Ryder Cup 2021: All 24 golfers playing at Whistling Straits, ranked
Here at Golf Digest, we rank the top 100 players heading into every major championship. It’s a fun if not futile exercise even then, ahead of a 72-hole stroke-play event on the most demanding golf courses of the year, designed to weed out the pretenders and identify the best players in the world. For a match-play event, with partners, during a week that looks, sounds and plays different than any other, predicting who will win—let alone which players will shine—borders on impossible.
Undeterred, we’ve done our best to rank each of the 24 players teeing it up at Whistling Straits. The concept: If we had our pick of the entire lot, what would the draft order look like? The highly subjective results are as follows. If nothing else, you’ll know more about the men you’ll cheer for—and against—during the most fun week in golf.
24. Bernd Wiesberger
Age: 35 World Ranking: 63 Ryder Cup appearances: Rookie
You got the sense Padraig Harrington wanted Shane Lowry to get the last auto-qualifying spot, which would’ve freed the European captain up to use a pick on Justin Rose. Wiesberger had other ideas. The Austrian finished strong to eek in on points and become the first player from his country to play in the Ryder Cup. He has four wins on the European Tour since July 2019 but hasn’t quite been able to carry the momentum into the U.S.—he’s yet to post a top-10 finish in 28 career major starts and missed the cut in both the PGA Championship and U.S. Open this year. He comes to the matches with the skimpiest résumé of any player on either side, but one does not make the Ryder Cup team by accident; he’s got plenty of game, and anything can happen in an 18-hole match with a partner. Look for him to play once, maybe twice, before the singles.
23. Tyrrell Hatton
Age: 29 World Ranking: 19 Ryder Cup appearances: 1
Ryder Cup record (singles): 1-2-0 (0-1-0)
Got as high as No. 5 in the world after he began the year with a win in Abu Dhabi, but he’s been pretty terrible since. That might sound mean, but we’re just taking hints from the man himself—he’s his own harshest critic and is good for at least one self-own per week, always with a tinge of that British caustic wit. His lone top-10 in his last 14 starts worldwide came against a very weak field at the Palmetto Championship, and he’s missed four of his last six cuts including the last two. That, compared with his 1-2-0 record at Le Golf National, is cause for some concern. He’s well-liked among his peers and could pair well with anyone, but he’s a good candidate to do some sitting, at least early in the matches. Simply put, he’s not in the greatest form.
22. Harris English
Age: 32 World Ranking: 11 Ryder Cup appearances: Rookie
The Ryder Cup first-timer is actually the second-oldest player on the U.S. team, and his laidback vibes don’t exactly scream wet-behind-the-ears youngster. Had a breakout season with two victories, and it might’ve been three had he been paired with anyone other than DeChambeau in the final round at the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational. He’s an easy 6-foot-3 and swings it beautifully but it’s his putting statistics that jump off the page—he was 12th in strokes gained, eighth in one-putt percentage and second in average distance of putts made per round. A hot flatstick is the currency of match play, but if there’s one rookie who could potentially fall victim to nerves, you fear it could be English. The non-golf stuff clearly distracted him in Memphis, and he doesn’t seem like he feeds off the crowd quite in the same way as a number of his teammates. Don’t be surprised if he sits the first session and one more after that.
21. Matt Fitzpatrick
Age: 27 World Ranking: 27 Ryder Cup appearances: 1
Ryder Cup record (singles): 0-2-0 (0-1-0)
Had a miserable experience five years ago in his first Ryder Cup as a 22-year-old at Hazeltine. He was a much more one-dimensional player there, relying on a low piercing cut off the tee and struggling on big American-style courses. Darren Clarke opted to sit him for the first three sessions that week, so he entered the singles having only played alternate shot and was pumped by Zach Johnson on Sunday. He’s put on about 30 pounds and 30 yards of distance since then and is a much well-rounded player, but his value could come down to the weather forecast. He tends to struggle on soft and calm bomber-fest layouts but excels on demanding and firm tests, so if things do get windy, he could emerge as an unsung hero for the Europeans. Started the season strong but has struggled with his irons virtually all summer, which led to him seeing his FedEx Cup playoff campaign end after a missed cut at Liberty National. Looked much better at Wentworth, where he was T-6 before a triple bogey on the 71st hole of the tourney ruined his chances of a high finish. In match play, though, that would’ve counted as just one hole lost.
