Golf

The 8 Ryder Cup players under the most pressure to perform

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Justin Thomas and Ludvig Aberg are among the Ryder Cuppers with the most to lose in Rome.
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Consider for a moment the duality of pressure soon to be facing the Ryder Cup team rooms.
On one side is Justin Thomas, arguably the most controversial selection on either side of this year’s Cup.
A year ago that might have sounded preposterous. Thomas was fresh off his second-career major win at the PGA Championship, actively chasing the World No. 1 ranking as one of the U.S. side’s most celebrated match-play competitors. But now he heads to Rome fresh off the worst year of his professional life — one that saw him record more rounds in the 80s at majors (two) than he did made cuts (one), missing the FedEx Cup Playoffs entirely for the first time in his professional career. Thomas’ Ryder Cup eligibility was ostensibly tied to his history in this event, his relationships with the U.S. team staff and players, and his reputation as a match play star. Had U.S. captain Zach Johnson considered other factors, like Thomas’ recent playing form, it’s possible — if not likely — that someone else would have found their way onto the roster.
On the other side of the Ryder Cup team room is Ludvig Aberg, one of the last selections made by Luke Donald for the European Roster.
A year ago Aberg’s candidacy might have sounded preposterous. He was 20 years old, fresh off his sophomore season at Texas Tech University and racking up the laundry list of accolades that typically follows an ascendant college player. A highly-touted but still green Swede, Aberg’s Ryder Cup chances hovered somewhere between little and none. But then came 2022, the year that half a Ryder Cup roster’s worth of European stars fled to LIV Golf, leaving open a plethora of opportunities for fresh blood. Aberg stepped into the void, his eligibility ostensibly tied to his recent play (which has been strong), his skill, and his boundless potential. Had European captain Luke Donald considered other factors, like course fit or match play experience, it’s possible — if not likely — that someone else would have found their way onto the roster.
Two players, two teams, two entirely different rationales. The only similarity? Pressure — and lots of it.
With both rosters officially set in stone, let’s break down the eight other Ryder Cup characters under the most pressure when we turn to Rome in just a few short weeks, starting with the two men listed above: Thomas and Aberg.
Thomas has never been under the microscope the way he’s going to be in Rome, where he will enter by far the most scrutinized player on either side. His recent play suggests things are finally trending back in the right direction (he finished T12 in his last start of the year at the Wyndham Championship), but there’s a difference between a season-ending pillow fight in Greensboro and a singles slugfest in Rome. It will be up to Thomas to show us he’s ready to elevate his game again.
In the immediate aftermath of the selection, Thomas offered his own spin on finding himself left out of the FedEx Cup Playoffs, arguing the extra time in his schedule will help him with tournament prep.
“None of [the other U.S. Ryder Cup selections] even want to look at a golf course, but I’ve been practicing and working pretty hard,” he said.
There is no arguing he’s putting the work in, but if things go poorly come tournament weekend, Thomas will quickly find himself in the center of the wrong kind of limelight.
While JT enters Ryder Cup week with the lion’s share of the pressure, there’s an argument that no player possesses a wider range of outcomes than Aberg. The 23-year-old turned heads all summer on the PGA Tour, but still hasn’t recorded a single major championship start. Now he heads into the Ryder Cup as one of the youngest tournament competitors ever.
The likely case is that Aberg will be shielded come tournament time in favor of every-match vets like Jon Rahm and Rory McIlroy, but there’s no fully hiding anyone come tournament week. We’ll learn a lot about Ludvig’s competitive makeup in very short order.
Very likely the final player on the U.S. roster, Burns will have two jobs come September 29.
The first: avenge his forgettable match play debut at the 2022 Presidents Cup, where he and good pal Scottie Scheffler struggled in Burns’ match play debut, resulting in 0-3-1 weeklong record.
The second: justify himself as Scheffler’s putting accomplice during the early-week proceedings.
Success in the latter will likely help with the former, to say nothing of keeping quiet American fans bummed about the absence of bleeding-heart New Englander Keegan Bradley.
In many ways, McIlroy’s performance in the American whooping at Whistling Straits set the stage for the two years that followed for McIlroy: good, but not good enough. His 1-3-0 performance — the lone victory coming when the Cup was all but decided on Sunday — proved perfectly emblematic of a surprisingly underwhelming European performance.
McIlroy is always in the spotlight, but another subpar performance would push his career Ryder Cup record to sub-.500 (he currently sits 12-12-4, all-time). Alternatively, a win would prove a massive legacy booster at a time when it’s desperately needed.
It seems unlikely Scheffler will struggle as much in Rome as he did last fall in Charlotte, particularly not after a 2-0-1 performance at Whistling Straits in ’21 set the stage for the Masters-winning sophomore season that followed. But it’s been a strange few months for Scheffler, whose putting infamously served as the Achilles heel to an otherwise historic ’23. More frustration in Rome would put a sour taste on the end of a wonderful, if disappointing, season.
The pressure from Hojgaard doesn’t necessarily come from his inclusion — he’s been one of the most consistent players on the European side since the points window opened in 2022 — but rather it comes from who was excluded as a result of his performance. Adrian Meronk, owner of a win and a runner-up finish at Marco Simone in the last two organized events hosted there, was left off in favor of Hojgaard, who lost to Meronk at the Italian Open in May.
Of course, match play is an entirely different beast, but if Hojgaard struggles, this will be an easy pick to second-guess.
LIV’s only Ryder Cup competitor has something to prove for his home tour — and should be expecting some extra attention in Italy, particularly if there are any notable developments in the whole [gestures vaguely at the PGA Tour/LIV merger].
No, ZJ isn’t playing at this Ryder Cup, but as a U.S. captain who has (repeatedly) emphasized the benefits of competing alongside his future teammates, Johnson had better hope he’s right about his roster picks.
It’s unfair that three decades of U.S. Cup struggles on European soil rest on his shoulders. Hundreds of things could go wrong, and Johnson has no control over the overwhelming majority of them. But there’ll be plenty of quibble about if his picks don’t perform as advertised.
Sure, that’s part of the job, but it also means the pressure is coming after him, too.

James Colgan is a news and features editor at GOLF, writing stories for the website and magazine. He manages the Hot Mic, GOLF’s media vertical, and utilizes his on-camera experience across the brand’s platforms. Prior to joining GOLF, James graduated from Syracuse University, during which time he was a caddie scholarship recipient (and astute looper) on Long Island, where he is from. He can be reached at james.colgan@golf.com.
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