US Team for The Ryder Cup 2020 Preview
Wednesday, September 22nd, 2021
For the second time in recent history, world events postponed the Ryder Cup for a year, adding anticipation to one of golf’s largest spectacles, now that it hasn’t been played in three years. Finally it will happen this year and the US Team is ready.
After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 postponed the event until the following fall—and moving the schedule to every even year after that—the COVID-19 pandemic caused the Ryder Cup 2020 to be moved to September 2021. Just like the last pause, each future edition will now be held in odd years.
As it was to be in 2020, this year’s edition will be held at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin. And while it’s a home-course advantage for the United States team, the course has a distinctly European (British, more accurately) feel since it is a links-style course.
The U.S. team hasn’t fared well in recent events, winning just one of the last five and two of the past nine, but the team is comprised of 50% rookies (six out of 12) and team captain Steve Stricker is hoping that fact—combined with the tournament being contested on home turf—will turn around the Americans’ luck.
While the European team takes nine automatic qualifiers and three wild cards (selected by captain Padraig Harrington), it’s a 50-50 split for the American team: six automatic qualifiers and six captain’s picks.
Qualifying for the team this year is Collin Morikawa, Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau, Brooks Koepka, Justin Thomas, and Patrick Cantlay. They are joined by wild cards Xander Schauffele, Jordan Spieth, Tony Finau, Daniel Berger, Harris English, and Scottie Scheffler.
Let’s take a detailed look at each member of the USA Team.
Collin Morikawa, 24, is ranked third in the Official World Golf Rankings and is the defending champion at The Open Championship, but this is his first Ryder Cup. He led the qualification standings for the American team, which was a complex formula of money earned along with results in FedEx Cup events in 2021 and majors and WGC events in 2020. In addition to the 2021 Open Championship, Morikawa also won the PGA Championship in 2020.
Winning in unfamiliar events is nothing new for Morikawa—his two major wins came in the first time that he participated in those events, and he also won his debut in two other tournaments on the PGA Tour.
Morikawa, however, struggled down the stretch and especially in the FedEx Cup playoffs. He missed the cut at The Northern Trust, finished in the bottom 10 at the BMW Championship, and was 26th out of 30 at the Tour Championship. He has taken what will amount to a three-week break following the Tour Championship before teeing off at Whistling Straits, so team USA hopes that reset will benefit Morikawa.
The 37-year-old Johnson is the golfer with the most Ryder Cup experience on this team, as this will be his fifth appearance. On the European side, there is far more experience, as Sergio Garcia is competing in his 10th and Lee Westwood a Euro record-tying 11th. He’s also the oldest player on the U.S. team and has won three of his four singles matches over the course of his Ryder Cup tenure, so his experience on the final day could prove invaluable.
Johnson easily qualified on the weight of his spectacular 2020 season, when he was on fire after the PGA Tour restarted in the summer. He won the Travelers Championship in late June, finished second to Morikawa at the PGA Championship, then won The Northern Trust and Tour Championship to secure the 2020 FedEx Cup. He then set the record at Augusta by winning the Masters at -20 in November.
He won the Saudi International this past February as part of the European Tour, but he hasn’t won since and didn’t finish higher than sixth in any PGA Tour event, so it will be imperative for him to find the form he had a year ago at this time in order to make an impact for the American team.
The 27-year-old big hitter off the tee participated in the 2018 Ryder Cup as a captain’s pick but lost all three of his matches, so he’s looking for redemption this year. This time around, he was the third automatic qualifier and has a major title under his belt, so he is far more seasoned. In addition, his length off the tee (he was the longest hitter off the tee in 2020) will surely play to his advantage at Whistling Straits.
DeChambeau is an eight-time winner on the PGA Tour—including the 2020 U.S. Open and the 2021 Arnold Palmer Invitational during the qualification period—and made a run for the FedEx Cup but couldn’t overcome Patrick Cantlay’s hot putter in a six-hole playoff at the BMW Championship.
