Bryson DeChambeau made Jim Furyk’s life a good deal more complicated this past weekend.
With his dominant victory in The Northern Trust —the opener of the so-called PGA Tour playoffs—DeChambeau made it pretty much impossible for Furyk not to name him as one of his four Ryder Cup captain’s picks next Tuesday.
For the record, they are “so-called” playoffs because how do you take something seriously when finishing T-3 at the fabulous Northern Trust Open earns a player more points than winning a major? Another topic for another day.
DeChambeau narrowly missed making Furyk’s team on points, dropping to ninth place after the PGA Championship—one spot from being an automatic qualifier.
It is hardly unprecedented for captains to pass on the ninth place finisher in the points race. In fact, Furyk (2014) is the only player to finish ninth on the U.S. points list since 2010 and make the team: Anthony Kim was ninth in 2010; Hunter Mahan finished in that spot in 2012 and Bubba Watson was last-man-out two years ago. Furyk was an automatic pick because Tom Watson reduced his team’s captains picks from four to three that year.
Prior to his bravura performance at Ridgewood, DeChambeau was likely to join that list. Furyk’s made it clear that he thinks experience is critical on the road and DeChambeau, at 24, will be a Ryder Cup rookie and the youngest player on the U.S. team. What’s more, he is very clearly an outside-the-box thinker and U.S. captains very much want everyone inside-the-box when they walk into the U.S. team room.
The minute the PGA ended with Tiger Woods 10th on the points list and Phil Mickelson 11th, they were locks to be two of Furyk’s picks. Matt Kuchar—who finished 13th—was also a likely pick because of his experience and because he brings a looseness to the U.S team room that is desperately needed.
Now though, Kuchar may have to play his way into the final spot during the next three tournaments because Furyk has to seriously consider Tony Finau, if only because Finau can be a birdie-making machine.
If Furyk were to pick Finau, that would give the U.S. team three rookies—Finau, DeChambeau and Justin Thomas. Kuchar did finish two spots ahead of Finau in the final points standings and, combined with his experience and his unique personality, that could give him an edge when Furyk announces his last pick after the Tour Championship.
It’s worth remembering that two years ago, the first time the Americans withheld their final pick until after East Lake (aka the “Billy Horschel pick,” after Horschel’s back-to-back wins came too late to make the U.S. team in 2014) Davis Love III went with the hot hand, taking Ryan Moore over Watson.
Watson hadn’t played especially well during the summer and Moore did—capping his late run by losing a playoff in Atlanta to Rory McIlroy. Love’s instinct to go with the hot player paid off: Moore played well at Hazeltine and scored the clinching point on Sunday with a come-from-behind win over Lee Westwood.
Furyk will announce Woods, Mickelson and DeChambeau the day after Labor Day and then sit back and see what happens in Philadelphia and Atlanta before making his final decision on the Horschel pick.
Europe’s points list race won’t end until this coming weekend. European captain Thomas Bjorn will announce his three captains picks the day after Furyk announces his first three.
Europe’s biggest problem at Hazeltine was a lack of experience: Darren Clarke had six rookies on his team and, playing on the road, most struggled—the notable exception being Thomas Pieters, who went 4-1; winning three matches paired with McIlroy and his singles match.
McIlroy has talked often in the last year about the fact that the experience those six players gained at Hazeltine will help next month at Le Golf National, outside of Paris.