At Hazeltine we had six Ryder Cup rookies which was seen as a huge weakness. This year we had five of them and they turned out to be a triumph.
The only given is that a few will make their debuts at Whistling Straits so let’s look at the 10 leading runners here. And kick things off with the European Tour’s latest champion…
1. Eddie Pepperell
This is one of the most remarkable and welcome stories of 2018. Finally, finally golf has found someone who is genuinely funny and smutty with it and now he’s up to 33rd in the world and very likely off to Augusta next year.
This year, with his two wins, two seconds and 6th at The Open, he has won nearly €2.5 million. Two years ago he earned less than a tenth of that figure as his season ended at Q School.
And if you’re not a fan of the dreary soundbite characters on tour then you should love Pepperell – “When I was 18 I made quite a few changes with my mentality and so, from that point on, I have always been addicted to truth and honesty. I always want to know the truth even if that is uncomfortable and I am not afraid to put that down in writing.”
Read his blog if you want a fascinating-yet-quirky insight into life as a tour player.
2. Jordan Smith
The same coach as Pepperell in the exquisitely-named Simon Shanks. There was a bit of chat, given his meteoric rise through the ranks – top the EuroPro one year, top the Challenge Tour the next – that he might go all the way and make this year’s team at Le Golf National.
In the end he wasn’t close though he’s still only 25 and he’s only played in three majors, but he already has a win on his CV thanks to his play-off win in Germany last year.
Has that look of a star and someone who is going to be around for plenty of time.
3. Matt Wallace
If you were going to have a few quid on any of these to make the line-up in Wisconsin then my money would go on Wallace. Despite the clamour for a pick this time around the likes of Cabrera Bello, Pepperell and Fitzpatrick still finished ahead of him.
But the style of his play, helped by lots of very good drivers, the intensity and the self-confidence mark him out as someone you’d really like on your team. He even looks good when he’s not playing well.
For all the wins this year the most remarkable stat about Wallace is that he came out on top in five straight starts on the Alps Tour.
If he can establish himself inside the top 50 then you could see all sorts happening for the 28-year-old. (I know, I thought he was younger too.)
4. Russell Knox
This is a bit of a weird one. Plenty thought, quite rightly, that Darren Clarke should have picked him for Hazeltine. Had he been eligible for the whole campaign, to include his WGC win, then he would have made it.
Knox is pretty much the opposite of Wallace but the results keep coming. This year he has only featured in seven tournaments on the European Tour and he’s still in the top 10 thanks to a second in France and the win in Ireland.
I think this is right but there are only two Europeans who have won a WGC individual event but not played in the Ryder Cup. Knox is one…
5. Shane Lowry
And the other is Lowry. The pair of them won one apiece in 2015.
Another odd one, he’s the most recent amateur winner in Europe but, away from the Bridgestone victory, he’s only got one other title to his name.
But there are three major top 10s and that US Open at Oakmont where he was tied for the lead with five to play before three straight bogeys popped up.
Of late it’s all been very ordinary for a man of Lowry’s ability. He didn’t even play in a WGC this year, but you suspect it’s more a matter of time rather than anything too alarming.
So who else is in our top 10 front-runners to make their Ryder Cup debut in 2020? Find out on the next page…