One thing to watch out for is to see if his on- and off-the-course feud with Brooks Koepka carries over to the team. But both assured captain Steve Stricker that they will set their rivalry aside and perform first for the team and their country.
Koepka hasn’t been the major-winning machine like he was the past few years, but he still performed consistently enough to become an automatic qualifier for the Ryder Cup team. He won at least one major each year from 2017-19, including back-to-back U.S. Opens in 2017 and ’18 and then back-to-back PGA Championship titles in ’18 and ’19.
In 2021, he won the Waste Management Phoenix Open for the second time in his career. He had knee surgery after that victory in February but came back to finish second at the PGA Championship to Phil Mickelson in May. He also injured his wrist and had to withdraw from the Tour Championship after he hit a tree root. He said that was mostly a precautionary move, as he had wrist issues three and four years ago as well.
This is his third Ryder Cup. He was one of the bright spots that helped the U.S. team win in 2016 by winning three of his four matches. He only amassed 1.5 points in four matches in 2018 in Paris, however.
Justin Thomas was the top performer in the U.S. team’s 2018 Ryder Cup loss in Paris, as the 28-year-old won four of his five matches in his first Ryder Cup appearance. In addition to a singles victory over Rory McIlroy, Thomas partnered up with Jordan Spieth to win three of their four fourball and foursome matches, so expect them to team up again this week on Friday and Saturday.
Thomas won The Players Championship—what is referred to as the unofficial fifth major—in March but didn’t have much to show for his 2021 campaign until the end, when he logged two fourth-place finishes in his last three starts. He also has only lost twice in eight matches at the Presidents Cup over the course of the 2017 and ’19 events. Overall, the 28-year-old is a 14-time winner on the PGA Tour.
Cantlay is certainly the hottest golfer on team USA, as he won the last two events he played in and is the defending FedEx Cup champion. The 29-year-old outlasted Bryson DeChambeau at the BMW Championship, sinking a huge putt to force a playoff and then outlasted the big hitter to win on the sixth playoff hole. That put him in prime position to win the Tour Championship the following week, and he did so by holding off Jon Rahm the entire weekend. His performance at the BMW earned him the nickname “Patty Ice” by spectators in the gallery due to his clutch putting. He also won four PGA Tour events this year, two more than everyone else on tour.
Cantlay is a Ryder Cup rookie, but he teamed up with Xander Schauffele to win a pair of team matches in the 2019 Presidents Cup, so those two may renew their tandem in this week’s fourball and foursome events. It will also be interesting to see if he’s paired up against Rahm in a singles match on Sunday after they had such an impressive duel at the Tour Championship.
The 27-year-old Schauffele was one of Steve Stricker’s captain’s picks, and while he doesn’t have a major win to his name, he did win a gold medal in the Olympic tournament at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics last month in the last tournament where he represented the United States. The Ryder Cup rookie is also ranked fourth in the Official World Golf Rankings. He was selected as a wild card after it was thought that he was the first man to miss the field in 2018, as Tony Finau was selected over him to go to Paris.
As mentioned above, Schauffele formed an excellent partnership with Patrick Cantlay at the 2019 Presidents Cup and then topped Adam Scott in a singles match.
Schauffele hasn’t had a PGA Tour win since 2019, but he does have six runner-ups, two thirds, and 32 top-25 finishes in that span. And in his five full seasons, he’s finished in the top-five of the FedEx Cup standings in four of those, so he is a golfer who is best when the spotlight is on him in big events.
Spieth had a bit of a career renaissance in 2021, winning the Valero Texas Open (his first win on tour since 2017) and also added two runner-ups and two third-place finishes to his record this year. One of those runner-ups (The Open Championship) and a third (the Masters) took place in majors.
Spieth was unlikely to make the team if it were being played as scheduled in 2020, but the extra year gave him new life, and now he’s in his fourth Ryder Cup. He was an integral part of the United States’ victory in 2016 (going 3-1-1 at Hazeltine) and had three points with Justin Thomas in one of the rare bright spots of the U.S.’s defeat in Paris in 2018.
