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:
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
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?
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.
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.