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How Would the United States Ryder Cup Team Look if the Points System Was Different?

The United States Ryder Cup qualifying system is questionable at best. It’s not horrendous, but it’s fair to call it a bit arbitrary. The whole idea that someone can qualify for the team, but might not be a guy that the captain wants on the team means that you are already handicapping the captain regarding his strategy (assuming he has one). At least we can say that there was a step in the right direction with the addition of an extra captain’s pick (up to four from three in the most recent Ryder Cup), following the 2014 fiasco that prevented Billy Horschel from making the team despite being the hottest player on the planet.

This time of year, we spend weeks pouring over data as come up with who we would ideally like to see fill in the remaining available spots on the Ryder Cup teams. Being the unapologetic American homer that I am, I felt the need to break down the candidates on the U.S. side as I’m not even sure which route I would prefer Davis Love III to go with his picks.

The tendency for most armchair analysts is to pull up the Ryder Cup standings, look at who is 9-12 on the list, pick the guys you like on that list, then scroll down the list to find the names to fill out the roster. But is the current points system the best reflection of who is playing well/deserving of a spot? You don’t like someone else’s take on a captain’s pick? Just say “well if he really deserved a spot, he would have made it on points,” sit back, and watch the takes roll in. But if the points system is flawed to begin with then how much water does that argument hold?

I’m not saying that this system needs to be scrapped entirely, but it has its inherent flaws. The what-if scenarios below demonstrates just how volatile and arbitrary the scoring system is, and shows that, with some rather minor tweaks, the team would like quite different. Additionally, it may change your perspective as to who is most deserving of a captain’s pick, as some of the guys that are currently on the bubble wouldn’t even be in the picture if not for the current points system. At the moment my mind is changing on a daily basis as to who should make the team, so I’m not really pushing any particular agenda here.

Here is how the point system currently works. The top 8 in the points after The Barclays automatically qualify for the team. Points are determined by the following criteria:

  • Prize money earned in the 2015 majors (one point for every $1,000).
  • Prize money earned in the 2015 PLAYERS Championship, WGC-Cadillac Championship, WGC-Dell Match Play, WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and WGC-HSBC Champions (one point for every $2000):
  • Prize money earned in 2016 official events from 2016 Hyundai Tournament of Champions through 2016 The Barclays (One point for every $1000, excluding the majors and events played opposite majors and World Golf Championships):
  • Prize money earned in the 2016 majors (two points for every $1000): The Captain gets four captain picks.

Here is how the current team would look:

  • DJ
  • Spieth
  • Phil
  • Walker
  • Koepka
  • ZJ
  • Holmes
  • Reed

Notables: Sneds (9), Bubba (10), Kuchar (11), Fowler (12)

This is the team that I am using for the baseline for each of the scenarios below. Each scenario is compared to the team as it currently stands ahead of the Wyndham Championship.

Scenario 1: Points from only the last Six Months

If we only included the points earned since the Pebble Beach Pro-Am, here is how the team would change. I also included where their rank in the standings would be in this hypothetical situation:

In: Kuchar (6), Piercy (7)

Out: ZJ (21), Reed (13)

On the bubble: Berger (9), McGirt (10), Bubba (11), Chappell (12)

Other notables: Fowler (34), Snedeker (36)

The six month timeframe is a bit arbitrary, but shows who has been trending this year, and chops off guys that are hanging on to points from over 180 days ago. This is a really bad look for Fowler and Snedeker (although admittedly, Fowler had a solo 2nd the week before the cutoff of this analysis). Clearly this is the least likely system that the PGA of America would ever consider using, but it is included here more to show the trending factor. Fowler and Sneds are currently whatever the opposite of trending is.

You’ll also start to notice a trend here with ZJ soon….

Scenario 2: Points only from 2016

If we only use points earned from the 2016 calendar year (bringing Fowler and Sned’s winter wins back into play), this is how it would look:

Big fan of the current system
Big fan of the current system

In: Snedeker (6)

Out: ZJ (23)

On the bubble: Kuchar (9), Piercy (10) Bubba (11), McGirt (12)

Other Notables: Fowler (18)

From this, we can gather that ZJ is the only player that will benefit from 2015 events counting towards the Ryder Cup standings. If it were based on 2016 results, he wouldn’t even be close to sniffing the team. This surprised me.

Scenario 3: Points only from 2015-2016 Season

This hypothetical takes into account the entire 2015-2016 season, beginning with the Frys.com Open, and excludes any points earned in the 2015 majors/WGC’s/Players Championship. Oh boy….

In: Thomas (7), Snedeker (8)

Can a bro get a little love?
Can a bro get a little love?

