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Ryder Cup-dates

Ryder Cup-etology: Memphis brings the chaos, Lucas Glover forces his way into the conversation

August 14, 2023
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Ben Jared

Life seemed so simple last week. It was even simpler two weeks ago. When I undertook the mission of becoming the Joe Lunardi of the Ryder Cup, forecasting who's in, who's out, and who's riding that bubble, I did not anticipate a week like Memphis. The FedEx St. Jude Championship is the first leg of the PGA Tour playoffs, and to put it mildly, golf went haywire. We're in a position now where we have to talk about the possibility of Lucas Glover making the Ryder Cup. Lucas Glover! And the thing is, you might want him there!

But that's just the tip of the iceberg. Let's dive in to see how things changed in the space of one wild tournament.

THE AMERICANS

Selection format: For the second straight Ryder Cup (and probably into perpetuity), the Americans have only six automatic qualifiers, leaving Captain Zach Johnson and Co. six captain's picks to play with. (Current standings here.)

Last week's American Summary

Automatically qualified and definitely in: Scottie Scheffler, Wyndham Clark
Would take a miracle not to automatically qualify: Brian Harman
Might not qualify but in regardless: Brooks Koepka
Currently qualified, definitely in: Xander Schauffele, Patrick Cantlay
Not qualified, but almost in: Max Homa, Cameron Young, Jordan Spieth
Newly in: Justin Thomas
Good side of the bubble: Collin Morikawa, Rickie Fowler
Bad side of the bubble: Sam Burns, Keegan Bradley
The great spoiler: Tony Finau
Out, barring an extremely magical playoff run: Denny McCarthy
Out, definitively: Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau

What's Changed? What Hasn't?!

1. The headline here is Lucas Glover, who won his second straight event. Winning the Wyndham Championship was pretty easy to ignore, since the field wasn't especially strong and it was Glover's first win in a couple years, but winning two events in a row is a different kettle of fish, especially when the second event is the first leg of the playoffs, featuring one of the year's strongest fields. Glover's story is already remarkable; a former major champ, he bounced around in golf's wilderness for years, suffering from the putting yips, waiting for the moment when he could fix his big problem. When that happened (his salvation was the broomstick putting method), his excellence as a ball-striker suddenly came to the forefront, and the 43-year-old is taking the world by storm. To call this "out of nowhere" doesn't quite cut the mustard; it's beyond surprising. I mean, Glover was considered something of a fluke major winner, but the way he's playing now, it could reframe his entire career. Thirteen years later, he could un-fluke himself!

But will he be on the Ryder Cup team? At this point, I still say no. He's up to 16th in the standings, though, and clearly one of the hottest players in the sport. With two more good playoff finishes, how do you possibly keep him out? This is a serious wrinkle, and I cannot imagine it was anything Zach Johnson anticipated.

2. Xander Schauffele dropped out of the top six, Max Homa surged into the automatic qualifying zone courtesy of a T-6 finish, and Patrick Cantlay's solo second jumped him three spots, all the way to third. Brooks Koepka dropped from fourth to fifth, and as of now I'm standing by the prediction that he's going to fall short of automatic qualifying; there's just too much money available in these playoffs, and he can't win any of it. On the surface, none of this is especially impactful; all four of those guys will be on the team, whether they need a pick or not. (Cantlay will no longer need a pick.)

3. If there was any lingering doubt, Jordan Spieth's strong tournament (T-6 with Homa and a few others) made certain that he's on the team.

4. The opposite is true for Cam Young, who was squarely in the middle of the pack, and—despite Fred Couples saying that Young would make the team—probably at least on the fringes of the bubble.

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Cam Young is on the fringes of the bubble, if bubbles have fringes.

Michael Reaves

5. Denny McCarthy needed a playoff miracle to stand any chance, and instead he finished in a tie for DFL. He's now definitively out.

6. I'm not ready to rule out Sam Burns 100 percent, but he did himself absolutely no favors with a two-under showing in Memphis, good for T-52 in a 70-man field. I already had him on the bad side of the bubble, and now, if I can invent a new category, I've got him clinging to the bubble's edge (do bubbles have edges?), about to ready to fall into the void. Next week better be very special.

7. It was also not a great week for Keegan Bradley, who seems to be losing momentum as Decision Day approaches. Bradley finished T-43 and remains very much on the bad side of the bubble.

8. On the positive side, Collin Morikawa had a very, very big week. If you agree with me that this is a guy Zach Johnson very much wants to see on the team, his 10-under T-13 finish in Memphis is nothing but good news. That, combined with this T-2 at the Rocket Mortgage Classic, is all the evidence you really need. He's not off the bubble yet, but he's sitting so pretty with just two weeks remaining.

9. I still think Rickie Fowler stays with Morikawa on the good side of the bubble, but if you're Zach Johnson, you wanted to see so much more form than he showed in finishing a dismal T-58. The guy won a PGA Tour event not long ago and was vying to win the U.S. Open on Sunday, so this is not necessarily a critical situation. But with such a crowded field vying for these 12 spots, it does make you raise your eyebrows.

10. What does all this mean for Justin Thomas? Last week, I called him "newly in" based on his charge at the Wyndham. Now, we're dealing with the reality that was hard to consider at the time: He's not in the playoffs, and unless he does something crazy like go play in Europe, you're just not going to hear his name, and while he's gone, everyone else has a chance to stake a claim. That's just a sort of PR reality for him; he's going to have to survive on his reputation, but whether Zach Johnson has already decided, the case for him will inevitably get worse over the next two weeks. It's just inevitable.

