We are two months from the Rome Ryder Cup, the last major championship is behind us, the teams are shaping up, and we have officially entered the speculation zone. There are so many lingering questions, so let’s get right to it and start breaking down the most important questions in the aftermath of the Open. The Ryder Cup Radicals: Joel Beall, Luke Kerr-Dineen, and Shane Ryan, are on the case.
Question 1: Assuming Brian Harman is now an automatic lock, is it a good thing or a bad thing for Zach Johnson that he’s made the team?
Joel: Great thing. One of the takeaways from 2018 was that the Americans failed to tailor their roster to a venue that called for precision and short-game dexterity. Assuming the Europeans set up Rome in a similar fashion (and early word says they will) having Harman as an automatic pick ensures the U.S. won’t make the same mistake. And “ensures” is the operative word, because the American roster is shaping up to be an old boys network of sorts and Harman isn’t in that club. His Open win essentially takes that option out of Johnson’s hands, and the U.S. team is better off for it.
Luke: Ultimately, it’s a good thing. But I wouldn’t call it an unequivocally good thing. Brian Harman was nails at Royal Liverpool Golf Club. He deserves his win and the good things that come with it. But the thing with Harman—I’d probably throw Wyndham Clark and Keegan Bradley in this category, too—is that we have a pretty large body of dataset which tells the story of what kind of player they are. Very good, but not elite. At least not yet. Maybe their recent success will push them into golf’s elite category. But until they do, you don’t necessarily want those guys locking up automatic spots because of good form in June and July, and push multiple major winners (like Morikawa or JT) out of the team by the time late September rolls around. In a perfect world, those guys make the team automatically, and you have the luxury of spending a captain’s pick on a form-heavy player, like Harman.
Shane: I couldn’t love it more. As the person compiling this post, and getting to read the other answers before I write, I get strength from reading the underlying desperation in the take above from “Euro Luke.” Harman has been a killer in match play his whole life, his smart use of the driver (WHICH LUKE ADMITTED!) will play so well in Marco Simone, and he can putt like Nicklaus. This is the best thing to happen to America since the Louisiana Purchase.
Question 2: With stalwarts like Justin Thomas and Tony Finau struggling, has the situation become dire for Team USA?
Luke: Far too early for “dire.” But I think there’s a possible death spiral scenario emerging. I know this all too well, because it’s what happened to the European team in 2016 and 2021: Your best players experience a poorly-timed lull in form. Other players lock up spots based on good play three months before the tournament’s first shot. Captain’s picks go to players based on their past record, with faith they’ll come good when the time comes. I’m not saying it’s going to happen. We’re too far out to that. All I’m saying is that you could see it happening.
Joel: No. There’s still runway for these guys to takeoff, and if they don’t, the U.S. team has a number of viable options for a captain’s pick. There’s an argument to be made that Finau might already be out. I think a weirder situation is, what happens if Finau defends his title at the 3M Open? He would have five wins in just over a calendar year, and yet those wins mostly came against weak fields while he hasn’t finished inside the top 25 in a major for the past two years.
Shane: I’m with you fellers, with one caveat: It is a massive, massive deal to me that Justin Thomas could either miss the team or be so bad that he can’t effectively contribute. I watched this guy carry the U.S. in the Melbourne Presidents Cup, play like a baller in the otherwise nightmarish Paris Ryder Cup, and generally just thrive in these team events. I don’t think it’s a death sentence to lose him, but it’s bad.
Question 3: Looking at the current standings, are there any players close to automatic qualification who you’d leave off either team?
Shane: On the American side, Keegan Bradley, but he’s pretty far down now at No. 10. I just don’t see what he brings to the table that you can’t get more of, and better, from guys below him like Fowler, Burns, hell, even Denny McCarthy.
Luke: On the U.S. side, I’d skip over Keegan Bradley unless he tears up the playoffs. Cameron Young still has some work left to do, too. He’s been turning it around, but you really want your potential rookies playing well. On the European side, I’m not as sold on Adrian Meronk as so many of my fellow Europeans seem to be. I can obviously see the appeal, but so many European fans consider him a lock for a pick. We’re placing a lot of stock in his Italian Open performances, but zoom out on his form and he tends to run very hot-and-cold. Maybe very good for match play, but not necessarily one you can bank on.
Joel: I suppose Yannik Paul, currently in fourth on the European points list (the top three qualify). Paul is outside the world top 100, and the events he’s played well in had less-than-stellar fields.