship, the first round of the playoffs.
After winning in the playoffs, Glover was asked if he would select himself for the US team.
“Right now, yes,” he said. “I play pretty good golf and I think I’d be pretty good in the team room and be a good partner. So yeah, absolutely, I would.”
Lack of experience may not be a factor. The rookies were 14-4-3 two years ago, helping USA to a dominating 19-9 victory.
But if Johnson appreciates having players who know the pressure of representing your country in a Ryder Cup, he has four more contenders with nine Ryder Cups on their resume.
Fowler’s Ryder Cup experience dates back to 2010. In four events, he is 3-7-5.
Bradley has not played on a Ryder Cup team since 2014. He has a 4-3 record in two appearances. And he wants a new opportunity.
“I think about the Ryder Cup every second I’m awake basically,” he said last week before the BMW Championship. “I feel like I could bring some experience to the team. I personally would love just to be on a team with this younger group.”
Thomas could give Johnson the most sleepless nights. He is in a season-long slump that dropped him out of the top 10 in the world rankings in March for the first time in 5 1/2 years. He is No. 26, his lowest in nearly seven years. Still, he’s 6-2-1 in the previous two Ryder Cups, and despite just three top 10 finishes in 20 Tour starts this season, he’s been hanging on to a top 15 Ryder Cup finish.
Morikawa was 3-0-1 as a Ryder Cup rookie in 2021 at Whistling Straits.
“I want to make a lot of guys happy and I want to make some guys sad,” Johnson said. “I’ve been on both ends of that phone call.”
This article originally appeared on the Palm Beach Post: US Ryder Cup captain Zach Johnson’s options for the final six spots on the roster to face Europe in Italy