20. Daniel Berger
Age: 28 World Ranking: 16 Ryder Cup appearances: Rookie
He’s a victim of his own soft-spokenness—you don’t see him get interviewed much, he doesn’t get the same airtime as his peers, and he’s often forgotten when discussing the gaggle of best young American players. He’s never lacking on belief, though, and held firm in his belief that Stricker knew what he brought to the table and he’d be getting a call from the captain. He did indeed, benefitting not just from a strong performance under Stricker in the 2017 Presidents Cup but a two-year period that saw him emerge from industry purgatory and become one of the more consistent players on tour. Posted 14 top-25 finishes in 23 starts and finished fifth in strokes gained/approach last season, and he’s part of the Jupiter crew alongside Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka, Justin Thomas and Patrick Cantlay, so team-room fit shouldn’t be an issue. There’s some fire under the quietness. It’ll come out during Ryder Cup week.
19. Shane Lowry
Age: 34 World Ranking: 42 Ryder Cup appearances: Rookie
There was a sense that he “deserved” a spot on this team after winning the 2019 Open Championship, but by the time the post-COVID Ryder Cup points list rolled around he needed a captain’s pick from good buddy/compatriot Padraig Harrington. He’s had a very consistent 2021, having made the cut in his last 16 starts and finishing T-26 or better in his last seven. Possesses one of the best short games on earth, which could come in handy in foursomes sessions where pars tend to be solid scores. He’s played a bunch of practice rounds this year with buddy Rory McIlroy, perhaps teasing an all-Irish island pairing to come.
18. Bryson DeChambeau
Age: 28 World Ranking: 7 Ryder Cup appearances: 1
Ryder Cup record (singles): 0-3-0 (0-1-0)
Will be at the center of attention all week, as is the case every week. Golf’s lightning rod has continued to make headlines, this time for his decision to put in two-a-days to train and compete in a Long Drive contest the day after the Ryder Cup—preparation for which, in his own words, has “wrecked” his hands. This in addition to his long-running feud with teammate Brooks Koepka, which will surely be a topic of conversation. Lost an epic duel to Cantlay at the BMW Championship and looked solid at the Tour Championship, and he’ll be the longest hitter on a course that rewards driving distance as much as any venue. On the flip side, he’s been a disaster that captains have tried to hide the two team events he’s played, going 0-3 at the 2018 Ryder Cup and 0-1-1 at the 2019 Presidents Cup. This will be his first team competition with his new body and game, and Bryson 2.0 figures to be a more dangerous match-play opponent than Bryson 1.0 because he feasts on par 5s, leading the tour in eagle frequency and finishing third in birdie percentage. The big question looming: Who will he play with?
17. Lee Westwood
Age: 48 World Ranking: 35 Ryder Cup appearances: 10
Ryder Cup record (singles): 20-18-6 (3-7-0)
Played on 10 consecutive Ryder Cup teams from 1997-2016 but looked to have moved onto the assistant captain/eventual captain stage a few years back … only to re-assert himself among the game’s best, highlighted by back-to-back 54-hole leads and back-to-back solo seconds at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and the Players Championship in March. Hasn’t been able to replicate that gear and doesn’t have a top-10 since, and he was actually in danger of missing the team on points at the BMW PGA Championship. He’s the most experienced player at these matches and has a terrific 17-11-6 in team sessions. Has shown a newfound equanimity on the golf course in his late 40s, but something tells me we’ll see some flashes of fiery Lee in what could indeed be his last Ryder Cup. Then again, we said that in 2016.
