Deciding youth would be better served than experience, Steve Stricker on Wednesday completed his U.S. Ryder Cup team by selecting six players — four of whom have never competed in the pressure-packed biennial competition.
Stricker made the announcement at Whistling Straits Golf Club in Haven, Wisconsin. The 43rd Ryder Cup begins at the site Sept. 24.
Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau, Brooks Koepka and Justin Thomas are the other automatic qualifiers from a two-year points system that was extended due to the coronavirus pandemic that postponed the event until this year.
“Everybody’s getting younger in this sport it seems like,” Stricker said. “They are playing better at a younger age. They get some match play competition under their belts at the amateur level. They bring in an excitement level that is unmatched. They are eager, willing to learn, and they just want to have that opportunity and will do anything for that opportunity.
“I see that much in these six guys here as well, in that they are just eager to get in there and play and they are excited to be a part of this.”
Stricker was a rookie on the U.S. team that won at Valhalla in 2008, but he was also on losing teams in 2010 and 2012. He’s also been part of losing teams as a vice captain in 2014 and 2018, but was the victorious U.S. Presidents Cup captain in 2017.
The first U.S. Ryder Cup captain who did not win a major championship as a player, Stricker has been a big part of the behind-the-scenes system in recent years. And he came armed with statistics: U.S. rookies are 40-29-17 since 2018; experience is overrated.
“I I feel like I’m an old guy on Tour,” Schauffele said. “I’m turning 28 soon and I feel like I’m one of the older guys. We have Collin on our team who is, I don’t know, 23 or 24 maybe, and kids keep getting better at younger ages. So I just felt like it was a good time for a younger influx based on that.”
Dustin Johnson, at age 37, is the oldest member of the team. English is 32; Finau is 31.
For the first time since 1993, neither Phil Mickelson nor Tiger Woods is playing on the U.S. team. Mickelson missed the Presidents Cup in 2019 (when Woods was a playing captain) and he failed to make a Ryder Cup for the first time since his initial competition in 1995.
Mickelson will serve as one of Stricker’s assistants.
Woods went 0-4 at the 2018 Ryder Cup and has not played this year while recovering from a serious car accident.
If there was a surprise among the picks it was Scheffler, who has never played in a Ryder Cup or Presidents Cup and has not won on the PGA Tour. The last pick to not have won prior to competing in a Presidents Cup was Rickie Fowler in 2010.
“That caught our attention early on,” Stricker said. “Another guy who is long off the tee. 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.”
Scheffler, who was 14th in the points race, was chosen over Ryder Cup veterans Reed, who finished 11th in the points and Webb Simpson, who was 13th.
“Patrick Reed … that was a very, very difficult call,” Stricker said. “Kind of lose sleep over that one. He’s a tremendous competitor. He brings a lot of match-play golf. His record at the Ryder Cup is pretty darned good. It was a very difficult call. It was just the uncertainty of his health and really the lack of play that led to our decision down the stretch.”
Reed was recently hospitalized with double pneumonia and missed the first two FedEx Cup playoff events before returning at the Tour Championship. It is possible that Reed could be an alternate, as Koepka kept injured his wrist while hitting a tree root Sunday at the Tour Championship.
No decisions are necessary at this time, but a player can be replaced up until the start of the competition. Kevin Na was another tough call to leave off, Stricker said.
What is unclear at this point are any kind of COVID-19 adjustments and what happens if a player tests positive at the Ryder Cup. An injured player at a Ryder Cup can be replaced in the team competition, but for Sunday singles, rules stipulate that each captain have a player’s name in an envelope in case someone on the other side is injured and can’t play.
In that case, that player sits out and each side is awarded a half point.
Stricker said he believes all 12 players and their caddies will be at Whistling Straits this weekend for two days of practice.
“My message from day one has been to try to out-prepare the other team, the European Team. And for me, it’s been that way throughout my career, is just trying to prepare the best as I can when I go into events,” Stricker said. “Let’s get as much practice as we can here.”
The European Team, captained by Ireland’s Padraig Harrington, will have nine automatic qualifiers at the conclusion of this week’s BMW PGA Championship outside of London. Harrington will make his three at-large selections following the final round.