Other notes: I'm not going to put them on the final list, but I do have some very, very vague curiosity about Russell Henley—T-2 at the Wyndham, T-6 in Memphis. I don't think it's worth putting guys on the bubble who are low in the standings and absolutely have to win a tournament, so I'm not going to, but I also get the feeling Henley could actually ... win a tournament. Stay tuned. Oh, and Tony Finau, who I labeled a spoiler, finished near the bottom of the leaderboard. He's out.

Here's where we stand after Memphis:

Automatically qualified and definitely in: Scottie Scheffler, Wyndham Clark, Patrick Cantlay
Would take a miracle not to automatically qualify: Brian Harman
Might not qualify but in regardless: Brooks Koepka
Currently qualified, definitely in: Max Homa
Not currently qualified, definitely in: Xander Schauffele, Jordan Spieth
Still in, but nervous: Justin Thomas
Good side of the bubble: Cam Young, Rickie Fowler, Collin Morikawa
Bad side of the bubble: Lucas Glover, Keegan Bradley
Really bad side of the bubble: Sam Burns
Out, barring an extremely magical two weeks: Tony Finau
Out, definitively: Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau, Denny McCarthy

THE EUROPEANS

Selection Format: The Europeans have two lists—the European Points and World Points. Three players qualify from each list, which means that for the first time, Europe's captain, Luke Donald, will have six picks to fill out his roster. (Current standings here.)

Last Week's European Summary

The impregnable duo who would not be left out barring death and maybe not even then: Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm
Currently qualified and definitely in: Viktor Hovland, Tyrrell Hatton, Tommy Fleetwood
Won't qualify, obviously in: Matt Fitzpatrick, Shane Lowry
Qualified, probably in: Robert MacIntyre
Good side of the bubble: Sepp Straka, Adrian Meronk, Justin Rose, Alex Noren
Bad side of the bubble: Yannik Paul, Seamus Power, Victor Perez, Rasmus Hojgaard, Nicolai Hojgaard, Matt Wallace
Missed their chance: Guido Migliozzi, Adrian Otaegui

What's Changed?

This was, to put it frankly, not a great week for Luke Donald. With apologies to Thomas Detry, I count nine players who played in Memphis that are either on the team already or on the bubble, and the guys that really needed to impress Donald simply didn't.

1. If you bought Seamus Power Ryder Cup stock at any point in the recent past ... well, it's already too late to sell. I had him on the bad side of the bubble heading into Memphis, but he was one of a few guys who made the FedEx Cup Playoffs from the Euro bubble and had a great chance to make a statement. Instead, he finished in a tie for last. He's lucky in the sense that he remains 35th in the standings and will have another chance this weekend in Chicago, but that performance put a massive damper on his chances.

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Seamus Power did himself no favors last week in Memphis.

Gregory Shamus

2. Sepp Straka didn't have it much better. He was one of eight players to finish over par, and his bubble spot is in serious jeopardy, especially when you consider Luke Donald's remarks that he considered a few spots on his team "wide open." Straka is far from certain, and while I'm not quite ready to take him off the good side of the bubble, he's definitely moved down a few pegs.

3. It's worth noting that Matt Fitzpatrick's form has been just awful. He won the RBC Heritage in the spring, and finished top 10 at the Memorial, but since then it's been a slog, and his last four weeks in particular have been rough: T-49, MC, T-41, and then a tie for dead last in Memphis. He's also not automatically qualified and probably won't. And then there's his Ryder Cup record: At 0-5, about as dismal as it can be. If you're Donald, do you have to at least think about leaving him home? The answer: probably not. The guy's a major champ, a top-10 player in the world and a recent winner on the PGA Tour. You sort of have to take him ... I think. But there's no part of me, right now, that expects him to play well in Italy.

4. Justin Rose had a strong week, finishing at eight under, and in some ways just makes Donald's job harder. Obviously, he remains on the good side of the bubble, but you do wonder about team fit with Rose, and whether Donald might have wondered why, of all the guys to play well in the playoffs, it had to be him.

5. Aside from those four, Jon Rahm and Tyrrell Hatton were competent but unspectacular, while Viktor Hovland, Rory McIlroy and Tommy Fleetwood played very well. All are automatically qualified, and none were in danger of losing a spot, so there's not much there to analyze. Still, if Donald is looking for good news, the fact that at least a few players from his top line are excelling should do the trick.

Nothing much changes this week, but with the DP World Tour returning next week for the ISPS Handa World Invitational in Northern Ireland, and more than a few Europeans advancing to the second round of the tour playoffs, you get the sense that we're on the verge of some real fireworks. I reached out to Euro expert John Huggan before writing this piece, and his take with my ratings is that Nicolai Hojgaard deserves more respect, and that he's not completely sold on Noren, though Donald might be. It's worth looking at those two in particular. Until then, here's the status:

The impregnable duo who would not be left out barring death and maybe not even then: Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm
Currently qualified and definitely in: Viktor Hovland, Tyrrell Hatton, Tommy Fleetwood
Won't qualify, obviously in: Shane Lowry
In, but with potential question marks: Matt Fitzpatrick
Qualified, probably in:
Robert MacIntyre
Good side of the bubble: Adrian Meronk, Justin Rose, Alex Noren, Sepp Straka
Bad side of the bubble: Yannik Paul, Seamus Power, Victor Perez, Rasmus Hojgaard, Nicolai Hojgaard, Matt Wallace
Missed their chance: Guido Migliozzi, Adrian Otaegui

Last note: In somewhat of an anticlimax, of the players on that list who aren't heading to Chicago for round two of the FedEx Cup playoffs, it appears that Migliozzi, both Hojgaards, Meronk, Noren, Paul, and Wallace are not playing in Northern Ireland on the DP World Tour, which leaves only MacIntyre, Perez and Otaegui in the field among Ryder Cup hopefuls. But it's a great chance for those three to make a splash.