We’re a week away from U.S. Ryder Cup captain Jim Furyk making the first three of four captain’s picks for the 2018 Ryder Cup, which kicks off September 28th at Le Golf National in France. Two of the picks are the safest bets on the planet, as Ryder Cup task force committee members Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson are assured of being included in that first batch of picks made September 3rd.
There’s no debate about whether Tiger has earned it. Woods has performed better than anyone could have predicted this year. He’s recorded top-10’s in the last two majors and is also Tiger freaking Woods.
Some debate still remains about whether Phil deserves a pick. The conversation is entertaining, but let’s be very clear about one thing: Phil is getting picked. He’s gone 7-3-1 in the last three cups, and is almost single handedly responsible for the realignment of the entire U.S. Ryder Cup system. This is the first time he’s ever needed a captain’s pick, and although he carries an 18-20-7 record into the event, he would have had to have a truly terrible season to get bypassed. Despite having played better golf this past season, even the trolliest of trolls would have a hard time seriously arguing that Patrick Cantlay deserves a captain’s pick over FIGJAM.
Before I dive into the details, let me answer that question: Nothing matters. Your play leading into the Ryder Cup essentially means nothing. No style of golf can ever prepare you for the pressure of playing team golf for your country, and there’s no way to predict who is going to handle it well and who isn’t. You can play well in the event and go 0-3, or you can play poorly and go 3-0. You can have a great season and shit the bed when the lights are the brightest, or you can come in with poor form and set the world on fire (think Reed circa 2014). All the rankings, points, trends, etc. all get thrown out when the balls go in the air. It’s the captain’s job to try to predict who will play the best, and to put the team in a position to succeed.
When it comes to the captain’s picks, experience tends to be what the U.S. captains lean on the most. Of the 15 selections made in the past four events, only three have been rookies – Fowler in 2010, Snedeker in 2012, and Moore in 2016. Regardless of actual performance in previous Cups, experience in the Ryder Cup makes a guy astronomically more likely to get selected than the unknown quantity. Rarely do captains want to risk their most easily-critiqued decisions on guys that the public isn’t as familiar with. For better or for worse.
Last week we talked about how winning is overrated in terms of the points structure for selecting the first eight players. If you haven’t read that article, I suggest you pause and check that one out first. I choose to look much more closely at how players perform in relation to their peers, as I see that as being more relevant to success in match play.
And if you’re not going to click that, at least familiarize yourself with the Sagarin rankings, which will be utilized heavily below.
In my eyes, there are only four possible picks for two spots. Those four, in no order, are Bryson DeChambeau, Tony Finau, Matt Kuchar and Patrick Cantlay. We’re going to break down the numbers and make the case for each player. We’re also going to look, on a round-by-round basis, at how these players stacked up against each other this season. That is, for each event where the two players teed it up in the same event, who beat who more often on a daily basis? This is essentially what match play is, and is the closest analysis we can get to how they stack up against each other.
Strokes Gained: 1.622 (5th on Tour)
Sagarin Ranking: 10
Points as of the PGA Championship: 9th
Round by round record against Kuchar: 23-22-4
Round by round record against Finau: 22-26-3
Round by round record against Cantlay: 22-24-10
Tiger has been campaigning for Bryson behind the scenes, and even publicly stated this past weekend that he wants him in France. He’s performed well all season long, has the endorsement from the most important guy in the room, and just won against a monster field in New York. His ticket is punched. I would wager that he is selected on Tuesday after the Dell Technologies along with Tiger and Phil.
Tiger was asked about Bryson as a Ryder Cup partner: "I think he would be a great Ryder Cup partner for anyone. The guy is fiery. He's competitive, and we want guys like that.” Welcome to the team Bryson.
— Rex Hoggard (@RexHoggardGC) August 26, 2018
Strokes Gained: 1.327 (12th)
Sagarin Ranking: 9
Points as of the PGA Championship: 15th
Round by round record against Bryson: 26-22-3
Round by round record against Kuchar: 25-19-10
Round by round record against Cantlay: 24-19-7
I’m not sure what else Finau needs to do to get selected. He’s earned it. He’s consistently beaten the other three guys in contention for picks, consistently beaten great fields and showed out in major championships. He makes a ton of birdies, and is well liked. The golf course in France is not going to necessarily favor a bomber, but Finau is not just a bomb-and-gauge guy. He’s positive strokes gained in every category, and has proven he can compete on many different styles of golf courses.
If Captain Furyk passes on Finau, he is essentially saying that form is not important, and that he has an instinct for another player. And I’m ready to start a riot if the next guy on the list gets selected over him.
Strokes Gained: .661 (53rd)
Sagarin Ranking: 44
Points as of the PGA Championship: 13th
Round by round record against Bryson: 22-23-4
Round by round record against Finau: 19-25-10
Round by round record against Cantlay: 19-27-4
Honestly, there isn’t much of one. I don’t hear his name anywhere in any chatter, other than a source that mentioned a few weeks ago that he was a lock. The issue is, people just way, way, way over-use the word lock. In all sports.
But that’s the part that keeps me up at night. If Kuch really was a “lock” a few weeks ago, why was he a lock then if he wasn’t one now? And the way it was worded, it was as if he was as much of a lock as Phil is.
The trail on this info has gone cold, so let’s hope that things have changed in the last few weeks and that this is no longer the case. There’s enough guys that have beaten down the door to justify getting the call over Kuchar. He has a losing record against each of the other three guys listed here, and the strokes gained number is what really pops out at you. Kuchar is having his worst season since 2008.
Strokes Gained: 1.479 (8th)
Sagarin Ranking: 8
Points as of the PGA Championship: 23rd
Round by round record against Bryson: 24-33-10
Round by round record against Finau: 19-24-7
Round by round record against Kuchar: 27-19-4
Cantlay might be the ultimate forgotten man. You barely hear his name discussed, despite some incredibly consistent play all season. He’s top-10 in strokes gained on the season, and all the way up to 8th in the world in the Sagarin rankings. It’s quite clear that he’s drawn the ire of Twitter due to his pre-shot routine, but I almost think that could work in his benefit in a team event.
I don’t think he’s getting a call, barring back-to-back wins, but I do find it odd that you barely even hear his name in consideration.
The Horschel Rule
The gift that keeps on giving. It was a mess in 2016, and due to the PGA of America’s inability to understand scheduling, it’s gonna be a mess again this year. But it also could work out in the U.S.’ favor. Furyk might have hands tied.
If they’re going to take Kuchar, they HAVE to take him after the Dell Technologies this weekend. Which means Bryson’s spot is still technically up for grabs, even though he’s essentially locked in. If you don’t take Kuchar in the first batch, what’s the point of waiting for the fourth spot? What if Finau racks up another top-5 at BMW? You can’t justify taking Kuchar there.
Which means you likely can’t justify taking Kuchar anywhere.