16. Brooks Koepka
Age: 31 World Ranking: 10 Ryder Cup appearances: 2
Ryder Cup record (singles): 4-3-1 (1-0-1)
There are questions about his health and his attitude. We’ll start with his health—he withdrew from the Tour Championship after hitting a tree root and aggravating the same wrist that gave him trouble in 2018. Then, he expressed apathy and borderline annoyance with the Ryder Cup team dynamic in an interview with Golf Digest. It surely wasn’t Stricker’s favorite thing to read, but Koepka’s nothing if not outspoken, and he’s said a bunch of eyebrow-raisers before backing them up with excellent play on huge stages. Keep in mind that this is the guy who has finished T-7 or better in 12 of his last 16 appearances in major championships. Plus, the media criticism of his Ryder Cup comments—Paul Azinger suggested he withdraw from the team to make space for someone who does love the Ryder Cup—will serve as added motivation, as he clearly takes note of slights real or perceived. Tied for fifth at the 2015 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits and profiles as an excellent fit for the golf course.
15. Collin Morikawa
Age: 24 World Ranking: 3 Ryder Cup appearances: Rookie
Two months ago, he claimed his second major championship victory and was the darling of the golf world. Now he’s a struggling superstar, and there are injury concerns even if the man himself says his back is 100 percent healthy. Oh, how quickly the narrative changes in this game. Morikawa entered the FedEx Cup Playoffs leading the points standings only to play quite poorly—by his standards, but also anyone else’s—missing the cut at The Northern Trust, finishing T-63 (out of 70) at the BMW and 28th (out of 30) for his 72-hole score at the Tour Championship. The putting statistics were poor, as they often have been, but he also failed to gain strokes with his approach play in three of his last four starts, which is particularly concerning for the best iron player on the planet. He’s had a couple weeks off to rest and re-set, and he’s already indisputably proven that his best is good enough to win on any golf course, against anyone. This marks his first Ryder Cup appearance, and it’ll be interested to see who Stricker pairs him up with; Morikawa said at the Tour Championship that he’d love to play with Thomas or Xander Schauffele, but both those have baked-in partners in Jordan Spieth and Cantlay. So does Stricker take advantage of his maturity and steadiness and pair him with Bryson? Or will he try to highlight his assassin-like tendencies, which are there in spades, and stick him with another fiery youngster like Berger (who’s signed to the same agency) or Scheffler (who’s 10 months older)?
14. Tommy Fleetwood
Age: 30 World Ranking: 37 Ryder Cup appearances: 1
Ryder Cup record (singles): 4-1-0 (0-1-0)
Formed one-half of the Moliwood powerhouse in France, where he and his Italian partner took down Tiger Woods three times and Jordan Spieth/Justin Thomas once. He rode that momentum into 2019 and hovered around the world top 10 for most of the year, but 2021 has not been kind—the Englishman posted just two top-10s in 18 starts on the PGA Tour and missed the FedEx Cup Playoffs. Returned to Europe for a fruitful fortnight, taking T-2 in the Italian Open and T-12 at the BMW PGA Championship to build up some confidence heading into Whistling Straits. With Molinari out of the picture, Fleetwood has a number of potential partners. Said last week that he didn’t “expect anything else but Europe to win,” which would seem like bulletin-board material until you consider the source, one of the gentlest and kindest men on tour.
13. Scottie Scheffler
Age: 25 World Ranking: 21 Ryder Cup appearances: Rookie
Such matters are not made official, but Scheffler was almost certainly the last man into the U.S. team. He’s the lowest-ranked American and seemed to be in a battle with Kevin Na and Patrick Reed for the final spot—Scheffler got the nod in large part, according to Stricker, due to his length off the tee and his runner-up finish in the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play earlier this year. He and English are the only two “true” rookies on the U.S. side, meaning he has not played in either a Ryder or a Presidents Cup. That said, he’s been terrific in the big events and finished T-19 or better in his last six major starts, which include four top-10s. He makes a ton of birdies (seventh in birdie average last season) and should be a weapon deployed in the four-ball sessions. The man has shot 59 on the PGA Tour, after all, and has shown comfort in making an absurd amount of birdies in short succession. The question mark here is his putting—he ranked 102nd in putting from 4-8 feet and 160th in putting from 10-15 feet, and those are the ranges that win matches.
