As the European Tour takes on the mantle of being the world’s biggest golf tour for the next few weeks, it opens up with the flagship BMW PGA Championship – and some attention will be pointed towards the 2020 Ryder Cup. The finish at the Solheim Cup was truly stunning and has whet the appetite of this golf fan for another Europe-USA clash.
The tournament at Wentworth will be the first (and last next year) of the qualifying period for Padraig Harrington’s team – and of course, that means it is the right time to start speculating on who will line-up in blue at Whistling Straits.
It should be stated that it is really hard to play in consecutive Ryder Cups.
The depth in European golf is really, really good and nothing compared to the late 80s and early 90s when Europe regularly had eight or nine players in consecutive teams. Just four players from the 2016 European team were part of the winning team in 2018, and two of those – Henrik Stenson and Sergio Garcia – were picked by Thomas Bjorn.
Change is good, and expected.
Sure things: Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm, Justin Rose, Tommy Fleetwood
Unless they fail to make a single cut over the course of the next year, it feels pretty safe to assume that Rory, Jon, Justin and Tommy will accumulate enough points for the European team. All four are among Europe’s best and most consistent players right now. They frequently compete (and win) at the highest levels and amongst the toughest of fields.
They are comfortable on American courses and should be all in contention at the majors over the coming 12 months. If they can qualify automatically and pick up a handful of tournament victories along the way, that will do very nicely.
On the cusp: Francesco Molinari, Shane Lowry, Paul Casey, Henrik Stenson
There is a small question mark that lingers over each of these four. Those questions linger just enough to move them beyond “definite pick” should they fail to qualify automatically – be it form, experience, age or fitness.
Back-to-back wins at the Valspar Championship over the last two seasons and a recent victory at the Porsche European Open indicate Casey can still win big tournaments. Producing a similar year – and knocking his constant insistence that he doesn’t care anymore on the head – will see Paul strolling onto the team.
Molinari has been a little bit broken since his failure at The Masters. His usual consistency hasn’t been evident – though it feels a little rude to disregard his T11 at The Open because of his early tee time on Sunday. The Italian has plenty of time to get out of his current funk, but he has struggled on the PGA Tour since that final day 74 at Augusta. He needs to pick himself up again.
Lowry will/could be a rookie in 2020 but his fine win at Royal Portrush and his friendly relationship with the captain should ensure he makes his debut for Europe. That said, a weird dilemma may strike Harrington if Lowry can’t make the top nine in the qualifying tables. He may be forced to judge his close friend a little harsher than others to earn a captain’s pick.
For Stenson, he needs to prove his fitness after an interrupted year. Justin Rose will need a partner for that opening foursome on Friday – and there will be plenty that will want to see the Swede alongside him.
In the conversation: Rafa Cabrera Bello, Matthew Fitzpatrick, Ian Poulter, Tyrrell Hatton, Sergio Garcia, Lee Westwood, Matt Wallace, Eddie Pepperell, Viktor Hovland, Bernd Wiesberger
The other names that will pop up in the discussions of the European Ryder Cup are all fairly impressive. From those likely to only have one more shot at making a team – Poulter, Garcia, Westwood – to those desperate for a first spin after getting close last time – Wallace and Pepperell, there isn’t a single player that Harrington wouldn’t mind having.
Any combination of the players in this bracket will be in Harrington’s thoughts and will have their own pressures throughout the qualifying period. Will Viktor Hovland – a PGA Tour record breaker already – play enough on the European Tour? In fact that question could also be asked of Cabrera-Bello and Fitzpatrick as well. How many wins will a rookie like Wallace or Weisberger need to accumulate to force Harrington’s hand? Each player has an upside. It’s up to them to stay in the conversation.
Will need to play their way in: Alex Noren, Ross Fisher, Thorbjorn Olesen, Thomas Pieters, Andy Sullivan, Chris Wood, Danny Willett, Martin Kaymer, Graeme McDowell, Luke Donald, Tom Lewis, Joost Luiten, Robert Macintyre, Lucas Bjerregaard
And the others.
This list could have been a lot longer as I went down through the Official World Golf Rankings. I decided to stop after getting through the members of the 2014 team that are still playing. They feel like the guys that will have to play their way into the time – or certainly win at Wentworth this time next year to make Padraig’s life quite difficult.
I’ve decided to assume one multiple winner on the European Tour will make the team without having been a serious contender right now – Lucas Bjerregaard. He feels due for (at least) another win after holding off Fleetwood and Hatton at the 2018 Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, and even showed his matchplay chops at the WGC earlier this year.
My guess? Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm, Justin Rose, Tommy Fleetwood, Paul Casey, Shane Lowry, Rafa Cabrera-Bello, Viktor Hovland, Lucas Bjerregaard, Ian Poulter, Bernd Wiesberger, Matthew Fitzpatrick
…with Messrs Westwood, McDowell, Donald, Stenson and maybe Garcia serving as vice-captains