Stricker chooses youth over experience for US Ryder Cup team
The only experience that matters to Ryder Cup captain Steve Stricker is how the youngest U.S. team in history prepares for Whistling Straits in a bid to win back that shiny gold chalice.
Stricker, equipped with the most captain’s picks in Ryder Cup history, added four more rookies to his team Wednesday to join the six players who earned automatic spots.
His six selections included obvious choices and, as always, a few that could have gone either way.
Among those left out was Patrick Reed.
Stricker chose the next four players in the Ryder Cup standings — Tony Finau, Xander Schauffele, Jordan Spieth and Harris English — along with Daniel Berger and Scottie Scheffler.
“We are looking to the best players to perform here at Whistling Straits, and these six guys that we picked we feel like fit Whistling Straits to a T,” Stricker said.
Missing was Reed, who thrives in team events with his bullish personality and great short game. He has a 7-3-2 record in three previous Ryder Cups and is undefeated in singles.
Reed, however, hasn’t seriously contended in the 18 tournaments he has played since his lone victory at Torrey Pines. Of greater concern to Stricker was his health.
Reed was hospitalized for five days with pneumonia in his lower lungs that made him fear for his life, missing the final two qualifying events. He returned at the Tour Championship and tied for 17th in actual score against a 30man field.
“That was a very, very difficult call — kind of lost sleep over that one,” Stricker said. “He’s a tremendous competitor. He brings a lot to match-play golf. His record here at the Ryder Cup is pretty darned good . ... It was just the uncertainty of his health and really the lack of play that led to our decision down the stretch.”
Stricker made it clear he wanted players whose game suited Whistling Straits — a course along the bluffs of Lake Michigan that tends to favor power — and said he wanted his players to know it well ahead of the Sept. 24 to 26 matches.
All 12 players and their caddies are expected for a two-day practice session over the weekend.
“My message from Day 1 has been to try to out-prepare the other team,” he said.
The six picks join six who earned automatic spots — Collin Morikawa, Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau, Brooks Koepka, Justin Thomas and Patrick Cantlay.
All are among the top 21 in the world ranking. Six never have played in a Ryder Cup. Eight are still in their 20s, and the average age (29) is the youngest ever for the Americans.
“I think it’s a good time for a younger influx of players,” said Schauffele, the 27-year-old Californian and Olympic gold medalist.
Stricker said U.S. rookies have compiled a 40-29-17 record in the Ryder Cup dating to 2008.
Europe, which has won nine of the last 12 dating to 1995 and is coming off a sound victory in Paris, does not finalize its team until after this week’s BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth. Nine players earn spots, and Padraig Harrington has three captain’s picks.
The six rookies are the most for an American team since 2008, when Paul Azinger introduced his pod system and the U.S. secured a rare victory at Valhalla.
Scheffler, 25, is the first American to be picked without Ryder Cup experience or having won on the PGA Tour since Rickie Fowler in 2010 at Wales. Scheffler has been a steady presence who ranked seventh in birdies on the PGA Tour this season.
What first got Stricker’s attention was the Dell Match Play in March, when Scheffler mowed down Ian Poulter, Jon Rahm and Matt Kuchar — all renowned for match play — before losing in the championship match to Billy Horschel.
Scheffler has finished in the top 20 in his last six majors, going into the final round in contention in three of them.
“His stats across the board are very solid from top to bottom, and the guy makes a lot of birdies, which should do us very well going around Whistling Straits,” Stricker said.
Scheffler, Morikawa and the 32-year-old English, a two-time winner this year, are the only true rookies. Their only experience was the Walker Cup.
Schauffele and Cantlay were a strong team at the Presidents Cup in 2019, while Berger played in the Presidents Cup in 2017.
Stricker said he and his assistants did not concentrate too heavily on the last month of the season, but rather on a consistent body of work over the last two years and games that would be a good fit for the golf course.
“That’s what made the choices in my eyes pretty easy, and after consulting with the six guys that made the team and my assistant captains, we landed on these six guys pretty easily just because of their form, the way they fit Whistling Straits, their demeanors on and off the golf course and in the team room,” he said.
Stricker was captain of the Presidents Cup team in 2017, and he was an assistant Ryder Cup captain the last three times.
The U.S. team typically has eight automatic qualifiers and four captain’s picks.
That was increased to six for this Ryder Cup because of uncertainty over how the COVID-19 pandemic — which postponed the matches for one year — would affect the tour schedule.