Golf

The U.S. Ryder Cup 'B-team'? It's still absolutely loaded

From left: Cameron Young, Bryson DeChambeau and Dustin Johnson.
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Zach Johnson used a pretty simple system. The U.S. Ryder Cup captain said as much on Monday when asked how he’d rounded out his roster for this week’s showdown in Italy. 
When it came time to make his captain’s picks, Johnson told reporters, “it was the 20, the top 25 guys in that point system that I felt like had the merit and certainly should have my full attention. That’s basically where I was.”
Scientific? Sort of. But along with analytics, Johnson also went with qualitative measures, such as personal relationships between players, which allowed him wiggle room to jump around within the Ryder Cup rankings, bypassing some candidates who were higher in the standings in favor of others who he felt would mesh.
That’s not to say that Johnson chose poorly; Sam Burns, Rickie Fowler, Brooks Koepka, Collin Morikawa, Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas aren’t exactly slouches. It’s only to recognize that, given the deep talent pool at his disposal, he could have chosen differently.
In an alternate universe, here 6 other players Johnson could have added to his side without having to apologize. It’s not so much a B-team as it is an A-.
A rabid New England sports fan, Bradley, 37, is old enough to remember the Pats before Tom Brady and the Red Sox before they broke The Curse. In short, he knows from suffering. But nothing from his painful early days of fandom likely stung as much as learning he’d missed out on this year’s Ryder Cup. Not only had he made it plain how badly he wanted in, he’d also made a strong case for himself this season, notching two wins and six-top 10s while rising to 11th in the Ryder Cup points standings, higher than three players (Burns, Fowler and Thomas) who wound up on the team. What he hadn’t done was break into the boys’ club. “I’ve always been an outsider in the sport,” Bradley said after learning he’d been left off the squad. Moving forward, he added, “I feel like I’ll have to automatically qualify for the Ryder Cup.” Or spring break with more guys on the squad.
The last time we saw DJ in a Ryder Cup setting, his shirt was doused with Champagne and a lot of bubbly was in his belly. That was two years ago, on Sunday afternoon, at Whistling Straits, fresh off a U.S. route of the Europeans in which Johnson went a perfect 5-0, the first American to win all five of his matches since Larry Nelson in 1979. As Johnson slurred his words, joking with reporters, the cackles from his teammates hammered home another point: few Tour pros are more popular with their peers. Even this past year, at the height of LIV-Tour tensions, no one had a bad word to say about Johnson, who was often cited by Tour loyalists as the LIV defector they missed the most. In 2023, DJ’s play didn’t cry out for attention. But the man who ran the table at Whistling Straits remains one of the game’s most sizable talents who tends to stand out when it matters, and never has a problem fitting in. 
Granted, it’s tough to chose a guy for the Ryder Cup who has struggled historically with his putter. But that was the old Glover. With a late-season shift to a new flat stick and grip, the former U.S. Open champ got the spasm out of his stroke and got himself back in the winner’s circle not once but twice, with back-to-back titles in the Fed Ex Cup playoffs. In the Ryder Cup, there’s a good argument for choosing the player who’s peaking. As 2023 wound down, no American was riding higher than the guy who’d finally learned to roll the rock.
If 2023 was a sophomore slump for Young, that’s only because it’s tough to improve on being the PGA Tour Rookie of the Year. In many respects, his strong play continued, with top 10s in two majors and 19 cuts made in 22 events. He also finished 8th in the Ryder Cup point standings, the highest-ranked player outside the bubble who wasn’t selected as a captain’s pick. Statistically, the flatstick has been Young’s Achilles heel. But he remains a force of nature from tee to green, and was 3rd in driving distance on Tour this year. Paired with a dead-eye putter like, say, Denny McCarthy, on a Ryder Cup venue rich in drivable par-4s and reachable par 5s, and Young could have been a wrecking ball in partner play. Ask Fred Couples, who basically said Young was going to be on the team.
See: Young, Cameron.
Before you go all Brooks Koepka and dismiss DeChambeau as someone who just needed to “play better,” consider this. After a sluggish start to 2023, Bryson nabbed a T4 in the PGA Championship and closed the year with two wins in two months on the LIV circuit. He’s been hot. Still not persuaded? Then think back on 2021 at Whistling Straits, where he went 2-0-1 and dismantled Sergio Garcia in a singles match that was pretty over after DeChambeau drove the 1st green and drained the putt for eagle. Bryson’s length is a unique weapon. He plays a game with which few people are familiar. If that makes him tricky to partner with in foursomes, it also makes him something of a captain’s dream. No tough decisions. You sit him in alternate shot, then set him loose when you want to pound opponents into submission.

A golf, food and travel writer, Josh Sens has been a GOLF Magazine contributor since 2004 and now contributes across all of GOLF’s platforms. His work has been anthologized in The Best American Sportswriting. He is also the co-author, with Sammy Hagar, of Are We Having Any Fun Yet: the Cooking and Partying Handbook.
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