Steve Stricker’s at-large picks for his U.S. Ryder Cup team did not include Patrick Reed, one of the few American players with a winning record in the competition that has frustratingly seen Europe capture nine of the last 12 events.
The decision drew plenty of complaints on social media and a good bit of support for Reed, the 2018 Masters champion who has been dubbed “Captain America” and relished his role in the U.S. Cup competitions.
Several of the tweets were critical of Stricker, one referring to him as a “coward,” and others basically chiding the captain for leaving Reed out. Reed or whoever runs his Twitter account “liked” more than a dozen of those tweets, including the ones that were disparaging of Stricker.
He has not tweeted since the start of the Tour Championship last week.
Reed, 31, is a nine-time winner on the PGA Tour who has been involved in several rules controversies. He also chided the decision in the aftermath of the 2018 Ryder Cup in France that separated him from partner Jordan Spieth — a decision that Reed said caught him by surprise.
Last month, Reed was hospitalized with bilateral pneumonia and said at the Tour Championship his life was in danger. He was able to play — he tied for 17th in the Atlanta — but was forced to drive from his home in Houston to Atlanta because doctors feared flying would be difficult on his lungs.
“Patrick Reed … that was a very, very difficult call,” Stricker said. “Kind of lost sleep over that one. He’s a tremendous competitor. He brings a lot of match-play golf. His record at the Ryder Cup is pretty darned good. It was a very difficult call. It was just the uncertainty of his health and really the lack of play that led to our decision down the stretch.”
Reed has a 7-3-2 record in three Ryder Cup appearances, with three singles victories. But none of his team victories came without Spieth, who played all four team matches in France with Justin Thomas.
Reed went 1-2 in France and was 1-3 in Melbourne at the 2019 Ryder Cup.
ATLANTA — One golf tournament should not make a player’s bid for a spot on the U.S. Ryder Cup team. Then again, with the flexibility of having six at-large picks, shouldn’t U.S. captain Steve Stricker be looking at more subtle reasons for putting together the last pieces of his team? And more specifically, could one piece be Kevin Na?
The Korean-born American golfer, who turned pro when he was in high school and has seemingly been around forever, has never been on a U.S. Ryder Cup or Presidents Cup team. He has probably never been seriously considered. Who knows, maybe Stricker has already dismissed him.
But when Stricker makes his six picks on Wednesday at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin, site of the matches later this month, Na, 37, would be an interesting choice.
He’s not a long hitter and might not be suited for the brutish Whistling Straits course that borders Lake Michigan. At times, he has had driving issues and swing yips issues and maddening slow-play issues.
And yet, he’s playing some excellent golf of late, putts beautifully and is just quirky enough to annoy a European opponent. Pair him with Bryson DeChambeau … whomever they go against might just lose their collective minds in exasperation.
Na is also coming off an underrated performance at the Tour Championship, where Patrick Cantlay was the big FedEx Cup winner. But due to the staggered strokes format, Na tied Jon Rahm at 14 under par for the lowest scores over 72 holes at East Lake.
In any other tournament, Na would have been in a sudden-death playoff.
“I was trying to win that secret leaderboard, where everybody started from even par, to get captain Stricker’s attention, so I could get a captain’s pick,” he said.
Na said he wasn’t lobbying for a pick. But given the opportunity, well … he lobbied for a pick.
And, actually, he did more of the talking with his clubs and his putter.
Imagine him with American fans hollering as he walks in one of those putts, which he did often in Atlanta.
“I couldn’t have played any better,” he said. “I had one bogey for 27 holes, and the last three rounds [were] bogey-free. Couldn’t have played any better. No matter what golf course I play, if I’m on, I can play. [East Lake] is a golf course that I always felt like it didn’t suit my game. Hitting two to three clubs more than everybody else on every hole, greens are firm, if you miss the fairway for me there’s no chance out of the rough for me.
“I drove it beautifully. That was the key to a successful week.”
Here’s the thing: Na would not be expected to carry the U.S. team. He might play just twice — maybe only once — before singles matches on Sunday of the three-day event. Same for some of the other possibilities Stricker has in mind. The question is if Na fits better than the others for some specific role.
If getting to the Tour Championship mattered, only Simpson and Kisner failed to advance to Atlanta.
Stricker has several pairings for the team formats. Thomas and Spieth were a strong team in a losing effort in Paris three years ago. Schauffele and Cantlay played four times, going 2-2, at the Presidents Cup in Australia two years ago. Morikawa, if he gets his solid iron game on track, would be expected to play both foursomes and four-ball. You could see him playing with Johnson or Koepka or Finau. Johnson is certainly a candidate to play all five matches, as might be Finau.
