Casey in action at the 2008 Ryder Cup in Kentucky (Credit: Press Association)
American golf fans could be forgiven for properly hating Paul Casey, given his comments about them after the 2004 Ryder Cup – but on current form, they will be loving his absence at Hazeltine next week.
The Englishman is arguably the hottest European golfer on the planet at the moment, having finished second in his last two outings. Yet a long-standing rule which states European Ryder Cup players must be European Tour members, meant Casey was ineligible for selection.
He knew this at the start of the season after opting to focus all attention on the PGA Tour, and given his standing of fifth in the Fed Ex Cup standings heading into the Tour Championship, few would argue this tactic hasn’t paid off.
So is it fair that Casey, or anyone else for that matter, should be prevented from even having the opportunity to compete in the sport’s most coveted competition?
It’s one thing to only allow European Tour members to qualify, but to prevent non-members from even receiving a wildcard pick is counter-intuitive to both players and the team itself.
Take Casey for example. It’s perfectly understandable that someone who resides in Arizona wouldn’t want to be making round-trips to Europe every few weeks to compete. This is coming from a Brit who returned to England from Los Angeles a month ago and is still feeling the jet lag.
In addition, the argument used to be thrown around that European golfers should show respect for their home tour, but take one look into Casey’s history and this argument is out the window. He has 13 European Tour wins, 270 appearances and been a member of three Ryder Cup teams .
Casey’s win at the 2009 BMW PGA Championship saw him rise to a career-high third in the world rankings (source: European Tour)
The main issue for me as a European however, is that we should be putting out a Ryder Cup team that has the best possible chance of bringing home the trophy. In 2016, Europe is not afforded that chance without Casey.
It all boils down to the old European Tour versus PGA Tour rivalry that many view as giving the Ryder Cup that extra competitive edge over the Presidents Cup.
Traditionally this may have been the case. But so many Europeans now play on both sides of the pond, I would instead point out to the evenly matched teams and recent close finishes in the event as the reason behind its very competitive nature.
The problem, nice as it may be from a European perspective, is that they can’t stop winning. Why fix something that doesn’t need fixing?
This winning streak would probably still lead some on the European side to claim their tour is superior, despite week-to-week measures like money, world ranking points and quality of fields suggesting otherwise.
This year, no one would begrudge a Ryder Cup rookie appearance to American Brooks Koepka – who made a name for himself on the Challenge and European Tours, before winning on the PGA Tour and surging into the world’s top 20.
Koepka’s rise up the world rankings in the last few years has been meteoric (Source: OWGR)
Americans seem to have long moved on from this tour rivalry. They have been fiddling with their qualification and wildcard process for years, most recently by awarding the captain a ‘last minute’ wildcard choice after the Tour Championship – no doubt to avoid another Fed Ex Cup champion slipping through their fingers, as happened with Billy Horschel in 2014.
There have been murmurs in the European camp about changing the selection rules before. In 2012, when non European Tour member Carl Pettersson was making a charge at the PGA Championship, there was a possibility the last major champion before the Ryder Cup could be a Swede who was ineligible to compete.
However, Pettersson slipped and Rory McIlroy shot a final round 66 to cruise to an eight-shot victory. I don’t need to tell you what happened at Medinah seven weeks later.
The threat of Casey winning the Tour Championship and the Fed Ex Cup this weekend is far greater than the one Pettersson posed to the PGA Championship in Kiawah Island four years ago.
If Darren Clarke’s team retain the Ryder Cup in Hazeltine next Sunday then no further questions will be asked, but if on the other hand they are mulling over a narrow loss, the European Tour could be left regretting its very own ‘Horschel’ moment.