The 12-time PGA Tour winner jumped from No. 60 to start the year in the Official World Golf Rankings all the way up to his current spot of 15th.
It’s believed that the 31-year-old solidified his place on this year’s team with his win at The Northern Trust last month, which was his first PGA Tour victory since 2016. He had six runner-up finishes in between wins with three of them coming this year. He also finished in the top-10 eight times. Without the win at Liberty Golf Club in New Jersey, he may not have done enough to earn the pick by Steve Stricker.
This is his second Ryder Cup, and he was one of the Sunday stars three years ago in Paris when he beat Tommy Fleetwood (who had been undefeated in that tournament going into the final day) 6&4 in singles match play.
It’s unclear if Berger was the final person to make the team, but many thought that Patrick Reed should have made the cut instead. Regardless, Berger is here for the first time and is ranked 16th in the Official World Golf Rankings.
In 2021, he claimed victory at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am in February and had six other top-10 finishes, including at The Players Championship and The Open Championship. He also only missed two cuts in 23 starts this year. In addition, Berger was in the top-five in strokes gained: approach to the green this season—a stat that bodes well for match play. He also cut his chops by topping Collin Morikawa in a playoff to win the 2020 Charles Schwab Challenge.
A man named English will be representing the American team, as the 32-year-old is one of six Ryder Cup rookies on Team USA this year. This will be his first international tournament experience, but he was one of the better golfers on the PGA Tour in 2021.
English won twice this year—the Sentry Tournament of Champions and Travelers Championship, plus he led the WGC-St. Jude Invitational last month through each of the first three rounds before faltering on Sunday. Add to that two runner-up finishes and 14 top-10s over the past two years, and English is certainly well-deserving of this spot and could be an unsung hero for the U.S. team this weekend.
Scheffler, 25, is the only member of this year’s team to not yet have won on the PGA Tour. But he proved that he belongs on the big stage by finishing in the top-eight in four of the last five major tournaments. His worst finish in a major is 20th. He also finished second at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play in 2021, and in doing so, defeated Jon Rahm (the world’s No. 1-ranked golfer) and Ian Poulter—two members of the European team this year.
Scheffler also owns the lowest score shot in the PGA Tour event among his 11 other teammates, posting a 59 last year as part of this rookie-of-the-year season in 2020.
Many experts were also critical of Scheffler’s selection by Stricker over Ryder Cup veteran Patrick Reed, who is known as “Captain America” due to his tournament success, but Stricker obviously felt that a cadre of young players was the way to go.
Betting on the Ryder Cup
The U.S. team has the skill edge on paper, as eight of the world’s top-10 golfers are on the American team. The oddsmakers are taking that into account as well as the fact that the Americans will be playing on their own soil in installing them as -215 favorites.
The European team is on the board at around +200 and is loaded with tournament-tested Ryder Cup veterans, however, who will not be intimidated by the moment.
In the event of a tie, the odds on that at Jazz Sports are +1200. If there is a tie, the European team keeps the Ryder Cup since they are the defending champion.
One factor that always comes into play at the Ryder Cup is past performance at the venue. Spieth, Johnson, Koepka, and Finau all finished in the top-10 at Whistling Straits during the 2015 PGA Championship.
The youth of Team USA may also come into play, as sometimes the inexperience of a team can be a positive when the Americans have had such poor results in recent Ryder Cups. It may take a youth movement to turn the tide.
On the European side, Jon Rahm has played every bit like the world’s top golfer, and Viktor Hovland has also been quite dominant this year as he becomes the first Norwegian-born player to be selected for Ryder Cup. Team Europe also has several other veterans of the Ryder Cup wars, including Sergio Garcia, Ian Poulter, and Lee Westwood.
In addition, there are a number of prop bets you can play throughout the tournament, including top combined points scorer on each team and also what the specific winning score will be.
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