That doesn’t leave many openings. So why not find someone who fits a niche, who might just play once or twice before singles?
Na has had a good run of late, finishing at the top at the Tour Championship after a tie for 17th at the BMW Championship and a tie for eighth at the Northern Trust. He also had two second-place finishes before that.
Again, it’s less about those results and more about Na’s ability to fill a role. Imagine him in four-ball with DeChambeau, who would be expected to make a ton of birdies while Na plays steady and attempts to make the pars that allow his partner to be more aggressive.
Sure, there are other players who might very well fit that role. One could be Reed, who had a nice Tour Championship after being hospitalized for double pneumonia. Having started hitting balls only a week ago, Reed showed signs of improvement each day.
“I definitely feel like I am way ahead of where I would say everyone expected me to be health-wise,” he said. “With not playing for a while, you expect a couple loose shots here and there, but as a whole, I felt like the way my health was and the way my golf game was, I’m way ahead of schedule now. To be able to have two weeks at home to grind and get ready. I have no doubt if I’m on the team I’ll be ready and be 100 percent.”
Reed has been one of the best U.S. Ryder Cup players going back to 2014. He is one of the few with a winning record. Then again, he was 1-2 in Paris and 1-3 in Melbourne and his only victories came in singles.
And if Stricker was looking for a reason not to pick him, Reed’s recent health issues are a legitimate excuse.
Na isn’t going to overwhelm anyone (he tied for 58th at the 2010 PGA at Whistling Straits and missed the cut there in 2015), but he does have four wins in the past three-plus years. He leads the PGA Tour in strokes-gained around the green. He also seems to hole a lot of putts, which anecdotally seems to be a deficiency for the U.S. team in Ryder Cups.
“I think I can get on the European team’s nerves walking in a bunch of putts and getting up-and-down from everywhere,” Na said.
He still seems like a long shot. And Stricker certainly could not be blamed for going with the likes of Reed, Berger or Simpson, guys who have played on previous Cup teams.
Cantlay’s victory pushed him into the sixth and final qualifying spot, bumping out Finau, who had claimed that position a week earlier. Finau occupies the seventh position and seems assured of one of Stricker’s picks.
Neither was necessarily a lock for a pick a few weeks ago, which says something about how big their victories were and the way they were accomplished.
It is unlikely that Stricker will stray too far from the final points list in deciding his next six. Stricker, with the help of his vice captains (to this point) Jim Furyk, Davis Love III and Zach Johnson (could Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods be added?) have this week to figure it out, with the picks coming on Sept. 7. The Ryder Cup is Sept. 24-26 at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin.
Here is a look at the other players not in the top six, in order of their place in the final standings.
7th in standings
FOR His victory at the Northern Trust, with a clutch back nine and a sudden-death victory, answered a lot of questions and all but made him a lock. Finau is considered a team guy and his ability to make birdies in best-ball is an asset.
AGAINST There is little reason to not pick the guy who finished seventh in points and is playing well at this moment. Prior to the Northern Trust, Finau had a spotty summer. But it would be a shock to leave him off now.
8th in standings
FOR The Olympic gold medalist was only bumped out of the sixth spot two weeks ago and was seemingly a lock all summer. Despite not winning on the PGA Tour — and he earned no points for his Olympic victory — Schauffele has been a consistent high finisher in the majors and had a good partnership with Cantlay at the Presidents Cup.
AGAINST It is difficult to see any negatives at this point. Schauffele is ranked fifth in the world.
9th in standings
FOR He’s had an excellent bounce-back season, with a victory at the Valero Texas Open and seven other top-10 finishes. He’s gone from 92nd in the world following the Farmers Insurance Open to 14th.
AGAINST There is no reason not to pick Spieth at this point. He went 3-1 with Justin Thomas in France, and at 7-5-2 overall, he is one of the few U.S. players with a winning Ryder Cup record.
10th in standings
FOR A career season has seen English win twice, finish third at the U.S. Open and fourth at a WGC event to vault into the Ryder Cup contention. It’s tough to see someone who’s won, is 11th in the world and is 10th in points not make the team.
AGAINST He’s never played in either the Ryder Cup or Presidents Cup. So if lack of experience matters, that would appear to be reaching for a reason for not to pick him.
