As someone who would know, Jim Furyk believes the most important day on Steve Stricker's watch as U.S. Ryder Cup captain came Sunday afternoon when the final putt was finally holed at BMW Championship in the penultimate event of the PGA Tour's FedEx Cup Playoffs.
With that, the top six spots on Team USA were finalized and, for Stricker, the nucleus of his squad for next month's matches at Whistling Straits in Haven was set. His top five — Collin Morikawa, Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau, Brooks Koepka and Justin Thomas — had locked up their Ryder Cup status before they arrived at Caves Valley Golf Club for the BMW, but the sixth and final automatic qualifier did not emerge until Patrick Cantlay outlasted DeChambeau in a wild, six-hole playoff to win the second of three stops in the FedEx Cup Playoffs and earn the final automatic berth in the upcoming Ryder Cup.
The $1,710,000 payday was worth 2,565 Ryder Cup points to Cantlay, who jumped from No. 11 to No. 6 (13,391.33 points) and bumped last week's winner, Tony Finau, to No. 7 (13,220.03). This will mark the first Ryder Cup appearance for Cantlay, who has good karma on Wisconsin fairways having won five matches and reached the finals of the 2011 U.S. Amateur Championship at Erin Hills only to fall 2-down to Kelly Kraft in the 36-hole finale.
"It's nice to get in on points," Cantlay told reporters at Owings Mills, Md., after his dramatic win. "And I'm really looking forward to that whole event. I've heard so much about it and watched it growing up. I mean, I'm sure it will be everything I've imagined and more. I will lock in there, and hopefully we'll get a victory."
The first six members of Stricker's team earned their way based on their performance since the start of the 2019 season, a qualifying process extended by a year after COVID-19 forced postponement of the 2020 Ryder Cup to 2021. Furyk, who will serve as a vice captain for Stricker, said they will be as important to Team USA as much for their input and leadership in the days and weeks leading up to the Ryder Cup, to be played Sept. 24-26 on the Straits Course, as they will be their performance once the first tee shot is struck in the Friday morning four-ball matches on opening day.
"The guys that qualify, that's your core group, right?" Furyk, the 2018 U.S. Ryder Cup captain, said last week at the Ally Challenge in Grand Blanc, Mich. "Those are the guys you rely on and Strick will kind of bend their ear for their opinions and ideas and what they want to see, as well, on the way in. When I was captain, it was good to get to this moment where you started to see who was going to be on the team and how the team was going to shake out."
The six qualifiers blend two of America's rising stars in Morikawa and DeChambeau with four golfers who are quickly becoming cornerstones for Team USA in international team competition.
2021 U.S. Ryder Cup Team: Automatic Qualifiers
|No.||Name||Points||Berths||RC record||RC points|
Morikawa, who led the U.S. Ryder Cup points marathon, became the first golfer since Bobby Jones in 1926 to win two majors in eight or fewer starts and, combined with his 2020 PGA Championship victory, became the first golfer to win two majors in his debuts in each. That bodes well for Morikawa, the other Ryder Cup rookie in Team USA's top six and a golfer who could easily be paired with some of the power hitters in Stricker's lineup.
"Collin is so good at such a young age," Stricker said in a Tweet on @RyderCupUSA after Morikawa clinched his spot. "Mixing his talent with a Ryder Cup match-play setting will be fun to watch. His iron play will also be critically important at a unique venue like Whistling Straits."
DeChambeau, who went 0-3 in his Ryder Cup debut in 2018, looks nothing like the golfer who teed it up that year when Team USA fell 17½-10½ at Le Golf National in France. He added 20 pounds of body mass before COVID-19 and another 20 pounds during the pandemic and has become the PGA Tour's undisputed heavyweight champion off the tee, bringing an electricity to American golf not seen since John Daly and Tiger Woods raised the bar on driving distance in the early and mid-1990s, respectively.
The other four automatic qualifiers bring a combined seven Ryder Cup appearances and 17-14-1 record between them. Johnson (7-9), making his fifth Ryder Cup start, and Koepka (4-3-1) have the most experience in these matches, but Thomas (4-1) fared well in his Ryder Cup debut in 2018 in France.
"It’s going to be hard to find any weaknesses," Furyk said before Cantlay earned his spot in the top six. "The top five American players in the U.S. Ryder Cup points, I think you’ve got a lot of strengths there. We’ve got some quality players. We’ve got some quality individuals. Good team players. Some guys that are easy to pair.
