10/19/2016

The Americans’ victory at this year’s Ryder Cup ended an era and ushered in a new one. What will define the event going forward has yet to be determined. We might not know in two years either. What we can say is that it is unlikely that either side will dominate the Ryder Cup like the Europeans did over the last 20 years. There’s just too much talent—specifically, young talent—to go around.

The Americans finally got mad enough to change their ways at Hazeltine. The result was a beat-down in Minnesota. Now the Europeans are left to reconsider the core of players that led to their reign. Will they come with a new mentality when they get to Paris in 2018? Or was 2016 an aberration?

Let’s consider this year’s teams and gauge each player’s chance of booking a trip to the City of Light.


The Locks

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United States

Dustin Johnson- At 32, Johnson is smack dab in the middle of his prime. His breakthrough at Oakmont showed that he does indeed have the mental game to close out a major. Most of us assume more will follow.

Patrick Reed- No matter what he does for the rest of his career, Reed will always have Hazeltine. He was heroic for the Americans as he sank the Europeans’ hopes almost single-handedly. It’s not often that a Ryder Cup performance outweighs that year’s majors. In an otherwise forgettable season for Reed, in which he struggled to qualify for the team, he made sure he’ll represent the Red, White and Blue for the next decade regardless of form.

Jordan Spieth- Fact: Jordan Spieth putted better in 2016 than he did in his historic 2015 season. Sure, he look flustered at times, but there’s still denying his place near the top of golf. Spieth will still be just 25 by the time Paris rolls around.

Brooks Koepka- Koepka made noise prior to the Ryder Cup by qualifying for the American team despite playing with a bum ankle. He made no excuses. He just played and played well. At Hazeltine, Koepka showcased a game—long off the tee, clutch on the green—that has major champion written all over it. Whether that comes before 2018 or not, when Koepka will be 28, we don’t know. But he’ll be in Paris.

Rickie Fowler- He keeps getting the benefit of the doubt, but you still sense that American golf believes in Rickie Fowler to the end. He rewarded Davis Love III with a solid display this year. Who knows? Maybe the pressure—or lack thereof—during a non-Ryder Cup season will rejuvenate Fowler’s game.

Europe

Rory McIlroy- He’s the best player on the planet and he may just be getting better. McIlroy showed a level of intensity at Hazeltine, and ruthlessness, that few can match (outside of Reed).

Thomas Pieters- The young Belgian became Robin to McIlroy’s Batman. Each time the super hero slipped, Pieters was there to provide help. In the process he rang up a 4-1 record, the best debut for a European in Ryder Cup history. He’s scary good.

Justin Rose- In 2012, few could have predicted that it’d be Rose to show the most longevity out of the English contingent that included Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter and Luke Donald. But here we are. Rose is consistent and unflappable.

Sergio Garcia- The man doesn’t age. Garcia may never win a major, but he’ll always have the Ryder Cup. He’ll be 38 by the fall of 2018. Somehow that still seems young.

Rafa Cabrera-Bello- He went 2-0-1 playing with Sergio Garcia, which is good enough to lock up a spot in Paris. Cabrera-Bello impressed with his controlled long game and his touch around the greens. He and Garcia even drew Jose Maria Olazabal-Seve Ballesteros comparison, the highest praise Spanish golfers can receive.

Matthew Fitzpatrick- It was a rough start for the youngest member of Team Europe but an important learning experience. Fitzpatrick is the best young player to emerge on the continent since McIlroy. He likely won’t reach his teammate’s heights, but expect him to be a regular contender in the sport’s biggest events—including the Ryder Cup.


The Maybes

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United States

Phil Mickelson- Mickelson carded 10 birdies in a spectacular singles match with Sergio Garcia. Forget that the performance only resulted in a halve, Lefty lived up to his own call for reform on the American team. Mickelson has qualified for 11 consecutive teams. Ask him, and he’ll say he’ll be in Paris for sure. But he’s still 46 three years removed from his last PGA Tour win. There are no guarantees at that age.

Matt Kuchar- Kuchar has been consistent for the last decade, but like Mickelson, he’s getting up there in years. Kuchar needed a captain’s pick just to get to Hazeltine this year. With no wins in 2016, he’ll need to respond in the next two seasons to show that he deserves the call again. Then again, people like the guy. Maybe it’s the Skechers.

