There was a time when the PGA champion was given an automatic spot on the United States Ryder Cup team. Howard Twitty was denied an appearance in the 1981 match for that very reason. Twitty didn't make the trip to Walton Heath Golf Club because Larry Nelson won the PGA Championship and took his spot, even though Twitty had been measured for team blazer.
That bauble no longer exists, but Brooks Koepka probably doesn’t have to worry. He’s on course for one of the automatic spots on this year’s U.S. team. Koepka is currently second in the American team standings behind Scottie Scheffler thanks to collecting his third PGA Championship title and fifth major, and second place in the Masters. A couple of decent finishes in the U.S. Open and Open Championship will probably see Koepka make his fourth consecutive appearance in the biennial match.
Wait, isn’t Koepka a so-called LIV rebel?
He certainly is but, because he’s a member of the PGA of America, he’s eligible for Zach Johnson’s team. Not just Koepka, but Bryson DeChambeau, Patrick Reed, Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson and other LIV players. DeChambeau’s joint fourth place finish at Oak Hill moved him to 34th on the points list. Reed finished 18th and moved to 35th. It’s not inconceivable that Koepka might not just be the only LIV player to make the U.S. team that travels to Rome this September.
PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan’ might have trouble digesting his Spaghetti Carbonara if that happens.
U.S. skipper Johnson has six captains picks. He could give them all to LIV players if he wants. There’s as much chance of that happening as there is of a return to feathery golf balls.
The U.S. captain refused to be drawn on the possibility of selecting LIV players.
"I think it's too premature, frankly irresponsible, to even have any sort of opinion about that," Johnson said.
More than likely code for: It’s just not going to happen!
While Monahan and other PGA Tour suits would welcome LIV players in the U.S. team like an 18 handicapper a case of the shanks, America’s leading player wouldn’t have a problem with Koepka standing beside him in a red, white and blue U.S. outfit.
"I don't care about tours or anything like that: I want to win the Ryder Cup," Scheffler said. "We want to beat those guys in Europe. It has been a long time. We want a team of guys that are going over there together to bring the Cup back home and that's all I really care about."
Hear, hear, Scottie Scheffler.
He gets it. After all, the Ryder Cup is supposed to be a match between Europe and the United States. That’s obviously not the way it’s seen at PGA headquarters in Ponte Vedra, Florida. That simple concept is also not the philosophy in the European Tour offices on the Wentworth Estate in Virginia Water, Surrey. While the American team can potentially consist of the 12 best Americans on the planet, the home side won’t necessarily be comprised of the 12 best Europeans, but the 12 who pay membership fees to the DP World Tour.
So LIV players with vast Ryder Cup experience – Sergio Garcia, Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter – cannot pass go, cannot pay £200 and cannot make Luke Donald’s team to face what will be a seriously good U.S. team.
Europe will have a strong core in the Eternal City consisting of Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm, Justin Rose, Matt Fitzpatrick, Viktor Hovland, Tyrrell Hatton, hopefully Tommy Fleetwood and Shane Lowry. That nucleus may be enough along with home course advantage to do what Thomas Bjorn’s side did in France five years ago. Hopefully rookies in the team – the likes of Seamus Power, Adrian Meronk, Victor Perez – can contribute to take Europe over the line.
“Hopefully” is the operative word here. Ever the diplomat, European captain Luke Donald called it a “shame” Westwood and co will not play in the Ryder Cup.
“They feel like this was the best choice for them and now I’ve got choices to make that are best for me,” Donald said.
Very diplomatic, but come September when he’s mulling over picking players to augment his team, surely deep down he must be wishing he had Westwood, Garcia and Poulter available to him in the way Johnson has the option of Koepka and other LIV players?
Surely there's something wrong when the U.S. team can have LIV golfers but not the European team?
It's not the first time Europe hasn’t been able to select its best team. Seve Ballesteros wasn’t available for the 1981 match even though he was a proud European. Problem was, Seve wasn’t a European Tour member. We know what happened in ‘81: A Seve-less team lost 9 ½ - 18 ½ at Walton Heath to arguably the best American team ever assembled, one that featured players 11 who either were or would become major champions. (Trivia question: name the player who wouldn't get his name on a major trophy?)
The match in Rome is shaping up to be an unfair fight when Europe needs all the help it can get. Samuel Ryder created golf’s greatest team match to foster goodwill between the United States and Great Britain and Ireland, which later became Europe thanks to Jack Nicklaus having a quiet word with Lord Derby after the 1977 match.
Not much goodwill in the world of professional golf right now, is there?
I wonder what Sam Ryder would make of his prized chalice being used in the battle for professional golf supremacy?
#JustSaying: “You have a far greater chance of going into space or climbing Mount Everest than you have representing Europe in the Ryder Cup.” Lee Westwood