"They’re the best players the U.S. has to offer. Strick’s going to enjoy this team. I think he’s going to have a great 12 players. It’s never easy, right? Six qualify and six picks. The hardest part of his job right now is to round out the team with the next six picks and get the team he wants."
Indeed, the focus now shifts to Stricker's six captain's picks to be announced following this week's Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta. How far down the U.S. Ryder Cup points standings will he go before deviating from the list?
No. 7 Finau, No. 8 Xander Schauffele and No. 9 Jordan Spieth have played well all year and would seem to be locks to make the team. It would be the first Ryder Cup for Schauffele, who went 3-2 at the 2019 Presidents Cup for captain Tiger Woods in Australia at Royal Melbourne GC.
After that, Stricker will have to weigh potential vs. experience in rounding out the 12-player roster.
No. 10 Harris English and No. 12 Daniel Berger would both be Ryder Cup rookies as would the likes of No. 14 Scottie Scheffler, No. 15 Billy Horschel and No. 18 Kevin Kisner if Stricker were to look further down the points standings. Kisner, who won the recent Wyndham Championship — the final event of the PGA Tour's regular season — in a six-golfer playoff, went 2-0-2 in his only international team competition at the 2017 Presidents Cup at Liberty National in New Jersey, where Stricker captained Team USA to victory, and is seen as a complementary player to some of the bigger names and bigger hitters already on the team.
"Well, the captain has five guys that are great players, but (don't have) a whole lot of Ryder Cup experience," said two-time U.S. Ryder Cup captain Davis Love III, who will also serve as a vice captain under Stricker. "I think going down the list, obviously we're going to pick for pairings, but obviously we need to pick some guys that have played before. That veteran leadership is important, or just a couple years of Ryder Cup experience is very valuable. We don't want to have six rookies, so hopefully we can find some guys that have played before."
2021 U.S. Ryder Cup team: Other potential captain's picks
Despite solid individual Ryder Cup record,
Team USA is 0-3 in his three appearances
Two top-10s (U.S. Open, British Open) &
one top-20 (Masters) in three 2021
majors; T-2 at WGC-Match Play
Won 2021 WGC-Match Play 2 and 1 over Scottie Scheffler
2019 WGC Match-Play champion;
won 2021 Wyndham Championship
in six-golfer playoff
2021 PGA champion who finished
T18 (2015), T-12 (2010), T-6 (2004)
in three PGAs at Whistling Straits
2021 Masters runner-up
T-18 (2010), T-17 (2004) in two
PGA starts at Whistling Straits
T-7 (2015), T-10 (2010) in two
PGA starts at Whistling Straits
Most recent Ryder Cup was 2014
T-21 (2015), 2nd (2004) in two PGAs
at Whistling Straits, but 0-4 record in
Ryder Cup singles could hurt chances
Missed FedEx Cup Playoffs
for first time in 12-year career
Two missed cuts, T-47 (The Northern Trust)
to close out his 2020-21 season
To Love's point, Team USA is poised to be considerably less experienced than it was in 2016, the last time it won the Ryder Cup at Hazeltine National GC in Chaska, Minn. Brandt Snedeker, who went 3-0 that year, and Rickie Fowler, who went 2-1, are too far down the points standings to be considered and it remains to be seen where Ryder Cup stalwarts Patrick Reed (3-1-1 at Hazeltine) and Phil Mickelson (2-1-1) fit into Stricker's selections, if at all.
Reed, who has played in the last three Ryder Cup matches, came into the BMW Championship at No. 11 in the U.S. Ryder Cup standings, but missed the next-to-last event in the FedEx Cup playoffs with bilateral interstitial pneumonia. His status for the season-ending Tour Championship is unclear as is his place on Stricker's list for potential captain's pick.
Meanwhile, Mickelson, who has played on 12 Ryder Cup teams since 1995, thrust his name into the conversation for a captain's pick earlier this year when he won the PGA Championship at 50 years, 11 months and 7 days old. However, in eight events since winning the PGA at Kiawah Island, S.C., he has made five cuts but only finished inside the top 60 in once — a T-17 at the World Golf Championships-FedEx St. Jude Invitational where he shot 69-66-70-68.
"I haven’t had a top-10 outside of the PGA,” Mickelson told ESPN that week. “You can’t take somebody that is that inconsistent."