Out: Holmes (14), ZJ (26)

On the bubble: McGirt (9), Na (10), Piercy (11), Chappell (12)

Other Notables: Kuchar (13), Holmes (14), Bubba (16), Fowler (23)

So if the points system counted all of the events from the PGA Tour season, Justin Thomas would be on the team, and Zach Johnson wouldn’t be sniffing Hazeltine. Instead, those events count for nothing. Now, Thomas and the aforementioned Snedeker aren’t exactly smoking hot coming down to the ends of the points race, so this is an outright disgrace, but again… how is the current system a more convincing indicator than this scenario?

Scenario 4: Add in Fall Series to Current Standings

As of now, the Fall Series counts for absolutely nothing, which is somewhat nonsensical with everything the TOUR has done to make it known that those events are a part of the schedule. This is what the team would look like if you would have counted those events (still includes the 2015 points from the majors/WGC’s/Players).

In: Kisner (7)

Out: Holmes (11)

On the bubble: Na (9), Sneds (10), Holmes (11), Bubba (12)

Other Notables: Kuchar (13), Thomas (14), Fowler (15)

I’ve loudly stated that I think the fall events should count towards the standings, but the effect in this scenario would be minimal (especially considering Kisner’s subpar form of late). To me what sticks out is that it brings JT a heck of a lot closer, but still doesn’t put him on the team. Would the consideration for him as a captain’s pick be different if he was sitting in the top 15 in the standings?

Scenario 5: 2016 Majors Don’t Count As Double Points

In this scenario, the 2016 majors only count as one point per $1,000 earned, rather than two points.

In: Kuchar (7)

Out: Walker (11)

On the bubble: Sneds (9), Fowler (10), Holmes (12)

Full disclosure, I ran this scenario because I thought Walker’s leap from 29th to 4th after winning the PGA was a bit ridiculous, and the results here show that if the majors did not count for double points, he would be the only one that would have to pay the price for that. Major championships are already worth about 64% more to the winner than a normal tour event. So in effect, the winner of the majors actually gets around three times as many cup points as the winner of the Travelers Championship gets. Again, I’m not questioning the logic there, just pointing out that that is a hell of a lot of points to give out in one week.

Takeaway

Here’s what I gleaned from these alternate scenarios:

  • Rickie’s last six months have been borderline disastrous for his chances. You can’t fully discount his second place at the Waste Management, but that was his last even remotely noteworthy result.
  • Zach Johnson is on the team because the 2015 majors count. If they didn’t count, he would not even be close to making the team. To me, he is the single biggest benefactor of the current points system.
  • Justin Thomas, at minimum, would be a lot closer to the discussion on a captain’s pick if the fall series events counted.
  • William McGirt has been one of the best American players during 2016. We might be doomed.
  • The discussion on potential captain’s picks would vary greatly if a different system was in place.

Obviously the task force put a lot of energy into designing the current points system, and none of the systems proposed above are necessarily any better than what is currently in place. But don’t these scenarios at least beg the question as to why so much value is put into this points system, when a few minor tweaks could have a pretty drastic effect on who is wearing the stars and stripes about a month and half from now. It all just feels a bit arbitrary. If it were me, I would give the captain more discretion on who makes the squad, or at least implement a composite of the above systems to avoid a scenario where a guy makes the team that might not be the proper fit.

About the Author

Inventor of #TourSauce, always waits for the green to clear, and club twirl savant.

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  • Chris

    Get rid of anything relating to 2015. Put more emphasis from Augusta on in 2016, that’s what I’ve been told to believe as to when the season actually starts.

  • TAS

    Why not a hybrid system? Let’s steal the European Tour idea and modify it – Top 4 golfers in the OWGR, followed by the next 4 highest players in the current FedEx Cup standings. Or other similar combinations. A compromise that rewards success in majors over 2 years (as they’ll still have some weight in the OWGR) and current success (who’s having the best overall year). People like ZJ or Walker who get a major but don’t do enough elsewhere get exposed in this format. And you avoid having someone qualify by being 8th in something. Why not require golfers to be top 4 in something (realistically, top 5 or 6 given overlap)?

    Only real issue is that for this year, this format would knock out Koepka, so I might get charged with treason for suggesting this.

  • Darryl Moore

    Stop changing everything about golf! The Olympics played one time in 112 years and everyone wants to change it already. Change nothing and play better.

  • Wally Fairway

    What really needs to change is that the players that are selected, no matter what the selection process, need to play better during the Ryder Cup.

    Win, and nobody cares what the selection process is; who the captain’s picks are; and who was left off the team.

  • Mike

    So if it was the task force that recommended the current points system, doesn’t that explain why the fall events get the shaft? These guys don’t want to play in them, and with the current system they don’t lose any Ryder Cup points by sitting them out.

