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Zach Johnson will make his six captain’s picks for the U.S. Ryder Cup team on August 29, and as is the case every other year, there seems to be more players deserving of a spot than spots available.
Justin Thomas and Brooks Koepka are the two most-talked-about players who missed out on an automatic spot that everyone seems to have a differing opinion on. You then have red-hot Lucas Glover hoping for his first-ever Ryder Cup appearance, Keegan Bradley hoping for a return, and the likes of Rickie Fowler and Jordan Spieth waiting to have their names called by Johnson.
While you could make the case for at least eight players deserving a spot on the plane to Rome, these are the six who I think will represent the U.S. across the pond.
It’s pretty straightforward for Collin Morikawa, he hits fairways and he hits greens. While he hasn’t won since the 2021 Open Championship, the 26-year-old is still one of the premier ball strikers on the planet and finished the PGA Tour season strong with a playoff loss at the Rocket Mortgage and a pair of Top 15 finishes over the course of his last five starts.
Morikawa finished second on Tour in driving accuracy and second in strokes gained: approach. His game is very much clicking and put on quite a performance in his Ryder Cup debut at Whistling Straits going 3-0-1 for the week.
Spieth was good, not great during the 2022-23 PGA Tour season but brings valuable experience to a U.S. team room that will feature quite a few rookies. The 30-year-old has been there, and done that when it comes to repping the red, white, and blue in the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup and will certainly be an energy guy for the Americans.
If you’re Johnson and the rest of the U.S. team you hope Spieth can find enough fairways and he has a hot weekend with the putter, if those two things play out, he should be a tough out in any format.
Johnson honestly has no choice but to take Fowler with one of his captain’s picks. This time last year Fowler was in the biggest slump of his career and even began this past season ranked 111th in the world. Fast-forward to now, after a win at the Rocket Mortgage in July and seven more Top 10 finishes this season, Fowler is ranked 25th in the Official World Golf Ranking.
Fowler deserves a spot on the 2023 Ryder Cup team, not just as some sort of an award for his bounce back, but he’s playing great, consistent golf at the moment. His 3-7-5 career record in the Ryder Cup is a very real red flag, but he’s worth the risk.
Burns always feels like the forgotten man just about every time he tees it up, and that’s the case yet again ahead of this year’s Ryder Cup, but he probably prefers it that way.
The 27-year-old picked up a total of six Top 10 finishes in 26 starts this season including one win, and that one win carries a bit more weight than other non-major events.
Burns won the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, and while that win came all the way back in March, he knocked off Patrick Cantlay, Cameron Young, and Scottie Scheffler along the way.
Burns, currently ranked 21st in the world, is a player that can get extremely hot with the putter and fill the scorecard with plenty of circles. He was disappointing at the 2022 Presidents Cup not picking up a a win in one of his five matches. But, like Fowler, he deserves the nod to showcase his stuff across the pond.
Koepka finished seventh in the Ryder Cup standings narrowly missing out on an automatic spot, and did so while having just four opportunities to pick up points. He won the PGA Championship, the third of his career, and finished T-2 in the Masters.
The only ‘knock’ against Koepka is that he plays his golf on the LIV tour. If he was a PGA Tour player there wouldn’t be one single person questioning whether or not he deserves a spot on this year’s U.S. team.
Beyond his very strong year on the game’s biggest stages, and the experience he would bring, leaving him off the team would be more of a golf political statement than actually picking him.
Koepka’s ties to LIV won’t be a distraction, despite how badly some in the media want it to be, because we’re talking about professional athletes playing for their country. This isn’t complicated.
While Koepka’s inclusion into the team isn’t complicated, Thomas’ certainly is.
JT didn’t have a below-average year for his standards, he had a bad year. He missed out on the FedEx Cup Playoffs, missed the cut in three of the year’s four major championships, and missed four cuts over his last eight starts of the year.
Thomas hasn’t shown any signs of being in form since March, but thankfully for him, his match play résume makes up for all of that.
JT is 6-2-1 in his two previous Ryder Cup appearances and has been a force when paired up with his buddy Spieth. He’s shown in two straight Ryder Cups that he can flip a switch and almost turn into a different player.
The Ryder Cup is three days of match play, it’s unlike anything else in the sport. Given Thomas’ track record in the event, and his experience over the likes of Lucas Glover, Denny McCarthy, and Cameron Young, he deserves the 12th and final captain’s pick.
Follow Mark Harris on Twitter @ItIsMarkHarris