Surprised? Unfazed? Zach Johnson has made his 2023 Ryder Cup Captain’s picks and we consider the thought process behind each one…
50% of the 2023 Ryder Cup participants are set.
Zach Johnson’s work is done (for now) and he has 12 players hoping to win the USA’s first Ryder Cup on away soil since 1993.
Half the team was taken from his hands while the other half he personally cherry-picked after weeks of twists and turns on the PGA Tour.
Scottie Scheffler, Brian Harman, Wyndham Clark, Patrick Cantlay, Xander Schauffele and Max Homa all secured spots on merit.
Johnson landed on a mixture of experience and freshness with six captain’s picks that will no doubt divide opinion among golf fans.
We’ve taken a look at each player chosen by Johnson and why they’ve been chosen, as well as what they’ll bring to the American dressing room at Marco Simone in Italy.
Let’s start with the elephant in the room.
Despite failing to make the FedEx Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2014 and making just three top-10s in 20 events, Justin Thomas will make his third Ryder Cup appearance for Team USA next month.
He shot an 81 at the US Open and 82 at The Open Championship, while also missing the cut at the 3M Open in a last-ditch attempt to find form to force Johnson’s hand.
But if anything, this selection shows the regard in which Johnson holds the two-time PGA Champion. Despite such uncharacteristic form, picking Thomas shows how important he is to the US side’s dynamic.
He will reignite his partnership with Jordan Spieth, a pair that has won four points from six matches when put together in the last two Ryder Cups.
He was sent out first in the Sunday Singles on away soil in 2018 and toppled Rory McIlroy, and also beat Tyrrell Hatton at Whistling Straits two years ago.
Thomas is able to strike fear into Europe if he can rediscover his best form, but this could be easier said than done at a venue that won’t take prisoners who can’t find fairways.
It is a risk of sorts for Johnson, but it is important to maintain as much energy and experience as possible from the side that cruised to a record-breaking victory in 2021, a week that will still be at the forefront of Thomas’ memory.
Maybe a pick by name, but not by nature.
It would’ve been a big shock if Collin Morikawa wasn’t chosen for the 2023 Ryder Cup.
He came tied for sixth at the Tour Championship with a first-round 61 and as ever, his driving accuracy and greens in regulation statistics are impressive.
The 26-year-old should’ve won the Sentry Tournament of Champions but for an unexpected collapse and lost in a playoff to Rickie Fowler at the Rocket Mortgage Classic.
A season with six top-10s could’ve been one with two wins and, although he hasn’t won since the 2021 DP World Tour Championship, Morikawa enjoyed a solid year.
He earned three points from three matches with Dustin Johnson at Whistling Straits and won two points from three matches at last year’s Presidents Cup.
His ball-striking ability could make him a suitable partner for any US player, something you could also say for Johnson’s next pick.
Morikawa is part of the rich pool of young talent on the American golf scene that is only just getting started in the Ryder Cup.
Rickie Fowler is back for the first time since 2018 and his place on Team USA is fully deserved.
As one of the most popular players on tour, Fowler will likely slot into a US team room with Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas like he’d never been away.
He secured his first PGA Tour title in four years at the Rocket Mortgage Classic in July and also made eight top-10s and 18 top-25s in 2023.
Fowler hasn’t recorded a top 10 since winning in Detroit, and his place at 13th in the Ryder Cup rankings would suggest he wasn’t guaranteed a spot.
But this selection portrays both his form and his character, as well as the value of his Ryder Cup experience.
This will be Fowler’s fifth start at the event, however, his record of 3-7-5 is one he will want to improve when arriving in Italy next month.
Brooks Koepka just missed out on an automatic spot on Team USA despite winning the PGA Championship in May.
But his selection was in little doubt. Koepka also finished tied second at the Masters and won the LIV Golf Orlando event shortly before that.
Despite lacking form since winning at Oak Hill, we have seen the cold-killing, pre-injury Brooks in 2023 which is a dangerous animal capable of taking down any European player.
Since joining LIV Golf, he seems not to have burned bridges with his former PGA Tour colleagues and has gone about his business with only victory in mind each week, regardless of what tour he plays on.
The point is he won’t feel alienated on the US side, whereas a player such as Bryson DeChambeau could’ve cut a polarising figure having been one of 11 LIV players to file legal action against the PGA Tour in 2022.
His Ryder Cup record of 6-5-1 is favourable, but it will be interesting to see who Johnson pairs with the five-time major champion.
He’s previously teamed up with Brandt Snedeker, Tony Finau, Daniel Berger, Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth with mixed results, which could mean he’s still searching for a partnership he thrives in.
Jordan Spieth was probably seen as another automatic pick for captain Johnson.
The three-time major champion was never being left out in a year he made the top five at the Masters, the Arnold Palmer Invitational and the Memorial Tournament.
He has an abundance of Ryder Cup experience and will be a crucial part of the dressing room dynamic. Spieth represents familiarity and is part of Team USA’s furniture.
He made his Ryder Cup debut in 2014 and has built a record of 8-7-3. US fans will be excited to see the next chapter of his alliance with Justin Thomas, a pairing that was arguably fundamental in Thomas’ inclusion.
This selection might come as a surprise to many, but should it?
Sam Burns won the WGC Match Play in March, beating Cameron Young in the final – a showdown that appears crucial in hindsight.
Winning the PGA Tour’s only match play event should go a long way, and it clearly has in Johnson’s eyes. Although, Burns only delivered a point for America at the Presidents Cup via two half points.
He was ranked below Young and Keegan Bradley in the US Ryder Cup standings but, much like Thomas, Burns could have the chance to reignite a partnership that could prove fruitful.
Burns has a strong friendship with World No.1 Scottie Scheffler and they will no doubt be determined to right the wrongs of the Presidents Cup where they earned 0 points in three matches together.
Burns has earned the spot many will have seen open to three of four other players, but if a five-time PGA Tour winner is a subject of contention in Ryder Cup selection, doesn’t this just show America’s strength in depth?
Who missed out?
Keegan Bradley might feel aggrieved he wasn’t chosen for the 2023 Ryder Cup having won the ZOZO Championship and the Travelers Championship – one of the tour’s elevated events this season.
He came second at the Farmers Insurance Open and also came tied for ninth at the Tour Championship, but much like Lucas Glover, his multiple successes weren’t enough to swing it.
The 43-year-old Glover won the Wyndham Championship and the FedEx St. Jude Championship in the space of 14 days, throwing his hat firmly in the Ryder Cup ring.
Perhaps it was too little and too late for Glover who is yet to appear at the Ryder Cup. Cameron Young is also waiting to make his debut.
Young has come second six times on the PGA Tour and he was in the final group at The Open Championship, although he never substantially challenged Brian Harman at Hoylake.
Denny McCarthy made seven top 10s in 2023 and lost in a playoff to Viktor Hovland at the Memorial Tournament.
But after failing to reach the Tour Championship and considering the strong competition for wildcard spots, it would’ve constituted a big shock if McCarthy was chosen to make his Ryder Cup debut.
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Now read: European Ryder Cup standings
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