Brandt Snedeker- Whether it was chanting with the fans or screaming after every putt, no American enjoyed his time more than Snedeker. The Vanderbilt product took it upon himself to avenge the 2012 disaster, which he believes fell on his shoulders. He did more than that. Still, Snedeker is one of those players that slips in and out of form. I would take him now and next season. But there is a plethora of good American players.

Ryan Moore- One gets the sense that Moore is entering the Jimmy Walker portion of his career. After a runner-up finish at the FedExCup Playoffs, Moore earned the fourth and final captain’s pick. He later collected the deciding point in the Americans’ wins by defeating Westwood in singles. He’s a good not great player, one of many on tour. Someone else is waiting to take his place. Then again, maybe Moore will carry this momentum into 2017 and beyond.

Europe

Henrik Stenson- See Mickelson. Stenson has made a charge in the last three seasons, but he’s still 40 years old and battling a nagging injury to his knee. The Europeans would love to have Stenson in two years. Father Time may have something else to say. Right now, there isn’t a better ball-striker in the game.

Danny Willett- Willett’s debut was less than auspicious, but he’s still a Masters champion and quietly one of the more consistent players of the last three seasons. He should be in Paris save for bad mojo from Hazeltine.

Chris Wood- This could easily be Andy Sullivan. Wood’s advantage is that A. he hits the ball a mile and B. he actually earned a point for the Europeans. At 28, he’ll grow more confident in the next two seasons.


We Bid You Adieu

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United States

Jimmy Walker- Without his PGA Championship—which it should be said, was Walker’s finest hour—Walker would have been nowhere near the Ryder Cup team. He played poorly following that lone major win, too. He’s had a nice run. But there too many young players ready to take his spot. Besides, there’s nothing that Walker does spectacularly well.

JB Holmes- Holmes earned his place by playing consistent golf and proved himself a useful match-play player in last year’s Presidents Cup in addition to the Ryder Cup. However, he doesn’t have the standout game nor the personality (think Kuchar) that will earn him consideration regardless of form.

Zach Johnson- Similar to Walker, Johnson rode the wave of his 2015 Open Championship to sneak onto the Ryder Cup Team. Had he not qualified, would Davis Love selected him? Probably? It’s a moot point. Johnson has a lot of admirable qualities, but he’s too short off the tee to allow for any holes in his game. He won’t be back but what a way to go out.

Europe

Martin Kaymer- Kaymer looked like a shell of his former self in Hazeltine. At the top of his game—the 2010 PGA Championship and 2014 US Open come to mind—he was a machine who walked from tee to green and on with ease. When he struggles, though, he seems uncomfortable. Kaymer is one of the more thoughtful players in the game. Perhaps he can contribute to the 2018 Ryder Cup in the commentator’s booth. I mean that sincerely.

Lee Westwood- It was a sad ending to a celebrated Ryder Cup career. Westwood missed a number of short putts that removed the benefit of “gimmies” for him. He’s a fine gentleman and a wonderful player. We’ll never forget how he cheered on Willett down the final holes at Augusta. But he’ll only go to Paris as a Vice Captain.

Andy Sullivan- An 0-2-0 record does little to inspire confidence. Sullivan looked rattled in his debut. With the likes of Jon Rahm, among others, on his way, this was a one-and-done for the Englishman.


Who’s Next?

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United States

Justin Thomas- This season isn’t exactly make-or-break for Thomas, but an impressive showing will go a long way in legitimizing his Ryder Cup candidacy. Jordan Spieth likes the kid, so he must be good.

Billy Horschel- He has to get a call eventually. He was made for this format…Right?

Daniel Berger- The 2015 PGA Tour Rookie of the Year closed 2016 strongly. He was shortlisted by Love for the final captain’s pick. A strong showing at next year’s majors will launch Berger into the mainstream.

Tiger Woods- We can dream.

Europe

Jon Rahm- He came out of Arizona State with the audacity and look of a WWE wrestler. Rahm will win three tournaments over the next two seasons. Book it.

Alex Noren- At 34, the Swede, who has yet to make a Ryder Cup team, has four European Tour wins since June 2015. Darren Clarke may be kicking himself for this one.

Shane Lowry- He’s shown flashes, most recently at the 2016 US Open where he led to start the final round. The long-hitting Irishman will win a major in the next two years.