As ever when it comes to European Tour politics, Andrew (Chubby) Chandler called it right. On the eve of Thomas Bjorn making the announcement of his captain’s picks for Europe’s Ryder Cup squad, the former player turned agent said, “Ryder Cup captains don’t take punts [risks].”
And so it proved. Following the lead of his American counterpart, Jim Furyk, Bjorn played it safe with his four choices when he added the experienced quartet of Paul Casey, Sergio Garcia, Henrik Stenson and Ian Poulter. They join the eight automatic qualifiers already in place: Jon Rahm, Rory McIlroy, Tommy Fleetwood, Alex Noren, Justin Rose, Thorbjorn Olesen, Francesco Molinari and Tyrrell Hatton. Together, the four wildcards have amassed 20 previous appearances in Europe’s colors.
“This took a lot of thought,” Bjorn insisted. “There have been so many guys doing well in Europe this year, which is a good sign of where European golf is. But it meant me having to think about a lot of guys. So it hasn’t been the easiest. But, on the other hand, it has been a privilege for me to have so many people to choose from. In the end, I had to make choices. And yes, there were a couple of disappointed people on the phone yesterday.”
In making his selections, Bjorn spurned the claims of strong contenders like Rafa Cabrera-Bello, Matt Wallace, Matt Fitzpatrick, Thomas Pieters and Russell Knox. But with five Ryder Cup rookies already in place (Rahm, Fleetwood, Olesen, Noren and Hatton), it was perhaps no surprise that the Dane went with four veterans with so much past experience of the unique pressures and atmosphere that make the biennial fixture so special. History shows a trend. Picking European Ryder rookies tends to be less successful than selecting those who have played previously.
In total, 44 European picks have been since 1979, when the continental players joined those from Great Britain & Ireland. Of those, 11 were rookies whose contributions added up to 15½ points from a possible 34. In contrast, players chosen who have played previously contributed a total of 62 points out of a possible 126.
Which is not to say that every Ryder Cup captain would have followed Bjorn’s lead.
“The rookie thing is such BS, it’s unbelievable,” said one past skipper. “I always wanted the guy who is eager to play golf. I wanted the guy who was enthusiastic, versus an old veteran who couldn’t care less. I always thought that a young kid—rookie or not—ready to play was always going to perform better than an older guy.”
Still, Bjorn was clearly influenced by the presence of so many first-timers already on his team, a roster in which all 12 players are ranked inside the world’s top 40 as they head to Le Golf National outside Paris.
“Yes, I have five fantastic rookies in the team,” he said. “And yes, I have experience in the shape Rory, Justin and Francesco. But five rookies is a lot, and you have to have balance within the team. So I felt like I had to go with experience, even if the rookies are different rookies. They are world-class players. And they all come in with achievements you rarely see in Ryder Cup rookies [the five have 15 victories between them since the last matches in 2016].”
Within that philosophy, the closest thing to a surprise was the selection of Garcia. The 38-year-old Spaniard has endured a difficult times with his game almost since winning the 2017 Masters. Garcia has missed the cut in each of the last five major championships, has fallen to 30th in the World Rankings and failed to qualify for the PGA Tour’s 2018 FedEx Cup playoffs.
On the other side of that ledger, Garcia’s record in the Ryder Cup is comparable with even the best. Since becoming the youngest player to appear in the matches at 19 in 1999, the 14-time European Tour champion has accumulated 22½ points, only 2½ short of Nick Faldo’s all-time record.
“You have to look at Sergio in certain ways,” Bjorn said. “He is the heartbeat of the team. He comes into the team room and bring so much to the week. Everyone who has seen him there says the same thing. Not only is he a fantastic player, he makes everyone around him better. We all talk about what is great about the European team room. And Sergio is what is great about it. He is everything the European Ryder Cup team is all about.”