    • Soly

      Yep.

    • Soly

      Yep.

  • Jeff Gilham

    Great article! It really exposes how arbitrary the current point system is. I’ve always preferred the Sagarin rankings as they seem to me to be based on a more sound statistic principle. Sagarin uses a 52 week window and is based on the W-L-T record against each player in the field on that day. There is no arbitrary bonus for WGC and majors beyond the fact that those have very deep fields. The US Ryder cup team 8 based on Sagarin as of 8/23 would be:

    Top 8:
    Sagarin rating in () as of 8/23

    DJ (3)
    Spieth (6)
    Kuchar (7)
    Bubba (9)
    Phil (11)
    Na (12)
    Reed (14)
    Furyk (15)

    Bubble:
    ZJ (16)
    Koepka (19)
    Ryan Palmer (20)
    Charles Howell III (23)

    Now that is a hot take.
    Where is Rickie Fowler? (26)
    Where is Jimmy Walker? (78)
    Where is JB Holmes? (54)
    Where is Snedeker? (50)

    I don’t hear Na, Palmer and CH III getting any love in the Ryder cup discussion or any scoring system where Furyk is a lock. I don’t really like this team all that much but that is what the Sagarin data suggests. In a lot of ways the Sagarin approach is relevant to match play – you play someone in a field and you beat them, tie them, or lose to them. Maybe this would be the strongest team? At the very least we’ve removed all bias from the interpretation of the data no “grit” or “clutch” or “good match player” or “experience” need apply and we are not favoring results in particular tournaments (I’m looking at you Jimmy Walker, JB Holmes).

    In the Ryder cup you are only really playing against top-flight players. If we take the Sagarin concept and only look at “matches” against players with top 50 Sagarin ratings players and rate the players by win percentage you get this list:

    By top 50 Sagarin winning percentage:

    Top 8
    DJ .71
    Spieth .55
    Kuchar .54
    ZJ .52
    Bubba .52
    Koepka .52
    Phil .51
    Reed .51

    Bubble
    Furyk .49
    Na .48
    Fowler .47
    Palmer .47

    I actually kind of like this team. These are the Americans that fare best against the world’s best head-to-head. I’ll take this team.

    As a side note, this interpretation of the Sagarin data would give the Euros this team

    By top 50 Sagarin winning percentage the Euros would field:

    Stenson .65
    Rory .65
    Rose .57
    Sergio .53
    Cabrrera-Bello .51
    Knox .46
    Willett .46
    Molinari .45

    Advantage US by this analysis and it gets larger when you consider the bubble spots will be weaker than the US team which is much deeper. If I was going to wager I like the US to win this Ryder cup. The Euros are always tough and the top 4 players on the Euro team are very strong. I look for this to be close but the US should win this home game.

    If you trust the Sagarin data more than the current Ryder cup point system (and I do) than the US has not really come close to qualifying the best team.

    • Soly

      Awesome post Jeff! Sorry, I was on the road and I’m late getting back to you here. This supports Kuchar, Bubba, and Furyk getting the captain’s picks, which I think is what we are going to see. I’m not ready to say who I would take yet, but I do want to get some input from some Vegas guys on who they think should be the picks. They are usually the smartest guys in the room.

      Surprised to see ZJ so high on that list, as he’s actually had a really disappointing year.

    • Soly

      Awesome post Jeff! Sorry, I was on the road and I’m late getting back to you here. This supports Kuchar, Bubba, and Furyk getting the captain’s picks, which I think is what we are going to see. I’m not ready to say who I would take yet, but I do want to get some input from some Vegas guys on who they think should be the picks. They are usually the smartest guys in the room.

      Surprised to see ZJ so high on that list, as he’s actually had a really disappointing year.

      • Jeff Gilham

        Thanks for your comments. I’m an enormous fan of your site and pods. I’m glad Patrick played his way in because I think he is an awesome match player and just a flat-out awesome. I’m confident he would have gotten picked regardless unless Davis has some issue with his chemistry (which I think is totally over-rated). If I had to pick right now I like Fowler, Bubba, Kuchar, Furyk. Interesting to see how Fowler bounces back. My guess is Davis takes (Kuchar, Furyk, Bubba) with his first 3 and makes Fowler sweat it out. I’m sympathetic towards your sentiment about Furyk and in my heart I’d really like to see him left off but the data suggests to me he should be there. Of course the data suggests Kevin Na as well and I can’t imagine that would be good for Kevin or team USA. If he does make it, what do think the over/under would be on how long it takes him to pull the trigger on the first tee? Has anyone been ever been put on the clock before they hit a shot?

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