HomeWorld NewsRyder Cup Team USA announced as Zach Johnson makes jaw-dropping decisions
Ryder Cup Team USA announced as Zach Johnson makes jaw-dropping decisions
August 29, 2023
U.S. Ryder Cup captain Zach Johnson has made his captain’s picks, thus finalizing the team of 12 that will represent the United States at next month’s Ryder Cup in Rome, Italy.
Sitting at the PGA of America headquarters in Frisco, Texas, Johnson selected Brooks Koepka, Jordan Spieth, Collin Morikawa, Rickie Fowler, Sam Burns, and Justin Thomas to join those players who already qualified.
So now that we have a complete team let’s break down the captain’s picks:
A five-time major champion, Koepka won the 2023 PGA Championship at Oak Hill, becoming the first current LIV golfer to win a major championship. He also finished in a tie for second at The Masters, four strokes behind Jon Rahm.
Interestingly, Koepka finished in a tie for second with Phil Mickelson at Augusta National, meaning each player took home $1,584,000. Koepka would have earned $1,944,000 if he had finished solo second.
But since Ryder Cup points were predicated on total earnings, Koepka earned only 2,376 points because of the tie instead of 2,916 points.
And in the end, following the BMW Championship, Koepka finished 29 points shy of Schauffele, who claimed the sixth and final automatic qualifying spot on the team.
If it were not for Mickleson’s impressive 7-under 65 during Sunday’s final round at Augusta National, Koepka would have already qualified.
Koepka may play for LIV Golf, but politics aside, he deserves to be on the team. He has played in three Ryder Cups, helping the U.S. win in 2016 and 2021, and now will try and snap the 30-year drought of the Americans winning on European soil.
Spieth will make his fifth Ryder Cup appearance and third on European soil. In 18 matches played against the Europeans, Spieth holds an 8-7-3 record and brings plenty of experience to Italy.
Although Spieth did not emerge victorious during the 2022-23 season, he did record seven top 10s. That includes a runner-up finish to Matt Fitzpatrick at the RBC Heritage, as Spieth lost to the Englishman in a playoff, perhaps signaling a harbinger of things to come.
He also made it to the Tour Championship in Atlanta, an impressive feat despite his lackluster performance there.
Although Morikawa has not won since the 2021 Open Championship, his 2022-23 season has been the best statistical performance of his career.
He ranked 10th on tour in total strokes gained, 4th in strokes gained: tee-to-green, and 2nd in strokes gained: approaching the green. For the past few years, Morikawa has been one of the world’s best iron players, which will undoubtedly help the Americans in Italy.
Perhaps most importantly, Morikawa ranks 2nd on the PGA Tour in driving accuracy percentage—69.55%—a crucial metric considering the Europeans will set up Marco Simone in their favor. Team Europe is rumored to lengthen the rough and narrow the fairways at next month’s Ryder Cup, putting a premium on finding the fairways.
Plus, Morikawa recently shot a 9-under 61 and a 7-under 64 at the Tour Championship. Although he faded over the weekend, Morikawa still has the game to compete among the best players in the world.
At the beginning of the 2022-23 season, Fowler was the 185th-ranked player in the world. Now he is the 25th. He has had a terrific bounce-back season, which included a win at the Rocket Mortgage Classic. Now Fowler has made a Ryder Cup team for the first time since 2018.
Although Fowler has played in four Ryder Cups, he does not have the best track record in the bi-annual competition. He has recorded only three victories, thus totaling a 3-7-5 Ryder Cup record.
But the former Oklahoma State Cowboy has the experience, and he gets along with seemingly everyone. Hopefully, for Fowler’s and Team USA’s sake, he bounces back at the 2023 Ryder Cup, much like he did on the PGA Tour this past season.
Burns sticks out among the other five captain’s picks because he has never played in the Ryder Cup.
Yet, Burns dominated the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play in March, defeating Cameron Young 6&5 in the final round to win the PGA Tour’s only match play event.
His victory marked his fifth PGA Tour victory, as the former LSU Tiger had a strong 2022-23 season that culminated with a tie for ninth at the Tour Championship.
Burns is also best friends with Scheffler, so there is a good chance that Johnson matches him up with the number-one ranked player in the world. Burns is a terrific putter, the one part of the game Scheffler notoriously struggles with, so this yin-yang combo could become a formidable duo in Italy.
Thomas’s struggles have been one of the biggest storylines of the 2022-23 PGA Tour season.
Yet, Johnson picked Thomas because of his Ryder Cup record, which is an impressive 16-5-2. He is one of the best matchplay golfers in the world, and when it comes down to it, the Ryder Cup qualification cycle is a 2-year process. Despite his recent struggles, Thomas did win the 2022 PGA Championship and is still one of the better American players in the world.
“He has been the heart and soul of Team USA,” Johnson said. “In my mind, he was born for this, and you just don’t leave JT at home.”
This pick will undoubtedly create a lot of controversy, as Thomas has struggled to find fairways all season, leading to his uncharacteristic slide during the summer.
But again, his matchplay record speaks for itself, and Thomas has played in two Ryder Cups. He is an emotional leader, as Johnson alluded to.
Plus, Thomas earned four points the last time the Americans played in a Ryder Cup in Europe. Team USA lost handily, but Thomas was the lone bright spot.
Johnson picking Thomas is undoubtedly bold, but we shall see if the aggressiveness pays off at Marco Simone.
Jack Milko is a golf staff writer for SB Nation’s Playing Through. You can follow him on Twitter @jack_milko for more golf coverage. Be sure to check out @_PlayingThrough too.