Golf is, by its very nature, a sport for individuals.
But put those guys and gals into a team-based environment, and these typically deftly-spoken and PR trained golfers become roaring, impassioned warriors battling ‘til the last putt drops.
No event better typifies that than the Ryder Cup, the biennial contest that is so fierce that the players on Team Europe – driven by the great traditions of the competition – forget that they are representing an entire continent as opposed to their home countries.
As for the United States, well, we know they’re a patriotic bunch at the best of times, but give them a chance to pull on a uniform bearing the stars and stripes and they become laser-like in their focus to win for their country.
The likes of Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm and recently anointed FedEx Cup champion Viktor Hovland will step up to the plate for the Europeans on home soil in Rome, while America will be represented by Scottie Scheffler, Max Homa, Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler, to name just a few.
But only 12 players can represent Europe and America respectively, so how are the Ryder Cup teams picked?
Automatic Entry & Captain’s Picks
For both Team America and Team Europe, six individuals have a chance to play their way into the Ryder Cup based upon their performances on the PGA and DP World tours alone.
For the United States in particular, the selection policy has come under scrutiny thanks to the PGA TOUR’s civil war with LIV Golf. They may have called an uneasy truce for now, but it still means that – for the 2023 edition at least – some rather talented players on the rebel tour, including Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson and Talor Gooch, are unable to qualify; they do, however, have one another way to get onto the team….more on that shortly.
So the six players that finish the highest on the Ryder Cup points list will gain automatic selection for the USA, while for Europe half-dozen will also automatically qualify – three via the European Points List, which is designed largely for those that compete on the DP World Tour, and three via the World Points List; a way for Europeans who have chosen the PGA TOUR as their home to achieve selection.
Ryder Cup 2023 Automatic Picks
|Rory McIlroy||Scottie Scheffler|
|Jon Rahm||Wyndham Clark|
|Viktor Hovland||Brian Harman|
|Tyrrell Hatton||Patrick Cantlay|
|Matt Fitzpatrick||Max Homa|
|Robert MacIntyre||Xander Schauffele|
The remaining six places on the American team are decided by captain’s picks. For each Ryder Cup, a non-playing captain is appointed – their role is to oversee matters in a leadership capacity but also to decide the make-up of the squad based on objective and subjective factors like world ranking, seasonal performance, Ryder Cup pedigree and so on.
Ryder Cup 2023 Captain’s Picks
|Tommy Fleetwood||Brooks Koepka|
|Sepp Straka||Jordan Spieth|
|Shane Lowry||Collin Morikawa|
|Justin Rose||Sam Burns|
|Nicolai Hojgaard||Rickie Fowler|
|Ludvig Aberg||Justin Thomas|
In 2023, Zach Johnson – the captain of the United States – decided that he wanted Koepka on his team, despite the strained relations between some PGA TOUR and LIV Golf players.
The same goes for the European team too, with the captain also getting six picks from which to complete their squad. In 2023, Luke Donald decided to ignore the LIV Golf contingent of Sergio Garcia, Lee Westwood and co, and instead opted for a youthful line-up of up and coming stars of the PGA and DP World tours.
How are the Ryder Cup Pairings Decided?
For the uninitiated, the Ryder Cup features three days of action. There’s two sets of foursomes – the format in which pairs of players take alternate shots and take turns to tee off, and two sets of four-balls; where each individual plays their own ball and the best individual score is used as the team’s result. Day three is made up of 12 singles games.
So it means that across the opening two days, pairs of players must be decided upon. Ultimately, each captain decides who plays with who, although some pairings – teaming good friends together, or combining an experienced Ryder Cupper with a debutant – seem to pick themselves.
There’s other tactical elements too – errant drivers may be left to watch the foursomes from the sidelines, with their high risk and potentially high reward approach better suited to the four-balls, in which at least their partner’s play could get them out of trouble.
The captain must decide how to use the different personalities at his disposal. In 2018, USA captain Jim Furyk decided to pair the combustible Patrick Reed with the rather more level-headed Tiger Woods, while unlikely bedfellows Tommy Fleetwood and Francesco Molinari – dubbed ‘Moliwood’ – formed a bromance that would see them win all four of their pairs games.
But rather than just throwing pairs together, deep statistical analysis will be undertaken to get the right blend of players together. A strong driver might be paired with an elite approach player, while somebody lacking top-notch quality with their irons might be picked alongside an individual with an excellent recovery game around the greens.
There’s no hard and fast rule as to how the pairings are decided, but the captains and their analysts will sit down to decide which players fit together best based upon their personalities, chemistry and unique abilities out on the course.