11th in standings
FOR He is, after all, “Captain America”. He’s one of the most passionate American players who loves the competition and gets fired up to compete in such circumstances. At 7-3-2, he has a rare winning U.S. record, and he’s 3-0 in singles. Despite any perceived camaraderie issues, it’s hard to imagine leaving him out.
AGAINST If Stricker needed a reason not to pick Reed, he has a legitimate one. An ankle injury keeping him out of the Northern Trust was not a big deal. But being hospitalized for double pneumonia and missing the BMW Championship is quite concerning. Reed has now missed three tournaments he planned to play, and his viability for the Ryder Cup is fair to consider and might not be worth the gamble.
12th in standings
FOR A fiery player who fell outside the top 100 in the world in 2019 while dealing with injuries, Berger rebounded last year following the pandemic shutdown and has been inside the top 20 all year. He won the Pebble Beach Pro-Am, has seven other top-10 finishes and went 2-1 at the 2017 Presidents Cup experience.
AGAINST There’s not much to dislike about Berger. You could quibble about his lack of Ryder Cup experience, or if he’s a good fit — which seems unlikely.
13th in standings
FOR Simpson has plenty of Presidents Cup and Ryder Cup experience and he seemingly can be a partner for anyone. He might fill that role nicely with DeChambeau, if asked, and his ability to putt well is an asset in the Ryder Cup.
AGAINST The emergence of Cantlay and Finau in recent weeks has potentially hurt Simpson’s chances. He’s dropped from sixth in the world to 20th this year. For Simpson to get a pick, Stricker needs to be thinking of him for a specific role.
14th in standings
FOR Scheffler has seemingly done everything but win in his two-plus years on the PGA Tour, contending often, showing numerous skills and ascending to the top 20 in the world. If the U.S. side is looking to get experience for some of its young players, Scheffler should be on the list of those considered.
AGAINST It is rare for a player who has never won on the PGA Tour to get a captain’s pick, and Scheffler has no experience in either the Presidents Cup or Ryder Cup. (Rickie Fowler got a pick in 2010 without winning and performed well.)
15th in standings
FOR It would be fun to see the long-hitting Kokrak paired with someone like Dustin Johnson or Koepka in fourball and see how many birdies they might produce. A two-time winner, Kokrak has found his stride over the past year. If Stricker is trying to think outside the box and use his picks to their fullest, he will get consideration. His length is well-suited for Whistling Straits.
AGAINST Lack of experience in these competitions is his biggest drawback. He is also no higher in points despite winning twice this season and has been pretty quiet since his win at Colonial.
16th in standings
FOR A huge jump from 154th in the world to 25th was fueled by his first victory at the Valspar Championship. He also finished second at the Byron Nelson and lost in a playoff at the WGC-FedEx St. Jude. The idea of adding young talent for the future is intriguing and Burns has been decent in the playoffs.
AGAINST Despite winning and two other seconds, Burns is still way out of the top 12 and facing a ton of competition.
17th in standings
FOR A fierce competitor who would be great in foursomes, Horschel has had a solid year and won the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play in March.
AGAINST His biggest issue is the crowded field. Horschel has never played in the Ryder Cup. He would face a daunting course, and at this point, it’s about matchups with possible partners. If Stricker sees a fit, then that is his ticket to Wisconsin.
18th in standings
FOR Kisner’s victory at the Wyndham Championship is a reminder of his tenacity. He won the WGC-Match Play in 2019, went 2-0-2 in his only Presidents Cup appearance in 2017 and is considered an excellent putter who excels at match play.
AGAINST He’s had an average year until his victory at Wyndham, which only moved him into the top 20 in points. Whistling Straits is also not his kind of course.
19th in standings
FOR A gritty competitor who lost in a playoff at the Wyndham, Na has proven himself to be a likeable sort who has overcome slow play issues and might be an intriguing option for Stricker, especially with his ability to putt.
AGAINST Like Homa, has he done enough? Is putting a big enough strength to overcome other negatives? Is there a specific player he would make a good pairing with for a match or two?
20th in standings
FOR He’s Phil Mickelson, legend, Hall of Famer, six-time major winner, including this year’s PGA Championship. He’s got tons of leadership skills, has been around these team events forever and would make an excellent partner for DeChambeau in fourball.
AGAINST He’s done almost nothing aside from the win at Kiawah. Mickelson’s best finish was a tie for 17th at the WGC in Memphis, and he admitted he needed strong playoffs to get consideration, which didn’t happen. He missed the cut at the Northern Trust and had a horrible second round at the BMW. Pencil in Phil for a vice captain’s role and a future Ryder Cup captaincy.