Ryder Cup roster watch: Could Rickie Fowler be left off the American squad?
Following an embarrassing loss to the Europeans in 2014 -- the team's eighth loss in the last 10 tries -- there's been a renewed energy surrounding the U.S. effort for this year's Ryder Cup. From assembling an autogenic "task force" to team meetings months in advance, the Americans know what's on the line at Hazeltine National Golf Club this fall, and are preparing as such.
Which begs the question: What players will tee it up for Team USA?
As the Ryder Cup nears, Golf Digest will project the American roster for the 2016 event. Reminder: The top eight in Ryder Cup points will earn selection to the team after The Barclays on August 28th. Davis Love III will then add three captain's picks at the end of the BMW Championship (September 11th), with his final player choice coming after the Tour Championship (September 25th).
Updated: July 7
LOCKS: Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Bubba Watson, Zach Johnson, Phil Mickelson
Dustin and Spieth are exponentially ahead of their fellow Americans, essentially securing their spots before the British Open begins. Though Zach Johnson ranks third in points, he hasn't had the greatest of campaigns, ranking 52nd in the FedEx Cup heading to Royal Troon. Conversely, after battling some health issues this spring, ZJ has bounced back, turning in a strong performance at Oakmont. With eight Ryder and Presidents Cup career appearances, Johnson is a sound, respected veteran and a surefire start at Hazeltine.
As for Mickelson, some may look at missed cuts at the Masters and U.S. Open and wonder if the 46-year-old has anything left in the tank. However, he does have two second-place finishes along with nine top 25s this year, and ranks fourth in Ryder Cup points. Throw in his fine display at the 2015 Presidents Cup and Mickelson, who some thought would be at Hazeltine as an assistant, has earned his roster spot as a player.
LIKELY IN: Brooks Koepka, Matt Kuchar, Patrick Reed
For all of Reed's shortcomings on golf's biggest stages (his best performance in 13 major/Players Championship appearances is a T-14) you can't overlook his consistency, as he ranks second behind Dustin Johnson in top-10 finishes on tour this season. That he was the highest scorer (3.5 points) at the 2014 Ryder Cup won't hurt his cause.
Koepka, who should have been on last season's Presidents Cup, has followed up his breakout 2015 campaign with a nice showing in 2016, highlighted by back-to-back seconds at the Byron Nelson and the St. Jude Classic. And Kuchar could arguably be listed as a lock: He's ranked 15th in the world and 13th in FedEx Cup standings, has been on fire as of late (five T-6 or better finishes in last six events), and he's been a part of the last three Ryder Cups. Late summer has historically been a shaky part of the calendar for Kuch, but one or two more decent outings should earn him the invite.
WORK LEFT: Rickie Fowler, Brandt Snedeker, J.B. Holmes, Scott Piercy, Kevin Chappell, Jason Dufner
It's seems unfathomable that Fowler, whose name was mentioned as one of the sport's "Big 4" just months ago and recently qualified as one of America's four Olympian golfers, could miss the Ryder Cup. Yet he's currently outside automatic selection, and if his woes continue (MCs at the Masters, Players, Memorial and U.S. Open) it would be hard to justify a captain's pick, at least on merit. He did show signs of life at Firestone, but if he fails to make the weekend at Royal Troon, Fowler's in real danger of missing out at Hazeltine.
Also of note is Snedeker. Since his ridiculous January (T-3/P2/1, with the victory coming at Torrey Pines), Snedeker has been off the grid, missing the cut at four of his last seven tournaments. And though the 35-year-old has enjoyed an enviable career, he's made just one Ryder Cup appearance since winning Rookie of the Year honors in 2007. To earn his spot, Snedeker needs a few top 10s in his back pocket down the homestretch.
OUTSIDE LOOKING IN: Bill Haas, Daniel Berger, Charley Hoffman, William McGirt, Kevin Na
Perhaps these names don't jump off the page as "sexy" picks, but all are accomplished and stable players. Unfortunately, all probably need a win or multiple top 5s in the next two months to get into the conversation. The two to keep an eye on are McGirt (who captured the Memorial and added a T-7 at the Bridgestone Invitational) and Berger, the reigning Rookie of the Year who's avoided the dreaded sophomore slump thanks to top 10s at Augusta National and Sawgrass, and won his first PGA Tour event in Memphis.
WILD CARDS: Jim Furyk, Justin Thomas
Despite missing the end of 2015 and the first half of 2016, Furyk still has a shot to make the team on points. But even if he falls short of automatic qualifying, a handful of positive showings -- particularly at Royal Troon, Baltusrol and Bethpage -- could be enough to warrant the requisite "veteran" captain's pick for Furyk. Given his résumé -- he's played in every Ryder Cup since 1997 -- it's one that's justifiable.
Thomas is miles back (24th) in the Ryder Cup standings, but he's put forth a commendable 2016, standing ninth in the FedEx Cup and 36th in world rankings. His name will need to be on the leaderboard at the Open or PGA Championship, and might even have to throw in a promising weeks during the FedEx Cup. But Thomas is one of the rising stars in the game, and has a grind-it-out philosophy that's conducive to the Ryder Cup. If he makes some noise in July and August, don't be surprised to see Thomas teeing it up in Minneapolis this fall.