12. Tony Finau
Age: 32 World Ranking: 9 Ryder Cup appearances: 1
Ryder Cup record (singles): 2-1-0 (1-0-0)
He always seemed a likely captain’s pick, given his prodigious length of the tee and propensity for birdie-binges, but his uninspiring form throughout the summer raised some question marks. Stricker must’ve been pleased, then, to see him end a five-year victory drought at The Northern Trust to open up the FedEx Cup Playoffs. Showed well as a captain’s pick in Paris, going 2-1 and dusting a previously unbeaten Tommy Fleetwood, 6 and 4, in singles. The only question mark is his sometimes-shaky putting, an issue at Royal Melbourne when he went 0-1-3 in the 2019 Presidents Cup. Will likely see action in both four-ball sessions and could well partner with DeChambeau, for there may not be a human being on the planet who cannot get along with Tony FInau.
11. Paul Casey
Age: 44 World Ranking: 24 Ryder Cup appearances: 4
Ryder Cup record (singles): 4-3-5 (1-1-2)
Needed a captain’s pick in 2018 to play in his first Ryder Cup since 2008 but had no such stress this time, as he qualified easily thanks to a mid-40s renaissance that has shown no signs of slowing down. A first major championship continues to elude Casey but he’s inching closer in the huge events—this year he was T-5 at the Players, T-4 at the PGA Championship, T-7 at the U.S. Open and T-4 at the Olympics. Remains an elite ball-striker, ranking second on tour in strokes gained/approach and seventh in strokes gained/tee to green. Also finished T-12 at the 2010 PGA at Whistling Straits and T-30 there in 2015. Came into the playoffs with four finishes of T-7 or better in his last six starts but struggled finishing T-64 at the Northern Trust and T-38 (out of 70) at the BMW Championship to miss out on East Lake. As such, he’ll be rested and ready to go in what could be his last Ryder Cup appearance.
10. Jordan Spieth
Age: 28 World Ranking: 13 Ryder Cup appearances: 3
Ryder Cup record (singles): 7-5-2 (0-3-0)
When he made his Ryder Cup debut as a 21-year-old in 2014, he looked a prime candidate to set the record for consecutive Ryder Cup appearances by an American. He proceeded to fall into one of the more curious slumps in recent golfing memory and would’ve easily missed the 2020 team if it weren’t for COVID-19 postponing the event a year. In the time since, he has rediscovered his game and re-entered the picture as one of the game’s best and most consistent players, despite a slightly disappointing FedEx Cup Playoff campaign. Had immense success pairing with Patrick Reed in his younger years but has long wanted to realize a childhood dream and play alongside Justin Thomas—they did so in 2018 in Paris and went 3-1, and with Reed not on the team this time around, odds are we’ll see Spieth/JT again. Along with Morikawa, English and Berger, he’s one of the shorter-hitting Americans but that doesn’t make him short—he averaged 299.5 yards per drive last season, well above tour average—and it didn’t hurt him when he shot 18 under to finish solo second at the 2015 PGA at Whistling Straits. Any fan of this game will be happy to see him back in the Ryder Cup mix, right where he belongs.
9. Ian Poulter
Age: 45 World Ranking: 50 Ryder Cup appearances: 6
Ryder Cup record (singles): 14-6-2 (5-0-1)
No player in this generation has become more synonymous with the Ryder Cup than the spiky-haired Brit. His overall record speaks for itself, and his 5-0-1 record in singles speaks even louder. He does not have a swing you’d watch on the driving range for hours, nor does he hit it miles, but he finds a way to get it in the hole and make crucial putts every single Ryder Cup appearance. Perhaps no one feeds off the crowd—both supportive home ones and antagonistic away ones—better than Poulter, who essentially morphs into a different player when he’s wearing those blue and yellow shirts. He hasn’t won a tournament since 2018 and had only an OK season on the PGA Tour, so there was some discussion that he might miss out on this team, but the truth is he’ll get a look so long as he’s healthy and even somewhat competitive on the world stage. Still top 50 in the world—just barely—don’t expect anything less than a maddening performance that has you wondering come Sunday afternoon, How is this guy beating Dustin Johnson 3 up through 11?
