The Niggle: Is the Ryder Cup qualifying process correct?

As qualification for the European Ryder Cup team reaches an exciting climax this week at the Italian Open, do we think the current system is correct? Or does it need a re-think?

Does the qualifying process for the European Ryder Cup team produce the right team? Is it too long? Should it be scrapped altogether and just have 12 captain’s picks.

James Savage and James Tompkinson debate the issue

JS – I don’t think it is going to have too much of an impact on the European team this time around but I’m not sure the system is quite right. It seems to reward those who perform well in the early part of the year and is then difficult to make a late run and get into the team. For example, Victor Dubuisson all but sealed his place in the side at the WGC Matchplay in February. Thankfully, he has shown some good form of late and is more than worthy of his place. However he could have missed every cut over the last six months and still made the team. Marc Warren on the other hand finished third at the Scottish Open, was tied 15th in the US PGA then won the Made in Denmark but was way off automatic qualification – seems a bit unfair.

JT – It’s all well and good saying that a system needs to change, but I’d challenge anyone to come up with a system that would be comprehensively better than the one we have at the moment. The qualification system is there to get the best players onto the European team and I would say that it has served its purpose almost perfectly this time. There’s always going to be a problem for the European Tour because they have players playing on both sides of the Atlantic. I think the real issue here is the fact that this season started last October. It’s far too early and as a result impacts on the Ryder Cup qualification system. Start the Tour season in February/March and there’s be no issue.

JS – That’s a good idea. Why not have the European Tour season starting in January with the Race to Dubai finishing in December? Have a Ryder Cup qualification which runs from January to the end of August? I don’t think you can have a Ryder Cup qualifying system which starts outside of the European Tour season as the events outside of it will suffer. The system will deliver a strong Ryder Cup team for Europe this time around but I think it has the potential to include players who are out of from when it really matters. 
I’d be more in favour of scrapping wildcards – that might make a few players think different about their schedules" JT – I know you’ve got to draw the line somewhere but many of the high-profile events which attract the top players to the European Tour are those in the Final Series, so not to have them in the qualification system could really result in a misshaped team. Here’s an idea, why not just forget all the qualification lists and let McGinley, or whoever the captain is, pick a team of 12 players. Then there really would be no debate. The whole point of having a long qualification process is to attract the world’s best to the European Tour, and that can only happen around the Final Series. If that is lost then we may as well do away with qualification altogether. 

JS – At the moment it is a balancing act between a healthy, prosperous European Tour and getting the best Ryder Cup team. If you look at the players who have failed to qualify – Westwood, Donald, Poulter – what do they have in common? They play the majority of their golf on the PGA Tour. I know they would have backed themselves to qualify through performance in majors and on the World Points List but the carrot of making the Ryder Cup team wasn’t enough to attract them play in more European Tour events. Should we scrap qualifying altogether? No. I just think should we shorten the process to ensure the players in decent form make the team. I’d be more in favour of scrapping wildcards – that might make a few players think different about their schedules to the benefit of the European Tour itself.

JT – I agree about the balancing act and you are right to say that Westwood, Donald and Poulter could have made qualification a lot easier by playing more on the European Tour. The real point here though is whether or not the system produces the best team. If we did away with wildcards and took the first six players from the European points list and the remaining six from the world list, you would get a team of McIlroy, Stenson, Dubuisson, Donaldson, Garcia, Bjorn, Rose, Kaymer, McDowell, Donald, Gallacher and Poulter. Now that could well be the team that we end up with anyway, and I don’t think it would be much different if McGinley were to pick every player himself. Surely that suggests that the qualification system is about right?


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