After months of hypotheticals about who would and would not (not to mention, who should and should not) be on the Ryder Cup teams, all the arguing has been redirected toward who is going to win the 43rd edition of this event. The United States side was picked and completed last week, and the European team -- led by captain Padraig Harrington -- is now set as well following a wild BMW PGA Championship over the weekend.
Harrington's automatic qualifiers put him in a position where he had to select some of Europe's historic lions and leave others off despite recent good form. We'll get to those in a bit, but here's a look at the nine automatic qualifiers.
- Jon Rahm
- Rory McIlroy
- Viktor Hovland
- Tommy Fleetwood
- Tyrrell Hatton
- Paul Casey
- Bernd Wiesberger
- Matthew Fitzpatrick
- Lee Westwood
Wiesberger qualified at the end based on his European Tour points earned at the BMW PGA Championship, where he finished T20 (European Ryder Cup golfers can qualify based on European Tour points or a world points list that captures the work done by players who are European Tour members but play primarily on other tours around the world).
This 11th-hour qualification by Wiesberger for his first Ryder Cup meant that Harrington was forced to pick three of the four following golfers: Shane Lowry, Ian Poulter, Sergio Garcia and Justin Rose. Harrington went with everyone but Rose, even though Rose finished T6 at the BMW PGA Championship, ahead of Lowry and Poulter (who missed the cut).
This was probably the correct choice. The T6 was just Rose's second top 10 in his last seven events. If you look at some of the advanced data from the last three months, Rose is not in the class of Garcia, Poulter and Lowry right now. All three of those golfers rank in the top eight of eligible European Ryder Cup golfers in strokes gained over the last three months. Rose is 17th. Still, it's never easy to leave off somebody who has made five straight appearances and has gone 13-8-2 in his career at this event.
Lowry will be playing his first Ryder Cup and narrowly missed automatic qualification. He's been fabulous all year but especially the last few months with top 12 finishes at two majors and no missed cuts since back in March.
"It was an easy pick based on his form," said Harrington. "Could you imagine playing under that stress all summer, being that guy that people are talking about? He definitely delivered for me and he definitely delivers for all the vice captains and the stats. He lines up well and will certainly bring enthusiasm to the team. We only have three rookies, so we need the young guys in there. We need that bit of enthusiasm and as I said to him, we are going to enjoy the week."
Lowry said he found out the news with his dad after the BMW PGA Championship and was nervous about what the outcome would be. Making the Ryder Cup on the European side is a massive career achievement for men like Lowry who have grown up bathing in its history.
"This is right up there," said Lowry. "I actually spoke to Poults a while ago about it, and you know, obviously everybody knows what he thinks of the Ryder Cup and what it is to him. When you see what it means to someone like Ian Poulter and even you listen to what Sergio was saying there, this is going to be a very special week in my career. I just hope like I said that I can go there and win some points for Europe and we can win the cup."
Garcia and Poulter are two of the golfers Lowry grew up watching, and they have combined to go 36-18-9 over the course of their Ryder Cup careers in 15 combined appearances. Astonishing numbers. It didn't sound like Harrington ever considered leaving them off the team both because of their experience but also because of their form.
"I will say, with all the picks, we have the strongest players in that position I think we've ever had in the Ryder Cup in the 10th, 11th, 12th spot," said Harrington. "Everything lined up."
Harrington was equally generous with his praise of Poulter and Garcia as individuals.
"I've seen how he interacts with the rest of the team as the other Ryder Cups and what he brings to the other players, and he plays great golf himself and he does seem to love match play," said Harrington of Garcia. "Being a great ball-striker, that is very important at Whistling Straits. It really is, which he's shown with his red Ryder Cup record. He is a very rounded Ryder Cup player. It's not like you can play foursomes or you can play four ball, and literally there isn't a player on the team that doesn't want to play with Sergio."
"We are going to a very strong golf course," added Harrington of Poulter. "Ian brings that passion into the team that I know I have players who are good enough. They don't need anything else. We just need to make sure that they have everything they need that week, the passion that they have, and which I know they will be, but they are good enough to deliver, and Ian Poulter is very much a part, very much at the heart of our team to make sure the guys go out there and have a great week."
So that's the 12 that will go against the U.S. 12. On paper, the Americans are much better. But we know how Ryder Cups go on paper.
Some clear differences in composition of Ryder Cup rosters...— Will Gray (@WillGrayGC) September 13, 2021
Euro average age: 34.58 (6 above, 6 below)
US average age: 29.08 (DJ only guy older than 32)
US OWGR: 9 of top 11, none below 21
Euro OWGR: 1 of top 12 (Rahm), 6 ranked between 34-61
It will be Europe's old guard against a turned-over generation on the U.S. side. Europe has four players in their 40s. The U.S. has eight players in their 20s and six rookies overall. Westwood (10) has nearly played in as many Ryder Cups as the entire U.S. team combined (12).
This is clearly a matchup between a Euro side that has the weight of having gone through some wars together and a U.S. side that is rife with the vigor of youth and all the innocence that comes with never having seen the things that can haunt your Ryder Cup career.
It should be fun.
"I'm thrilled, absolutely solid," said Harrington of his entire squad. "They match up super. Great partnerships in there. My biggest difficulty will be I've got too many good players and I'm not hiding anybody. Anybody can play every match."
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