8. Sergio Garcia
Age: 41 World Ranking: 43 Ryder Cup appearances: 9
Ryder Cup record (singles): 22-12-7 (4-4-1)
He’s the winningest player in Ryder Cup history. It became official in Paris, when he passed Nick Faldo to become the all-time leader in Ryder Cup points, and his record in team sessions is an astounding at 18-8-6. Needed a captain’s pick to get to his 10th Ryder Cup as he’s no longer a fixture in the top 10 of the World Ranking, as he was for a decade, but he managed to get into the Tour Championship with a strong showing at Caves Valley and will have plenty of confidence in his game heading into the Ryder Cup, his ultimate comfort zone. Finished third on tour in SG/off the tee and 16th in driving distance at 41 years old, which bodes well for a course that demands a strong driving performance. It is worth noting, however, that he finished T-54 at the 2015 PGA at Whitsling Straits and missed the cut in 2004 and 2010. Then again, this is Sergio and this is the Ryder Cup.
7. Dustin Johnson
Age: 37 World Ranking: 2 Ryder Cup appearances: 4
Ryder Cup record (singles): 7-9-0 (3-1-0)
Ready to feel old? DJ is the oldest player on the American side by five years. He also has the most Ryder Cup experience of any of his teammates, but given the European dominance in this event in recent years, most of that experience is of the losing variety. Teased a dominant run to come in the tail end of 2020 but it didn’t materialize as he trudged through a semi-slump for most of the summer. Showed some better form with top-10s in four of his last six starts as he started holing putts, particularly in the FedEx Cup Playoffs. He was a bomber before being a bomber was cool, and thus he’s fared quite well at bomber-friendly Whistling Straits, infamously missing the playoff for the 2010 PGA Championship after he grounded his club in a bunker on the 72nd hole and taking a solid T-12 when the PGA returned in 2015. He’s as easy going as they come and has thus played with a number of different partners, but with limited success—he’s a combined 4-8-0 in the team sessions and 3-1-0 in the singles. Despite a so-so year, Stricker will still view Johnson as a go-to guy and a crucial part of his team’s chances.
6. Viktor Hovland
Age: 23 World Ranking: 14 Ryder Cup appearances: Rookie
One of just three first-timers on the European side, the Norwegian will be a thorn in American sides for the next decade-plus. Was still 10 months away from turning pro during the last Ryder Cup, but in the three years since, he’s won twice on the PGA Tour and is knocking on the top-10-in-world door. Not the longest guy out there but still ranked fifth on tour in SG/off the tee, and his consistent ball-striking is the perfect formula for 72-hole stroke-play events. Match play is another story, but he sure didn’t have any issues with the format en route to his victory at the 2018 U.S. Amateur at Pebble Beach. Rookies have fared well in recent Ryder Cups, and he’s a great candidate to win three-plus points this week; given his consistent play over the last year-plus, Harrington will surely want him in the lineup more often than not. The lone concern is the short game, which has been an area of difficulty throughout his young career, but he’s been working hard at it with coach Jeff Smith.
5. Xander Schauffele
Age: 27 World Ranking: 5 Ryder Cup appearances: Rookie
He certainly doesn’t feel like a rookie. Has been a big-time performer in the majors (without actually winning one, of course), got some team-play experience at the 2019 Presidents Cup and took home the gold for the U.S. in the Olympics just a few months ago. Ranked 12th on tour in eagle frequency and 11th in birdie percentage thanks to elite approach play (14th in strokes gained) and elite putting (16th in strokes gained). He’s as well-rounded as they come, and Stricker will likely trot out him and Cantlay without thinking twice about it. You won’t catch him hooting and hollering or putting his fingers behind his ear—playing to the crowd isn’t his style—but he’s a guy any team would be lucky to have, particularly in foursomes, where his short game will become his partner’s best friend.
