U.S. Ryder Cup focus: Camaraderie, chemistry

U.S. Ryder Cup focus: Camaraderie, chemistry

ROCHESTER, N.Y. — U.S. Ryder Cup captain Zach Johnson still has more than three months to decide which players will be among his six captain’s choices for the matches outside Rome in September, but he has a pretty good idea of what he’s looking for.

The top six players in the Ryder Cup points standings after the BMW Championship on Aug. 17-20 will automatically qualify for the U.S. squad. The team will be announced the following week after the season-ending Tour Championship.

The Americans will try to end a 30-year drought on European soil at the Ryder Cup, which is scheduled for Sept. 29-Oct. 1 at Marco Simone Golf and Country Club outside Rome.

“I want camaraderie and chemistry in the team room,” Johnson said during a news conference at the PGA Championship at Oak Hill Country Club on Wednesday. “I want ownership by the team. I think it probably holds more true over there than over here. I want horses for courses. I want guys that can navigate Marco Simone in September, and caddies because it’s a hilly gem. There’s numerous factors.”

Scottie Scheffler, Max Homa, Xander Schauffele, Cameron Young, Jordan Spieth and Patrick Cantlay are currently in the top six in points.

Sam Burns, Justin Thomas, Collin Morikawa and Will Zalatoris round out the top 10 in points, but Zalatoris will miss the rest of the season after undergoing back surgery and won’t play in the Ryder Cup. Tony Finau, who is 13th in points, is probably playing his way onto the team after winning four times on the PGA Tour since July.

Wyndham Clark, Kurt Kitayama, Chris Kirk, Harris English, Sahith Theegala, Keegan Bradley, Rickie Fowler and others also could play their way into consideration.

Johnson was asked specifically about Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka, who left the PGA Tour to play in the LIV Golf League. Zach Johnson said it was difficult to assess their form because he hasn’t seen them play much in person.

“I don’t travel anywhere but the PGA Tour and the majors,” Zach Johnson said. “I don’t know. I haven’t really gotten down to the stats and crunching of data and that sort of thing, so it’s not really fair for me to say that’s the only measurement. But I am in the golf circles. I know what’s going on. I’m not oblivious to things. The way I see it is every guy that wants to make the U.S. Ryder Cup team should try to make the top six. However that looks, you’ve got to play good and earn your way onto that team.”

Dustin Johnson, who is 37th in the U.S. team points standings, went 5-0 in the Americans’ historic 19-9 rout of the Europeans at the 2021 Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin.

A two-time major champion with 24 career victories on the PGA Tour, Johnson was LIV Golf’s individual champion in its inaugural season in 2022. He also picked up his first victory of 2023 in last week’s LIV Golf tournament in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. He tied for 48th at the Masters.

“Really difficult for me to judge that,” Zach Johnson said of Dustin Johnson’s chances. “Again, I don’t know the golf courses they’re playing. Never seen them. I’m not there on foot in person. You’re talking about an individual whose résumé is extremely deep and wide. He’s certainly in my generation one of the best players I’ve ever competed against, but it’s not fair for me to guess his true form or anybody’s true form that I can’t witness.”

Dustin Johnson said he wants to play in the Ryder Cup, despite the ongoing feud between the LIV Golf League and the PGA Tour.

“I have no idea if I’d get picked,” he said. “Obviously, if I continue to play really well for the rest of the year, then obviously there’s a chance. Yes, I would definitely like to play in the Ryder Cup. It’s one of my favorite events to play in, especially after the last Ryder Cup. Obviously had a pretty good week. And, yeah, it’s just an awesome event; and yeah, I’d love to be a part of it.”

Koepka, who was plagued by a knee injury for much of the past two seasons, tied for second at the Masters, 4 strokes behind winner Jon Rahm. Koepka has a 6-5-1 record on three U.S. Ryder Cup teams.

“I haven’t really seen where he’s at since Augusta,” Zach Johnson said. “He played really good that one week, but it’s one week. I don’t want to sit here and say that it’s concrete, it’s the only thing we’re going to be looking at. It’s one week, at a major venue, at the Masters tournament. He played great. But there’s still a lot of golf between now and then.”

Zach Johnson spoke to Koepka for a few minutes on the practice green at Oak Hill on Wednesday.

“It would be awesome to represent the United States,” Koepka said. “Anytime we do it, it’s always fun. But I’m not focused on it. It’s not, like, my first thought when I go play well this week. If I handle my business out here, everything will take care of itself. If you win, go second, first, first, first, it would be kind of tough not to pick, right? If you go handle business, I feel like I should be fine.”

The U.S. team captain did say Wednesday that the PGA of America has given him permission to take his team on a scouting trip to Marco Simone Golf and Country Club in mid-August. Johnson said he has told potential team members that making the trip will be a priority.

“I’m taking the 12 guys that make my team to Rome 2½ weeks prior to the event, so that way they get their feet on the grounds, experience Marco Simone firsthand,” Johnson said. “Then when we leave and come back home for two weeks, they’ll have at least, I think, a pretty realistic expectation as to what is required. I think it helps. I think that trip right there is going to be crucial.”

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