4. Patrick Cantlay
Age: 29 World Ranking: 4 Ryder Cup appearances: Rookie
Another rookie-in-name only; he’ll turn 30 early next year, appeared on the victorious 2019 U.S. Presidents Cup team and comes in playing the best golf of his life, having outdueled DeChambeau at Caves Valley and doing just enough at East Lake to win the FedEx Cup title—and, somewhat surprisingly, PGA Tour player-of-the-year honors over Rahm. Also comes in with an expected partner, as Tiger Woods trotted out him and Schauffele in all four team sessions in the 2019 Presidents Cup. The two laconic Californians also took their significant others to Napa the week after the Tour Championship, so they’re clearly close, and there’s been no indication that Stricker will break them up. Or at least not initially. Doesn’t seem an ideal match-play guy on the surface as his game is built more on relentless consistency, but he’s capable of some extremely hot putting streaks and enjoyed the mano-y-mano dynamic at Caves. There are certainly high hopes for his Ryder Cup debut.
3. Justin Thomas
Age: 28 World Ranking: 6 Ryder Cup appearances: 1
Ryder Cup record (singles): 4-1-0 (1-0-0)
Hard to believe he’s only played in one Ryder Cup, as he’s been firmly established in the elite tier for what feels like forever now. Was a lone bright spot for the Americans in Paris in 2018, going 4-1 and forming one-half of the Spieth/Thomas partnership that could well become a staple at Ryder Cups for years to come. Emerged as an emotional leader that week and relished the challenge of playing (and winning) Sunday’s first singles match against Rory McIlroy. Also went 3-1-1 at the 2019 Presidents Cup and didn’t hesitate to play in the Olympics when many of his countryman did; representing his country clearly holds meaning to him and brings out his best. Played nicely in the playoffs, with a pair of T-4s at The Northern Trust and Tour Championship sandwiching a T-22 at the BMW Championship, and should be a no-brainer start alongside Spieth in the Friday’s first session.
2. Rory McIlroy
Age: 32 World Ranking: 15 Ryder Cup appearances: 5
Ryder Cup record (singles): 11-9-1 (2-2-1)
He’s playing in his sixth consecutive Ryder Cup and entered the first five as Europe’s best or second-best player virtually every time. That’s not quite so clear-cut this go ’round, as he’s dropped to World No. 15 as he continues to work on swing changes, so it’s possible his streak of playing all five sessions in four straight Ryder Cups could come to an end. Yet this is a good course for him, he’s a natural leader in any setting and a big-stage performer, so he figures to be at the center of the action all week. His recent issues have been more with avoiding round-killing mistakes than making birdies; in fact, he led the tour in birdies last season, which doesn’t hurt in match play. He’s been on four winning Ryder Cup teams already, although while his record in the matches is good, it’s not quite great. A potential pairing with Hovland is particularly intriguing, and not just because they look vaguely similar. Admitted McIlroy felt some fatigue toward the end of the season, but after two weeks off to spend some time with his family, he’ll be fiery Rory come Friday, reared up and ready to go.
1. Jon Rahm
Age: 26 World Ranking: 1 Ryder Cup appearances: 1
Ryder Cup record (singles): 1-2-0 (1-0-0)
The undisputed best player in the world, both in name and in game, but it wasn’t enough to win PGA Tour player of the year. That went to Cantlay, despite Rahm faring better in each of the six majors of the 2020-21 “super” season and finishing head-and-shoulders above the rest in the statistical conversation. In the end, his lack of official wins hurt him. If he needed any added motivation to fuel the heater he’s riding, he has it. Curiously was the only player on either side to play an event the week before the Ryder Cup, and even more curiously missed the cut in Napa (while dealing with a stomach virus), but he tends to play the week before a majors, too. Has not yet played a tournament at Whistling Straits but he ranked second on tour in SG/off the tee. Took great pride in playing against and beating Tiger Woods in singles at the 2018 Ryder Cup—a victory that brought him to tears—and you have to believe (so long as the stomach bug has passed) he’ll go all five sessions and perhaps be the first player thrown out in singles come Sunday.